Now the private collection of almost 100 pieces of art, including 43 pieces spanning the career of ceramicist John Ward, have been bequeathed to the Hepworth Wakefield gallery by two of its patrons, Terence Bacon and John Oldham.
The Yorkshire couple were inspired to start collecting when travelling around in their caravan, and initially chose pieces they liked, rather than having investment in mind.
Regular visitors to Barbara Hepworth’s studio in St Ives, they have built up a connection with the gallery named after the city-born artist since it opened in 2011 to house Wakefield’s public art collection.
Retired civil servant Mr Bacon, 68, who lives with Mr Oldham, a 75-year-old retired NHS manager, said: ““We can think of no better home for our art collection than The Hepworth Wakefield, an organisation we have long admired and which has introduced us to many new artists over the years.
“We take our collecting seriously, building relationships with the artists we buy from wherever possible and have had the privilege to visit John Ward in his studio in Pembrokeshire many times and often visit St Ives.”
The collection features a significant number of vessels by many of Britain’s most acclaimed ceramicists, including pioneering studio potter Dame Lucie Rie, Angus Suttie and Alison Britton.
At the heart of the collection are 43 pots by John Ward, dubbed “one of the most significant in private hands”, featuring examples of all his forms developed over a 50-year career. Ward is known for his hand-built ceramics that draw on influences as varied as ancient pre-glaze pottery to the textures of the Pembrokeshire landscape where he lives.
The gift also includes paintings and works on paper by important British artists Craigie Aitchison, Leeds-born Trevor Bell, Sir Terry Frost, Rose Hilton and Euan Uglow.
The Hepworth Wakefield director Simon Wallis said: “We are so delighted by the generosity of John and Terry, who have been wonderfully supportive of The Hepworth Wakefield since its earliest days.
“Their impeccable art collection has developed from their friendships with artists and their deep longstanding passion for art matches perfectly with the remit of The Hepworth Wakefield’s role to engage diverse audiences with the creative and inspiring power of art.
“Philanthropic gifts play a vital role in helping us continue to build on the legacy of Wakefield’s ambitious and forward-thinking art collecting, which began in 1930s and has always included British ceramics. John and Terry’s gift is especially significant in helping broaden our reach to ever wider audiences, and because they are local collectors as rooted in Yorkshire as we are.”
A special exhibition of highlights from the collection will go on public display for the first time at The Hepworth Wakefield once the gallery reopens, as it is currently closed due to coronavirus tackling measures.
In the meantime, a Q&A with the collections and a gallery of images can be found on the gallery’s website.
In it, the collectors speak about the pieces that started their collection, “two wonderful bottle forms” by Rie purchased in St Ives, which they describe as a “real life changer”.
They say: “We buy only what touches us – if we can afford it and perhaps sometimes even when we can’t – and what we know we want to live with. Everything is bought with the heart not the head. There truly is no underlying strategy to the collection, it’s just a great thrill to discover pots, paintings, sculpture, and a few ethnic bits that we know will enhance our lives. For us it all seems to sit comfortably together. We really don’t define ourselves as ‘collectors’, we just buy what we know will give us pleasure.”
The leader of Wakefield Council, Coun Denise Jeffery, said: “I’d like to express my gratitude to Mr Bacon and Mr Oldham for this very special and generous gift to Wakefield’s art collection.
“The collection is a major public resource that is much loved and well used. It is wonderful that The Hepworth continues to grow the collection for future generations and builds on the strategic investment we made in creating The Hepworth Wakefield to ensure that culture-led regeneration continues ambitiously in the region.”