A visit to Moorcroft Pottery


A couple of weeks ago we drove over to Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent for a visit to the Moorcroft Heritage Visitor Centre. Moorcroft are one of the few remaining British pottery companies based in the city (or cluster of towns) which was originally the centre of pottery production. Moorcroft specialise in the production of hand made art pottery using traditional craft techniques. Their distinctive “tube lined” Art Nouveau and Art Deco inspired pieces have a loyal following and some designs can fetch high prices.

One of my Christmas presents last year was a “factory tour” and we’d finally got around to organising a date to visit. The Visitor centre is located on a former manufacturing site and the first thing you see when you arrive is the Grade II Listed Bottle Oven, the last remaining one of several that used to be used for firing the pottery made here.

Image result for moorcroft factory historical photos

These traditional kilns were fired with coal and were very polluting, belching out smoke, carbon dioxide and other gases, so were replaced with cleaner electric kilns following the 1956 Clean Air Act. Moorcroft’s production now takes place in a more modern factory a short distance away, but this site is used for research and development of new pieces as well as hosting factory tours. There’s also a small museum of Moorcroft pieces and a shop.

We started off by looking round the display of photographs showing the history of the site and the traditional production process. And we were able to peek inside the Bottle Oven.


This is where “ware” twas fired. The individual pieces were initially put into fireclay boxes called “saggars” which were then stacked inside the oven ready for firing at a temperature between 1000° C and 1250° C , usually for two or three days.

We then had a look around the small museum with it’s extensive collection of Moorcroft pieces covering the company’s history.


I particularly liked this large pot with pictures of pottery workers


There were also some pieces from the Blackwell collection which had featured in an exhibition at the Arts and Crafts house near Bowness (which we visit regularly) a few years ago


Then it was time for the tour. The guide, Corrie, was very knowledgeable and took us through each step in the production process which included by demonstrations by the highly skilled workers.

These days the pots are cast using the slip casting technique, so the initial step is the production of the pattern which is then used to manufacture the moulds. A liquid slurry of clay is prepared which is poured into the mould. Water is absorbed from the “slip” leaving a solid layer in contact with the mould. The excess slip is poured off and the mould disassembled leaving behind the cast pot. We’d had a go at this ourselves a couple of year ago during a visit to Tate Modern (of all places!)

The casting is then cleaned up, initially on a lathe and then by “sponge fettling” (a great term!) before the design is traced onto the pot and the tube lining applied. Liquid colour is then applied inside the areas created by the lining. All these process are carried out manually and require enormous skill. And the hand made approach means that each piece, even of the same design, are all slightly different.

The pots are then given an initial firing, coated with glaze and then re-fired to complete the piece. The firing process is where the real “magic” (or, possibly, alchemy) occurs, as the colours are transformed.

No photographs are allowed during the tour, but the following video provides a potted version of the process

and it’s summarised with some good photos on their website.

We finished our visit by looking round the shop. The pieces may seem expensive for pots, but having seen the process, the skill involved and the time it takes to produce the pieces, they seemed well-priced. We were tempted to shell out but we’ve nowhere to display ceramics properly in our mess of a house (perhaps I should stop going out so much and stop home and get it sorted) and, perhaps more importantly, we’d be terrified of knocking it over and breaking it!. However, we decided to buy a plaque we could hang on the wall, selecting a design based on the work of Charles Rennie-Mackintosh, partly influenced by the exhibition we’d visited in Liverpool the previous Saturday. The price was similar to what I’d expect to pay for a limited edition print by an established artist, so not unreasonable for what, in effect, is a ceramic equivalent – and having paid for the factory tour we received a modest discount.

I really enjoyed the visit, being able to see skilled workers in action. (I had to stop myself concentrating on the health risks, mind!). And I can now really appreciate the individual nature of what are really works of art.

Katie Spragg at Blackwell


So this weekend the “Beast from the East” made a comeback. Although the east and south east were worst hit, snow, freezing temperatures and a strong wind in the North West meant that we cancelled a planned short break walking around Ullswater. So stuck in the house I had the opportunity to write up about an exhibition we saw the last time we were up in the Lakes at the end of January (when the weather was less awful!).

While we are Abbot Hall visiting the Land|Sea|Life exhibition, as usual we had a look at the other rooms in the Gallery. On display were a couple of works by Katie Spragg, a taster for her exhibition showing at the Lakeland Art’s Trust other main venue, Blackwell.

Katie Spragg creates ceramic works but they’re not the usual pots and vessels. They’re uncoloured, ghostly, reproductions of plants – grasses and flowers. She also produces animations using her ceramics and illustrations.

At Abbot hall there were two animated pieces. In the Meadow illustrated the effect of the elements and people on a grassy meadow

For the other piece, While Away, vsitors could sit in a deck chair to watch grass made of porcelain blow in the wind.

Intrigued we decided to drive over to Blackwell to take a look at the works on display in the Arts and Crafts House.

Blackwell’s website tells us

The exhibition of ceramics at Blackwell will showcase eight new responses to the Arts and Crafts house and the surrounding landscape, alongside six existing works previously displayed by the Craft Council COLLECT at the Saatchi Gallery, Miami Art Week and the British Ceramic Biennial Award show.

Spragg spent a week at Blackwell in November and was inspired to create new works based on her experience. She said, “In the mornings Blackwell feels very serene. The nooks and corners of the house lend themselves to daydreaming, particularly at this time of day. I became interested in how the landscape is framed through the windows of the house and also how nature is brought inside.”

Most of the works were displayed in one of the exhibition rooms upstairs, but three had been located downstairs – two in the White Drawing Room and a third high up on the window sill in the Great Hall.

As well as displaying her work in standard style Perspex boxes, she also uses Victorian glass domes, “peephole boxes” and other types of cabinets.

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Tibor Reich at the Whitworth


Last Sunday, the May Spring Bank Holiday weekend, we went into Manchester for the afternoon. One of our objectives was to visit the Whitworth Gallery as we hadn’t been for a while. The main galleries were being prepared for the next exhibition and so were closed, but there was still plenty to occupy us for a couple of hours.

Two of the galleries upstairs were showing an exhibition of the work of Tibor Reich. I’d read the report by Barbara of Milady’s Boudoir a few weeks ago and wanted to see it for myself.


The Whitworth’s website tells us that the exhibition

celebrates the centenary of Tibor Reich, a pioneering post-war textile designer, who brought modernity into British textiles. Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1916, Reich studied architecture and textiles in Vienna before moving to Britain in 1937. In 1946 he set up Tibor Ltd, introducing bright new colours and textures into the drab interiors of post-war Britain. The firm rapidly gained an international reputation working on commissions for the Festival of Britain, Expo ‘58 and Concorde.

The exhibition explores the ideas behind his innovative textiles, photography, ceramics and drawings.


Tibor Reich who was Jewish, was born in Budapest in 1916. He escaped Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1937 and settled down in Leeds where he studied textile technology and design at Leeds University. On graduating, he went to work for Tootals of Bolton, but left after a year, moving on to set up his own company based in Stratford-upon-Avon, designing and producing fabrics. Initially the cloth was woven on handlooms, but power looms were later installed.

He went on  to produce textile designs for The Royal Shakespeare Company, the Festival of Britain, Coventry Cathedral,  furniture manufacturers such as G Plan and for the Royal Yacht Britannia, Concorde and the QE2. In 1954 an exhibition of his work titled ‘An Adventure with Colour’, toured the country and was seen by 250,000 people.

His textiles were based on relatively simple, colourful, abstract patterns, which was radical for it’s time in a Britain still recovering from wartime austerity and more used to greys, beige and other dull colours.


There was an extract of a Pathe film about his working methods showing on a loop. It’s available on You Tube.

He developed a system of pattern design, known as “Fotexur” (Fo referring to photography and texur to texture) which involved taking photographs of all sorts of textures and patterns from the environment, including plants, bark, stone, cracked earth and straw. Selecting patterns that interested him, cutting them out, rearranging them – a real “cut and paste” approach – and printing them in colourful inks. There was a display case showing the tools he used.



(Image source: Wikipedia)

His textiles could incorporate figurative elements too, like this pattern illustrating the manufacture of Aluminium


He also designed pottery, including a range called Tigo-Ware which later was produced by Denby. His black and white cartoon like designs were influenced by Hungarian folk art but expressed in contemporary shapes.


I really liked these pieces which have a very modern look and “feel” to them and wouldn’t be out of place in a contemporary designer’s collection.


For me, his designs were redolent of my childhood in the 60’s. I even had a blanket on my bed that was surely influenced by his work. It’s pattern was very similar to these examples of his blanket designs.


This was a marvellous exhibition. A little like the Bauhaus was in the 20’s and 30’s, his approach must have seemed revolutionary at the time but because of his influence these types of design have been incorporated into the mainstream.

Modern Japanese Design in Manchester


While we were in Manchester on Monday we called into the City Art Gallery. The main exhibition showing at the moment – Matthew Darbyshire: An Exhibition for Modern Living – didn’t particularly inspire, but I enjoyed the display in the Design Gallery featuring modern works by Japanese artists and designers, and other works inspired by Japanese design.

Drawn from Manchester’s own collections, the show provides an overview of the past fifty years of Japanese design. It highlights the breadth of Manchester’s collections, bringing together fashion, furniture, lighting, ceramics, glass, metalwork and jewellery.

The exhibits illustrated the Zen like approach to design; simplicity and minimalism – there was no excessive ornamentation on display – care and extremely skilful craftsmanship.

These are some of the works I particularly liked, snapped on my mobile phone.

Hibiki (Echoes), 2015 A metal bowl by Takahiro Yede. with strips of metal woven like basketwork


A number of metal vessels created by Alistair McCallum using a traditional Japanese metalworking technique – Makume Gane


Mokume Gane is a traditional Japanese metalworking technique and has been practiced for over 300 years. The name Mokume Gane, when translated into English, means wood grain metal, this refers to the patterns traditionally produced in Japan. Mokume Gane is a time consuming technique and involves building a sandwich of different metals, normally silver, copper and copper alloys. These are joined together by fusion or silver solder. The number of layers varies, dependant on the desired pattern; Alistair uses between 5 and 128 layers dependant on the individual piece. The pattern can be achieved in two ways, either by twisting or by cutting through the layers to reveal their different colours. The resulting sheet can then be made into the finished piece. Finally, the piece is patinated to enhance and enrich the contracting colours of the different metals. Alistair believes that the technique is best used on simple shapes where the relationship of pattern and for balance and are in harmony.

Atmospheric Re-entry 2011. A couple of head-dresses by Maiko Takeda. The one on the right was worn by Bjork during her Biblophilia tour a couple of years ago (which included a performance at the Manchester International Festival that year).


The following two pieces are by Ayako Tani who creates fragile vessels from glass rods. We’d seen some of her work before at the Wordsworth and Basho:Walking Poets exhibition at Dove Cottage in Grasmere last year.



An interesting ceramic piece by Yasuko Sakurai who creates coral-like ceramic forms by hand, using a technique that she invented after studying slip casting in Limoges, France.


A selection of pots by Edmund de Waal, very typical of his work


The Rose Chair (1990) by Masanori Umeda


The exhibition closes on 15 January.

Ceramics at Blackwell

Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House near Bowness in the Lake District is one of our favourite destinations for a day out, often combined, as was the case last Saturday, with a trip over to Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal. Both houses are owned by the Lakeland Arts Trust and have regularly changing exhibitions. The shop at Blackwell always has a large range of ceramic works, by a changing roster of artists, for sale and they usually have an exhibition of ceramic works taking place. During our last visit a few months ago they had an exhibition of works by Emilie Taylor and one of the current exhibitions at the house is a small display of works by three leading British ceramic artists – Gordon Baldwin, Alison Britton and  Nicholas Rena -who

all grapple with ideas of form and function within the wider debate of where contemporary craft stands in today’s art world.

The works were all displayed in one room, lit by a strong natural light that presented some problems for photographs.

I particularly liked these two pieces


The white spherical object is by Gordon Baldwin and is typical of his work


The work next to it, Blue Bowl by Nicholas Rena is very different. With a completely smooth perfect finish it was hard to resist touching it!


There was a second, small exhibition of ceramics on the stairs leading down from the first floor to reception featuring works by Edmund De Waal and Hans Stofer. It was curated by Becca Weir who is a trainee at Lakeland Arts and Kendal Museum and she was inspired by Anecdote of the Jar, a poem by the American Poet Wallace Stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

A book of Wallace’s poems, opened to show the poem, is displayed by a group of circular pots by Edmund De Waal



There were two other groups of pieces by him.



There were only 2 works by Hans Stofer on display. They are similar to Edmund Se Waals in that they are predominantly white, but in this case they are not thrown or cast as complete pots, but have been assembled using pieces of found china



Emilie Taylor at Blackwell


The Lakeland Arts Trusts regularly features ceramic themed exhibitions at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House near Windermere, They also sell contemporary ceramics in the shop there. One of the current exhibitions in the house features the work of Emilie Taylor, a young potter from South Yorkshire who produces works that reflect her social concerns and interests.

As an emerging artist Emilie has had considerable recognition as a ceramic artist thus far; she is currently completing an artist residency at Chatsworth in Derbyshire and has had commissions from Grizedale Arts and Sheffield Museums and Galleries. She has had three small solo exhibitions, two in Sheffield and one at the Snug Gallery in London, and so Blackwell is in the unique position to offer Emilie her first high profile exhibition. (Blackwell website)

The majority of the works on display were large, cylindrical, earthenware pots with a two-tone glaze. At the top of the pots there was a floral type pattern like a flock wallpaper, based on a design by William Morris. The lower half has images of young residents of the Manor and Castle estate in Sheffield. They are portrayed in their everyday dress but represent mythical and religious figures.

Emilie Taylor - 7

Bus Stop Madonnas I and II


Emilie Taylor - 1 (1)

Blinded by the light

There were also examples of her Harvest food Jugs and others from her Hymn to Persephone produced during a residency at Chatsworth last Autumn. We’d seen them on display during our visit in October. They rather reminded me of some of the works of Bernard Leach that I’ve seen


In the smaller of the two rooms there was some information, including two videos, about her work and a commission for Grizedale Arts, Soup Run, six bowls she had created, which had images

‘Soup Run’ Detail 4 of 6 Bowls

‘Soup Run’ Detail (Red Ken) 1 of 6 Bowls

The inside of the bowls depict scenes from the ‘Soup Summit’ of 2008. The end of a three year period of wrangling between Westminster Council, the Church and London Voluntary Sector Organistaions as Westminster Council tried to amend byelaws that would mean soup runs, or providing food to the homeless, would become illegal. The summit, (with all organisations represented), met at Tate Britain in 2008 to set up a Soup Steering Group to take the matter forward. Scenes from this period of political history have been drawn simply using scraffitto, resulting in naive or cartoon images and quotes the viewer can piece together in their own reading of the events.

Contemporary Ceramics at Chatsworth

The Dukes of Devonshire have long been collectors of ceramics and pottery. The current Duke has continued the tradition. and  there are a number of ceramic works on display in the public areas of Chatsworth.

Edmund du Waal’s A Sounding Linem a work comprising 52 porcelain vessels in 5 celadon glazes and 14 thrown porcelain vessels in 5 white glazes is installed in the fireplaces and high corbels of the Chapel Corridor.


At first glance, especially when viewed during the Luminaire event, they all appeared the same off-white colour. But closer inspection during the daytime revealed subtle variations in shade. Like much of his work the pots have a Japanese, Zen-like quality.

These two abstract forms were also displayed in the Chapel corridor. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the artist.


This large scale pot located on the landing at the topof the flight of stairs from the Painted Hall is Chinese Ladders by Felicity Aylieff . The form and design of the pot is inspired by the structure of bamboo scaffolding used by builders in China.


In the State rooms, and elsewhere in the house, were a number of installations by the Australian artist, Pippin Drysdale. With interesting surface textures and vibrant colours her works are inspired by the landscapes of her native country.




This stunning installation is fixed to the walls of the North Sketch gallery.


Created by the artist Jacob van der Beugel, the work represents the DNA profiles of the the Duke and some members of his family. The Chatsworth website tells us that the:

Raised ceramic blocks represent the DNA strand of ‘Everyman’ in the central portrait, which is flanked by the personal DNA profiles of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, their son Lord Burlington and his wife, Lady Burlington.

DNA samples were taken from members of the Devonshire family and the results were translated onto ceramic panels, while aspects of each individual’s personality are captured on glazed pieces in their DNA sequence


This is how it looked during the Luminaire event, lit up with candles.


There are 659 warm, ochre coloured panels making up a large work, approximately 20m long x3m wide x4m high all along one of the walls of the long  narrow room.  The other wall is covered with mirrors which reflect the panels.


Overall a stunning contemporary work of art.

Rafael Perez in Ruthin

I was in North Wales for a brief work related visit to a factory on Tuesday. I was done just before midday so decided to pop into nearby Ruthin. For a while I’d been intending to visit the Ruthin Craft Centre and so this was a good opportunity to do so.
The craft centre has a number of workshops used by artists, but also has three galleries where they hold exhibitions, a shop and a cafe.
One of the current exhibitions features the work of a Spanish ceramic artist, Rafael Perez. He’s not exactly a traditional potter, producing abstract ceramic sculptures rather than utilitarian pots.

He uses black earthenware and white porcelain clays which behave differently in the kiln, the earthenware expanding and giving off gases, distorting and producing complex forms. In some cases pigments are applied which result in brightly coloured sections. He has a good understanding of his materials and how they behave in the kiln and uses these properties in a controled manner

“I have developed various clays at a medium temperature (around 1150 degrees) that have the quality of expanding upon firing. By combining these with other inert clays (sometimes red Spanish clay but generally porcelain with a low melting point and a melting agent in their composition) I make my sculptures.” (Interview on Contemporary Ceramics blog)

Interviewed by Ceramics Now Magazine Rafael reveals that

“My work is about surprising myself and the audience, using white porcelain and black earthenware clay, fired at high temperature. The black earthenware expands, thus creating a volcanic landscape. It is not just a natural landscape, because it is directed by me. I have created the cuttings from the beginning, but still the aspect of surprise is always present, because what happens in the kiln is unpredictable.” Rafael Pérez

Some of the pieces on display looked as if they were solidified molten rock
While others were much more geometric and structured.
rafa also produces works on paper and ceramic “wallworks” such as this

I know that his work will not be to everyone’s taste, but I found them fascinating and very interesting.



Lots of Pots

One of the exhibitions showing at the Hepworth Wakefield is an installation by Matthew Darbyshire feauturing pottery selected from the collection of the late W A Ismay, an avid collector of ceramics who hailed from Wakefield. A librarian who lived in a terraced house, not far from where the Hepworth is located, acccumulated 3,600 items, by 500 potters from 1955 until his death in 20001. His collection, which includes significant works by major artists, is now owned by The Yorkshire Museum in York.
The installation is a “recreation” of the downstairs of Ismay’s house showing how he stored and “displayed” them. The artist has included some modern appliances as a contrast to the pots but other furnishings are from Ismay’s home. The display includes only 20% of the collection.
Helen Walsh, a leading scholar in the field of ceramics and Curator at York Art Gallery has devised a selection process for the ceramics included in the exhibition. This reflects Ismay’s own collecting methodologies with every potter in his collection being represented in this installtion (Ismay successfully collected myriad potters from A-Z with the exception of the troublesome X).
It was fascinating. Although not all the pieces were to my taste, there were some excellent examples of “studio” pottery and ceramics, mainly by British artists but also included pieces by potters from as far afield as Japan.
The exhibition included some short films where various potters and museum staff talk about him that were showing that were very interesting and offered some insights into this “potty” eccentric. Here’s a couple of them

The others can be viewed on Youtube here.

“Ocean” Exhibition at the Rundetårn

I mentioned in my last post that the former University Library in the Trinitatis Church  to which  the  Rundetårn is attached has been converted into a space for concerts and exhibitions. During our visit to the tower there was an exhibition, “The Ocean” taking place of works by members of the Arts & Crafts Association Bornholm (ACARB) inspired by the sea. Most of the works were glass and ceramics and I was very impressed by many of the contemporary pieces on display. I took a few photographs of some I particularly liked

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I wish I’d taken more photos and made some notes on the artists. There wasn’t an exhibition brochure to take away and I was hoping to find some information and pictures on the  Rundetårn website, but there wasn’t really any at all. There’s a link to the ACARB website which has plenty of information about the artists who belong to the group with plenty of pictures of their work, but nothing specific about the Ocean exhibition.