Descendants of Thomas ISMAY-246


178. William Alfred ISMAY-3590

Yorkshire librarian Bill Ismay built up one of the world's biggest and best collections of 20th century ceramics in his two-bedroomed terraced house in Wakefield.
William Alfred Ismay MBE started collecting pots in 1955 and by the time he died in 2001, his collection had grown to 3,500, including works by leading 20th century ceramicists such as Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie, Hans Coper and Shoji Hamada.
The collection came to York as Ismay wanted it to stay in Yorkshire.
Potter Emmanuel Cooper said, 'The main principle on which Ismay collected, he said, was to select the pots he liked, which were not necessarily showy or spectacular, but might be quite modest, although he did confess to having a prejudice in favour of a pot which in addition to pleasing him was also useful.'
Ismay made friends with many potters and visited them to watch them work, becoming a familiar figure at shows and exhibitions.
One of our pots illustrates this and was made for Ismay in 1990 by Eric James Mellon, who was renowned for his life drawing on pots. The bike Ismay leans against represents the time when he started collecting and used to cycle all over the country to visit potters and exhibitions.
Ismay was awarded the MBE for his services to studio pottery in the New Year's Honours list for 1982.

There are currently three ceramics exhibitions under the aegis of York Art Gallery. They have the umbrella title ‘Celebrating Ceramics’ an exhibition in 3 parts from York’s collection. They are ‘Fired Up’at York Art Gallery, ‘FirePlace’ at Scarborough Art Gallery, and ‘WA Ismay –A Passion For Pots’ at Wakefield Art Gallery. All three run until the beginning of January 2006.

The emphasis in Wakefield is on pots from the WA Ismay collection because Bill, as we all knew him lived all his life in the city in a small terraced house which by the end of his life was filled from floor to ceiling in every room with pots. Lars Tharpe was concerned in the relatively small space to give an impression of the collection as seen in Bill’s house, and in his opening remarks he suggested that although collecting can be a disease, no one ever dies from it.
Networking on the evening between trustees of the Ismay collection, councillors from Wakefield and staff from York Art Gallery could result in a permanent display of say 50 pots at a time from the Ismay collection which would be an apt tribute to the city’s native son.
Elizabeth Robison