About this Archive
Potter and writer on the arts
Emmanuel Cooper (1938-2012) was a distinguished potter, writer, teacher, editor, and LGBTQ activist. He was born in Pilsley, a small coalmining village in north-east Derbyshire, on the 12 December 1938, the fourth of five children of a butcher. An intelligent and creative child, he passed the 11+ and attended Tupton Hall Grammar School.
Cooper was first introduced to clay at school and although immediately responding to the material he did not believe he could make a living as a potter and subsequently decided to train as a schoolteacher. After completing his national service in the RAF, Cooper attended Dudley Teacher Training College (1958–60) specialising in art and drama and followed that up with an additional year at Bournemouth College of Art (1960–61).
Cooper was then appointed art teacher at Downs Lane Central School in Tottenham (1961-63) the only full-time teaching job of his career although he subsequently went on to teach ceramics part-time at Harrow School (1963-65) and at the Central Foundation School for Girls, Spitalfields (1965-70).
In 1963, after much soul searching, he made the decision to give up full-time teaching and try to find work as a potter. He was taken on as an assistant by Gwyn Hanssen, and later worked for Bryan Newman before setting up his own pottery at 226 Westbourne Grove in 1965.
Cooper was always driven by a strong imperative to make tableware "accepting the Leachian/Morris idea that it carried a sort of virtue" and for many years it was his chief form of production. However, the design of his tableware was inspired by northern European design models - with all the forms based on the cylinder and he developed a series of glazes – white, pale blues and a pale yellow - that were both sophisticated and contemporary. It was hugely successful, and he was subsequently asked to design and make tableware for a number of London restaurants, most notably the Hard Rock Café, Maxwells and Drakes.
As a city potter with only a small basement workshop Cooper spent almost two decades researching into electric kiln firing in an attempt to create what he later referred to as an "electric kiln aesthetic". The research resulted in four best-selling books, which gave Cooper "legendary status" as a glaze technician. It was a mark of his importance in this field that he was later invited by the V&A to produce the glaze tests that formed part of their permanent displays devoted to ceramic process.
Cooper stopped making tableware in the mid 1980s when tastes and fashion changed but the resonance of function was apparent in the stoneware and porcelain bowl and jug forms which made up the majority of his gallery pots and for which is he now best known. These pots were informed and influenced by the built environment. Cooper was fascinated by the textures and tempos of the metropolis, the volcanic surfaces of his stoneware bowls and jugs inspired by the concrete and grit of the pavements while his porcelain bowls with their vivid venetian reds, emerald green or glorious yellow pay homage to the neon lights and traffic of the nighttime city.
While making pots was always at the heart of Cooper’s creative life he sought other outlets for his talents and interests. A member of the Craft Potters Association (CPA) from early in his career, he served for many years as a council member, chair, and eventually a fellow. In 1969 he suggested to the CPA that they should publish a magazine and the following year Ceramic Review was launched. Initially, co- edited with Eileen Lewenstein, but later as sole editor, Cooper guided the magazine from humble beginnings to become one of the world's leading craft journals.
Emmanuel Cooper’s books on ceramics ranged from his early how-to-do-it manuals to histories of ceramics and glaze recipes through to biographical studies of leading potters. His full-length biographies of Bernard Leach and Lucie Rie - this last completed only weeks before his death - are now considered definitive texts.
Alongside all this artistic activity Emmanuel Cooper was politically active, especially in the struggle for LGBTQ rights. Sexual and gender politics were always among his dominant concerns and he was a founder members of the Gay Left collective and of the Gay History group.
He was for many years art critic of the Morning Star, Gay News and Tribune and wrote thousands of pieces of art journalism. He wrote a series of monographs for the Gay Men’s Press (GMP) and later published two books on the male nude, Fully Exposed: The Male Nude in Photography and Male Bodies. His groundbreaking book on homosexuality and art, The Sexual Perspective was published in 1986.
From his childhood, Emmanuel Cooper had a fascination with folk art and in his book and supporting exhibition The People’s Art (1994) he celebrated creativity that was untrained, unknown, and very largely unacknowledged.
In the years since his death in January 2012, interest in Cooper and in particular in his ceramics has increased significantly, with the V&A, the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge; the York Centre for Ceramic Art; and the Hepworth acquiring pots by Cooper for their permanent collections.
In 2019 Making Emmanuel Cooper – an account of his life and work, edited by his longtime partner, David Horbury, and based on Cooper’s unpublished writings, diaries, correspondence and interviews was published by Unicorn Publishing.
For more information on Emmanuel Cooper and his work, visit: https://www.emmanuelcooper.co.uk/.
Scope and content
Papers of potter and writer on art, Emmanuel Cooper, including:
- Cooper's Gay Art Archive, including exhibition catalogues, ephemera, invites and notes from, predominantly LGBTQ+ exhibitions and art events, along with correspondence with galleries and artists, gathered/created by Cooper for his work as art critic or through personal interest, 1972-2009
- Papers regarding art projects and publications by Cooper, including: research material and drafts for Solomon Family exhibition at the Geffrye Museum, 1984-1985; correspondence regarding his proposal for a documentary "Art on the Street" on art in London outside art galleries for the series "New Directions", 1993; research materials, photographs, slides, transparencies and correspondence gathered by Cooper in preparation for his book, "The Life and Work of Henry Scott Tuke", 1980-1989
- Papers of the Gay Left Collective, including: drafts of published and unpublished articles, notes, correspondence and papers regarding the preparation of Gay Left, Issues 1-10, 1975-1984; Cooper's notebook from meetings of the Gay Left Collective, 1976-1978; Gay Left badges, c1978; papers from the Communist University of London, Number 9, 1977; programme for What is to be done? : a conference for gay socialist men and women, 1977
- Papers relating to Cooper's involvement with the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and records of several local London branches, including: briefings and papers produced by CHE, 1972-1974; forms, literature, book lists and publicity material produced by CHE, along with earlier legislation and material produced by other organisations, 1956-1974; minutes and reports of the CHE London Management Committee, 1972-1974; minutes, newsletters and papers of Haringey CHE, 1972-1973; minutes and financial statement of Crouch End CHE, 1972-1973; newsletters and accounts of Highbury and Islington CHE, 1972-1973; newsletter of Marylebone and Paddington CHE, 1975; general press cuttings, papers and correspondence of CHE, 1972-1975
- Three scrapbooks of cuttings from the Morning Star of Cooper's art columns on art, artists and reviews of exhibitions, 1976-1980
- Programmes and ephemera from gay theatre shows and performances attended or reviewed by Cooper, 1978-1991
- Papers, articles, cuttings, photographs, suggested readings and correspondence circulated amongst members of the Gay History Group, 1987-1998
- The "Portobello Boys" archive, a collection of photographs from the 1950s and 1960s discovered by Cooper on a market stall at the top of Portobello Road, depicting the social, sexual and intimate lives of a group of working class men living in London (Cooper intended to publish the images in a book called "Indecent Acts" in the 1980s but was unable to find a publisher), c1950s-c1960s
- Papers regarding Cooper's Book "The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Last 100 Years in the West", including correspondence regarding the content, publication and copyright clearance for the first and second editions of the book, images used in the first and second edition, images researched and collected but not used, papers and correspondence regarding "The Sexual Perspective" exhibition at the Jill George Gallery, 1982-1994
- Papers regarding Cooper's Book "Fully Exposed: the male nude in photography", including correspondence regarding the content, publication and copyright clearance for the first and second editions of the book, images used in the first and second edition, images researched and collected but not used, 1984-1997
- Other photography taken or collected by Cooper, including Cooper's photographs of individuals; photograph albums of a group of male friends at seaside, purchased by Cooper; private and commercial photographs of male nudes, and contact sheets and negatives of Victorian pornography, 1928-1986
- Other papers compiled by Cooper, including: correspondence files with John Croft, David Ketteridge and Gregg Blachford; papers, photographs, correspondence and other material regarding the publication and promotion of the book "Machinations: photographs by Arthur Tress and introduced by Cooper". Postcards received from friends and acquaintances; correspondence regarding and research material gathered for "Male Bodies: a photographic history of the nude"; reviews of "The Sexual Perspective" and "Fully Exposed", 1965-2011.
38 Boxes, 20 Folders, 2 Volumes and oversize items.