Thursday, 26 July 2012

Art Deco Ceramics

A time of great design or merely time for a change?

Art Deco ceramics are commonly associated with specific designers such as Clarice Cliffe, Susie Cooper and Charlotte Rhead whose striking designs changed the face of modern pottery. However the term covers a much wider range of pottery styles as well as architecture and fashion. But was it truly a time of great design or merely time for a change? Let us examine the evidence.....

The history of Art Deco

Ravel conical ware by Clarice Cliffe
Photo by Leonard Griffin

Art Deco is said to have begun in France in the 1920s and developed internationally especially in Europe and America until the late 1930's. However it was not until the revival in the 1960s that the term 'Art Deco' was introduced. Until that time it was called 'Arte Moderne' or 'Arte Decoritif'. Since that time many modern potteries have developed patterns based around similar principles.
The advent of Art Deco changed the face of pottery in the UK at the time. The bright colours and geometric shapes of Clarice Cliffe especially, was a long way removed from many of the chinese inspired pottery designs that had gone before. However many shapes and designs were influenced by Mexican and Egyptian styles. A revolution in design was in the making! In the UK the popularity was aided by young new designers and and the advent of advertising and to a degree mechanisation. Designer labels grew as a marketing trend and women designers had phenomenal success. It became a necessity for small potteries to find new designs to beat off the threat of imports from Germany and Czechslovakia and Japan.

Clarice Cliffe

Original Bizarre on Athens Shape
Original Picture by Harvey
Clarice Cliffe, probably the name most associated with Art Deco style, was born in Tunstall, Stoke on Trent in 1899. She joined Royal Staffordshire Pottery aged just 17 and briefly studied art at the Royal College of Art in London. Her skill was such that she rapidly became a top designer of ceramics and was probably the first to design both the shape and decoration of UK commercial tableware. Cliffe produced some of the most exciting designs of the times ware adorned with bright colours such as Original Bizarre.

Crocus pattern
Photograph by  Andy Titcomb
Her success resulted in numerous designs being release in commercial volumes between 1927 and 1939. However it was the more conservative 'Crocus' pattern which was regarded as her signature pattern.
Pieces of Clarice Cliffe are now highly collectable and include such striking designs as the conical ginger sifters. Collecting is made easier by the fact that virtually all Clarice Cliffe pieces are clearly marked with her name using a rubber backstamp or litho.

Susie Cooper

Kestrel pattern
From National Museum Wales
Born in 1902 in Stoke on Trent, she entered the pottery industry at A.E. Gray & Co in 1922 and trained under Gordon Forsyth. Brightly coloured abstract geometrics and cubist patterns were her trademark and she developed some stunning designs such as Kestrel and the cube shape galaxy pattern. By 1929 she had left Gray and started her own pottery painting business and this initiated a long and distinguished design career spanning 60 years. Her designs were highly practical with 'fitness for purpose'being a common theme. A black triangular back-stamp with the words Susie Cooper Productions was used until about 1932. After this time a variety of signatures was used.

Charlotte Read

Tube lined plate by Charlotte Rhead
Photo by Chris Bertram.
Born in 1885 into an artistic family in the potteries town of Burslem, Charlotte Rhead studied art at Fenton School of Art. Working for a local company Wardle and Co she learned the skill of tube lining. It was this skill and the influence of her time at Wood and Sons which set her career apart as a designer. Later in 1926 working for Burgess and Leigh she mainly produced ornamental or luxury pieces using her tube lining skill.

Other Art Deco ware

Shelley Vogue shape cup and saucer, designed by Eric Slater 1930

Harmony Art Ware ginger jar - Eric Slater 1932
The Shelley Family was a highly acclaimed producer of Art bone china in the art deco style. Apart from the elegant 'vogue shape' it produced highly decorative vases such as
'Harmony Artware'. Eric Slater was the designer responsible for many of the hugely successful designs.

The Wedgwood family also produced a range of ware in art Deco style. Using a range of designers such as Keith Murray, Skeaping, Makeig-Jones, and Ravilous they continued to create outstanding designs throughout the 1930's. Makeig-Jones in particular changed the image of Wedgwood ware with her inspirational 'Fairyland Lustre' range of patterns.

The Modern Era

Wedgwood Jasper Conran
Clearly many of the Art Deco designs of early period have inspired post year 2000 patterns. Classic, timeless and elegant, almost all top pottery brands have some element of Art Deco in their range. Wedgwood, Portmeirion, Dudson and Steelite each include high coloured decorative patterns or striking geometric shapes. This is not by accident and I can only conclude that the Art Deco period was truly a time of great design!
I would love to hear your comments?

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