By an odd coincidence, my mother and Lucie Rie share the same birthday (16 March) but not the same year. My mother was born in 1901, one year before Lucie Rie. But there the similarities end. My mother was one of eleven children born in a tiny Derbyshire village to a coal-mining father who preached the Methodist message on the Sabbath. She entered ‘service’ in nearby Nottingham in her early teens, where she remained until she married my father. By contrast Lucie was born into a well-to-do Viennese, Jewish family and was one of three children. Educated by a private tutor and then at a fashionable girls' school, she attended the progressive school of arts and crafts in Vienna where she trained as a potter. Her life was comfortable and privileged though not without its sadnesses. Her younger brother, of whom she was very fond, was killed on the Italian front in the First World War while four years later a man for whom she had a passion was found frozen to death in the Austrian Alps. Most of my mother’s siblings became coal miners and hence excused army service.
I was musing on these similarities and differences partly because I am currently researching Lucie’s life and writing a biography of her, and partly because I recently met the veteran artist Ruth Duckworth who, at the age of ninety, reminded me of both Lucie and my mother. Although Lucie left a fine legacy of pots she was a private person, so no diaries and few letters have so far come to light. My mother’s legacy was a family of five children and a host of grandchildren. But she too left little for a biographer to scrutinise, as letters were rarely kept or records made. Such ruminations led me to ponder whether a biography of my mother or Lucie – though both very different – would be more fulfilling. Maybe there are two books to write.