RYE POTTERY

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Tidying up my papers, I came across this old postcard, which I’d picked up at Gary Grant’s shop in Arlington Street behind Sadler’s Wells. The shop has been closed for many years, but I liked to pop in when I was going to the theatre to look at his excellent collection of mid-century pottery, especially his collection of Rye Pottery. These are Rye butter dishes.

The Rye Pottery was set up by Wally and Jack Cole and thrived after the war, capturing in their bright, whimsical ceramics the spirit of he Festival of Britain. They made tin-glazed tableware and decorative figures, which were very much of the time. The same spirit was expressed in the contemporary pottery of the Bayswater Three, William Newland, Margaret Hine and Nicholas Vergette, who made a good living decorating the interiors of coffee bars. This sort of pottery ran against the Leach current of Chinese-inspired stoneware. Newland found Leach’s dominance irritating but the Coles just got on with it. Their pottery still exists in Rye, still making tin-glazed wares.

Walter studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in the 1930s, when Dora Billington was teaching there and at a time when she was making exquisite tin-glazed ceramics, and he was subsequently a member of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, of which she was a leading member. Rye was a rare example of a commercially successful craft pottery. Kenneth Clark and Ann Wynn-Reeves ran a similarly successful enterprise, concentrating on tiles but also making use of decorated tin-glaze; and they were also graduates of the Central pottery course.

 

DATING DORA BILLINGTON VASES

 

I have been trying to date these two vases that I was given recently, and which I’m passing on to public collections.

Their provenance is good but they’re hard to date because they were given by the artist to the previous owner some time after they were made, but how long after we don’t know. They are signed on the bottom in the same way as dated pots made in the late 1930s, and my hunch, based on the clear Oriental influence, via Bernard Leach, and their heavy potting, is that is when they were made. Billington exhibited a stoneware vase with the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1938, but, exasperatingly, the catalogue does not describe it.

BATTERSEA POWER STATION

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Photo: Alex McDonald

The picture above, by Alex McDonald, shows two of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s memorable designs: the red phone box and the brick exterior of Battersea Power Station. The overused word “iconic” can be properly applied to both. Pink Floyd put the power station on one of their album covers and redundant phone boxes are now being bought and displayed in gardens, precisely as icons.

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The first phase of the power station redevelopment, where I exhibited at the weekend as part of the London Design Festival, is a mix of flats, offices and restaurants.

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Coffee Works, where I took my lunch breaks, served large sourdough-bread sandwiches at £7. The General Store indicates who the local customers are, selling, alongside the croissants and cauliflowers, magnums of champagne and jars of truffles. I didn’t look in the estate agents’ windows, but one of my fellow exhibitors told me I couldn’t afford all the noughts. A local nanny visited my stall and told me she traveled with her boss to her other houses in Gstad and Los Angeles. Friends who moved to Battersea in the  seventies told me that in the eighties the gentrifiers had already started calling it South Chelsea and saying their postal address was SW one-one.

Not everyone has been complimentary about the development. In the Architect’s Journal, Owen Hatherley describes it as dystopian and grim and says it is “devoid of planning, intelligence or character – a tangle of superfluous skyscrapers around parodies of public spaces.”

LONDON DESIGN FESTIVAL

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As part of the London Design Festival, I’m exhibiting with London Potters at In Design@Battersea, in Battersea Power Station. Part of the riverside, where we are, has already been transformed, elsewhere it’s one of the largest building sites in London.

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My new work on show, In Design@Battersea

Grosvenor Arch, Circus West Village, Battersea Power Station, London SW1 8AH. Underground: Sloane Square. Easy pedestrian access from Chelsea Bridge.

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In Design@Battersea opening
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Grosvenor Arch

ADAM KOSSOWSKI STAINED GLASS

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Relic Chapel, St Simon Stock

We went to the Aylesford Friars to see Adam Kossowski’s ceramic reliefs in the chapels, not expecting to find that he had also designed stained glass. The Carmelites returned to Aylesford in 1949 and his windows, made in the 1950s, are abstract, complementing his narrative ceramics and not distracting from their story with representation.

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St Anne Chapel
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Relic Chapel, St Simon Stock
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Relic Chapel, St Simon Stock
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Relic Chapel, St Simon Stock

 

ADAM KOSSOWSKI

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On the way back from the Kent coast we stopped at the Aylesford Friars to see the ceramics of Adam Kossowski, whom I discovered by chance a few years ago when I passed his ceramic mural on the old Peckham Town Hall depicting the History of the Old Kent Road. I wrote about him here.

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I knew that he had done work for the Carmelite friars at Aylesford, so I was keen to see his ceramics in the chapels there, which were far more extensive than I had imagined, complemented by paintings on canvas, murals, sgraffito, large metal lanterns and stunningly beautiful modern stained glass.

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Kossowski was born and studied in Poland, went east to escape the Nazis and found himself in a Russian gulag for several years. There he made a promise that if he ever escaped that hell he would devote himself to the service of God, and his promise was realised in the work he did for the Friars over a period of twenty years.

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As Christian art it is anonymous and Kossowski was not a man to push himself forward. Even his secular “Old Kent Road” is unsigned, and there is only a brief mention of him at Aylesford. His work is outstanding, but here I have illustrated only his “Rosary Way”, his first foray into ceramics, which he was asked to do by the Carmelite Abbot, Father Malachy, who responded to his modest demurral by insisting that he was sent to do this work and that God would enable him to do it. He developed greater mastery of the technique in his later ceramic reliefs (for example, the Fallen Christ in the Relic Chapel, below), but his Rosary Way is an artistic triumph, showing his typical boldness of form, direct modelling and sensitivity to colour.

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The Friars explain, “The Rosary Way is a place of prayer and peace, where you will see the first ever ceramics created by the Polish artist, Adam Kossowski. The Rosary Way was laid out between 1950 and 1951 with images of the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries. …

“The Joyful Mysteries reflect upon the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus and include the early life of Jesus up to the finding of him as a boy in the Temple.

“Mysteries of Light focus on the public ministry of Jesus, from his Baptism by St. John the Baptist to the Last Supper.

“Sorrowful Mysteries ponder the glorious moments of Jesus and Mary from the Resurrection of Jesus to the Coronation of Mary as the Queen of Heaven.”

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