Bernard Moss was descended from Russian emigrees who came to England in the late 19th century to escape the pogroms in their native land. Bernard was born in London in 1923.
His move towards a career in ceramics started soon after the end of World War Two. On leaving the army he settled in Soho and tried his hand at various ways to earn a living. While working as a fabric designer in the East End an acquaintance taught him how to make moulds. The high cost of living in central London forced a move for Bernard and his young wife, Moreen, to Mevagissey in Cornwall in 1949. They lived in a rented cottage with no gas, electricity or even running water.
There was a small community of artists in Mevagissey, as in Newlyn and St Ives, and one of them, Nell Lambert, a Canadian sculptor, asked Bernard if he could make a mould of a two-dimensional totem piece. It was an easy job for him - just a matter of shuttering the original and pouring in plaster. The pay was good though; before going home to Canada she bought him a potter's wheel and kiln -- more than the job was worth, but not negotiable in the local hostelries! Bernard and Moreen moved into a flat in Mevagissey, directly opposite the house where they finished their days. The facilities were better than in the cottage and it was here that they set up their first pottery.
Bernard produced models of figures, often with a jewish theme, and Moreen, who is a highly skilled graphic artist, decorated them. He was fascinated by automata, and devised a method to add movement to his models by means of pivots and counter-balances. His first mobile figure became known as 'the nodder', and having heard that Heal's department store was a good outlet for ceramics he took his nodder up to London with the aim of selling it through the store. The buyer was not impressed, and told Bernard they would not be wanting any. As he trudged dejectedly through the store looking for the exit a smartly dressed gentleman noticed him, and that he looked as though he had lost half-a-crown and found sixpence. He approached Bernard and said "What's the matter with you young man, why are you so unhappy?" Bernard told him of his experience with the ceramics buyer and showed the gentleman his nodder. "Well go back to the buyer," he said, "and tell him Mr Worthington says we want a dozen!" Mr Worthington, it turned out, was a director of the store, and the encounter led to a long relationship not with Heal's department store but with Heal's Fabrics. They bought eighty to a hundred pieces each year as gifts for their best clients. A different model was produced each year, exclusively for Heal's Fabrics, and they often had a topical theme; one was of a sputnik, another of a girl with a hula-hoop.
In 1955 Associated British Pathe shot some colour footage of Bernard and Moreen at work, and you can see frames from the film at their web site. A very low-quality preview of the film is also available from the same page, and is essential viewing for any Moss enthusiast.
There were several moves and changes of mark that help to determine the date of Bernard Moss pieces. The pottery mark in 1954 was Mevagissey Pottery, but changed in 1956 to Moss Mevagissey when the Mosses and their young family moved to Jetty Street. The predominant colour of the models was terracotta until 1960 when it was changed to blue. In 1961 there was another move, this time to The Old School House in St Ewe and the mark changed to St Ewe Moss. While at St Ewe Bernard changed from making his figures to thrown studio pieces and domestic wares.
From 1965 to 1972 the pottery was at Pentewen, and the mark was Moss Pentewen, and then from 1972 to 1977, Castle Gate, Penwith, near their old friends Christiane and Anthony Richards. At this time the mark changed to Moss Cornwall. 1977 saw the circle complete with a return to Cliff Street, Mevagissey, and a reversion to the 1956 mark, Moss Megavissey.
Bernard retired in 1983, but still retained an interest in designing new models, firing them in a tiny electric kiln and giving them to his friends and family. He said that if he didn't have a kiln he would feel as though his right arm had been cut off. Some of the figures you will see on these pages were never made commercially but are from Bernard's own private collection.
Moreen, too, remained active as a painter and exhibited at St Ives and Newlyn until her death in February 2012. Bernard passed away in September 2012.