Obituary: Rollo Ballantyne

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The Independent Culture
ROLLO BALLANTYNE was one of those rare collectors who brought to his interest in contemporary ceramics both a sense of genuine discovery and real enthusiasm for what was a little charted subject. Although until his retirement he served as a much respected and admired doctor in general practice, his enduring memorial will be the Ballantyne Collection, a substantial group of ceramics by contemporary studio potters which he saw as able to stand alongside other art forms.

Ballantyne was one of triplets born in Nottingham to a father who was a Unitarian minister in a family where involvement in the arts was through music rather than visual art. Medicine became his chosen choice of career and Rollo together with his triplet brother John entered St Mary's Medical School in London, graduating in 1942. Both were then sent on war service to Gibraltar where Rollo met and married Tym Wotcherspoon, who was a serving Wren.

After the Second World War they settled in Walton-on-Thames, in Surrey, where he worked as GP and raised a family, remaining until his retirement in 1977. Inspired by the work and ideas of his eldest brother, David, a distinguished potter, innovator and teacher, Rollo and his second wife, Marion, had by then started, almost by chance, to collect ceramics.

During a rather damp holiday in the West Country they remembered that the area was home to many well-known potters. Rollo telephoned his brother David to ask which ones they should visit and was advised to call on Michael Cardew, whose pottery was situated at Wenford Bridge on the edge of Dartmoor. Then in his seventies, but still at the height of his powers as a potter, Cardew made a great impression both in the vigour of his pots and the force of his character. Their first purchases included a ceramic stool which Cardew assured them was sufficiently strong to support an elephant should they have one. They returned many times to Wenford Bridge to add to their growing collection.

They were bitten by the "clay bug", and their collection grew rapidly. They explored the extensive range of vessel-based contemporary work, whenever possible visiting potters in their studios as well as keeping track of exhibitions. They took an eclectic view, ranging from more decorative items such as fine bowls and dishes by Lucie Rie, whom they commissioned to make a magnificently elegant bottle in pinks, greys and soft green (it was featured on the cover of Ceramic Review), to the tiny, exquisite pod-like forms of Geoffrey Swindell.

Both Ballantynes had a passion for more functional pots which they were able to enjoy in daily use. These included the flame-and- wood-toasted tablewares of Winchcombe Pottery, the celadon-glazed pots of Richard Batterham and the subtle forms of David Leach. As space in their home began to run out they directed their attention to precisely made smaller pieces, acquiring tiny boxes by John Maltby and diminutive bowls by Gwyn Hanssen.

By the late 1970s the Ballantynes were running out of space, so sought a public venue for their collection, to ensure it had a permanent home where it could be enjoyed by others. In 1978, 80 pieces were installed in purpose-built cases in Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, a National Trust property administered by Derbyshire County Council.

A year later these pots were joined by the Derbyshire Schools Loan Collection, which was particularly notable for its early pieces by such potters as Bernard Leach, Janet Leach, Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie and Hans Coper. The Ballantynes continued to give generously to the collection and purchases were made with the help of East Midlands Arts. In 1992 it was relocated within Derby University where not only was it more easily accessible to the public but served as vital reference for ceramic students at the university's School of Art and Design.

In 1996 the Ballantyne Collection was moved to Nottingham Castle Museum and contextualised within a wider department of decorative art. An appropriate acquisitions policy was devised and the terms of the collection defined. Needless to say the Ballantynes continued acquiring new pieces, as alert to the work of newcomers as established potters. Having settled in Chipping Campden in the heart of the Cotswolds they enjoyed the area's long association with a wide variety of craft, with Rollo Ballantyne learning the skills of silversmithing.

Through the Ballantynes' original commitment to modern work, and their ability to trust their own judgement, they formed a collection that is a persuasive combination of individual choice set within a wide-ranging catholicism, which as such will continue to inspire, delight and inform.

James Rollo Ballantyne, medical practitioner and ceramics collector: born Nottingham 26 September 1917; married first Tym Wotcherspoon (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved), second Marion James; died Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire 30 December 1998.

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