THE ART OF THE POTTER is demonstrated by a young Cecil Baugh, who was the instructor at Maggotty Potteries which was founded by the Hon. Donald Farquharson to teach pottery to the young people of St. Elizabeth. Mrs. Taylor of Maggotty donated the lands for the school.
Christina Benjamin, Gleaner Writer
WHERE DOES the life of a master potter begin? Is he born with the talent, or is it moulded into him? Pottery master the Honourable Cecil Archibald Baugh, O.J., really complicates the answer to these questions. His life is filled with the twists and turns, the intricacies and hardships necessary to provide any artist with an emotional influence.
Baugh was born on November 22, 1908 in Bangor Ridge, Portland, to Isaac Baugh, a sawyer, and Emma Cobran-Baugh, a farmer. This is the simple foundation upon which 'The Jamaican Master Potter' was formed.
Every Saturday from the age of nine, Baugh accompanied his mother on foot seven miles to Buff Bay to sell her produce. Being one of four children, he was often chosen to accompany his mother to Kingston where his brother was studying engineering. On this trip he saw what some might call his vision: two women firing a kiln to make yabbas this was his introduction to the pottery-making process. His story brings to mind the biblical tale of Jeremiah's journey to the potter's house, one of Baugh's favourite lessons.
Cecil Baugh soon moved to Kingston and began an apprenticeship under Susan and Ethel Trenchfield who hailed from St. Elizabeth. Baugh got married in 1928 to Beryl Ebanks, Susan Trenchfield's niece. Later, he worked alongside Wilfred Lord a free form potter. His background is reflected in his teaching, "We got the clay for our stoneware from Castleton Garden" says former student Maxine Grey, "We would have to walk over the bridge to the hill to get the clay, and we would prepare it. Today you can just buy the clay ... but not us, he made us get it ourselves."
Baugh sold much of his early pottery as a 'yabba man', selling at street markets. He then worked as a grounds keeper in Montego Bay, and later as a door-to-door pottery salesman in Kingston. He soon returned to Montego Bay where he opened his own studio, The Cornwall Clay Works. He sustained the studio for five years before leaving it to explore the world of pottery making. In order to be the best, he would have to see what lay beyond the boundaries of traditional Jamaican pottery .
Baugh joined the British army in 1941 and travelled to Lancashire, England, for training. He later went on a voyage to South Africa, where he found himself slapped by the hand of racial discrimination. He moved on to Cairo, Egypt. Here, he was introduced to a method of pottery glazing which mirrored his self-invented 'Egyptian Blue'. According to Baugh, he was fascinated by this finding. Baugh was one of the few remaining soldiers in his regiment after the war. He chose to stay in Egypt for three years, and then visited Aden where he went to art school briefly.
In 1946 he returned from World War II to a home which had been torn apart by tragedy. His mother and daughter died in his absence, and his marriage was failing. It is said that tragedy shapes the spirit just as it breaks the heart. Again he became like the clay he so loved - moulded by his experiences. One thing every potter knows about preparing clay for shaping is that, in order for the artwork to survive inside the fires of the kiln, all air bubbles must be removed, and so the clay must be kneaded or 'beaten' to perfection. In later years, to add one last bruise to his 'beating', his second wife died tragically in 1986.
Earlier however, upon his return from the war, Baugh opened a pottery studio on Mountain View Avenue. He then travelled to the United Kingdom in June 1948 where he studied with Margaret Leach and the famous British potter Bernard Leach. In an article done by The Gleaner, he referred to this time as "The start of my career as an art potter ... My glory years." During this time he was truly 'shaped' and prepared for the 'glazing' his new-found knowledge would attract him. He learnt the artistic and scientific methods behind making glazes, working with clay, building wheels and kilns, and firing among other things. These priceless shards of knowledge he brought back to Jamaica, where he planted the pottery seed - an element of artistry that has now bloomed within the country.
Phillip Brian, another of his many students, reminisces: "He was a master of the potter's wheel ... I remember my first time entering the school on Central Avenue. Cecil demonstrated the making of a beautiful pitcher on the potter's wheel. Then, when he was finished, he just destroyed it ..." Brian says the students were appalled. "To him it was just a demonstration ... He said, 'The best is always ahead of you'."
The glazing refers to the decoration of a newly shaped piece of clay work before it is placed in the kiln. This is when the clay finally becomes recognisable for its beauty ... the finishing stages, when all are able to see the work as it will be: no longer the simple structure that it was originally, but now recognisably extraordinary. Baugh entered into this stage of his life when, in 1950, he founded the School of Arts and Crafts, now known as the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
Mari Sigurdson shared with The Gleaner: "His dream was to create a Jamaica Potter's Association ... Every potter in Jamaica has some influence of Cecil Baugh - even foreigner's everyone! He was willing to share with everybody." Baugh was head of the Ceramics Department at the school until he retired in 1974. "I went to art school to paint!" exclaimed Grey in an interview with The Gleaner: "He had such an influence on my life - I had to change to pottery."
This was only the beginning. He has had so many accomplishments that to list them all within this article would surely take up the greater part of this - the Arts Section.
Cecil Baugh is a legend in the pottery world. Referred to as 'Jamaica's Master Potter', he has won numerous honours for his work: the Silver Musgrave Medal of the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ), 1964; the Order of Distinction, 1975 National Honours; the Norman Manley Award of Excellence, 1977; the Centenary Medal of the IOJ, 1980; the Jamaica Bauxite Institute Award, 1981; the Gold Musgrave Medal of the IOJ, 1984; the George William Gordon Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts, 1994; and the Order of Jamaica presented in 2003.
A FIRE IN THE KILN
When clay is fired, the glaze and the shape become a fixed part of the piece. The magnificence of the work is set into permanence. Cecil Baugh is just that ... a permanent part of Jamaican history. Yet, I must dare to deviate from the norm and ask that he not be remembered simply by his awards, his titles, and his unending list of achievements. I dare to ask that he not be remembered simply as 'Jamaica's Master Potter'. Instead, I appeal to people to remember this master as he was in his 'un-glazed' form - as a teacher.
His memory surely resides within his many pupils. "Once you started talking to Cecil you became a student of his ..." says Baugh's friend David Dunn. "If you sat down with him for an hour you would definitely learn something about ceramics ... and about life." His influence is widely felt. He has left two daughters: Ms. Leila Baugh and Myrtle Ebanks: "He was a man of great determination and he put his heart and soul into everything ... He was strong, in his own right, even the last time I saw him. He lived as a soldier; He will die as a soldier," Mrs. Ebanks told The Gleaner.
Cecil Baugh has been handled like any truly priceless work of art: beginning as clay - naturally exquisite - simple with unformed potential, moulded by the hands of the most renowned pottery artists around the world, and as any prized product of the art world - aged to perfection.
One of Cecil Baugh's favourite quotes sums up his life: "Painting is good, but pottery never dies." Cecil Baugh, like any priceless work of pottery, will truly never die.