31 August 2017


I thought I knew all of the tin-glaze potters in England, but at Art in Clay at Hatfield a couple of weeks ago I discovered one that was new to me, Isis Ceramics, who have been around for thirty years. Tin-glazed pottery is difficult (the glaze can be troublesome and not all potters have a talent for decoration) and it's not particularly fashionable among collectors. You have to love it to persist with it.

I found out about Isis because one of the people who works there introduced herself to me at my stall - she had won one of my pots in a raffle for Clay College Stoke, the new training course for studio potters. Later, I looked at the Isis website and realised why I hadn't heard of them: they are not part of the studio pottery circle, which can be exclusive, and they work only to commission by hotels, restaurants and private buyers, not selling through shops, galleries or fairs. Their inspiration is 18th century English delftware.

They make by slip casting and jigger and jolly, which studio potters sometimes describe as "industrial" or "mass production", but these categories are debatable. Although pottery making can be mechanised, much of the pottery industry is craft based. Both slip casting and jigger and jolly are skilled craft operations. On the other hand, you can mass produce on the potter's wheel, as did Sidney Tustin at the Winchcombe pottery. The decorating at Isis ceramics, which has only four employees, is done by hand and brush, which only the top potteries, like Wedgwood and Herend, do now.

I was please to be introduced to this charming pottery.
Isis Ceramics
The New Toffee Factory
West Hill Farm
Church Lane
Oxford, OX33 1AP

26 August 2017


 József Gáranyi in his studio, 2012

I came across  László Hradszki's book 20th Century Hungarian Ceramics, an online publication illustrating the author's collection of work by István Gádor, Géza Gorka, Livia Gorka and József Gáranyi. A significant omission, which must reflect Hradszki’s preferences, is Margit Kovács.

Hungarian potters are informed by a very different aesthetic from those in Britain and their work sometimes appears strange to us. Hradszki’s favourite British potters are Lucie Rie and Hans Coper, who represent an urban, continental European design tradition different from the ruralist vernacular of Leach and Cardew. In Hungarian ceramics in the 1930s there was a strong Art Deco influence, which passed by British studio potters and influenced only the more go-ahead potters in Stoke-on-Trent, like Susie Cooper and Clarice Cliff

Hradszki's enthusiasm has led him to seek out the surviving ceramists of the period he collects, and he became personally acquainted with József Gáranyi (b. 1928). “I was lucky to have met him in 2011 and later visited him several times,” he says. “We had long talks, mainly he telling me stories about his life. He liked to talk about his masters Gádor and [Miklós] Borsos and the school years, his school mates and fellow ceramic artists. He had stories even about Rákosi and his wife.” (Mátyás Rákosi was the Hungarian dictator from 1949 to 1956.) “Rákosi's wife was studying ceramic art at the university in Budapest and was a schoolmate of Gáranyi and his wife.”

The sculpture shown (below) is Gáranyi's Three Parcae with the Thread of Life, 1970. The Parcae were the female personifications of destiny in Roman myth. Gáranyi's early career produced very different ceramics: up to 1956 he was a designer for Herend porcelain.

József  Gáranyi, Three Parcae with the Thread of Life, 1970

24 August 2017


I reported in June on the closure of the Gardens of the Rose, the collection of the Royal National Rose Society. As I predicted, the land is being sold off by the administrators. It cannot be used for housing unless there is a change in St Albans council’s planning policies, and it remains to be seen what it will be used for. A more popular leisure destination?  Here is the press story:

"The Royal National Rose Society, which ran the gardens in Chiswell Green Lane, was taken over by joint administrators Stephen Goderski and Peter Hart, of PKF Geoffrey Martin & Co, in May. A spokeswoman for Geoffrey Martin & Co told the Herts Ad this week: ‘It is the joint administrator’s intention to market the company’s property in September, after the holiday period.’
The Green Belt land is not included in the district council’s Strategic Local Plan as a potential site for housing.
The gardens went into administration just two years after the closure of the neighbouring Butterfly World in December 2015. Butterfly World was open for six years before being shut by owners The Breheny Group due to trading losses. The Royal National Rose Society was the world’s oldest specialist plant society, formed in 1876. The gardens themselves were opened more than 50 years ago by Mary, the Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood, who was patron at the time.
At the time the closure of the gardens was announced, St Albans MP Anne Main described the closure as inevitable, describing the attraction as ‘a niche destination’ which was ‘not terribly well-advertised’."

23 August 2017


Concluding my brief and unrepresentative personal view of the Art in Clay fair at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, last weekend.


If you watched "The Great Pottery Throwdown" on BBC TV, you may recognise Richard: he was the technician who had the unenviable task of firing the competitors' pottery to broadcasting schedules rather than ceramic schedules. I featured him last year but didn't have a good picture of his pottery. Here are three of his highly original pots. True originality combined with craft excellence and artistic vision is difficult in studio pottery but Richard has achieved it in these towers with crowns and impressed and illustrated sides.

I said that the white glaze and blue transfer-printed images reminded me of Delft ware, even though his pots are not copies in any way. Richard said that I was right: his father was born in the Dutch East Indies and there are references in his ceramics to Dutch colonial history.


Figurative ceramists are in the minority at Hatfield, but their work is popular and it sells well. Hatfield tends to be a showcase for traditional studio pottery which once had no place for modelling, but figures have been part of ceramics since people first made things out of mud - in fact they are older than clay vessels. Jean's figures are inspired by toys from the Museum of Childhood in London. They are charming, funny and odd. 


If ever the overworked adjective "vital" could be applied to ceramics, it applies to Ruthanne Tudball's luscious, touchable pottery, which looks as if it has not been manufactured but grown from seeds. She achieves this effect by working in soft clay and forming vessels quickly. I have seen her demonstrate the making of a teapot, in which all the parts are thrown and assembled in twenty minutes - it's normal to let them harden for a day before joining them together.

Her surfaces are ridged and textured and then picked out and patterned by the soda glaze. Soda glazing is dramatic: the pots are coloured with metallic oxides before going into the kiln but left unglazed. When the kiln reaches 1260 degrees centigrade, she sprays bicarbonate of soda into the flames. (When I once did it with a potter who used salt, the kiln produced a sudden gush of dense white smoke when the salt was thrown in.) The material volatilises and settles onto the surface of the pots, where it forms a glass when cool.


You will forgive me for including Vilas Ed Silverton for the third year running, but I love his ceramic sculptures, which are like nothing I have ever seen. This may come partly from his unusual motivation: "My work is based upon and flows from my inner life of self enquiry that encompasses prayer, meditation and service," he says. "In my practice I concentrate on the spiritual heart, which encourages a simplicity that guides both my life and work."  This year he exhibited figurative and narrative objects coated in gold, a most "unceramic" material, but if it results in things like this, who cares?

22 August 2017


Continuing my highly personal and very small selection of potters from Art in Clay, the fair at Hatfield House that took place last weekend. Two slipware potters today and a maker of porcelain.


Rosalind creates slipware pots and figures in the tradition of 17th and 18th century English country pottery. They're made from red earthenware and coated in a white clay decorated in green, brown and blue. These country pots were made for presentation and decoration. They had curious names - tygs, posset pots, puzzle jugs and wassail bowls. The centre piece at the top of the picture is a wassail bowl. "What is a wassail bowl", you may well ask. Wassailing was going from door-to-door, singing and offering a drink from the wassail bowl in exchange for a gift. Carol-singing at Christmas is all that's left of it. Rosalind takes the ornate decorations from this folk tradition, with multiple handles (useful for passing from hand to hand among intoxicated wassailers), corn sheafs, hares and a modeled figure on top, whom I take to be Ceres. From the decoration on this beautiful pot, I guess that it's a harvest wassail bowl.


Niek and Pim's pottery is in Steyl, a village near the River Mas in the south east of Holland. They are a regular fixture at Hatfield. They work in the same materials as Rosalind Smith - red earthenware covered in cream coloured clay and decorated in green, brown and blue - but they use the materials in a different way, producing quickly-made kitchen pots, freely decorated with trailed lines and rapid brushstrokes. Here you will also see the turquoise slip that has recently crept into the slipware potter's palate and which I also saw on other stalls. 


Susanne comes from Germany every year to exhibit at Hatfield and she has strong English connections, having trained with Nic Collins and Svend Bayer, who fire in big, wood-fuelled kilns that take days to stoke up to top temperature and days to cool. The stoking is continuous and big kilns require a team working in relays. The fierce fire and smoky atmosphere are necessary to achieve the delicate colours of Susanne's porcelain. She says: "I put all of my love into my work and I try to make new pieces for everyday use. I hope that people can enjoy their meals eating out of my pots."

Three more potters tomorrow.

21 August 2017


Art in Clay, the pottery fair at Hatfield House, is one of the major events in the ceramics calendar and I have made it a habit to feature a few of my favourite exhibitors each year. It's difficult: there are almost two hundred and many of them are very good indeed, including some of the best in the country. I select those that appeal to me because of their craft and because they have something to say. Some are original but some refer to well-known pottery traditions. I also like to present contrasting work. This year I have included portraits of the artists as well, except in the first example, where the maker did not want her appearance to detract from her art.

Art in Clay is under new ownership, Andy and Di McInnes having sold the show to Valentine's Clay, but I found them in the organisers' tent, busy as ever. Valentine's have invested in a well-illustrated programme and the website has been revamped.


Chantal's ceramics (top) recall Malevitch's Suprematist paintings of a hundred years ago but I don't know if this is a conscious reference to the October Revolution because what we talked about was the way the coloured buttons on her pots can be jiggled about. She wants her ceramics to move and for the viewer to interact with them. Here is something original in pottery yet rooted in a familiar episode of Modernism. 


Jonathan asked to be photographed with a large dish that he's particularly proud of at the moment, this charger with a pomegranate pattern and round the rim the William Blake verse "He that binds to himself a joy does the wingéd life destroy."  Jonathan's pottery combines excellence in making, glazing and decoration. As you can see from the jugs on the shelf behind him, his shapes are elegant and well-balanced. He uses the method of reduced lustre, one of the most challenging, attempted by not more than a handful of potters in the UK. Jonathan works in the tradition of William de Morgan, Bernard Moore and William Burton, but whereas their potteries separated the work of designer, thrower, decorator and kiln operator, Jonathan is responsible for everything. I am pleased to see a modern potter keeping alive the tradition of the Art Pottery of c.1900, at which most studio potters turn up their noses.


David is helped unfailingly at these shows by his wife Laura, so I had to include her in the photo. David constructs his pots without a wheel. His most recent line is the spiraled pots you can see on the front of the bench. There is a Far Eastern influence in his work as shown, for example, by the Japanese-style shino glazes he uses on some of his pots. The carving puts one in mind of the perfect little Yi Xing teapots from the town of that name, also made without a wheel. Take a moment to look at David's stall, which is immaculately constructed and finished. He used to be an exhibition designer. The standard of stall dressing goes up along with the standard of pottery at top shows like this.

Three more potters tomorrow.

16 August 2017


George J. Cox  (1884-1946) was one of the first modern studio potters. He studied with Richard Lunn at the Royal College of Art. Lunn ran the first studio pottery course in Britain and wrote the earliest manual about pottery making. (Pottery, 2 Vols., 1903 and 1910) He regarded throwing as old fashioned and thought that making in moulds was more appropriate to the 20th century, but his students got the throwing bug.

Cox also wrote a manual of pottery making, Pottery for Artists Craftsmen and Teachers (1914), little different in scope from Lunn’s but with a hymn to throwing that became familiar among studio potters in the ensuing decades.

“The casting process, employed so extensively in commercial work,” said Cox, “is in its essence mechanical and therefore can never have the spontaneity or character of thrown work. ... The wheel is the true fountain head of all beautiful shapes, and the student who would become a potter cannot get ‘on the wheel’ too soon. Throwing, sometimes spinning, is the term applied to the making of shapes on the wheel. Interesting and really fine pots may be built or cast, but the ultimate appeal rests with the thrown shape.”

Cox had Romantic view of pottery – he was uninterested in science and thought it spoiled art. Lunn thought that technical advances in pottery manufacture had been achieved at the expense of artistic feeling, but he had more patience with ceramic formulas and recipes. Whereas Lunn was modern in his outlook, Cox was a medievalist. The frontispiece to his book showed a ridiculous picture of an imagined medieval potter at the wheel.

Cox ran a pottery at Mortlake for a few years, making Chinese Sung dynasty inspired vases with interesting textured monochrome glazes (below). In 1914, he went the USA and became a pottery teacher. In the 1930s, he was professor of art at the University of California.  He died in 1946.

Two vases by George J. Cox, c. 1914

Cox’s illustrations to his pottery book are beautifully drawn and charming in their own right. Here are two more from the chapter about throwing.

15 August 2017


Greenham Common demonstrators, 1985

The Imperial War Museum, whose remit has changed in the last decade to make it a museum of war and peace, now has an exhibition, "People Power: Fighting for Peace", about protest and pacifism from the first world war to the Syria conflict.  It displays rare archive material, including the diaries of conscientious objectors, banners and even the bolt cutters used by the Greenham women in the 1980s. Closes 28 August.

The obvious answer to the question, “How do you dress for a demonstration?” is, “Wear something comfortable that you don’t mind getting dirty in. It may rain, you may have to sleep on the floor and you may be beaten up by jingoes." But that’s not the right answer because even on demos there is fashion.

The pacifists of the first world war, as Hugh pointed out to me, were vulnerable to attack because they looked like librarians in their baggy suits and horn-rimmed spectacles. The Greenham women, who besieged the RAF base at Greenham Common in Berkshire from 1981 to 2000, (above) were wonderfully colourful adverts for Kaffe Fassett knitwear. The Ban the Bomb protesters of the 1960s appropriated naval duffel coats and beards.

The Wethersfield Six, 1961

But the group in this photo (above) defy expectation. They are the Wethersfield Six, a group of anti-nuclear protestors about to go to court, where they will be sentenced to imprisonment.  They are Anne Randle (not one of the accused), Michael Randle, Pat Pottle, Trevor Hatton, Helen Allegranza, Ian Dixon and Terence Chandler.

They were leaders of the Committee of 100, who broke away from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for a campaign of civil disobedience. Their figurehead was the philosopher Bertrand Russell, 89, who joined sit-down protests and was also sent to prison. The first sit-downs mobilized tens of thousands of people and emboldened the Committee’s anarchist leaders in the winter of 1961 to plan a break in at the Wethersfield military airbase  and a sit-down in front of the planes. Up to that point the authorities had been fairly relaxed about the demos, though there had been some rough handling in the arrests. Now they sat up and brought the serious charge of conspiracy and incitement to breach the Official Secrets Act against the Six. The walk-on was a failure and alienated public opinion. The imprisonment of the organisers ended the campaign as a serious force. Eighteen months later Russell quietly resigned.

Here, dressed for the judge, the Six have eschewed duffel coats for ties and polished shoes. But Helen Allegranza stands out from the others with her court shoes, clutch bag, hat and white gloves. The chaps got eighteen months, Allegranza got twelve.

Randle and Pottle helped to spring the Soviet spy George Blake from jail during a later sentence. Allegranza committed suicide in prison. In the late sixties, I shared a flat with Ian Dixon, a neat, respectable, high-minded man. When I bought my first house, Terry Chandler rewired it for me. He was scruffy and disorganised, didn’t drive and dragged his tools by public transport.

12 August 2017


These new ceramics will be on sale at Hatfield Art in Clay, 18th, 19th & 20th August 2017, Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, AL9 5NQ.

11 August 2017


When I was at the William Morris Gallery yesterday to see their exhibition about the Walthamstow School of Art, I learned something about its origins. The picture above shows its founders, left to right: Walter Spradbery (1889-1969), Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956), and Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo (1851-1942), Brangwyn's mentor. It was taken on Brangwyn's seventy-second birthday at his home in  Ditchling.

Spradbery did posters for London Transport, which you can see in the link. Mackmurdo was a key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, knew Ruskin well and accompanied him on a tour of Italy in 1874. His book cover for Wren’s City Churches (1883) is regarded as the seminal image of Art Nouveau.

Brangwyn was largely self-taught and served as an apprentice to Morris & Co in the 1880s. He worked in a  range of media - painting, drawing, murals, prints and ceramics and designs for furniture, carpets, interiors and stained glass. He has been described as a jack of all trades but he was elected RA. He described his work as 'a mission to decorate life'.

The museum was set up with much of Brangwyn's and Mackmurdo's personal collections. Brangwyn made a large donation to the borough of Walthamstow in 1936, including significant works by the Pre-Raphaelites and his own oils, mural designs, prints and watercolours.

The picture below, taken at the gallery, is of pottery Brangwyn designed for Doulton to be decorated by their staff with freedom to vary the pattern. It's the sort of cross between studio pottery and factory pottery that I find interesting because it permits people of modest means to buy things that have hand-made individuality.

About ten years ago, fears were expressed that the gallery might close, but in 2011-12 the local council refurbished it with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the friends of the gallery and numerous charities and donors.  It won the Art Fund award in 2103.

10 August 2017


Peter Blake, Self Portrait with Badges (1961). Tate Gallery

The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow has come forward half a century from the Arts and Crafts movement to tell the story Walthamstow school of art in its glory days in the late ‘fifties and early ‘sixties - one of those conjunctures of the right teachers, the right students, the right place and the right educational environment that made something great. They call the show “Be Magnificent”. On till 10 September.

Out of it came some of the most influential creatives of the 1950s and 60s, when class barriers were breaking down in art, fashion, music and film. Among the talent were musician Ian Dury, filmmakers Ken Russell and Peter Greenaway and fashion designers Celia Birtwell, Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin.

The gallery says, “This incredible era at the School has never been explored or researched in depth, despite the fact that all the leading players cite their time in Walthamstow as key to their later development. For the first time, the early work of these influential artists and designers will be brought together in one exhibition, to show how it was in the art schools of post-war Britain, rather than the universities, that the benefits of a free, universal secondary education were most evident.”

It was the era of the NDD, the National Diploma in Design introduced into art schools after the Second World War. Until that time you could still hear the last gasp of the Arts and Crafts movement. After came Basic Design, a multi-media training for artists derived from the Bauhaus, industrial design, commercial art and fashion studies. The NDD insisted on “objective drawing” and in most art schools students who drew like Picasso or cartooned were penalised. But some were independent and encouraged innovation. Walthamstow was one of them.

The school thrived under Stuart Ray, who became its principal in 1951. He took personal responsibility for selecting staff and he interviewed every student. He believed that talent could not develop unless it was nurtured and hired skilled teachers who were also practicing artists. His team included Peter Blake, Derek Boshier, Joe Tilson, Olywn Bowey, Margaret Green, Ken Howard and Fred Cuming.

Blake started at Walthamstow in 1961 and was joined by Boshier in 1963. They had come from the Royal College of Art where they pioneered Pop Art. Walthamstow became a Pop Art hub. There was little difference in age between the students and some of their teachers. Peter Blake never arrived before 11, usually with a hangover, and went straight to The Bell, where he usually found his students. Instead of telling them to get back to their classes, he bought them a drink and taught them there.

One of the remarkable works to come from Walthamstow is The Invitation Card by Bill Jacklin, which he made in response to his father’s post-traumatic stress disorder from the First World War, displaying mechanical soldiers in various stages of breakdown. He made it at home and it was too big to take to the college, so Blake, Boshier and Tilson gave their critique in his bedroom.

Bill Jacklin, The Invitation Card (1963)

In the early sixties Walthamstow was one of the best schools of art in the country. The Royal College of Art admitted more students from Walthamstow than from anywhere else. But a perverse outcome of the Coldstream reforms was that accreditation for the new Diploma in Art and Design was witheld from many well-regarded school, including Walthamstow. The new system favoured standardisation and academic content and could not accommodate Walthamstow's quirky hands-on teaching methods with pub tutorials and bedroom crits. Unable to compete with London art schools offering DipAD courses, Walthamstow’s glory days were over.

In the 1970’s, it was merged into North East London Polytechnic (NELP), now the University of East London. I worked in NELP’s publicity department from 1971-72 and knew some of the lecturers in what had become the department of art and design. Stuart Ray had been demoted to deputy head and the stars of the school had left.

Ian Dury, by the way, failed his NDD (below).