Friday, April 18, 2008

Stoke on Trent, England – Rich in Pottery History

Stoke-on-Trent is considered to be the home of the pottery industry in the United Kingdom and is commonly known as The Potteries.

Driving around Stoke-on-Trent and Handley you notice the bottle kilns pipes; remains from a City that was the mecca of the pottery industry. (see the picture below) Until I visited I never really thought much about English pottery. I have collected several pieces of it, but didn’t really realize the amount of workmanship involved or how it affected the livelihoods of the families who relied on this industry to make a living. I can only say that I have a new sense of appreciation of this art and the families whose lives it touched.

These pipes are now historically protected and can not be removed. At one time hundreds of bottle kilns could be seen over the countryside, now only a handfull remain.

Inside an old bottle kiln

Many of the factories are no longer in production, in fact just a handful remain. One of the most renown pottery factories is located in Handley, known as Moorcroft pottery. It is some of the most exquisite and expensive pottery that I have ever had the pleasure of feasting my eyes upon. You must visit this factory if you ever get to Stoke. You will be treated to EyeCandy Heaven.

Unfortuantely, because of the workmanship involved and the art of creating the piece, we were not allowed to take photographs thru our hour long tour of the factory. But do check out the Moorcroft website because there are short videos of each process that I describe. All in all there are 14 different processes that the pottery has to take before it is finished.

Originally the pottery was hand thrown on a wheel, but because of it’s popularity, it is now slip cast.

Moorcroft employs three designers which are responsible for the design not only of the pottery itself but for the decoration. Each design is carefully laid out to fit the piece which it will decorate perfectly. A water color painting is also made of the design for reference to the painters.

If a designer has a new idea for a piece, a sketch of the design is drawn and given to the mold maker. The mold maker will then make a profile of the design and cast it into a hard plaster type material. Eventually thru 6 different processes a mold is made. From that original mold, the casting mold is made which will make up to 30 pieces.

Next he mold is given to the “turner”. The Turner pours the slip into the mold, where the slip begins to dry from the outside in. When the desired thickness has been obtained, the extra slip is poured out, the pottery is removed from the mold and allowed to dry further. Then it is put on a lathe and the fine detailed shape of the pot is turned out using very simple metal tools, made by the turner himself. This process was fascinating to me – he made it look so easy! Obviously it is quite a skill because it requires a 7 year apprentice to work in this area.

When the piece has been refined, it is then sponged down to remove any marks left in turning. This person is also responsible for the stamping of the piece with the Stoke –On-Trent stamp as well as the year of production. The piece is then allowed to dry and then given to the “slip liners”.

As you examine each piece of Moorcroft pottery, it appears to be enameled with raised designs. This raised design is created in the slip lining process.

A design is traced onto a piece of plastic sheeting with old time ink and pen. Markings are put onto the design to ensure proper placement. Once the design has been traced onto the plastic, it is then aligned on the pottery and rubbed on, similar to what you would do when using a scrapbooking rub on. It is very important that the artists who are working with the pottery at this stage are very careful since they are still working on raw clay that has not been fired to bisque. The intricate designs in this pottery will literally make your eyes cross!

Using a small bag with a very fine point tip, the slip liners draw the design. It can take as little as a few hours or several days to complete one piece! Each designer signs his/her work. It takes around 18 months to learn this job.

After this process, it is handed over to the painters who use metallic based paints to paint the colors into the design. They mix the paint with a lot of water and as you can imagine, they drop the water inside the raised designs. Since the pottery is very porous, it soaks up the water quite quickly. As many as ten layers of color may be applied to any design. This process is also quite tedious. When finished the painters also paint their mark on the bottom. An 18 month apprentice is required here as well.

It is now ready to be fired, which is done overnight in electric kilns. After the piece has been cooled, it is then dipped into the glaze, allowed to dry and then is checked for any pinholes which are filled before the final firing. This is the firing that applies the enamel like glass finish.

When you see just how labor intensive each piece is, how many artisans have worked long hours to bring just one piece to life, you realize why this pottery is so incredibly expensive. It’s also quite a big deal to own a piece of this artwork. (I do not – yet) A small vase (that’s…vaaaaahz) around 2” tall – very ornately decorated will cost around 180 pounds – which translates to around $360 dollars. I saw lamps and other vases that were over 6,000 pounds (double that for dollars)
I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like it – ever. I found this pottery incredibly inspiring for my polymer clay work. It really makes me want to go home and cane. Great inspiration for focal beads don’t you agree?
Also located nearby is Denby Pottery, while not as detailed in design, this pottery serves a more functional purpose. You can purchase this pottery directly from the factory and you can save a little "poundage" too if you don't mind purchasing slightly imperfect seconds.
Below is a picture of some more pottery that I found inspiring. I love the black and white design of this pottery. I can imagine simulating this effect by carving polymer clay beads that have a white core and a black case.

I particulary love the folk art designs of this pottery.
That concludes our virtual tour for the day, hope you enjoyed. You can always take your own virtual tour by "googling" key words such as Stoke On Trent, The Potteries, MooreCroft and Denby. Isn't the internet great? Travel the world from your "Settie" or as American's say " Couch". Hope you have a lovely journey.

Next on the tour, a day in the City of Chester. Don't miss this, there's some beautiful scenery!

No comments:

Click on a post

Related Posts with Thumbnails