I’ve been spending quite alot of my time travelling up and down motorways for work recently – I usually work in Yorkshire, but in the past few months I have also had a few projects in the South West of England. Although the long drives on congested motorways have left much to be desired, it’s been great to have time to explore a different part of the country.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been taking pottery classes for the past few months. A tiny proportion of readers may actually think I am slowly improving at pottery…but the jury is still out on that one!
Anyway, on a recent trip to Bristol, I had the chance to visit the Royal Worcester museum on my way back to sunny Doncaster. Royal Worcester ceased production after nearly 260 years in 2009, but some of the finest works have been put on display at the Royal Worcester Museum, which stands on the site of the original factory. I thought a visit might give me some pottery inspiration, and I would learn a little bit about design trends and production methods.
Whilst I was there, there was a presentation by one of Royal Worcester’s professional ceramic painters. Ken Russell. As I visited on a quiet afernoon, I took my opportunity to ask Ken lots of questions, and he did his best to answer all of them!
Ken was working on some very intricate painting on teacups and saucers. He explained that the plate was fired then gilded, and then he needed to use a resin to painstakingly build up dots across the piece, which could then be painted when they reached the desired height.
Ken explained that the glaze used would sit proud on the resin, giving the exquisite texture on the piece, but without the resin, the colours would not have any height. There were so many stages in completing a plate, and Ken explained how the process needed huge amounts of focus and concentration, as one mistake could mean starting the whole plate from scratch again.
The pattern that Ken was imitating was from a famous Royal Worcester collection called the Dudley Service, which was made for the Countess of Dudley in the 1860s. The original set was so admired that a replica was made soon after, for the public to view. This replica set was on display at the museum, and I was amazed to see how fine the porcelain work was – when a cup was held to the light, the porcelain was so thin that the portrait painted on the outside was illuminated!
Given the concentration needed, I decided to leave Ken in peace and have a look at some of the other exhibits. The items on display were beautiful, intricate, and faultless. Although I have no realistic hopes of ever being able to produce a pottery item like those on display, I was at least able to get a few ideas for techniques I could use in my evening classes.
I especially liked the neat beading around the top edge of this pot (above) – this would certainly be something I could incorporate into an item. I also thought the Japanesque tea service was interesting, with its lozenge-shaped cups and saucers and raised flowers on the surface.
However, my favourite item of the day was a small, novelty tea pot, which Ken suggested I check out. This little teapot was produced by James Hadley in 1882, and is based on the characters from a Gilbert and Sullivan comedy opera. It is called the ‘aesthetic teapot’, and one side depicts a foppish man, eaching a green jacket ornamented wiwth a sunflower. On the reverse, you can see his female counterpart, also wearing green, but this time it’s a smocked blouse, decorated with an arum lily.
The Gilbert and Sullivan opera on which this item was based was apparently a satire of Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic movement – art for art’s sake. Despite the obvious stylisation of this item, it is still a fully functioning teapot, fusing art and function. However, I’m sure if James Hadley were alive today he would be horrified to learn that his satirical teapot had become the very thing it once mocked – art for art’s sake, as its sole purpose now is for visitors to view it and marvel at its design.
Despite what Hadley would have thought, I still loved it, and am glad I had the opportunity to view the beautiful creations at Royal Worcester. If you happen to be in the vicinity of the visitor centre, I would highly recommend a visit!