Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Visit to the Wedgwood Museum

Ceramics Network Event - Report from Pam Woolliscroft

Wednesday 22nd January 2014 saw a group of Ceramics Network members from various parts of the UK gather at the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent for a visit.

A full day of exciting ceramic discovery was planned at the Wedgwood Museum led by Director Gaye Blake Roberts. There was a chance to meet attendees and Wedgwood Museum staff over tea and coffee before the first session began.

Gaye began our day with a fascinating lecture entitled Josiah Wedgwood and 18th Century Style. Josiah Wedgwood's brilliance as potter and his skill as a marketing man shone through. One can only marvel at his tenacity in his perseverance with and methodical recording of trials for new ceramic bodies in the 18th century. His ability to choose his partners and work with designers at the forefront of fashion as well as to spot talent were all important for his success. Gaye's lecture was lively, entertaining, informative and well-illustrated.

We enjoyed our lunch served, of course, on modern Wedgwood wares in the Ivy House Restaurant and then, energy renewed, were ready for 3 more sessions with the museum staff.

Handling session: ceramics
Ben Miller led the excellent handling session of Wedgwood pots from the collection. It was wonderful to be able to pass round pieces from the 18th to the 21st century. Ben told us something of the history of the museum too and how the collection had been amassed, with tales of former curators, since the start of the museum in 1906. Early records showed that items were often entered in the registers as 'found on the factory'. On a personal note this reminded me of my records in 2008 of objects I accepted into the Spode museum's collection whilst curator which I described as 'salvaged from the factory'!

Favourites proved to be the tray of 18th century Wedgwood's trials, early workmen's tools and then the more modern - a Keith Murray vase and ashtray with beautiful matt glazes.

Then came a tour of the fabulous Wedgwood Museum with Ray Atkins. Time constraints meant we could not dwell in our own favourite century but this was a great introduction to the amazing collections of the Wedgwood Museum and a chance to spot things to come back to for a longer visit another time. Ray took us from the 18th century to the 21st in an hour. My favourites are the early elegantly designed pieces of the late 1700s and then, conversely, the mid-20th century displays in particular the designs of Victor Skellern and Norman Wilson.
Wedgwood by Norman Wilson & Keith Murray
mid-20th century (private collection)
After the museum tour Sharon Gater led an archive session for us. There was an array of materials of all dates to handle and look through. Amongst the manuscripts were photograph albums showing pottery manufacturing techniques; manufacturing notes from one of the Wedgwood family in the late 19th century; an accession register of items 'found on the factory' and a 19th century pattern book from the Coalport factory.
Handling session: archive
As well as adding to our ceramic knowledge this was a great way to network with other curators and museum and archive staff from around the country and discuss all things ceramic. It helps to see how other museums use and present their collections.

Thank you to the Ceramics Network organisers for this very inspiring event and to all the staff at the Wedgwood Museum.

Handling session: ceramics...concentrating!
Handling session: archive (detail)
Handling session: ceramics