"The Last Sane Man: Michael Cardew" by Tanya Harrod

The Last Sane Man: Michael Cardew Modern Pots, Colonialism, and the Counterculture Tanya Harrod

Publication date:
15 Oct 2012
Paul Mellon Centre
380 pages: 235 x 159mm
30 color + 90 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

The British studio potter Michael Cardew (1901-1983) was a man of paradox, a modernist who disliked modernity, a colonial servant who despised Empire, a husband and father who was also homosexual, and an intellectual who worked with his hands. Graduating from Oxford in 1923, training with the legendary Bernard Leach, he went on to lead a life of pastoral poverty in Gloucestershire, making majestic slipware and participating in the polarised design and political debates of the 1930s. A wartime project in Ghana turned him into a fierce critic of British overseas policies; he remained in West Africa intermittently until 1965, founding a local tradition of stoneware inspired by the ambient material culture, independent of European imports, made by Africans for Africans. He ended his days a ceramic magus, his pottery at Wenford Bridge, Cornwall, an outpost of the counterculture and a haven for disaffected youth. In North America, the Antipodes and sub-Saharan Africa he offered the egalitarianism of craft as an antidote to racism and inequality. As the novelist Angela Carter observed in 1977, he came to seem ‘the Last Sane Man in a crazy world.’

Along with historians of Empire and civil rights, and art and design historians, readers with a general interest in British cultural history will want to read this book.

The Last Sane Man: Michael Cardew Modern Pots, Colonialism, and Counterculture is the winner of the 2013 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography.


Tanya Harrod is an independent design historian, the author of the prizewining and the co-editor of the .Follow Tanya Harrod on Twitter

The Crafts in Britain in the 20th CenturyJournal of Modern Craft

'What a lovely book this is… Harrod is the most scrupulous of scholars… She has the eye of a journalist for glinting, piquant detail'. Bevis Hillier, 'Harrod is the perfect biographer for such a complex and gifted man. She has that great virtue of not inventing what she does not know […] What she does know is extraordinary – she has talked to everyone Cardew knew, both in Africa and on his later travels in the US and Australia'. A.S. Byatt, 'Harrod skewers the counter-cultural moment with a welcome acerbity as well as affection, concluding that ‘Michael’s prejudices and passions appear like a map in this new territory'. Her biography is as passionate as its subject. It is wonderful'. Edmund de Waal,'Tanya Harrod, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of craft, has spent a decade immersed in her subject’s life, and her command is obvious. Quiet, gentle and elegantly written, The Last Sane Man nevertheless pulls no punches'. Judith Flanders,'A magnificent book about one of the twentieth century’s most important craftsmen'. Keith Richmond,The Spectator

The Guardian

Literary Review

Sunday Telegraph


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