Michael Cardew was born in Wimbledon, London in 1901, and studied Classics at Exeter College in Oxford. He became the first apprentice at the Leach Pottery in St. Ives, Cornwall in 1923, following his graduation from university. He shared an interest in slipware with Bernard Leach and was influenced by the pottery of Shoji Hamada. Three years later, he left St Ives to restart the Greet Potteries at Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, where he aimed to make pottery that was functional and affordable. The ceramics he made there were produced using local clay and fired in a traditional bottle kiln.
In 1939, Cardew built a pottery in Cornwall, where he produced earthenware and stoneware. In 1942, he began working as a ceramist at Achimota School, an elite school for Africans in the Gold Coast of Ghana, and in 1945 he moved to Vumë where he set up a pottery. Australian potter Ivan McMeekin became a partner of Cardew's pottery in Cornwall in 1950 and ran it while Cardew was in Africa.
Cardew returned to England in 1948 and made stoneware pottery at Wenford Bridge. He was later appointed as a Pottery Officer by the Nigerian government in the Department of Commerce and Industry, during which time he built and developed a pottery training centre at Abuja in Northern Nigeria. In 1965, he returned to Wenford Bridge and retired.
Cardew's travels include America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. While he travelled, he made pots, demonstrated his work, wrote and taught.
His work is represented in public collections throughout the UK, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.