21 September 2019 – 28 March 2020Studio Ceramics: Materials, Makers and Meanings presents the best in Norfolk Museums Service’s collection of British studio and art pottery. Many of the items on display are from a recent donation and are seen here together for the first time. Dating from the 1880s to the present day, the exhibition features 39 pieces made by around 30 different makers including some of the leading names in ceramics over the past 100 years such as Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie, Edmund de Waal and Kate Malone.
Ceramics may serve many purposes, some purely practical, others decorative. Some are thought of as ‘art’, others as ‘craft’, although these definitions are highly fluid and subjective. Most of the pots displayed at the museum were intended both for use and for decoration. From tea pots to vases and bowls they demonstrate the versatility and variety of the medium.
The term ‘art pottery’ was coined in the nineteenth century by makers reacting against mass-produced ceramics. The Arts and Crafts Movement aimed to bring high-quality objects to ordinary people. William Morris, Founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement, said: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” The aim was to produce an object which was useful practical and fit for purpose, but also beautiful and creative.
In the 20th century the art pottery movement grew into studio pottery. Studio pottery is produced by craftspeople working alone or in small groups, making unique items or short runs. The focus of these pieces is individual creativity and showing the natural properties of materials. Studio pottery is not a blank canvas for an image to be painted onto but a demonstration of the textures and colours of clay and glazes.
Studio potters drew inspiration from many traditions and cultures. Bernard Leach was inspired by Japanese ceramics; Lucie Rie by European Modernism. Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie and Reginald Wells were strongly influenced by Chinese glazes. Visitors to this exhibition will be able to enjoy examples by these potters.
Until the late 19th century, designers and makers of pottery almost never signed their works. As a result, all except a very few are unknown. For example, women have always worked in the ceramics industry but it is only from around the 1880s that we begin to know their names. We know much more about the makers of the art and studio pottery than we do about potters of the more distant past. These developments in pottery over 150 years have ensured that the status of this art-form is raised, and its makers viewed as individual creative forces, producing beautiful artworks with extraordinary skill.
Museum Curator Oliver Bone said “I am really pleased we are able to show these fascinating and beautiful examples of the craft of the potter. It is brilliant to have the range of potters represented here and we hope that visitors will enjoy finding out more about the women and men behind the pots and the motivations in their work.”
Cllr John Ward, Chair of Norfolk Joint Museums Committee said “I am pleased that the team at the Ancient House Museum Thetford has been working with the Norfolk Museums Service Art Department to produce this new exhibition showcasing the pick of the county’s studio pottery collections. I urge people to come and see the variety of pots on show and find out about their makers.”