Ceramics Network Event - Report from Dinah Winch
On March 24th 2014 the third of our Ceramics Network training days was an exploration of Spode in the 20th century with Pam Woolliscroft, former curator of the Spode Museum and expert in Spode history.
We started in the Stoke-on-Trent City Archives which live in the rather wonderful modernist Central Library next to the Potteries Museum. The Spode archive was deposited here in 2007/8 under Pam’s guidance prior to the closure of the factory, and so she knows the collection extremely well.
We focussed on the huge 20th century pattern books full of remarkable hand painted and annotated designs. These were a crucial reference point for the factory, ensuring that orders matched the original pattern exactly. Many 20th century patterns drew on historical designs, reusing shapes, with new patterns and vice versa, or cherry picking design elements and repurposing them for a new market or a new client.
Many of the pages were dog-eared and grubby with use and gave you a powerful sense of the energy of the industry. Just as at Wedgwood earlier in the year we had a sense of the richness of the firm’s heritage as a living asset, at least while Spode was still going, and a sense of loss that these working documents are now historic archives.
The pattern books aren't just a technical and design source but give insights into the broader cultural context of ceramics. Teasets, for example often didn't include a teapot or sugar bowl because customers would have a silver teapot and sugar bowl or sugar box.
|Discussing & viewing Spode archive material in the morning session|
The diversity of design in the 20th century was extraordinary as the factory responded to the different trends in Britain and abroad and experimented with new shapes, designs and technology. There were matt glazes in the 1930s (like Murray’s glazes at Wedgwood), new modern shapes, utility wares for the hospitality trade, slightly eccentric figures and ‘fancies’ and the amazing sculptural figures of the 1970s by Pauline Shone, flares and all. It was also interesting to see the marketing materials that went along with the designs, and are also held in the archives.
|Father and Child by Pauline Shone, part of the Parent and Child series,1974/5|
Pam took us into the stores at the Potteries Museum next door where we looked and handled wares from the 19th and 20th century. One of the pleasures of seeing the actual objects is to see how the design translates into reality and sometimes see where things have gone wrong, as we looked at some pieces that had faults. It's not until you look at the real thing that you get a sense of the particular qualities (as opposed to the design) of wares from a particular factory – such as the weight or the different shades of white.
|Looking at Spode pots mentioned in the morning archive session|
Thanks to Claire Blakey of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery who organised us, Pam who lead us through such an interesting day and the staff at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and the Stoke-on-Trent City Archives for opening up their collections to us.
|Potters Poppies prototype version c1920s|
|Montego on Flemish Green body, c1954|
|Olympus pattern on the two-tone earthenware body with Flemish Green border c1955|
|Camilla 1955 (first introduced as a design in c1833)|