Antiques Column by Michael Dowse: Pottery designed as a work of art

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Troika pottery was founded in 1963 in St Ives, Cornwall by the successful combination of three partners; Benny Sirota, a potter, Lesley Illsley, a painter and Jan Thompson, an architect.

They wanted to produce beautiful pottery as works of art without the restraints of functionality. A desire that was very much part of the studio movement of the time and one which brought them success both artistically and financially due to the summer tourist trade and some very lucrative contracts with departments stores, namely Heals and Libertys in London.

Strong, structured and ultra-modern designs were created, a far cry from the functional styles of the period. Pieces were created in moulds but each one was then hand-painted. The main designs were based around geometric shapes with figural forms extremely rare. Small, rectangular shapes are most common with unusual shapes such as the ‘Aztec’ masks being the least.

Their early work was smooth and glazed and later, after around 1974, the work became more textured which became their signature style. There was far more production of the rough textured variety and it became incredibly popular and still is with collectors today. However, the earlier pieces which are rarer are the most valuable and highly sought after.

Marks can be used to date pieces; those bearing the words ‘St Ives’ are the earliest, with ‘Cornwall’ used after 1970. The town ‘Newlyn’, where the company moved in 1970 to expand into bigger premises, never appears in any marks. The company, although successful, couldn’t compete with cheaper imports so closed its doors in 1983. Troika is still popular among collectors today, especially since their 50th anniversary in 2013 which brought new exhibitions and publications.