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The online catalogue does not include details of all our collections. Contact us for further information on collections not yet featured online.
Hot off the Scanner
Digitisation is an important part of the core work of the collections team at the museum. Digital images of objects are vital for our collections database (helping us find and count objects in stores!), and allow us to share our collections more widely with the public across a variety of digital platforms which include social media. We usually have several digitisation projects on the go across the different collections at the museum. The scanner has been particularly busy for the arts collection recently: we have very nearly scanned all (over 500!) of our pre-1900 watercolour paintings for the Water Colour World website project, which allows the visitor to explore the world before photography (you can see the first uploads of our collection here: https://www.watercolourworld.org/collection/potteries-museum-art-gallery) For many of these projects we are indebted to the meticulous work of our dedicated volunteers, without whom we wouldn’t get half as much done or as quickly! Our volunteer, Mike Ansell has just completed the digitisation of our extensive watercolour painting collection by the local amateur artist, C.W.Brown. The images will be made available shortly on the museum website. In the meantime, it’s over to Mike, our guest blogger, to tell us more about C.W Brown and for a sneak preview of the artist’s work he has scanned.
Charles William Brown (1882 – 1961) – North Staffordshire Artist, Miner and Mine Manager
As a volunteer at the Museum and Art Gallery, I’ve spent the last year or so working on the bequest to the museum by my distant relation, Charles William Brown (above), which includes oil and watercolour paintings, pen and ink drawings, pencil drawings, sketch books, manuscripts and photographs. There are well over 1500 items in total in the archive that CW Brown left to the Museum and Art Gallery upon his death in 1961. Arthur Berry, one of the most renowned of North Staffordshire artists, and who was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery in 2016, described CW Brown’s paintings in his autobiography, A Three And Sevenpence Halfpenny Man (1986) :- “I was astounded by the range of his subject matter. Everything was grist to his mill. He was never short of anything to paint. The match box on the table by his paint box would do for a subject, the paint box itself, even his fingers holding the paint brush. Every ornament in his little street house had been painted with great intensity of observation. Looking through the tea chest was a revelation. I knew that I was looking at the work of an unknown artist of very considerable power, in fact, a great naïve painter. As usual, when I came away from seeing work that had deeply impressed me, I was depressed … The way he drew the simplest domestic object revealed the essence of it. All his shortcomings as an academic painter made his work stronger. What he didn’t know had added to the power of his paintings.” *
Peter Vigurs, a former Keeper of Fine Art at the Museum And Art Gallery, subsequently described some of CW Brown’s work, which he said :- “…. combines a simple, clear delineation of the forms with a characteristic strong colouring that makes the yellow centres of flowers shine like suns.……..Brown often paints as though the earth itself contains a source of light which forces its way out through the grass, bracken and garden flowers.”
CW Brown was born at Robin Hill on Biddulph Moor, emanating, on his father’s side, from a long line of stone masons, who had lived there for generations, and, on his mother’s side – according to C.W.Brown, from bargees who worked the canals. Throughout his life, CW Brown retained strong memories of the dialect of the Moor and of its people, even though he moved, with his family, at a young age, to Miles Green near Halmerend, and the Moor remained a favourite subject of his paintings, even into old age. Later in life CW Brown lived with his family in the Etruria district of Stoke-on-Trent.
CW Brown’s father was not a stone mason but a coal miner and CW Brown’s story is that his father had left the mine in the aftermath of an explosion against the orders of the mine manager and, for that reason, had been blacklisted against ever working there again and so had to move away. His father, Fred, obviously thought that staying in the mine was a price not worth paying and he was right because, as he said, he was the last person to emerge alive.
CW Brown’s school career was short, even though he was an outstanding pupil (which he always put down to fear of the cane) and he left school at the age of 12 in 1894 to work on a local farm. He didn’t take to farm work to begin with and, after a short time, ran away to work at the “pit”. But in 1895 there was, again, another mining disaster with heavy casualties and boys of 13 were banned from mine work. So back to farm labouring, where CW Brown learned to plough with heavy horses.
But agricultural labourer’s pay, then as now, was low compared to other occupations so that, once he was old enough, CW Brown once again moved back to work in the coal mines. His mining career was very long starting at age 12 in 1894 up to his retirement in December 1948 – and even after that he returned briefly, until ill health forced him to leave for good – so that he could then enjoy domestic life and, particularly, his life-long hobby of painting. As part of his archive CW Brown has left the Museum and Art Gallery with a series of writings which describe not only his love of art and descriptions of the way he paints and draws, but also about his career in mining, which starts in the late 19th century when the “butty” system of labour was in force, right up to the nationalisation of the coal mines in the 1940s. He has some forceful things to say about the growth and strength of trade unionism, but was less complimentary about mine owners and working conditions.
Whilst the bulk of CW Brown’s career was spent in North Staffordshire his working life also took him to Somerset and the Wyre Forest. He obviously had a fondness of, and talent for, painting and drawing from an early age that he put to good use in preparing engineering drawings for the introduction of machines and ways of working at the mines.
CW Brown had a range of colliery jobs throughout his career, from loader to hewer, shot firer, under manager and eventually manager, passing his First Class certificate, with classes at the Stoke-on-Trent Technical College and examinations via the University of Birmingham, by 1920. He must have been a very proud man when he took up his first mine manager’s job at Newbury Colliery, Coleford, Somerset and could annotate his painting as “CWB 1924 MANAGER”.
CW Brown’s paintings range widely in subject matter from depictions of mines in the early 20th century through local scenes and industry in the Potteries, hints of war, holidays in Scotland, Devon or Blackpool, and social gatherings to flowers in vases and domestic household items or “just” designs.
He was successful in competitions ranging from entries in the “Science and Art of Mining” to a winning design for the Josiah Wedgwood Bicentenary Exhibition in 1930, even though his chosen “nom-de-plume” was “Numbskull”!
CW Brown was entirely self-taught as well as having great enthusiasm and a natural talent – maybe derived from his mother’s heritage of the folk art of canal narrow boats?…. although that is a hypothesis that cannot be proven. Some of his writings pass on his method and way of working such as “In The Drawing Of A Picture”. He was particularly keen to demonstrate how he dealt with perspective.
A selection of CW Brown’s oil paintings are viewable on the ArtUK web site, via this link :-https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/search/actor:brown-charles-william-18821961/page/2 I understand that CW Brown started experimenting with oils towards the end of his life and used a varnish which appears to make these paintings slightly yellowish, in stark contrast to the brightness of his watercolours (as shown above). A booklet “C.W. Brown The Potteries Primitive”, written by Peter Vigurs, former keeper of Fine Art, was produced by the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, some decades ago, after the death of CW Brown, as an introduction to the collection of paintings and drawings bequeathed by the artist. Perhaps it should be emphasised that CW Brown would have quibbled vigorously with its title – he did not see himself as a primitive nor a naive painter. Maybe you should judge? Personally, from the point of view of a layperson with no background in art, I’m highly impressed, first of all, with the technical expertise of his working drawings such as “4 Belts Head Wrightson and Co Ltd Stockton on Tees”, and this is one of many such drawings in the collection. He obviously has a detailed first-hand knowledge of how things work, or could work, both practically and economically, from long experience and observation during his career in the mines. Those same qualities of experience and observation are also important factors in portraying industrial and mining scenes (particularly work underground) as well as everyday life in the Potteries and beyond. They illustrate and capture a historic record of what it actually felt like in Stoke on Trent in the first half of the 20th Century when the pot banks and mines were in full swing and the city was bustling. The working life of the mining and pottery industries could be rugged and hard, but with excellent camaraderie and a common bond. In “Pot Paintresses” CW Brown has portrayed who he must have seen as a group of kindred spirits, where exceptionally skilful women are putting the finishing flourishes to the products that have made the Potteries famous throughout the world. Possibly, CW Brown would have benefitted from attending life classes in art, but to my mind the figures in “A Dance” have character and could be recognised out and about, in the streets of Hanley or Burslem, as real people with real lives. CW Brown, it seems, hasn’t set out to produce portrait likenesses and his faces are certainly not often joyful or jolly but he has created distinctive personalities. Everything and anything was potential material for his paintings, from the smallest and least significant of domestic objects, through the joys of the natural world and majestic holiday scenery, to the contrast of the world of work in heavy industry. All must have brightened his life tremendously. He was capable of undertaking minute observation of everything from a plant to a pulley. He attempted to capture the essential spirit of his subject and his own interpretation, rather than a photographic likeness, which I realise, for the artist, is what it’s all about. What do you think of CW Brown’s work? Your comments are very welcome. Written By: Michael Ansell – Volunteer
- Excerpt from Arthur Berry, A Three And Sevenpence Halfpenny Man (published by Kermase Editions, 1986)
Ceramic Information Sheets
The information sheets below have been compiled by the Ceramics Section of the museum and provide useful information on a variety of topics:
Rafaelle Monti ‘The Mother’
In the 1840s a number of leading factories in Stoke-on-Trent were experimenting with a fine, unglazed porcelain body of brilliant whiteness. The marble-like texture of the porcelain surface was seen as ideal for reproducing both antique and modern sculptures. In 1845 the firm of Copeland & Garrett was able to exhibit its ‘Statuary Porcelain’ which went into commercial production the following year. By the end of the decade several other firms were producing a very similar body and marketing it to emphasise its similarity to marble. Wedgwood called their new body ‘Carrara’ after the Italian marble from northern Italy, while Minton marketed their product as ‘Parian’ due to its similarity to marble from the Greek island of Paros. It was this latter name which, within a few years, came to be used to describe all the unglazed marble-like porcelains, whoever made them.
From the first parian was used to reproduce statuary. Reduced copies of antique works and those by modern artists were copied and thousands of different models were made. Prices for these reproductions ranged from a few shillings to several guineas and although not cheap, they were regarded as an affordable way for the middle classes to acquire ‘good art’. The leading potteries of Stoke-on-Trent vied to produce works by the most popular artists of the day, several of whom are now better known because of their parian figures than for their original marble sculptures.
One of the most popular figures at the Potteries Museum is that of a Mother and Child by the Italian artist Rafaelle Monti.
Born in Milan, Italy, in 1818 Monti worked in Austria, Germany, and, briefly, England during the 1840s. In 1847 he returned to Italy where he was involved in the abortive War of Italian Independence, supporting the King of Sardinia against the Austrian empire which then controlled Milan and northern Italy. On the failure of this war he fled to England with his wife and daughter, remaining in England until his death in 1881
His reputation as a sculptor led to him being commissioned by the Crystal Palace Company to produce two fountains and six colossal statues for the Great Exhibition of 1851. A number of his other statues, loaned by private clients also decorated the exhibition halls.
One of Monti’s specialities was being able to give the illusion of transparent fabric in solid marble. In 1859 he produced a life-size veiled bust of a young woman. Popularly known as ‘The Bride’ it was reproduced in a reduced form in parian porcelain for the Ceramic and Crystal Palace Art Union by the firm of WT Copeland. Demand was such that a few years later Monti produced a group of a Mother and Child as a companion piece. In this the mother’s veil is drawn over the face of the sleeping child to shield it from the light. It too was reproduced by Copeland. The firm copied over fifteen of Monti’s sculpture in parian porcelain between 1861 and 1881.
Museum Treasures; Joseph Grimaldi Figure
Staffordshire potters have been making figures since the mid 18th century. While most were purely decorative, in the 19th century they began making figures showing the celebrities of the day. Many figures depicted royalty or politicians but some of the most popular showed the stars of the stage. One was Joseph Grimaldi (1779-1837). The original ‘Clown Joey’, Grimaldi was a comedian, acrobat and singer who introduced many innovations to the British stage. These included the concept of the pantomime dame and audience participation in songs – something which became the hallmark of the Victorian music halls. He also pioneered the use of catchphrases and this figure, which is derived from a print of Grimaldi, shows him greeting his audience with the words “Here we are again!”
Grimaldi retired from the stage in 1823 returning briefly five years later. He died in poverty aged 49. This figure, showing Grimaldi in his character as Clown, was almost certainly made to mark his final appearance. It is earthenware with hand-painted details. Although unmarked we know that it was produced by the Burslem manufacturer, Enoch Wood, as it matches sherds of Wood’s pottery found when St Paul’s Church, Burslem, was demolished. Similar figures were also made in porcelain by the Derby factory. The modern equivalents of this piece are the collectible figures of television and film characters.
The Potteries Museum has a large collection of Staffordshire figures ranging from the mid 18th century through to the present day, of which many are on display in the ceramics gallery.
The Staffordshire Hoard
The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found, comprising over 4,000 items. Archaeologists believe the Hoard was buried during the 7th Century (600-699AD), at a time when the region was part of the Kingdom of Mercia.
The Hoard was jointly acquired by the Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Birmingham City Council after it was discovered by a metal detectorist in 2009, near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The discovery is still transforming our knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon era.
In November 2019, the 10 year conservation project and research project came to a close with the publication of a major research monograph and the full catalogue published online via the Archaeology Data Service.
Most gold objects found from the Anglo-Saxon era are pieces of jewellery such as brooches or pendants. The Staffordshire Hoard is unique in that it is almost entirely made up of war gear, especially sword fittings. Over 1,000 pieces are from a single, ornate helmet. It is the grandest example to have been found from the period and would have been fit for a king. An 18-month research project produced two reproductions of the helmet. You can see one on display next the Hoard at the museum.
Anglo-Saxon metalworkers were very skilled, and the Hoard represents the pinnacle of their work. The quality is even more striking when we consider that the items were crafted without the aids of modern jewellers: power tools, magnification, and bright, artificial lights.
Although most of the hoard pieces were parts of weapons and armour, they are still highly decorative. Many pieces feature elaborate designs made from filigree (twisted wire) and garnet inlays. The quality of the Hoard means it was probably associated with leading figures from Anglo-Saxon aristocracy or royalty.
No one can be sure why the Staffordshire Hoard was buried. Many of the pieces are bent or warped. It looks like they were forcefully pulled to strip them away from the objects they were attached to. One theory is that the Hoard is a collection of trophies from one or more battles, buried for safe-keeping or as an offering to pagan gods.
Alternatively, stripping away fittings from swords, shields and helmets may have been a ritual way of stripping away the identity of the previous owner. The war gear was re-purposed and redecorated by the victor, and the old gold fittings buried as a gift to the gods. Such an event is documented in the famous Saxon peom, Beowulf:
One warrior stripped the other, looted Ongentheow’s iron mail-coat, his hard sword-hilt, his helmet too, and carried graith to King Hygelac; he accepted the prize, promised fairly that reward would come, and kept his word. They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure, gold under gravel, gone to earth, as useless to men now as it ever was.
You can currently seeing objects from Hoard on display in our gallery, Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, located on the ground floor of the museum. The display features a raised wooden-floored mead hall, with columns and banners adorned with Anglo-Saxon artwork– representing ancient designs on the Hoard artefacts – along with a replica fire pit and king’s chair.
You can also find the Staffordshire Hoard on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.
You can find out more about the Staffordshire Hoard through the links below:
Our ceramic collections include the finest collection of Staffordshire ceramics anywhere in the world, reflecting the City’s heritage as the centre of the English ceramics industry. It also includes the most comprehensive collection of British 20th century studio ceramics. As well as British ceramics, we have significant collections of ceramics from all over the world and ranging from the Neolithic to the present day.
The collection is internationally renowned and includes a large collection of Staffordshire and salt-glazed stonewares. The 18th and 19th centuries are very well represented with collections of the major Staffordshire factories such as Wedgwood, Spode, Minton and less well known factories such as that of William Greatbatch. The museum also has significant collections of figures, including the Elizabeth Marianne Wood Collection of 18th and 19th century figures and the Pugh Collection of Victorian Staffordshire portrait figures.
Our Art Pottery collection is extensive, with masterpieces from Doulton, Bernard Moore, Ruskin, Pilkington and Bullers, amongst others.
Studio pottery is one of our greatest strengths, with superb collections of the pioneer studio potters Bernard Leach, Hamada Shoji and Michael Cardew amongst others. These collections are complemented by our collections of world ceramics, which include East Asian ceramics, Italian Renaissance maiolica and Islamic pottery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ceramic Information Sheets
New Acquisition from our Former Director
One of our most recent acquisitions is this slipware group of birds by Carole Glover. It is a joint gift to the Museum from Peter Vigurs and The Friends of The Potteries Museums & Art Gallery.
Carole Glover is a locally-born and trained potter who works from her studio in Stafford. Her work is heavily influenced by 17th century Staffordshire slipware in her use of materials, decoration and techniques.
The majority of her work is thrown, with some hand-work where necessary and then decorated with liquid slip in a limited palette of natural colours ranging from cream to near-black over the red earthenware ground.
Birds are a reoccurring theme in Carole’s work, either as vessels or as decorative figures and in recent years she has started producing her distinctive ‘totem’ groups. These groups comprise several birds of different species and sizes piled one above the other, each elaborately decorated with coloured slips to enhance the natural patterning of the birds’ plumage. Her decorating techniques include trailing, pouring, dipping, brushing, sponging, jewelling and feathering, ensuring that not only is each bird in the totem decorated quite differently from the next, but that the decorative method reflects the spirit of the bird’s appearance.
In this group there are, from the base upwards, a red necked grebe, black grouse, turtle dove, mistle thrush, yellow wagtail, and a marsh tit.
Peter Vigurs, the joint donor of this piece, has a long association with this Museum. He first came to Stoke as Keeper of Art when the new Museum opened in the 1970s. He then moved to Wolverhampton Museum & Art Gallery, subsequently returning to Stoke as Director of PMAG in the 1980s. Although he left Stoke-on-Trent City Council in the 1990s he continues to take a great interest in this museum. He served on the Friends of the Potteries Museums & Art Gallery’s Council for many years as member, Chair and Assistant Chair, and is still associated with the Museum through the Reginald Haggar Lecture Committee.