Published 2nd January 2009
The Troika pottery was formed in 1963 by a partnership between Benny Sirota, Leslie Ilsley and Jan Thompson hence the name and the earliest mark a three-pronged trident. Between them they purchased the Wells Pottery based at Wheal Dream in St Ives. The birth of this brave new venture was rather looked down on and many locals considered it something of a lame duck that would sink in months. To be fair to the initial output of old Wells Pottery tiles, tea wares and even doorknobs didn't exactly fire the imagination. Once the money started to flow, so did the artistic juices and this new innovative spirit was not only an artistic one, but a scientific one - well scientific in the loosest sense. Its seems that the new team thought nothing of adding melted broken glass, emulsion paint and even slurry from tin mines into the glazes and finishes by way of experiment.
This rather engaging mix of the accidental and the fearlessly progressive did however draw it inspiration from eclectic sources. There is a hint of Paul Klee and cubism in the abstract decoration and the influence of Constantin Brancusi in some of the larger sculptural forms. Somehow the appearance of Aztec masks within the repertoire doesn't seem so bizarre. Perhaps the strongest resonance is with the Cornish landscape. Whether this comes from the rugged granite like texture of most pieces or whether it is from the anvil shapes and the rectangular forms that echoed tin mines, wheelhouses and chimneys of the local industry.
Within a few years both the Heals and the Liberty's department stores sold Troika and before long you could buy it in New York and Sydney. A meteoric rise that saw the staff increase into double figures, a Cornish cottage industry that had gone global! Alas when production was at a peak a move was forced upon them. The closest appropriate site was located in Newlyn and at the end of summer 1970 Troika moved lock, stock and barrel. Prior to the move Troika often bore the name St Ives, but afterwards despite the artistic heritage of both towns Newlyn never appeared on the base of any later pieces. Whilst I'm sure the occupants would be up in arms to hear, their town just wasn't classy enough.
Perhaps this subsequent lack of pedigree led to the drop off in demand for the more expensive sculptural 'art house' items, which in turn led to much of the production being switched to smaller, cheaper items that would have wider appeal to the tourist. In fact the most popular vase from this period was a kiln filler known by the subsequently apt title as a coffin vase. In 1978 a mixture of a national recession and Heals decision to pull the rug from under Troika saw the beginning of an inevitable decline, which eventually came in 1983.
Troika Pottery was written on Friday, 2nd January 2009.