Vlog: Meet Miranda Goodby, Ceramics Curator
What is your name and job title?
I’m Miranda Goodby and I am the Senior Curator of Ceramics.
What is in the Ceramics Collection and What do you do as a Curator?
Here at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery the Ceramics Collection includes pottery and porcelain from around the world, and it ranges in age from Ancient Egypt through to the present day.
In many museums, ceramics from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome would be included in archaeology or ethnography collections because of their age or country of origin, but here they are included in the Ceramic collection because of their material – clay.
We also have ceramics from the Near & Far East, as well as from Europe, but great majority of our pieces are from England, especially Staffordshire. We have the largest collection of Staffordshire ceramics in the world – approximately 30,000 pieces–and that doesn’t include all the thousands of sherds of excavated pottery from Stoke-on-Trent that are cared for in the Archaeology collection.
There are several reasons that this museum has such an amazing collection of pottery. Firstly, we are based in Stoke-on-Trent, the home of the British pottery industry for over 300 years. Secondly, there have been museums in Stoke-on-Trent collecting pottery for nearly 200 years. You can do a lot of collecting in that time!
Many of the Victorian pottery manufacturers were also collectors of pottery. People such as Thomas Twyford, who owned the largest sanitary ware factory in the world, bequeathed his collection to what was then called Hanley Museum. Thomas Hulme, who is a less well-known manufacturer but who was responsible for the founding of the Wedgwood Memorial Institute, donated his collection during his lifetime. The Minton family of Stoke-upon-Trent gave examples of their “modern” productions – which are now over 150 years old – and so on. And of course, we have been given many, many other gifts and bequests over the years, including the Keiller family’s famous cow cream jug collection.
We continue to collect as well. The Museum has a Collecting Policy to help guide us in what to acquire, and we collect contemporary ceramics as well as historic pieces. After all, those ‘contemporary’ pieces will be historic themselves one day.
As a Curator my job is to care for the collections and to make them accessible for the public. This can be through exhibitions and displays here at PMAG, but we also lend piece to other museums in the UK – and around the world – for special exhibitions. And through social and traditional media we also make them accessible for an even wider audience
Our collections are also used for research. Researchers, writers, artists and students all use the collections for inspiration and education. An important part of my job therefore is to make sure that the information that we have about our pieces is correct and up-to-date, and that all the pieces not currently on display are carefully stored by type, date or manufacturer so that they can easily be located when needed.
How long have you worked at the museum?
I have been Ceramics Curator here at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery for nearly 25 years now!
What’s your favourite thing about working here?
It’s got to be the collection. With over 35,000 pieces in total to look after there is always something new to learn about them. The marvellous thing about working here in Stoke-on-Trent is that you are immersed in the subject. Not only do we have the pottery here, the pieces that people made and decorated, and that other people bought and used, but we also have information about how those things were made.
The archaeology of Stoke-on-Trent is the archaeology of the pottery industry and is primary evidence for how they were made, the technology that was used – and the things that went wrong in making pottery 1, 2, and 3 hundred years ago.
We also have masses of documentary and photographic evidence for the pottery industry, with factory records, pattern books, trade catalogues etc. When you put all those together you can get a real sense of the importance of the pottery industry in Stoke-on-Trent. It wasn’t just about pretty pots, it was about technological innovation, design, marketing, social and economic change, people lives and livelihoods – and pretty pots.
Now for some questions that have been sent in via Facebook.
Carl wants to know which piece of ceramics in the collection needed the most restoration.
Well, we don’t have any conservators or restorers here at the museum and so we try to not accept pottery that is going to need extensive restoration work as it can be quite expensive to have a lot of restoration work done – and over time the work tends to discolour and then has to be redone. We do however, have a number of pieces in the collection that came to us already restored. And a 17th century slipware dish that was given to us in 1944, is probably the most heavily restored piece that we have. It depicts a man smoking a pipe, has the name Thomas Toft on the rim and the inscription ‘Smoke your nose’. It was badly broken and restored before it was given to the museum and the restoration is so extensive that we can’t be sure which elements of the design are original and which are not.
Pat wants to know if we have any Beswick on display as she hasn’t spotted any when visiting.
Yes, we do have some Beswick on display at present – this cruet set with circus horses in the 1950s case and we have more pieces that aren’t currently on show, including some of the animal figures that Beswick is famous for. Although we have over 5,000 pieces on display in the main ceramics gallery we don’t have space to show everything that we have. So our temporary exhibitions are an opportunity for us to bring out pieces that aren’t usually on show.
And finally, Gary want to know what is my favourite museum object
It impossible to say. I’m afraid it changes depending on what I’m working on at the time. I do have some favourites though. The rolled clay figures made in the 1930s by William Ruscoe are incredibly engaging and charming because of their simplicity. The Green Tea teapot, made at William Greatbatch’s factory in the 1770s, is a favourite because we not only have the excavated material from his site, but because whoever did the inscription was almost certainly illiterate – each ‘e’ in ‘Green Tea’ is drawn differently: you would never do that it you could write, And the many tools that we have for making and shaping pottery. Throwers’ and plate makers’ tools are often inscribed with the name and date of their owner, and that is often the only record of their working lives that they have left. When you hold them in your hand you can’t help but wonder who they worked for, what their lives were like and if we have any of their pots here at the museum.