In late winter, the clay community lost an influential and esteemed member. Peter Leach passed away on January 17, 2021 at the age of 87 and left a legacy in ceramics that deserves our ceaseless respect and gratitude. Peter was a founding member, if not the driving force, behind the creation of Northern Clay Center. When sharing remembrances with others, what stands out however, is his passions completely unrelated to his talent as a potter. Kay Erickson, another founding member and Honorary Director, reminisced about morel mushrooms, brilliant pasta dishes, and Peter’s generosity and drive. Linda Coffey, long-tenured board member, collector, volunteer, and also part of those founding conversations shared,
Peter was a man who lived large. Not only did he have big dreams, like founding Northern Clay Center, he also made beautiful, big, and stunningly simple pots. I knew him when he was the driver behind NCC, as well as when he was a mycophile (morels only, I believe), and also as a cribbage player. He commissioned a friend to make a cribbage board for me which I continue to love 20 years later. We will miss him!
And, Sarah Millfelt, former NCC Executive Director and staff for 20 years wrote the following about Peter,
Peter Leach was already a legend by the time I joined the Clay Center’s staff in 1999. I don’t think I had the privilege of really talking with him directly until years later, when I took the reins of NCC. Peter remained incredibly passionate about NCC—its service to ceramic artists, its past, and its future—well beyond his tenure with the organization. He shared his opinions about NCC freely during his visits with me; they were plentiful and we didn’t often, if ever, agree! Instead of feeling a need to seek his approval of my vision and efforts for the Clay Center, our encounters instead imbedded in me a sense of duty to honor the past of NCC and a desire to place value on the people who made NCC the magical place it was, it is. At our every meet up, Peter proudly told and retold the story of NCC’s inception with incredible detail. At one point, and for my own personal edification, I remember scribing his story with pen and paper—including the exact list of individuals who were present the day Northern Clay Center was first hatched, and without care to what had already been scribed through formal means at NCC. It was an effort to memorialize our time together.
Our last meet-up was June 13, 2019, and we spent a wonderful morning together at Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown. The staff knew him by name, and I had the great honor of listening to him and the owner swap stories of the old days when Peter was a student potter and frequented the establishment. They pulled out a few dusty vintage Peter Leach pots for me to view; they were so proud to know this man. I ate my weight in pancakes, bacon, and hash browns that morning; Peter paid; we agreed to meet again at that very spot before my tenure at NCC was up, and I’d pick up the tab. I walked him out to his car and told him I was excited for our next breakfast date, which never happened, unfortunately. But my final memory of him is a warm one, with a single shared opinion between us—diner breakfasts were the absolute best!
So, thank you, Peter. From everyone who has had even one positive moment related to Northern Clay Center, you are offered thanks and respect.
In conclusion, Peter was passionate about clay and changed our region, if not world, with the founding of Northern Clay Center. But we would be remiss if we failed to expound on the recurring themes also present in the memories shared above. Namely, Peter loved morel mushrooms and hunting for such. He was prolific and talented in this regard. Peter loved Al’s Diner. Peter loved cribbage. Peter loved food—both cooking and eating it. He was rumored to have authored a cookbook under the pen name Malfred Ferndock featuring, yes, morel mushrooms. NCC has unearthed a copy and acquired it for inclusion in our library in honor of Peter’s non-ceramic life. Here is just one winner recipe of Peter’s (erm, Malfred’s) for you to enjoy.
Your friends at NCC
Malfred Ferndock’s Morel Spread
Makes about 1 cup
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 cup chopped morels (or cultivated mushrooms)
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sherry
In a large frying pan heat 1/4 cup butter and saute mushrooms. Cool. Pour mushrooms and any juices that have accumulated into a blender or food processor, along with remaining 1/2 cup butter, sour cream, seasonings and sherry. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Chill slightly. Serve on crackers, bread or slices of raw vegetable.