Since the beginning of the 20th century, British ceramics have been enjoying a resurgence, exhibiting British modernism at its finest and also defining a now highly fashionable artistic genre of ‘Studio Pottery.’
Examples of 20th Century Studio pottery have been inspired by a combination of influential periods and movements, including, but not limited to, centuries-old craft pottery and more recent movements such as the Arts & Crafts period and the Bauhaus Design Movement. There had been an ongoing debate as to whether Studio pottery is seen to be ‘craft’ or ‘art’...We’re sure there are still many mixed opinions on this but in the latter half of the 20th Century, the potters themselves were often referred to as ceramicists, ceramic artists and even just plainly ‘artists’ showing a real shift in the recognition of this genre of design and also the skills and designs being more readily appreciated and recognised within the art world. A clear indication of this realisation of the prolificity of the genre is the inclusion of ceramics as an art form within a number of worldwide art exhibitions along with increasing prices and record sales being achieved at world-renowned auction houses, Bonhams & Sotheby’s.
With increased interest and demand, we are beginning to widen our collection of beautiful, one-off pieces by some of the most prestigious, British Studio Potters, or should we say ceramicists, and have chosen to focus on three of our personal favourites from our collection.
Lucie Rie, DBE (1902-1995)
Dame Lucie Rie, born in Vienna, studied pottery at Kunstgewerbeschule - an Arts & Crafts school closely associated with the Wiener Werkstätte community of visual artists. Fleeing Nazi Austria, Rie emigrated to England, residing in London from the late 1930’s onwards and set up a small studio where she began producing ceramic buttons and jewellery to make ends meet. Fellow artist Hans Koper was initially hired as an aid but later became a partner at the studio and worked closely with Rie until the late 50’s, although remaining close, lifelong friends. Amongst Rie’s time in London she became acquainted with Bernard Leach, another renown 20th Century ceramicist and also taught at Camberwell School of Art for 12 years.
Inspired at a young age by a collection of an Uncle’s antiquities and Roman ceramics and her fondness of travelling Rie mastered the skill of wheel-throwing and went on to produce a number of modernist almost urbanist, hand-thrown pottery forms, including; bowls, dishes, pots and vases to name but a few. Specialising in stoneware and porcelain, Rie manages to effortlessly combine form and function, creating simplistic, yet distinguishably functional items. In a mainly muted palette of white, beige, brown and black tonal glazes but incorporating a vivid tone or linear, applied design - recognisable instantly by many.
Mary Rich, (1940-Present)
Rich, who was born and is currently based near Truro, Cornwall studied painting and ceramics at Bournemouth College of Art prior to opening her own studio. Rich started out producing salt-glazed ceramics but due to changing kiln technologies moved onto hand-thrown porcelain. Every single piece is uniquely crafted and finished with painstakingly intricate, hand-painted geometric designs, many of which use lustrous metallic paints. Heavily inspired by Far Eastern & Islamic ceramics, Rich’s work resonates these influences by her use of bold tones such as cobalt, mauve, teal and brown which are achieved by a number of layers of application pre-firing and the exquisite geometric designs that are applied post-firing. Rich is a member of numerous, recognised associations and her work is exhibited across the UK.
Colin Pearson, (1923-2007)
British born Pearson grew up in North London and went on to study painting at the prestigious Goldsmiths College - it is here that Pearson found his passion for clay. Initially, Pearson worked on a lot of tin-glazed and maiolica inspired wares but his thirst and passion for ceramics lead him to work within Winchcombe pottery, closely followed by a job within the Royal Doulton Factory, Lambeth, London. Pearson gained a wealth of invaluable knowledge from these two roles of employment and experience including the art of throwing and a fascination with the relationship between chemistry and ceramics with regards to slip-casting and glazes.
Pearson set up a pottery training facility alongside fellow potter David Leach and also, similarly to Rie, went on to teach at Camberwell College of Arts for a period of time prior to setting up his own studio. A lot of Pearson’s early pieces went very much unnoticed until he evolved his signature style to the ‘winged vessel.’ It was then, his previously rather ambiguous pieces were launched into the spotlight at the British Crafts Centre in Covent Garden in 1971 during an exhibition fondly dubbed ‘Angels & Devils.’
Pearson, best known for his stoneware and porcelain designs really came into his own when he incorporated the use of polyester fiber, this meant the designs could be contorted in a manner of ways, forming the intricate, ruffled, wing-like designs that he is now so well-known for along with his domineering black designs and favourable, subtle, pale blue glazes.