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Frank Scott Collection of Rolled Pipe Clay Figures.
In 2016 The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery’s ceramics department acquired their very own wine butler, shepherd, gardener, conjuror, two strongmen and a drunk! These welcomed additions to the department are of course rolled clay figures and not a new intake of staff members. To be exact the museum was fortunate enough to acquire the Frank Scott Collection of 26 rolled pipe clay figures made by William Ruscoe and students of the Burslem School of Art (BSA) during the 1930s.
William Ruscoe was born at Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England on June 20th 1904, the son of William Ruscoe, potter. After studying art at Stoke-on-Trent under Gordon M. Forsyth he worked as an assistant at the BSA (1938–1942), serving as tutor in the practical side of pottery at the Royal College of Art, London (1939–1940). He then became master-in-charge at Stoke School of Art (1942–1944). He married and moved to Devon in 1944, where he took up a post as assistant master under William Green, A.R.C.A. at the Exeter School of Art to teach drawing and painting and to set up the Ceramics Department. He worked at the college for twenty-five years until his retirement in 1969. He died at Exeter on September 11th, 1990.
Inspired by salt-glazed stoneware pew groups of the eighteenth century, he brought the art of making rolled clay figures to a new level of skill and subtlety. Using both earthenware and porcelain William Ruscoe and other student at the BSA created a wonderful assortment of figures that are naive in design and considerable in their appeal. The rolled clay figures were exhibited at a number of large exhibitions both nationally and internationally highlighting the fact that the figures were appreciated as the work of skilled potters despite their often amusing appearance.
William Ruscoe’s talents extended well beyond rolled clay figures including the creation of many pieces of studio pottery. He was especially interest in glazing techniques, a topic on which he published a book titled Glazes for the Potter in 1974 and which led to the creation of some wonderful and colourful finishes to his pottery.
The collection of figures was gifted to the museum by the niece of Mr Frank Scott. Frank Scott was a potter who trained at the Burslem School of Art during the 1930s and worked alongside William Ruscoe. Scott’s and Ruscoe’s association continued until the outbreak of WWII when Frank joined the army and Ruscoe moved to Devon. Frank Scott was himself an accomplished potter and was offered the opportunity to work as a designer at Royal Worcester, an offer he declined as he wished to remain in Newcastle-under-Lyme. After WWII Mr Scott chose to leave the pottery industry and instead pursued a career in sales. The collection of rolled clay figures were no doubt a wonderful reminder of Mr Scott’s time as at the Burslem School of Art.
“Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside!”
The school holidays have officially started and while we may not be going abroad on holiday, many of us are looking forward to short breaks or days out in this country. The concept of a fortnight away in the sun is quite a modern one. It was not until 1938 that the Holidays with Pay Act introduced the right for certain groups of workers to have one week’s paid holiday per year. The outbreak of war the following year, with its interruption to travel within the UK, and many beaches out of bounds for fear of invasion, meant that family holidays were largely on hold until the late 1940s. It was only in the later 1960s, with the advent of affordable package holidays and cheap flights, that the majority of British families could even consider a foreign holiday.
However, from the late 18th century onwards, many towns had held annual holiday periods when an entire local industry closed down for a week or more. Often known as ‘Wakes Weeks’, in Stoke-on-Trent the holiday was known as “Potters’ Holiday” or just “Potters”. With the spread of the railway network across Britain local people, who could afford to do so, decamped en masse to popular seaside resorts in Lancashire or North Wales. There, for the duration of the Potters’ Holiday period it was possible to buy imported copies of the local Staffordshire paper – and, for those who were self-catering, the all-important Staffordshire oatcakes.
“Oh I do like to walk along the Prom, Prom, Prom” The popularity of these holiday resorts with their safe seaside bathing beaches can be seen in this tile panel of “Summer” made by the firm of Minton Hollins & Co. One of a set of four, depicting the Seasons, it shows a scene at the seaside, probably Llandudno, which was a becoming a popular holiday destination in the 19th century for Staffordshire holiday makers. In the foreground a street musician carries a Welsh triple harp, a bather wrings out a towel and another man stands looking out to sea. In the background bathing machines have been pulled down to the sea to protect the modesty of the (male) bathers as they change and enter the water. Sea bathing in England was segregated by gender until 1901, after which the use of bathing machines rapidly declined, bathing costumes became compulsory, and mixed bathing became popular.
“That’s The Way to Do It!” Once at the seaside, holiday makers wanted entertaining and Mr Punch has been part of the British seaside since the 19th century but his roots go back much further. In 1662 the diarist Samuel Pepys recorded seeing a puppet show featuring the character ‘Pulcinello’ – whose name was subsequently anglicised to ‘Punch’ and by the late 18th century there were many such shows to be seen in London and other large towns. These early shows featured marionettes – puppets suspended from strings – rather than the more familiar glove puppets of today and a fixed performance area, but by the early 18th century glove puppets and a portable cloth covered booth had become the norm.
At first Punch, like his Italian namesake Pulcinello, wore white, but he soon developed his distinctive striped costume and hat, adapted from a traditional English jester’s outfit. His wife was originally called Joan, not Judy, and his main adversary was the Devil, rather than the Crocodile. These early shows were most commonly seen in the streets of towns and villages and many travelled from fair to fair around the country. With the development of seaside resorts in the mid-19th century Mr Punch moved to the beaches, promenades and piers to entertain the crowds of holiday makers and all the elements of a traditional Punch and Judy show were in place – including the Policeman, the baby, the Crocodile and his sausages.
Despite being criticised over the years for their violence and anarchy, Punch and Judy shows remain popular with both children and adults and a few years ago they were listed as one of the twelve most important British icons, alongside Stonehenge, Routemaster buses and Alice in Wonderland. Despite their well-publicised marital difficulties Punch and his wife are still together 350 years after they first came to England.
“By the Sea, by the Sea, by the Beautiful Sea!” What would the seaside be without bathing – whether sea bathing or sun bathing? Despite their popularity, both are comparatively new activities. Sea bathing to benefit health was prescribed by doctors from the late 18th century. It was regarded as a dangerous activity only to be undertaken under careful supervision by professional bathing women who would guide the bather into and out of the water from bathing machines that were drawn into the water and from which the bathers emerged without endangering their modesty. By the mid-19th century affordable train travel meant that far more people could visit the seaside. Sea bathing became more accessible and started to be seen as a pleasurable activity, rather than a medical recommendation. The advent of mixed bathing from the early 20th century and the gradual abandonment of bathing machines meant that the importance of practical – and attractive – bathing costumes became more important. At a period when women’s clothing covered them from neck to ankle, bathing costumes, which clearly revealed the figure, were regarded as daring. This detail from an advertisement from the firm of Arkinstall & Co, makers of Arcadian china novelty wares, illustrates their range of bathing beauties figures in the latest costumes suitable for the beach, and dates to around 1924.
A slightly more upmarket version of the same idea is this lovely figure of the “Sunshine Girl”, designed by Leslie Harradine for Royal Doulton in 1929 and in production until 1938. In this instance the figure is protecting her pale complexion from the sun by sheltering under a Japanese paper parasol. Within a few years of this figure going into production sun-bathing and tanned skin were to become highly fashionable, something which has only recently started to change.
The Silent Enemy 2020
Submitted by Linda Perry, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s an enemy we can’t see or hear
We only know it’s getting near
We thought it was a world away
But it’s coming closer every day
A stowaway on planes and ships
From land to land it quietly skips
And now it’s reached our UK shores
It’s knocking, knocking at our doors
It’s time to take some extreme measures
We must forego some of our pleasures
No visits to the theatre to see a show
To the local pub we can no longer go
Wash your hands until they are sore
Then panic buying hits the store
No hand wash or sanitiser to be sold
Toilet rolls and pasta are rarer than gold
There are darker days where we are heading
As we all try to prevent the virus spreading
The children are no longer going to school
Stay home, stay safe is now the golden rule
Working from home where ever you can
And most of our shopping comes in a van
Lockdown measures are now in place
We can’t meet friends and family face to face
As casualty figures rise at an alarming rate
Our key workers and NHS staff we celebrate
We clap and cheer them on a Thursday night
And hope and pray that the end is in sight
People are pulling together in a caring way
Helping their friends and neighbours every day
Standing against the enemy we must beat
United together our foe we will defeat
Linda Perry – Coronavirus March 2020
The Potteries: The Clue is in the Crest.
Stoke-on-Trent is known far and wide as the ceramics capital of the world earning itself the title of ‘The Potteries’. To this day the name remains in use despite the huge changes in both the economy and landscape of the six towns that make up the City of Stoke-on-Trent.
Few obvious signs of the locality’s celebrated industrial past remain, although, there are plenty of clues around the place that hint at the intrinsic importance of the ceramics industry as part of the city’s past.
One glorious example is that of the City of Stoke-on-Trent’s coat of arms.
As with most coat of arms the design and imagery includes features synonymous with the family, organisation, profession, or locality they represent. In 1912 the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent was granted its coat of arms. Two years prior Stoke-on-Trent had been constituted as a County Borough on the Federation of six former local authorities: Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton. The country borough was elevated to the status of city in 1925 and has kept the same coat of arms to this day.
Before the Federation of the six town in 1910 each of the towns existed as proudly independent authorities, each with their own crest. These crests represented the unique heritage of each of the towns, including important families, local dignitaries, and local industry. The central arms of the new County Borough looked to incorporate aspects from all six towns.
Starting at the top, the Stafford knot emblem is taken from the Tunstall arms. Tunstall are the only town to have adopted the knot which has been a widely used symbol throughout the county of Staffordshire for centuries. Additional imagery on the Tunstall arms is a clear nod to its pottery industry with three vases and two bottle ovens.
In between the two knots is a boars head taken from the Stoke-upon-Trent arms. The boars head is present on one of the three coats of arms that make up the right-hand side of the arms. The boars head is part of the Copeland family arms whilst the other two arms are that of the Keary and Minton families. The inclusion of the Copeland family arms, as part of the Stoke-upon-Trent arms, is not surprising and neither is that of the Minton arms; both of which represent the two most well-known and successful pottery companies in the town. The Keary arms relate to William Keary who, in 1874, became the first mayor of the newly incorporated Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent. As with the Tunstall arms, imagery relating to the towns main industry is on show with the inclusion of ceramic jugs, a bottle oven, and potters wheel.
Working clockwise, around the central shield section of the City’s arms, we start with the image of a camel. A peculiar image to be found on the arms of a city located in the middle of England; the camel is taken from the Hanley arms. The camel appears as the helm on the Hanley arms and is taken from the Ridgway family’s arms. The inclusion of the Ridgway insignia was perhaps an easy decision when it came to incorporating an aspect of the Hanley arms. The Ridgway family were the largest and most successful pottery dynasty across the Hanley and Shelton area throughout the 19th century. Furthermore, William Ridgway became the first Mayor after Hanley and Shelton were incorporated, becoming the Borough of Hanley in 1857. Again, the additional of jugs and bottle ovens allude to Hanley’s main industry.
Under the camel is the image of a scythe. Both the arms of Tunstall and Burslem contain the image of the scythe, and both for the same reason. The scythe is taken from the coat of arms of the Sneyd family. Landed gentry for over 500 years the Sneyd family owned large tracts of land in both the Burslem and Tunstall areas. The Sneyd family’s land was mined for both clay and coal and rented by generations of potting families.
Next is the image of an eagle, taken from the Longton arms. As with the camel of the Ridgway family the eagle is often present as the helm atop the Longton arms and relates to James Glover. In 1865 Longton and Lane End were incorporated as the borough of Longton and it was successful local mine and brewery owner, James Glover who became its first Mayor. Flanking the Longton arms are figures of a potter and a miner, representing the two main industries of the area.
Above the eagle is an image of, arguably, the most iconic piece of pottery to have ever come out of Stoke-on-Trent. The image of the Portland Vase is taken from the Burslem arms and is a reference to Burslem’s most famous son: Josiah Wedgwood. Burslem became a borough in 1871 and in 1878 was granted a Charter of Incorporation and the right to display arms. Interestingly, the other five towns had and displayed ‘unofficial’ arms but only Burslem (as the ‘Mother’ town) received a grant.
Lastly, dividing the four images within the central aspect of the Stoke-on-Trent arms is a Fretty Cross. Taken from the most often forgotten of the six towns, Fenton, the cross appears on its arms dividing it into four quarters. As with Tunstall, Hanley, and Stoke, the pottery industry is represented by a vase and bottle ovens. Additionally, the coal industry is represented by a pit-head wheel whilst a sheaf of corn in front of a plough signifies agriculture. The Fenton arms have a goat’s head as the helm which is taken from the arms of William Baker, the Chief Bailiff of Fenton in 1840 and a successful local pottery manufacturer.
Sitting atop of the Stoke-on-Trent coat of arms is the image of an Egyptian Potter at his throwing wheel; a symbol of the rich and important heritage of pottery making.
Back in 1912 the design of the county borough’s arms offered an opportunity to create new symbolism representing the areas new shared identity. I hope this closer study of the arms has provided a fascinating insight into the county borough’s bold new vision for itself as it moved into the 20th century. The new coat of arms was a symbolic bringing together of the six towns; a chance to reflection on what each of them had achieved in the past and the beginning of a future in which ‘United Strength is Stronger’.
The Thomas Twyford Bequest of Ceramics
We are often asked what the stories are behind some of the ceramic pieces in our collections, but few people ask about who generously gave or bequeathed them to the museum. People donate items to us for all sorts of reasons, and most people only give one or two pieces, but we do have some large and important groups of pottery given to us by collectors who, in some cases, had spent years searching out special pieces to acquire.
In the 19th and early 20th century many of our donors were well-known Staffordshire pottery manufacturers, local businessmen, or were simply wealthy collectors. They donated their collections because they wanted other people to enjoy them, as much as they themselves had enjoyed collecting them.
One of the most important ceramics collections at PMAG is the Thomas Twyford Collection of almost 600 pieces of English pottery from the 17th and 18th century, which was bequeathed to the Hanley Museum, precursor of the present-day Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, on his death in 1921.
The Twyford name is known world-wide today as one of the leading manufacturers of sanitary ware, toilets, washbasins, etc., but comparatively few people know about Thomas Twyford (1849-1921), whose energy and business acumen created the largest sanitary ware business in the world – and even fewer know about him as an important collector of 17th and 18th century Staffordshire ceramics.
Thomas Twyford was born in Shelton in 1849. His father was a pottery manufacturer who produced sanitary wares, advertising his firm as making “water-closet basins, plug basins, urinals, etc.”. In 1872 Thomas’s father died and his 23-year old son took over the business.
Under his management the firm expanded rapidly until Twyford’s was the largest sanitary ware producer in the world. Thomas introduced many improved models of water closets which won awards, but in 1884 he introduced and patented the ‘Unitas’ one-piece pedestal closet, which became a best-seller and for which he is best known.
By his 30s Thomas was a wealthy man. He moved to the countryside, commuting into work each day, and in 1887 he built a new model factory at Cliffe Vale, Shelton, chosen because for its good transport links as it lies between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the North Staffordshire. Although production there ceased in the 1990s, the façade of his factory survives to this day with the building converted into apartments.
From the 1890s Twyford and his family lived at Whitmore Hall, Staffordshire, filling it with his collections of pictures, books – and pottery. He was involved in local politics and philanthropy, was a magistrate and became firstly, Deputy Lieutenant of Staffordshire, and then High Sheriff. From 1896 until his death he was Chairman of the local newspaper, the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel.
The Twyford family had been potters in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent, since the 17th century, and so Thomas collected 17th and 18th century pottery, buying the best pieces that he could. These ranged from slipwares, including a number of named and dated pieces, to salt-glazed stonewares, painted creamwares and figures.
Although, sadly, his collection does not include any pieces that that can be attributed to his Twyford ancestors, many of Stoke-on-Trent’s most famous potters are represented in his collection. On his death Thomas donated his collection to what was then Hanley Museum, so that local people could enjoy it as much as he had done.
Designing a gallery fit for warrior treasure…
‘Some earl forgotten, in ancient years, left the last of his lofty race, heedfully there had hidden away dearest treasure’ Beowulf
How do you begin to design an immersive, atmospheric gallery fit for the wonderful treasures of the Staffordshire Hoard – and on a limited budget?
Well, the colour scheme, an easy choice, taking inspiration from the hoard itself, we painted the walls a beautiful rich red colour to complement the garnets which are in abundance on the treasure. Painting the ceiling black brought an air of mystery to the space.
The gallery itself – already an intimate space, low ceiling with supporting columns and a centre stage area which could not be removed – surely this would be a hindrance to the space? – Not for the team at PMAG, in fact, it became the perfect central focus for our design – An Anglo-Saxon Mead Hall.
Our Gallery text panel explains that ‘Wooden mead halls were at the heart of pagan Anglo-Saxon settlements. They were places of feasting, storytelling, lawgiving and oath-taking. Loyalties were forged over ale and mead, a drink made from honey. Some halls were decorated with carvings and tapestries. Warriors sat on benches around a firepit. Lords lived in their mead halls with their followers. The pagan kings of Mercia had no palaces but travelled across their kingdom from hall to hall, settling quarrels and giving gifts.’
Design inspiration was taken from reading translations of Beowulf an Old English epic poem, and also, (which I’m sure the curators will be horrified to hear me say) J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy setting of Middle-earth. However strange this may seem, if you are aware that Tolkien’s academic background was in Anglo-Saxon and medieval studies and, it is also considered that Meduseld Tolkien’s Golden Hall of the Kings of Rohan is based on the mead hall Heorot in Beowulf, perhaps it’s not so strange that we also drew inspiration from poems and stories as a starting point for creating our immersive gallery.
Tolkien’s description of Meduseld:
“The travellers entered. Inside it seemed dark and warm after the clear air upon the hill. The hall was long and wide and filled with shadows and half lights; mighty pillars upheld its lofty roof. But here and there bright sunbeams fell in glimmering shafts from the eastern windows, high under the deep eaves. Through the louver in the roof, above the thin wisps of issuing smoke, the sky showed pale and blue. As their eyes changed, the travellers perceived that the floor was paved with stones of many hues; branching runes and strange devices intertwined beneath their feet. They saw now that the pillars were richly carved, gleaming dully with gold and half-seen colours. Many woven cloths were hung upon the walls, and over their wide spaces marched figures of ancient legend, some dim with years, some darkling in the shade. But upon one form the sunlight fell: a young man upon a white horse. He was blowing a great horn, and his yellow hair was flying in the wind. The horse’s head was lifted, and its nostrils were wide and red as it neighed, smelling battle afar. Foaming water, green and white, rushed and curled about its knees.”
The Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers (1955) Chapter 6 The King of the Golden Hall. © J.R.R.Tolkien, 1955
To ground the stories, we also spent time visiting the reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village of West Stow, images of which later formed the backdrop to 2 areas of the gallery.
So, on to design a gallery fit for treasure.
Armed with these stories and agreement that the Mead Hall should be the central focus, the design process began.
We already had the columns and stage area to start the mead hall structure. Chris Fern shared his preliminary research drawings reconstructed from the patterns of actual hoard items with us and we used them to create the artwork for the columns. Originally produced in gold vinyl, to refresh the gallery for the 10th Anniversary of the discovery of the hoard, we had the opportunity to clad the columns in wood complete with carved out the patterns as they would have been in Anglo-Saxon times. We designed hanging banners, again depicting traced patterns from the Staffordshire Hoard, and also designed with the rich colours of the hoard.
The wooden floor of the raised area stage was sanded down and stained to make it look more authentic and with the addition of a realistic fire pit surrounded by benches dressed with boar skins, lends itself perfectly as a space for storytelling. As Heorot, the name of the mead-hall in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, translates as hart or stag which is a male deer. With this in mind, we adorned the back wall of the mead-hall with antlers from out Natural Science collection.
The atmospheric mead-hall created, where do we now site the cases for our most treasured and star items of the gallery – the Staffordshire hoard?
Well, space in the gallery was limited, they needed to make an impact as people walked into the gallery, again the answer came from stories from Anglo-Saxon times – reading stories of the Anglo-Saxons leaving weaponry at the entrance to the mead hall we displayed the sword suites directly to the front of the stage as if they were left at the entrance to the hall, with the other cases surrounding the central case. The recent addition of the reconstructed helmet adds to the grandeur of the central case.
Now to the entrance of the gallery, how do we entice visitors in?
Looking at images showing sentinels at the entrance to a mead hall, was perfect for drawing similarities between this and Katharine Morling’s mythological god figures, an artist’s response to the hoard. Two pieces of Katharine’s work were ideally placed as sentinels at the entrance to the gallery, guarding the treasures inside.
The National Geographic commissioned Daniel Dociu image of the rider fitted in perfectly with the idea that a warrior would come riding from battle to the entrance of the mead hall. So, this was ideally positioned to the entrance of the gallery on the right-hand side.
To the left-hand side, we tell the story of the amazing discovery of the Staffordshire hoard.
Who were the Anglo-Saxons?
To put them into context, on one of the walls we added a very long timeline, showing what was happening nationally and locally around the Anglo-Saxon period and the time we believe the hoard was buried. A map on the wall shows the extent of the Kingdom of Mercia.
The Hoard is believed to be mainly warrior treasure, but what was life like for the everyday people? Around the gallery from left to right we tell the story of Anglo-Saxon Everyday Life and death, using objects from our collections.
Our younger visitors can dress up as an Anglo-Saxon and have their photo taken next to our popular mannequin (which the museum staff have affectionately nicknamed Sean Bean!) and find out how to train to become an Anglo-Saxon warrior. There is a replica of a grave excavated at Stapenhill on the Staffordshire-Derbyshire border. The woman in it was buried with goods including beads, brooches and a spindle whorl, so she was probably quite wealthy.
Throughout the gallery there are a series of iPads and a touch table giving further information and short film clips about the hoard, and the exterior of the gallery also focuses on the ongoing conservation and research into the hoard.
Once again J. R. R. Tolkien takes inspiration from Beowulf in his novel The Hobbit, where both talk of a dragon guarding its hoard.
Finally, we continued this ideology on through a photographic image of the entrance to Thor’s Cave (in the Manifold Valley), where you can catch a glimpse of another of Katharine Morling’s mythological figures whilst watching a short film entitled ‘The Last Dragon Hunter’.
Made especially for the museum the film is a story about a young Saxon boy who runs away following his father’s death in battle, and embarks on an exciting journey filled with tales of warriors, gods and monsters.’
We hope you have enjoyed the insight into Designing a gallery Fit for warrior treasure and hope you will be able to visit us soon, where items from The Staffordshire Hoard remain on permanent display in our Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia Gallery.
Helen Cann, Design Services Officer,
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
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.
Eternal Spring by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Eternal Spring by the French sculptor, Auguste Rodin is mounted on a metre-high plinth inside the entrance of the Art gallery. The bronze sculpture measures almost a metre in length and stands at just over half a metre high. It depicts the naked figures of a man and a woman locked in a passionate embrace.
The original sculpture was worked in clay, and this model was cast in bronze between 1898 and 1918. The male figure is seated on a rocky outcrop, his left leg crossed over his right, as he leans into the kneeling female figure, whose torso is arched towards him. Her right arm is extended over her head as she seems to pull his head towards her as they kiss; his right arm cradles her underneath her shoulders, whilst his left arm comfortably curls up around a cloud-like form, opening his chest, and creating the highest point of the sculpture. The glossy sheen of the rich, dark brown patina of the bronze accentuates the eroticism of the work, highlighting the contrasting contours and position of the two figures.
Eternal Spring was one of over 200 figurative pieces of groups and individuals Rodin created as part of his 1880 commission to produce a pair of monumental bronze doors for a new decorative arts museum in Paris. Rodin’s ambitious project, inspired by Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy, was to represent The Gates of Hell populated by the sculptural figures on the doors. Although the museum was never built and the doors were never fully realized, The Gates of Hell became the defining project of the sculptor’s career. Eternal Spring was originally conceived to represent forbidden love based on the tragic love story of Paolo and Francesca, as told in the first part of Dante’s poem. However, Rodin eventually chose to focus on enlarging and developing a number of the figures as independent works, Eternal Spring being one of them – he decided that the subject was too uplifting for The Gates of Hell. He transformed the male figure into a mythological god by adding small wings on his back. The sculpture was exhibited at the Annual Paris Salon in 1897 and 1898 under the alternative titles Zephyr and Earth and Cupid and Psyche respectively.
Mythological figures were highly fashionable decorative subjects in which Rodin had specialised earlier in his career. His encounter with the work of Michelangelo, during a visit to Italy in 1875-76, marked a sea-change in his artistic practice. He pushed the boundaries of the medium to sculpt realistic, fleshy corporeal beings, developing a new modern visual language. In Rodin’s lifetime critics often denounced his work as vulgar, and audiences found his sculptures extraordinary and disturbing. However by the first half of the 20th century, Rodin was widely acknowledged as the father of modern sculpture.
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: