Monday, 14 April 2014

Spode Training Day: Spode in the 20th Century

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
We looked at some of Spode’s most famous and enduring designs including the two which together carried the firm through difficult times, Christmas Tree and Italian. The Italian pattern was introduced in about 1816 and was in continuous production until the factory closed in 2009. It's an unusual combination of an Imari-style border (copied from 18th century porcelain) and Classical centre and is still made by Portmeirion Group today. Christmas Tree was designed by Harold Holdway in 1938 and also remained in production, with variations of different shapes and colours over the years and again its enduring appeal is proven as it too is made by Portmeirion today.

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
Chris Latimer, City Archivist, told us of an exciting project nearing completion for the first phase of the Spode archive catalogue going online. This is a mammoth project led by Archivist Louise Ferreday working with Pam as well as Keele University student Wendy Osei-Annor. A major part of the Spode archive catalogue is now online, and is an an amazing resource for researchers to find out just what the Spode archive holds. We should all be grateful for all the hard work that has gone into this project at the Archives. Pam's Spode History blog is also an amazing resource for exploring Spode.

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)

Pacifico c1963