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Trail Stop No 3 - 1960s:
Troika Pottery opens at St. Ives

The business was set up by three partners: Leslie Illsley, an artist, Benny Siroto, a potter, and Jan Thompson, an architect and silent partner. The three bought the Powell and Wells pottery in 1963 which operated out of the basement the building at Wheal Dream which St. Ives Museum now occupies. ‘Troika’ derives from a Russian word meaning ‘set of three’, reflecting the organisation of the business partnership. Benny also explained that his grandfather had escaped from Russia dressed as a woman on a troika, a sledge pulled by three horses.

Whilst carrying on limited production using Powell and Wells moulds, Benny and Leslie decided to stop making name plaques as they did not want to be reliant solely on the summer tourist trade. Instead, they chose to create their own shapes with contemporary designs. By the end of 1963 Benny had procured a contract with Heal’s department store in London which meant the pottery could remain open all year round. To speed up production Leslie started replicating Benny’s thrown and slab-built pots using moulds, a skill he had learnt in his late teens. These were then decorated individually and uniquely by the decorators, Kristen Roth and Stella Benjamin.

New decorators were employed as the business grew and the decorator’s signatures, which can be found on the bottom of each item, helps to date items. The plaster moulds would only last for approximately 30-50 uses, which became an issue for production. To make them last longer Leslie started gluing sand from Bamaluz Beach into them to give them texture. Eventually markings were also impressed using nails heads and designs etched into the mould, creating the textured look Troika became known for.

In late 1967, Leslie moved to a derelict building in Back Road West to develop a second and distinct collection. In contrast these were smooth, usually black or white and became known as the Sculptures for Living range. By 1970 larger premises were needed to accommodate new staff members Sylvia Valance, Roland Bence, Honor Perkins, Marilyn Pascoe and Don Fowler. The manufacturing eventually relocated to Newlyn where they remained until 1983. Troika retained a shop on Fore Street in St Ives until 1980.

Troika double base vase.jpg
Troika at Wheal Dream.jpg
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