Troika Pottery

Troika Pottery

Troika was an art pottery operating in Cornwall from 1963 to 1983.

Troika was set up in February 1963 by Leslie Illsley, Benny Sirota, and Jan Thomspon, who each put up £1000 to take over the Wells Pottery at Wheal Dream, St. Ives Cornwall, England [] .

The word “troika” is Russian in origin and refers to a vehicle drawn by a team of three horses. The three equal partners chose the name for this reference and also for the sharp, angular sound of the word “troika”. They thought the sound suggested the sharp, angular ceramics they were planning to produce and would distinguish them from the soft, functional shapes that were so prevalent in St. Ives and throughout the UK at the time.

Of the three, only Sirota had worked in the industry, having worked in a pottery for two years. Illsley who studied at Kingston School of Art had trained and worked as a sculptor and Thomson, an architect, was a sleeping partner who pulled out in 1965 to move to Scandinavia.Theirs was a bold venture. The St. Ives establishment gave the pottery three months before it would collapse.

However, within a year Troika pots were sold in Heal’s and Liberty. In 1967, Troika was featured in the Studio Year Book. In 1968 exhibitions were held in leading stores in London, New York, Stockholm, and Sydney. In 1975, at its height, eight decorators were employed to meet the demand. The so-called “three month” venture endured for twenty years and became a vanguard in the world of contemporary ceramics.

In 1970, just as Troika was beginning to enjoy the fruits of its long road to recognition, the St. Ives Council terminated their lease on the Wheal Dream pottery. Eventually, larger premises were found in Fradgan Place, Newlyn which they moved to in September 1970. Sirota remained in St. Ives running the Troika shop in Fore Street and, except for occasional visits, he gradually lost contact with the running of the pottery.

A setback happened in 1976 as overall demand for Troika began to diminish, although there was still enough work to employ six decorators. It was at this time that Sirota had thoughts of leaving Troika. Rumour has it that Illsley was spending too much time in the pub and the problem was affecting the workplace. With Sirota in St. Ives and hardly involved in the running of the business and Illsley spending only half his time of work, the decline of Troika was inevitable.

In 1978, Troika suffered a further blow when Heal’s made a policy decision to stop selling craft pottery. The recession in the late 1970s and early 1980s also hit Troika hard. Combined with the government doubling VAT in 1979 and cheap imports flooding the market, the pottery was battling to survive. The partnership ended on 31st march 1980, with Sirota keeping the shop in St. Ives and Illsley keeping the Pottery.

In 1980, the staff found themselves on a three-day week but by late 1983, the bank called in their loans and Illsley had to sell his home. Illsley’s main concern was for his staff and he managed to place them in positions with other potteries. Troika was finally closed in December 1983 by Illsley, the assets being virtually worthless.

Leslie Illsley renewed his interest in painting after the pottery closed. However, in the late 1980s he was diagnosed with cancer and died on 20th March 1989. Benny Sirota ran a gallery in Wells, Somerset up to quite recently. Today, he owns an art supply store somewhere in the West Country.

In the 1990s, there was apparently an effort to restart the pottery, headed by Roland Bence, a former decorator. However, the rights to the name are owned by Illsley’s widow, Judith, who declined the offer.


*Carol Cashmore, 1994. "Troika Pottery St Ives". ISBN 99912-590-4-X
*George Perrott, 2003. "Troika Ceramics of Cornwall". Gemini Publications. ISBN 0-9530637-3-9

External links

* [ Cornish Ceramics information on Troika]
* [ Troika pottery marks and history]
* [ Troika pottery history]

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