Michael OBrien (no apostrophe) was born in 1930. He was educated at Westminster School and trained as a painter at Farnham School of Art. On leaving the art school he became an art teacher and worked at a secondary school in Leicester.
He drifted into potting for two reasons; he felt that some of his more gifted pupils were better painters than he, and he became increasingly frustrated by the time taken in preparation before and cleaning up after painting.
He felt that the best available teacher of pottery was Michael Cardew, but Cardew was in Nigeria. At great expense, he went to Abuja to study under Cardew, but the Nigerian authorities would allow him to stay for only three months as a student. To circumvent this restriction he got a job as an art teacher at the secondary school in Abuja and stayed there for two years. When Cardew had to retire in 1965, the authorities asked OBrien to take over the running of the Pottery Training Centre, which he did for seven years.
On his return to England in 1972 he rejoined Michael Cardew at Wenford Bridge to carry on learning. When he left Wenford Bridge he worked at Wrecclesham (Farnham Pottery) and gained experience throwing standard pots in standard sizes.
In1979 he returned to Nigeria to take up a post teaching at the university. Before leaving England he telephoned to ask if there was anything they would like him to bring with him - he knew that certain commodities were not easy to get in Nigeria - and they asked him to bring some quartz. This made him resolve to teach both staff and students how to get their own materials; they had been importing materials that were relatively easy to obtain locally from Stoke on Trent! He wanted to increase the length of the pottery course from three to five years so that the students could learn to make their own equipment, but that plan did not come to fruition.
Michael's next project was to build a pottery with Danlami Aliyu at Maraba. This pottery is now run by Danlami's younger brother, Umara. Michael and Danlami went on to set up another pottery at Mineh, and this is still flourishing under the management of Danlami.
In 1999 yet another new pottery was started at Bwari, and the building was finished in May, 2000. The pottery, which was built on the principles of the Abuja Pottery, is now operating and it is expected that it will employ around twenty potters.
Michael constantly experiments with glazes to achieve the exact effect he requires, and keeps meticulous records, making pyramids of glaze test samples mounted on plywood boards, each one with details of the recipe, temperature and time inscribed on the back.
|Further Reading:||Nigerian Pottery in an African Context by Michael OBrien|