—by Rachel Fang
It was only because I was cashiering unexpectedly that I had the good luck to meet Peter Leach, a local potter and photographer who also happens to be an HPC member. His name rang a bell with me because I have a mug he made, a fact I was made aware of only when a friend pointed out his logo on its base.
If you’re into Japanese gardens, you may know Peter Leach’s photographs; as a volunteer at the Japanese Garden at Como Park's Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, he has access to the garden
year-round and has taken the opportunity to photograph it in all its seasons. His photos were shown in the Bonsai Room at the conservatory in 2010 and at an exhibit in Nagasaki (also in 2010) celebrating the 55th year of St. Paul’s sister city relationship with Nagasaki.
Peter Leach is a tall guy and he had to bend down slightly to swipe his card. He looked surprised when I asked him if he was the same Peter Leach who was as well known for his pottery as Warren Mackenzie in the 1960s and 70s.
I talked to Peter and his wife, Nan Skelton, at their home in St. Paul near Como Park, a modern
multi-level house built by a local contractor in the 1970s as a “bachelor pad” after his divorce. The house has a somewhat plain dark gray exterior, a large picture window and a bright red garage door. Inside it is anything but plain. Handmade wood shelves full of pottery, much of it his, line the kitchen’s walls; and a lovely sunroom with skylights and more wood details on the windows and ceiling sits next to the kitchen.
We sat in the sunroom and I asked him about the mug that I’d bought at a local thrift store even though it has the name “Jill” printed on it. He smiled as he told me about the tradition at Al’s Breakfast of giving new employees mugs with their names on them at Christmas. My mug was one of these, he thought, and must have been around quite a while, as he hadn’t made mugs for Al’s in many years. These days, according to Peter, a former student of his makes the mugs.
I asked Peter why he stopped making pottery and he said, “the kind of pottery I make is like granola, simple but not dull. I made pottery that people used and let their kids use, not frou-frou pottery for high end dining.” As tastes in pottery changed, Peter Leach's interests turned to different media such as photography. The pots he makes now are primarily for family and friends.
Peter and his wife became members of Hampden Park Co-op five or six years ago, though they have shopped at the co-op much longer than that. They like the friendly vibe at HPC, as well as the fact that it’s close. “We enjoy the co-op and want to support it. I’m in charge of buying granola and coffee. Nan takes care of everything else,” he said. “We like running into people we know and we always try to remember to round up.”
[Rachel Fang is a new homeowner, new dog owner, and a host mom for a high school student from Kazakhstan. She is adjusting to life with three teenagers (1 canine, 2 human). However, her cats are proving less adaptable.]