The Jacobs Family - "From small beginnings"

&

Levas Bekeras
- "Go west young man"

 

Most people probably think of potters as reclusive makers who sit in their studios all day making pots, stacking the shelves of their display areas and waiting for casual customers to wander by. This may be true for some but there are many others with a fine story to tell. Here are another two of them. I think that what they make is remarkable but no more remarkable than the potters themselves. Events like Potfest have allowed you to meet these people and become a part of their story.

The Jacobs family - from small beginnings.

In the early years of the Second World War two young brothers in Amsterdam were taken for labour by the Germans. They escaped and eventually found themselves in the little village of Milsbeek on the river Maas south of Nijmegen. There they found work in a small factory throwing plant pots and stayed for the rest of the war. They had no pottery experience but were young and quickly picked up the required skills. Being very inventive by nature they began to experiment with glazes in their lunch break and soon began to make decorative work. The factory only made plant pots but by the end of the war nearly all it's production was this new decorative ware.
After the war both wanted to get away from Holland and the bad memories the conflict had left. The older brother went to South Africa where he eventually opened his own pottery and also ran a puppet theatre, making the puppets, writing the stories and performing. The other came to England for a while then on to America where he eventually opened a pottery in Hollywood.
The older brother was the first to move back to Holland and some years later the younger returned and renovated an old windmill to live in. Both now worked in their own pottery studios in Milsbeek, the older brother made domestic ware but also worked on an architectural scale, making grandfather clocks and chandeliers for churches, the younger made musical instruments in clay, flutes, horns, violins, lutes, even a ceramic barrel organ.

Before the war, for many years there had been a daily tram service which stopped at Milsbeek on it's way to Nijmegan. The older brother met, fell in love with and married the tram drivers daughter. They had three sons, two of whom went on to become potters themselves - four potters in a tiny village in Holland.

Many years went by and their reputations grew. One of the sons of the older brother bought the old, now run down, plant pot factory where his father and uncle had sought refuge during the war, and converted it into a house and pottery studio. The youngest son found the remnants of the old tram shed
[ the tram halt ] where his grandfather had worked, and after several years of potting in the mornings and building for the rest of the day, he renovated it into his own house and studio.

As well as selling from their own studios they would travel to festivals in Holland, Germany and Belgium and meet potters from all over Europe. In the late 1980s they had a meeting with other potters in their area and decided to form the North Limburg Potters Collective and organise their own special ceramics festival in Milsbeek. And so Keramisto was born, now seen by many as the most important annual ceramics festival in Holland, attracting potters from all over the Continent and beyond.

We first met Guul Jacobs, the oldest son at our first international ceramics festival, in Eindhoven, Holland, in 1989. He and his wife Fransje van Keulen are both potters each with their own very individual styles but both making the most amazing salt glazed work. We met his brother Geert some years later at a festival in Maasiek, Belgium. Geert throws and hand builds and often uses crystalline glazes. We later met their father and uncle when we exhibited for the first time at Keramisto. It was only recently we heard the wonderful story of this remarkable family.

Geert first came to Potfest in 1997 and has returned each year but last year his uncle, now 75 years old and also called Geert brought his ceramic barrel organ and musical instruments to play and display at both shows in Penrith.

That first international ceramics market in Eindhoven was the inspiration for Potfest in the Pens in 1994. Keramisto was the inspiration for Potfest in the Park in 2001 and the North Limburg Potters Collective was the idea behind Ceramics North in 2005.

Geoff Cox


Levas Bekeras - go West young man

.


In what may have seemed a more comfortable past, well-established potters stayed in their studios producing work whilst galleries presented it to the public. Then along came potters' markets where potters meet their public face to face. A new era - new frontiers - who dares wins.

Even now some potters see travelling fifty miles to a show as a major adventure. To travel from Cornwall to Cumbria and Potfest, a feat for the most intrepid; crossing the water to mainland Europe, a bridge too far. Imagine then a trip in a loaded wreck of a car across several countries selling in half a dozen currencies and languages. Then add the difficulties of getting visas, negotiating customs interrogations as a suspected asylum seeker to get some idea of the most adventurous. Levas Bekeras was one of these; slight, quietly spoken, but with a real spirit of adventure. A potter pioneer.

To me his work was wonderful and exotic, the imagery magical - a mixture of Viking sagas and the brothers Grimm. A riddle to be unravelled - Folk tales from a land of dark forests and long winters. I first met Levas and his wife Lina at Keramisto in Holland. I asked if they might come to Potfest and without hesitation he said " yes, of course". I didn't know what I was asking. The Berlin wall had been down some time and potters from East Germany now free to roam were showing in the West but beyond that was Poland, as big again, and then Lithuania still feeling the weight of Russia. The more cynical might think he was chasing Western cash - and why not - but in 2000 in a beat up old car they turned up at Potfest in the Pens, Penrith. A cattle market at the other end of England, almost into Scotland. How long they had travelled I don't know but it must have been days. It would have taken the Japanese potters who came the following year less time and effort flying from Nagoya to Manchester.
Every journey starts with a single step, or so they say, but imagine committing to that step with the whole of Poland, Germany, Holland then Belgium, France and the complete length of England before you. In 2002 we had a call from H.M.Customs asking if two Lithuanian potters detained in Dover were truly exhibiting at Potfest in the Park and not illegal immigrants. On arrival Levas said in a throw away manner "It's OK. It always happens". Just one more peril we were unaware of. In the following years Levas and Lina exhibited at Potfest Scotland, the Park and the Pens in Cumbria, Art in Clay at Hatfield and at Farnham...... each trip an epic journey bringing their work to the West.

Levas had had a brain tumor removed two years ago but continued with his work and travels. He was due to take part in Potfest in the Pens and Art in Clay again in 2005 but sadly died on June 1st of that year. Where pioneers lead others will inevitably follow but to be among the first is a special place. Levas Bekeras was a remarkable man and a very special potter. The ceramics world needs more like him.

Toon Thijs a Dutch potter and one of Levas's many friends is making mementos to him in the form of small boxes containing postcards of his work - the idea being that though Levas is no longer here his work will continue to travel around the world. For more information see www.toonthijs-keramiek.com

Geoff Cox

 

3 generations of the Jacobs family

Henk

Geert the elder
( accompanied by the next generation? )


Guul

Geert

History of the Tram halt









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