25 August 2016


I discover good ceramists every day. Here are two pieces by Vivien Moir, a Scottish artist. She trained as an illustrator at Jordanstone College of Art and Design and lives on the west coast of Scotland. I found these images on the website of the Water Street Gallery in Todmorden, and the Heinzel Gallery in Aberdeen, where she exhibits. Her blue-and-white illustrations recall the 17th century ceramics of Delft, in particular their naive pictures of Adam and Eve and of King William III on a horse. Utterly charming.

24 August 2016


Here is a good description, with many photos, of the "Aesthetic" suburb of Bedford Park, written by Phil Beard. Bedford Park was a development for artistic people built in the last quarter of the 19th century and a concentration of Arts and Crafts ideals.

G.K.Chesterton mocked it in The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), which opens like this:

"The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset. It was built of a bright brick throughout; its sky-line was fantastic, and even its ground plan was wild. It had been the outburst of a speculative builder, faintly tinged with art, who called its architecture sometimes Elizabethan and sometimes Queen Anne, apparently under the impression that the two sovereigns were identical. It was described with some justice as an artistic colony, though it never in any definable way produced any art. But although its pretensions to be an intellectual centre were a little vague, its pretensions to be a pleasant place were quite indisputable. The stranger who looked for the first time at the quaint red houses could only think how very oddly shaped the people must be who could fit in to them. Nor when he met the people was he disappointed in this respect. The place was not only pleasant, but perfect, if once he could regard it not as a deception but rather as a dream. Even if the people were not "artists," the whole was nevertheless artistic."

23 August 2016


On Sunday I came back from exhibiting at Hatfield Art in Clay, slept well and unloaded the car the next day. Now a moment of reflection. Who were the best in show? Impossible to say, but here are ten good ones, reflecting my tastes and prejudices. What I looked for was a personal voice, sureness of execution, mastery of technique and that indefinable energy that makes a piece of pottery stand out from the rest. Naturally, I respond to the use of colour, but there are some muted pieces here as well.


At 80, Robin was the senior potter of the show. In his long career he's been a production potter, making thousands of pieces on the jigger-and-jolley with a band of assistants, and is now an artist potter of distinction working alone. I bought two bowls by him and a little life story written as an A-level project by his grand-daughter; but why is there no serious biography of this major figure of 20th century studio pottery?


I love Yo Thom's small, shy, grey pots. She was born in Japan, studied in the UK and trained with the Japanese-inspired British studio potter, Lisa Hammond. She works in Dorset and sells in the UK, Europe and Japan. Yo's Facebook page is here.


I picked out Vilas's work last year and perhaps it's unfair to others if I pick him out again, but his Zen Rogue heads have developed and are now drained of colour. He works meticulously, as you might guess from his small, neat appearance. Website here, but unfortunately he doesn't show his most recent work.


Daphne taught me at Harrow and I still refer to her notes on ceramic chemistry. She's one of the few tin-glaze potters in the UK and shows great restraint in her monochrome drawing, forgoing the dozens of colours available for maiolica. Line and texture dominate, with botanical themes that have the right balance of realism and abstraction. Website here.


A new potter to me. She graduated from Camberwell in 2014 and has already made a considerable impression. She's inspired by mathematical relationships, which she explores through geometric patterns applied to distorted forms. As an anti-Romantic I'm drawn to artists who make calculated and unemotional work like this, and Rhian does it well. She's artist in Residence at The Ceramic Studio Warwickshire and is supported by the Crafts Council's Hothouse 2016 programme. Website here.


Now for a colourist. Barry Stedman works in earthenware so that he can get bright colours in his ceramics. He's also an accomplished watercolour painter. Every time I see his work, it's developed just a little bit. His colours this year are paler and softer; the matt, unglazed areas are getting bigger and he now uses drawn lines in addition to fields of colour. Website here, but, again, no recent work is shown.


If you watched The Great Pottery Throwdown you'll have seen Richard in the background - he was one of the technicians on the programme. Richard combines the direction of Froyle Tiles, a company making high-quality tiles, with individual work of originality. His stoneware vessels are thrown and pressed, then dozens of little transfers are applied. Website here.


Another figurative potter, making work as different from mine as you could imagine: amusing but rather unsettling figures. Wu says, "I always had a hard time when asked about my work - I have no deep meanings - not ones that I recognise anyway! I just produce from my heart, sensing when what I’m creating begins to feel right." So just enjoy it. Like all the others, superbly made. Website here.


Traditional slipware in earth colours remains popular. Jennifer Hall's work is not original but it's made with verve, the shapes are just-so and there's a well-judged translucency in the slip. Website here.


Perfectly made, wood-fired ceramics from Germany. Susanne Lukács-Ringel works in Zweifalten in south-west Germany but regularly appears at Hatfield. I always want to buy her work but - and this is the problem potters have with potential customers - I'd have to throw away something to make room for it. OK, next year. Website here.

15 August 2016


As I'm packing my ceramics to show at the Art in Clay pottery fair next weekend, I wondered how many sales opportunities potters have in this country. There's Art in Clay in Farnham as well, Ceramic Art London, ditto York, Ceramics in the City at the Geffrye Museum, the Potfest fairs (three of them), Earth and Fire at Rufford in Nottinghamshire, the Craft Potters Association show for its members in Oxford, a big pottery jamboree in Aberystwyth, the Ceramic Biennale in Stoke on Trent - that's a dozen. I may have forgotten some - let's call it a dozen and a half. Then I suppose one should include the craft fairs that include not only pottery but other crafts as well - Craft & Design lists 62, so 80 altogether. That's pretty good.

I've mentioned in other posts that there's virtually no public support for craft marketing in the UK. The government-supported Crafts Council runs Collect for galleries, emphasizing artistic crafts of international standard and therefore inaccessible to 99% of makers. France and Italy have more fine-grained, city based support for the crafts. If you think that 80 craft fairs in the UK is good, here's the list of markets dedicated to pottery alone in France - 217 of them:

ALBERTVILLE Juillet Marché Des Potiers
ALBI 19 Mars Au 19 Septembre 2016 Journées Portes Ouvertes Aux Poteries D´Albi
ALLANCHE Juillet Marché De Potiers
ALLEYRAS Juillet Fête De La Poterie
ALLONNE Juin De Briques Et De Pots
ALLONNE Juin La Fête De L´Argile De Briques Et De Pots
AMPUIS Octobre Exposition De Céramique
ANCENIS 03 Au 04 Décembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
ANDUZE Juillet Marché Potiers
ANDUZE 13 Au 15 Août 2016 Festival De La Céramique
ANDUZE 25 Septembre 2016 Braderie Des Potiers
ANDUZE Décembre Marché Des Potiers
ANNECY Mai Marché De Potiers
ANTIBES 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Marché Potiers DŽantibes
APT 17 Août 2016 Marché Potier
ARBOIS Mai Rencontres Céramiques
ARCUEIL Avril Marché De Potiers
ARGENTON SUR CREUSE Juin Marché National De Potiers
ARGENTAT Aout Marche De Potiers
ARPAJON Avril Marché De Potiers
ARVIEUX 12 Août 2016 Marché Potier De Arvieux
AUBINGES Aout Marché Potier De Morogues
AUVILLAR 2eme Week End Octobre Marché De Potiers
AUVILLAR 08 Au 09 Octobre 2016 Marché De Potiers
AYEN Mai Marché Potiers Métiers D´Art
BANDOL Mars Le Printemps Des Potiers
BARJAC 28 Juillet 2016 Marché De Potiers
BAUME LES MESSIEURS Mai Rencontres Céramiques À Arbois
BAVENT Juin Festival Bavent Terre D´Argile
BEAUMONT DU PÉRIGORD Septembre Marché Des Potiers Et Céramistes
BEAUREGARD DE TERRASSON Juillet Marché De Potiers Festivi Terre
BEAURONNE 13 Au 14 Août 2016 Marché Des Potiers De Beauronne
BEAUVAIS Novembre Salon De Céramique Contemporaine
BÉLESTA Avril Mai Journées De La Céramique
BERGERAC Mai Festival Des Potiers
BERGÈRES Mai Marché De Potiers
BONNIEUX WE Pâques Marché Potier
BOUCHAIN Juin Biennale De La Céramique Et Verre
BRESSUIRE Septembre Fête De La Poterie De St Porchaire
BRICQUEBEC 07 Au 08 Aout 2016 Marché Des Potiers
BUSSIÈRE BADIL Mai Foire Des Potiers
CADENET Mai Marché Artisanal Floralies Potiers
CAHORS Mai Marche De Potiers
CALLIAN Avril Marché De Potiers
CAJARC Décembre Marche De Potiers
CASSIS 03 Septembre 2016 Marché Des Potiers De Cassis
CASTELLANE 11 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
CASTELNAUDARY Juillet Marché De Potiers
CAYLUS 15 Août 2016 Marché Des Potiers
CHANAZ Juillet Marché Potier
CHANTEMERLE LES GRIGNAN Juin Biennale De La Céramique
CHARLIEU Juin Terrus Locus
CHÂTEAURENARD Juin Marche Potiers
CHÂTILLON SUR CHALARONNE Décembre 30 Potiers Sous Les Halles
CHÉNIERS Juillet Marche De Potiers
CLIOUSCLAT Juin Marché De Potiers
COLLIAS 04 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
COTIGNAC 04 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
CRILLON LE BRAVE 21 Août 2016 Marché Potier De Crillon Le Brave
CUCURON Juillet Marché Potier De Cucuron
DIE Mai Marché De Potiers
DIGNE LES BAINS 10 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
DINAN Septembre T´Rance Ceramique
DOURDAN Juin Marché De Potiers
ENGHIEN LES BAINS 08 Au 09 Octobre 2016 Les Créateurs
ETRETAT 16 Au 17 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
FAVIÈRES Mars Marché De Potiers
FERNEY VOLTAIRE 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Marché Des Potiers
FLAYOSC 21 Juillet 2016 Marche De Potiers
FLORENCE Octobre Fiera Internazionale Della Ceramica
FONTVIEILLE Juin Marché Potier
GIMONT 1er Mai Braderie De Potiers
GIROUSSENS Juin Marché De Potiers De Giroussens
GORDES Juillet Marché Potier De Gordes
GOUTTIERES Avril Marché De Potiers
GRIGNAN 03 Août 2016 Marché De Potiers
GRUYÈRES Octobre Arts Du Feu, Marché De La Céramique, Du Verre Et Du Métal
HASTINGUES Mai Festival De Céramique
HERBIGNAC Mai Marché De Potiers
HONFLEUR We Paques Marché Des Potiers
HONFLEUR Mars Marché De Potiers
HUSSEREN WESSERLING Avril Mai  Marché Des Potiers
ILLZACH Avril Biennale De La Céramique
ISPAGNAC 10 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
JOUY LE POTIER Juin Marché De Potiers
KAYSERSBERG 03 Au 04 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
LA CHAPELLE AUX POTS Juin 2017 Marché Des Potiers De L’Oise
LA COTE SAINT ANDRÉ Aucun En Mai 2016 Marché Potier
LA TOUR D´AIGUES 1er Mai Fête Des Potiers
LAGRASSE 20 Au 21 Août 2016 Marche De Potiers
LAMBALLE Mai Marché Des Potier
LANGEAIS 20 Au 21 Août 2016 Les Céramicales De Langeais
LAUZERTE Juillet Marché Potier
LE BEAUSSET Aout Marché Potier
LE BEC HELLOUIN Avril Marché De Potiers
LE CHANGE 15 Aout Marché De Potiers
LE CHATELET Juin Marché De Potiers
LE FUILET Juillet Marché De Potiers
LE GRAND BORNAND 10 Au 11 Août 2016 Marche Potier
LE VIGAN Mars Marché De Potiers
LES VANS Juillet Marché De Potiers
LILLEBONNE 01 Au 02 Octobre 2016 Marché De Potiers
LIMEUIL Juillet Marché De Potiers
LIMOUX Juin Marché Des Potiers
LONGCHAMP Septembre Fête De La Céramique Et Des Métiers D´Art
LONGUENESSE 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 La Céramique Dans Le Parc
LYON Avril Céramique Au Fil De L´Eau
LYON 10 Au 11 Septembre 2016 Les Tupiniers
MALICORNE SUR SARTHE 18 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
MANOSQUE 06 Août 2016 Marché Potier De Manosque
MARSEILLAN Juin Marché De Potiers
MARSEILLE Mai Marché De Potiers
MEILLONNAS Mai Marché De Potiers
MELUN 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers De Céramiques Sur Seine
MELUN 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Céramiques Sur Seine
MENOTEY Juin Marché Des Potiers
MEYRUEIS Juillet Marché De Potiers
MILLAU Mai Marché De Potiers
MILLY LA FORET 24 Au 25 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
MIREPOIX Aout Marché De Potiers De Mirepoix
MONS 04 Août 2016 Marché Potier
MONT DAUPHIN Juillet Marché Potier De Mont Dauphin
MONTBAZIN Mai Marché Potiers De Motbazin
MONTELIMAR 20 Au 21 Août 2016 Terra Potiers
MONTPEYROUX Juillet Marché De Potiers
MORESTEL Juillet Marché De Potiers
MOROGUES Aout Marché Potiers
MOUANS SARTOUX Juillet Marché De Potiers
MOULINS LA MARCHE Juillet Marche De Potiers
MORESTEL Décembre Marché De Potiers
MOURIÈS 07 Août 2016 Marché Potiers
NARBONNE Juillet Marché De Potiers
NEUVY Juin 9ème Marché De Potiers
NIMES Octobre Salon De L´Art Santonnier
NUITS SAINT GEORGES Mai Juin  Marché Des Potiers
NYONS Juillet Marché De Potiers
PLAPPEVILLE Mai Marché De Potiers
PARIS 5ÈME ARRT Juin Festival Céramique Village Mouffetard
PARIS Juin Juillet Les Journées De La Céramique
PARIS 11ÈME ARRT Avril Festival De Céramique
PARIS 14ÈME 05 Au 09 Octobre 2016 Salon Céramique 14
PÉLUSSIN Juin Marché De Potier
PERNES LES FONTAINES Juillet Marché Potier De Pernes Les Fontaines
PIERREFONDS Mai Marché De Potiers
POCE SUR CISSE Avril Marché De Potiers
POITIERS Mai Marche De Potiers
POMMIERS Mai Marché De Potiers
PRÉVELLES Juin Juillet Biennale Internationale De La Céramique
PROVINS Décembre Marché Des Céramistes & Potiers
PUJOLS 28 Août 2016 Marché De Potiers
QUIMPER 03 Au 04 Septembre 2016 Marché De La Céramique
RABLAY SUR LAYON 20 Au 21 Août 2016 Marché De Potiers
RAVEL 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
ROCHEFORT EN TERRE Juillet Marche De Potier
ROQUEBRUNE SUR ARGENS 21 Août 2016 Marché Potier
ROUSSILLON Juin Marché Potier De Roussillon
RUMILLY Juin Marché De Potiers
SADIRAC Juin Marché Potiers
SADIRAC Juin Festival Céramique En Fête
SAINT AVÉ Octobre Marché De Potiers
SAINT CANNAT Juillet Marché Potier De Saint Cannat
SAINT CÉRÉ 11 Au 12 Août 2016 Marché Des Potiers
SAINT CHAMAS Juin Fête De La Terre
SAINT CLÉMENT LES PLACES Juillet Marché De Potiers
SAINT CYR LA ROSIÈRE Février Marché De Potiers
SAINT CYR LA ROSIÈRE Juin Marché Potiers Et Artisans
SAINT GABRIEL BRECY Mai Marché Des Potiers
SAINT JEAN DE FOS 06 Au 07 Août 2016 Marché De Potiers
SAINT JEAN LA POTERIE Septembre Fête Des Lises
SAINT JUST SAINT RAMBERT Avril Céramique Au Fil De L´Eau
SAINT LEU LA FORÊT Mai Tout Feu Tout Flamme
SAINT PALAIS Mai Marché De Potiers
SAINT PAUL SUR SAVE Mai Exposition De Poterie Et Portes Ouvertes De L´Atelier
SAINT PÉRAY Septembre Marché De Potiers De Rhone Crussol
SAINT PONS DE THOMIERES Juillet Marché Potiers
SAINT PRYVE SAINT MESMIN 25 Au 27 Novembre 2016 Salon De Céramiques Contemporaines Ceramicalies
SAINT QUENTIN LA POTERIE Juillet Festival Européen Céramique
SAINT SAUVEUR EN PUISAYE Décembre Foire Aux Potiers
SALERNES Juin Festibols
SALERS 20 Au 21 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
SALLÈLES D´AUDE 14 Au 15 Août 2016 Marche De Potiers
SARZEAU Juillet Marché De Potiers Suscinio
SAULT Aout Marché Potier
SAUVE Juillet Marché Potiers
SEILLANS 15 Août 2016 Marché Potier
SÉVERAC LE CHÂTEAU  Aout Marché De Potiers
TAMNAY EN BAZOIS Juillet Marché De Potiers
TOULOUSE 08 Au 09 Octobre 2016 Les Allées Céramiques
TOUR EN SOLOGNE 1er Et 02 Octobre 2016 Marché De Potiers
TOURRETTES SUR LOUP 04 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
TOURTOUR 19 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
TREIGNY 13 Août 2016 Au 14 Août 2016 Festival De Céramique
TRÉVOUX Juin Marché Des Potiers
UZES Mars Marché De Potiers
UZECH LES OULES Aout Foire De La Poterie
VALBERG Juillet Marché Potiers De Valberg
VALLAURIS Juillet Marché De Potiers
VALLOUISE 02 Août 2016 Marché Potier De Vallouise
VANNES 10 Au 11 Aout 2016 L´Été Des Potiers Sur Le Port
VARAGES 14 Aout 2016 Marché De Potiers
VARAGES 14 Août 2016 Fête De La Céramique
VELLERON Aout Marché Potier De Velleron
VENCE Mai Marche De Potiers
VENOSC 04 Août 2016 Marche Des Potiers
VERSAILLES 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Les Journées Des Potiers
VILLANDRAUT Aout Foire À La Poterie
VILLEFRANCHE DE ROUERGUE 17 Au 18 Septembre 2016 Marché De Potiers
VINON SUR VERDON Décembre Marché Potier

POSTSCRIPT 17 August 2016

Irena Sibrijns writes: "Many markets doesn't necessarily mean a good thing. I spent 7 years in France trying to make a living and found it diabolical. Lots of cameraderie and meals in the evening organised by the mairie or the potters of the village but few sales. I love being a potter in the UK and find there is a supportive public and many galleries for our work."
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14 August 2016


I went with Kati on her birthday to a nice restaurant in Shoreditch, the Rochelle Street Canteen. With a dash of irony it’s been set up in the bike shed of an old school.

I liked the food and the ambience, here at the heart of Remain Britain, where The New European was conceived. But the visit had a special interest for me because my mother went to Rochelle Street School early in the last century.

Here she is in Class 4, in a white dress in the centre of the front row. On her left with the fringe is her lifelong friend, Renee Lands. I sat in the same schoolyard the other day enjoying my aubergine, chickpea and shallot with labneh. When the photo was taken in 1920, my mother spoke only Yiddish and my grandmother had to borrow money to feed the family.

Rochelle Street is in the Boundary Estate, the first public housing scheme in Britain, put up by the London County Council (LCC) under a Liberal-Labour administration.

When my mother told me about the Boundary Estate, when I was a child in the mid-1950s, you couldn’t find much about it in it print, but it's now well-known and well documented. In the fifties, the flats were pretty much as my mother knew them in the 1920s, small and without baths, some without inside toilets. The LCC were just enlarging them by knocking three into two. In the 1970s, the estate’s profile was raised when squatters moved in homeless Bangladeshis. They stamped their culture on the area much as the Jews had done seventy years before. When I reconnoitered there, editing my late mother’s autobiography in 2000, it was still unfashionable. Now the old Rochelle Street School is an arts centre and there’s this chic restaurant. The buildings are listed, Grade II, and designers and media types are falling over themselves to buy anything that comes on to the market - a two-bedroom flat in Sunbury House costs £725,000.

Sunbury Buildings, 1897. My mother was born there in 1916. (London Metropolitan Archive)

An original scullery. (London Metropolitan Archive)
My mother never called it the Boundary Estate, always The Buildings. She was the youngest of four in a two-room flat with no bath, no toilet and no inside water. The three boys slept on the couch and she slept with her parents. No wonder there were no more children after her.

There was a large Jewish community and Rochelle Street School had so many Jews that it closed on Jewish holidays as well as Christian ones. There was open anti-Semitism, not just on the streets but from teachers as well. There were places Jews didn’t go, especially Hoxton, where Mosley’s Blackshirts flourished.

Let's not be sentimental about the old East End: my mother hated it. There were bedbugs. Her father was in poor health and often out of work. Until her older brothers went to work they were always short of money. The close community spirit was nothing to her: she disliked people living in each other’s houses and, when she married, she moved to a semi-detached house in Pinner and closed the door behind her.

Today we would call the Boundary Estate development "sustainable": there was the improved accommodation, local employment in workshops interspersed with the flats, communal gardens, a central park with a bandstand, a laundry, schools and shops.

Charles Canning Winmill
Boundary is famous as the first housing development for the working class in Europe and it’s notable for its Arts and Crafts Architecture. At the LCC, the Arts and Crafts ideals of high-minded simple living and good design came together with the radicalism of the Liberals and the socialism of Labour. In 1893 they created a branch of the architects’ department dedicated to the Housing of the Working Classes. Most of its staff were influenced by William Morris, Philip Webb (who designed Morris’s Red House), Norman Shaw and W.R.Lethaby. Lethaby himself was commissioned by the LCC’s Technical Education committee to devise a new scheme of craft education, which bore fruit in the Central School of Arts and Crafts. The 1890s, when the estate was built, was the apogee of the Arts and Crafts movement and its philosophy permeated the LCC’s housing, education and design.

The Boundary Estate's principal architect, Charles Canning Winmill, one of the first appointed to the Housing of the Working Classes department, was a friend and disciple of Webb's and his conception and details are totally Arts and Crafts.

Boundary Estate, 1907, with one of the communal gardens. (London Metropolitan Archive)
The Estate was laid out in a radial pattern of tree-lined avenues around Arnold Circus. There's variety in the buildings and, according to my mother, all the flats were different. They were designed for the artisan class. Capital was raised commercially and the rents were high, which meant that the poor displaced from the former slums couldn't afford to live there. The high rent may have been the reason why my grandparents always had to borrow.

Sunbury House  has a façade facing an inner courtyard, with end façades facing Swanfield Street and Hocker Street. It's constructed of red brick with bands of yellow. The main façade is arranged in bays and recessed portions, enlivened with gables, turrets, dormers, stone copings, tiled window surrounds and window heads of different shapes. The other buildings show similar lively detail - stone bands between courses of red bricks, Dutch gables, dormers, varied window heads and interesting gable ends. This colouring and detail is partly the effect of Ruskin’s advocacy of Venetian architecture, a type of building derided as the "Streaky Bacon Style". The British Architect called the Boundary Estate “Stripeland”. Ruskin began to regret his influence on building and deplored the fancy brickwork on factory chimneys and the pubs in Italian Gothic.

The LCC’s second housing development was the Millbank Estate in Vauxhall, also in Arts and Crafts style, and also worth looking at when you visit Tate Britain. It had better accommodation than Boundary, but less variation in colour and material.

Hurley House: bands of red and yellow brick, tall chimneys, Dutch gables and glazed tiles.
The estate is attractive and its layout, architectural details and social purpose make it still desirable. It reminded me of an Arts and Crafts development for the working class that I visited last summer, the Wekerle Estate in Budapest, which is also a desirable and popular place to live in.
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4 August 2016


Travel broadens the mind and it's a good source of ideas for artists - not only the grand sights but also the humble ones. In Amsterdam last December, during a mild spell, we wandered round the canals in the early morning, in a wonderfully low, pearly light, looking for breakfast. We came across Koffiespot on the Ellengracht, which lives up to its name with the best coffee in the city. I liked the way they decorated the tables with berried twigs in a jar.

Earlier in the year I'd done a short course on painting at Guanghwa, the bookshop in London's Chinatown. I'm a brushaholic and always visit Guanghwa after a Chinese meal for their amazingly cheap brushes, and last year I saw a card advertising lessons in painting, Chinese style. My style of decorating pottery depends on the type of one-stroke painting that the Chinese perfected, so I thought I might learn something.

On my first lesson I went into a little classroom in the basement and exchanged greetings with my teacher and fellow-students, all of whom were Chinese. To begin the lesson the teacher addressed me first. "Do you speak Mandarin?" "No."  "Oh, the teaching is in Mandarin." I might have retired from the class if it hadn't been for Kelvin, a very kind bilingual lawyer, who interpreted for me throughout the ten lessons.

Learning to paint in the Chinese style means learning rules and putting aside western Romantic ideas of freedom and self-expression. Bamboo leaves have to be combined in odd numbers, arranged asymmetrically and to be of different sizes and intensities of ink. There are styles for bamboo in the rain, bamboo under dew and bamboo in a light west wind. Don't imagine you have anything personal to contribute. My teacher had a little English: as she inspected my work she would say, "Nice" or "Not nice."

I do hope she thinks my humble rendering of the berried twigs in Koffiespot is "Nice".

7 July 2016


My sociology professor, Stan Cohen, wrote a book Folk Devils and Moral Panics about the Mod on Rocker battles at Margate, Brighton and Bournemouth in the early 1960s and introduced the term "moral panic" into the language. Stan hung out with the Mods and Rockers for his PhD research.

Ringo Starr, asked if he was a Mod or a Rocker, said, "I'm a Mocker". I never had a parka or a Lambretta, but I was a Mod, a proper Mod, a Mod before Mod. I was into Hard Bop, Italian fashion and the International Style. Hard Bop was the style of modern jazz that succeeded Bebop, exemplied by Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley and Thelonious Monk. I despised the Trad Jazz Revival, with those repulsive phonies from the home counties, Chris Barber and Acker Bilk - the first rivalry, before Mods and Rockers, was Modernists vs. Trads.

Around 1960, as my parents' finances improved, we left behind the holiday resorts of Margate and Bournemouth and went to Riccione and Viareggio. Riccione, "The Green Pearl of the Adriatic", had been made popular by Mussolini in the 1930s and was expanding rapidly post-war, with cool modernist hotels and a spacious promenade. Italy led the world in fashion and interior design. Sharp, neat Italian clothing was pushing aside the baggy demob suits and short-back-and-sides of British men. We north London boys wore narrow trousers, narrow ties, short jackets and hair cut the same length all over.

1960 was the high tide of modernism. Town planners and architects swept away everything old, cramped and impractical. Building was functional, streamlined and airy. Ornament was crime and Victorian a four-letter word.

My taste in music was influenced by my friend Russell, whose father was the jazz drummer Tony Crombie. We followed Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk, who came over to play at the Gaumont State Cinema in Kilburn. I was wearing trousers and ties I'd bought in Italy and carrying books about Le Corbusier and Mies van de Rohe. We liked the way black jazz musicians dressed, but the most stylish dresser of all was Nat King Cole.  The Mods of Brighton and Margate, with razor blades sewn into their parkas, had some style, but they were johnny-come-latelies.

Dizzy Gillespie

Modern Jazz Quartet

Thelonious Monk

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

Nat King Cole, the sharpest dresser of all

23 June 2016


When A.W.N.Pugin built The Grange, his house in Ramsgate, in the 1840s, he put large bolts on the doors and made sure the windows were secured at night because he feared revolution in England. Wasn’t that a bit far-fetched, the fantasy of a mad Catholic Tory?  After all, the French Revolution had ended thirty years before. Well, what was happening to us thirty years ago?

Plans for a Channel Tunnel were underway. There was the Chernobyl disaster.  The privatization of the buses and British Gas began, seting in train the programme of wholesale de-nationalization. GCSE examinations replaced GCE ‘O’ Levels and CSE. The M25 was opened. For adults these are current affairs. In the early 1840s, the French Revolution was similarly alive in the minds of Europeans.

Pugin was the propagandist for the Gothic Revival. It had started with follies and romantic castles in the late 18th century, but Pugin, who worked with his father making detailed and extensive studies of Gothic architecture in Europe, turned it into a religion. “Gothic is not a style, it is a principle”, he said, and his love of Gothic led him into the Roman Catholic Church. His most public monument is the Big Ben tower in the Houses of Parliament and his gem the decorated church of St Giles, Cheadle.

I went to see the Grange at the suggestion of my old friend Hugh Thompson, who was curious about how every nineteenth century suburban house seemed to have churchy bits of stained glass in them and often other Gothic features as well. We started from St Pancras International station, the red-brick Gothic colossus in Euston Road. It's next to the simpler Kings Cross station (pictured), whose great engine sheds are visible from the street as you would expect from a functional building.

The proto-modernist Kings Cross is actually older than St Pancras, illustrating the 19th century battle of styles between Neo-Gothic and Neo-Classical. The battle was political: Tories were for Gothic and Liberals were for classical. Gilbert Scott, who designed St Pancras, submitted a similar design for the Foreign Office. The Liberal administration wanted a Classical building and sacked Scott, so he adapted his Foreign Office for the railways.

By the time Pugin built The Grange, in his early thirties, he had already had a long career. Having worked for his father from his early teens, he set up in business on his own at the age of seventeen. His capacity for work was enormous, driven partly by his bipolar personality. His office hours were 6 am to 10 pm. Between the ages of 26 and 28 he designed two cathedrals, a couple of monasteries and half a dozen churches. Punch kindly mocked him as the architect who could design a cathedral in 45 minutes. He had developed intellectually at a great pace as well, and had moved from the imitation of medieval models to the idea that the modern age needed to absorb the principles of Gothic and interpret them to make appropriate buildings that were not mere copies. The Grange was simpler than I imagined it would be from my superficial understanding of Gothic architecture. Although the wallpapers are rich in colour and pattern, they are not fussy. The furniture and joinery are plain. The carpets are woven in only a few colours. The garden is virtually empty, precisely as Pugin designed it. Pugin, who exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851, worked with the organizers, Henry Cole, Richard Redgrave and Owen Jones, on the selection of the best items from the exhibition for what became the Victoria and Albert Museum. No wonder Pevsner enlisted him as a pioneer of modern design.

Plugin’s piety and eccentricity made the building of a church, St Augustine’s, next to The Grange a necessary part of his plan. (There is also a private family chapel in The Grange.) He wanted to make it like a simple Kentish seaside church. It is asymmetrical with a nave and single aisle of equal width. An interesting Puginesque feature is the rood screen, which was originally built in front of the chancel. Pugin had the fixed idea that Catholic worship in England required rood screens to separate the Mass from the congregation. The idea was not widely accepted, even by English Catholics, and Pugin had to fight some of his clients over it, but St Augustine’s was built with his own money and he could do what he liked in it.

Today the rood screen has been moved from the chancel to a side chapel. Pugin would be on his own now: seventy years ago the Pope declared that Mass must be democratized and rood screens taken down. At St Augustine’s the priest plans to move it back again. I asked our guide what that would mean for the celebration of Mass? The priest is a clever man, I was told: the rood screen will be replaced but the altar will be put on wheels so the congregation can participate. St Augustine’s can be Puginesque and democratic at the same time. The revolution has finally reached Ramsgate.
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9 June 2016


I said in my last post about the ceramics of Vietri sul Mare that this popular pottery is thoroughly studied by Italian academics, and the Italian attitude to it contrasts with the indifference in the UK. (A pottery collector once dismissed my ceramics as "like the stuff you see in Italy".) The Italian ceramic discourse also seems to be more highly developed. Here (allowing for my limited grasp of Italian) is what Giorgio Napolitano writes in Ceramica Vietrese 1924-1954:

"When we encounter the ceramics of Vietri from the German Period, we are confronted not so much with the products of popular taste as with a ceramic dimension in which the popular is symbiotic with the earth and in which a deep and intense process of communication occurs. At one point there occurred a vital exchange between Vietri and the representatives of an outside culture, in which the social and symbolic language of mutual understanding created a model for communal engagement. In the encounter with Vietri we discover a ceramic archetype, where, as in similar places, the traditions of earth, fire and form-giving material are inextricably linked with myth, ritual and the ancient tales that make up the collective heritage of the people. We talk of an archetype because gesture is mediated even by geography, by the earth's primitive writing and by language. The first forms of communication between man and his origins are symbolic codes for the instincts and urges of the people of the ancient city of 'Veteris'."

More down to earth is a glaze recipe that Napolitano records. In the late 1920s, some of the manufacturers in Vietri were making glaze in the same way as as potters had been making it for hundreds of years. At Industria Ceramica Avallone (ICA), where some of the finest artists of the German Period worked, this is how they made their glaze:

95 Kg of lead and 5 Kg of tin were calcined together in a wood-fired kiln. The resulting frit was mixed with 150 Kg of white sand from the beaches of Tropea in Calabria, a little sand of Rome, 20 Kg sodium carbonate and 5 Kg borax mixed with a little sand of Rome. All were placed into a terracotta receptacle and fired to a glass, which was then shattered and milled. This glaze seems to be high in silica and  low in tin, and may therefore have the basis for later additions.

Lucio Liguori, a local potter I met on the Amalfi coast, told me proudly that he mills his own glazes. Craft traditions coexist with volume production in Italian ceramics, and it's amazing to see in the promotional video of the big Solimene factory that they still use kick-wheels for some of their work.

The pictures are of a plate from ICA from the same period as described by Napolitano so probably covered in the sort of glaze he records, and it's the back that gives an idea of its qualities - a softness and irregularity, a silky surface and slight translucency through which the pink clay body can be seen. This pottery is very rare nowadays, fetches high prices at auctions and is often faked - but I doubt if any faker can make the glaze the way ICA made it in the 1920s.

24 May 2016


Wall panel by Giovannino Carrano
“See Naples and die.” We almost did. As we were driving on the narrow twisting road on the beautiful Amalfi coast, a coach came round the bend in the middle of the road and hit our car. Franco, our driver, quickly swerved to the right, hitting a rock, and the coach sliced off the left hand side of his vehicle. No-one was hurt, but I don’t like to think too much about the odd half metre here or there.

We'd been to see Amalfi, Positano, Ravello and Sorrento. Maiolica has been made in this area for almost as long as in Tuscany, in a tradition that goes back to the Renaissance. In Vietri sul Mare, the main pottery centre of the Amalfi coast, the streets are lined with pottery shops and some of the factories and studios are very old. There's a thriving tourist trade but there are such quantities of pottery in the shops that you wonder who buys it all. The Solimene factory, housed in an extraordinary modernist building (see video), has a vast showroom from which, incidentally, one can see the pottery being glazed and decorated in the adjacent workshop, but only a fraction is sold to visitors and they export much of their produce.

Unfortunately, a lot of modern Italian art ceramics is trash and its tradition has been debased by commercialism. Much of the brushwork is sloppy, done by painters with little skill, and most of the pots are covered with a harsh, shiny, very opaque white glaze that uses zircon as an opacifier instead of the traditional tin. Tin is more sympathetic both to the painted colours and the underlying clay body but it’s very expensive. I have a Solimene pot made thirty years ago on which the glaze has a satin finish, is probably made with tin as well as zircon and is slightly translucent, revealing the pink clay body. Modern Solimene work is not so subtle.


Plates from the 1950s (unsigned) set into the wall of the Solimene
factory. The climate means they don't have to be frost-proof.

But among the trash there is gold, and of particular interest is the so-called German period of the 1920s and 30s in which immigrants from northern Europe gave an artistic impetus to Vietri ceramics that carried through to the 1950s and produced work of high quality. The ceramics of Vietri, in particular those of the German period, are much studied in Italy, attracting the attention of academics and forming the subject of conferences and books, but they are almost ignored in Britain.

In Vietri a lot of the work from this period has been mounted on the walls and so you can still see it. Solimene put several plates on the wall of their factory, built in the 1950s - the combination of copper green and black in the old Solimene plates is characteristic - and there are ceramic plaques in other parts of the town, including on defunct factories, and I’ve illustrated some of it here, including coloured wall tiles by the excellent Giovannino Carrano (top picture). On the Vietri seafront there are some large vessels used as street furniture, modern work of higher quality than the pottery in most of the shops, made by Lucio Liguori, whom we met by chance.

At Raito, a bus ride from Vietri, there’s a museum of ceramics which has a historical survey of the pottery of the Amalfi coast, with a collection from the German period. My advice to you, if you want to go there, is to get to Salerno by train and then ask a taxi to take you to the museum, because, on foot in the village, you may not find it. It’s a tribute to the people of Raito that everyone we asked knew exactly where it was, but the village is on a steep hill and you get up and down it by winding paths. When Google maps told us we were there, we were a hundred feet above it and couldn’t see how to get to it.

Lucio Liguori at work in his studio in Raito
One of Lucio's anchovy plates
Just as we were getting lost on a broken path covered in brambles, a man on a motor scooter shouted down from the road and asked us what we were looking for. “Il museo della ceramica.” “È chiuso, aperto domani” – it’s closed, open tomorrow. We clambered up to where he was waiting. He said he was a potter. I said I was a potter too. He introduced himself, Lucio Liguori, and took us to his studio where he works with his wife and nephew. It’s big, modern and enviably well equipped. Lucio was born in Vietri in 1958 and studied at the art school in Salerno. He learned pottery in several of the Vietri workshops, starting his own studio in 1988. He works in the local tradition, taking inspiration from the marine environment, with a fascination for anchovies. We bought a couple of plates from him with anchovy designs (pictured), with an interesting semi-opaque glaze which allows him to apply some decoration in white over the top – the traditional “bianco sopra bianco” technique of old maiolica.

As I said, you'll be hard put to find much about this pottery from English writers, but I've ordered a couple of Italian books, Ceramica vietrese 1924-1954: Il periodo Tedesco - Gli anni cinquanta by Giorgio Napolitano (The Ceramics of Vietri 1924-1954: The German Period to the Fifties) and Valerio Tarraroli's Italian Art Ceramics 1900-1950, which has been translated into English, so I hope to post more later.