WOMEN POTTERS

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Lucie Rie, one of the women potters in the Dictionary of National Biography

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) is filling the gaps in its coverage of notable women and pottery is benefitting from the addition. I have been asked to write entries for Mary Wondrausch and Dora Billington.

Mary Wondrausch, who died in 2016, is well known to studio potters, especially those who are interested in slipware. She was important in its revival and wrote about it in a scholarly way (Mary Wondrausch on Slipware, A & C Black, 2001). Dora Billington (1890-1968), the most significant studio pottery educator in the 20th century, is less well known, even though some of her most eminent students (Alan Caiger-Smith, Gordon Baldwin and Anne Wynn-Reeves) are still alive. She began teaching pottery in the style of Alfred and Louise Powell but in the 1920s she responded immediately to the new pottery of Staite Murray and Bernard Leach. Her most important contribution came after the Second World War when studio pottery seemed to be full of second-rate Leach imitators. Taking her inspiration from the European tradition, she-encouraged new ways of making, notably the tin-glazed pottery of Caiger Smith, Wynn-Reeves and William Newland, and the sculptural ceramics of Baldwin and Gillian Lowndes. Her Technique of Pottery (1962) is still worth reading.

Perhaps there are other entries that could be written on women potters. The DNB has articles on Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, Lucie Rie and Gillian Lowndes, but nothing at the moment on Louise Powell, Nell Vyse, Dora Lunn, Stella Crofts, Nora Braden, Ursula Mommens or Helen Pincombe.

GIAMBATTISTA BODONI

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Giambattista Bodoni, by Guiseppe Lucatelli

 

I knew that Parma was the home of a great ham and a great cheese but I didn’t know that it was the home of the great printer and typographer Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813) until I went to the exhibition of his books at the St Bride Library in the City of London, next to St Bride’s, the printers church. (Closes 12th October 2018.) 2018 is the bicentenary of his Manuale Tipografico, published posthumously by his widow.

 

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Bodoni was the creator of the beautiful typeface named after him, a typical late 18th century innovation with a vertical emphasis and a strong contrast between thick and thin strokes. It is particularly good for title pages but was also designed as a book face. Bodoni’s practice was unusual in that he was type founder, printer and publisher, when the custom at the time was for booksellers to commission books from printers, who bought their types from specialist founders.

 

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There is a biography of him in Wikipedia – its entries are variable but this account is good. He came from a family of printers and played with his father’s print paraphernalia as a boy. He started young in the trade, showed his brilliance quickly and his fame spread. He planned to come to England to work in Birmingham with John Baskerville, another great type designer, also an energetic businessman and political reformer, but was prevented by illness and went instead to work for the Duke of Parma in a small provincial town in northern Italy. He stayed there for the rest of his life, producing some of the most beautiful books ever printed. His elegant title pages, with few words, lots of white space and little ornament, have the “noble simplicity and calm grandeur” of neoclassicism.

 

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The curator at St Bride’s pointed out to me that, if you didn’t know anything about the history of type, you would think they were printed in the 1950s. I asked him if the books were all from the St Bride’s library. Some were, but most were his. He is a passionate collector of Bodoni editions and keeps his eye on Italian auction houses, going on buying trips several times a year. The Italians require export licences for anything over fifty years old, and after making his purchases he has to wind his way through the Italian bureaucracy to get these lovely editions out. He lives in a world of books. His wife is an antiquarian book restorer and has a workshop cluttered with bookbinding tools she has inherited from previous generations of bookbinders.

 

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Twentieth century type founders reproduced Bodoni’s classic typeface and added condensed and bold forms for titling. To my eye, Bauer’s version is the closest to the original.

 

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Bauer’s 20th century version of Bodoni, from The Encyclopaedia of Typefaces, by W.T.Berry, A.F.Johnson and W.P.Jaspert (London: Blandford Press, 1958)

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.

 

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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MARGATE

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I last went to Margate twenty years ago on August bank holiday, when I saw one man on the beach walking his dog. So when we went to visit Turner Contemporary the other day, I thought things may have changed for the better. They haven’t.

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In hope of a seaside revival.

The Turner is a bubble surrounded by poverty, squalor and deprivation, despite the fact that it has free entry and there were a group of very old ladies and their carers in the vegan-inspired café when we were there.

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In the Turner bubble

My parents took us to Margate in the fifties, before we could afford to go to Italy, when we jostled to find a space on its lovely sandy beaches. Now it’s the ultimate in left-behind, not only losing its principal industry, tourism, but having been used as a dumping ground for homeless families for a generation. Cliftonville, which Baedeker described as the most fashionable part of the town, now has the most social deprivation and is one of the poorest parts of Britain. The the poorest and most desperate congregate in the neglected 70s College Square shopping centre.

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Tracey Emin has never stopped loving Margate.

I have to admire the vision of the Thanet councillor who stuck with the idea of Turner Contemporary for twenty years until it was realised, but having worked in economic regeneration for a long time, I can say with confidence that it contributes nothing to the lives of the people I saw in College Square.

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The most cost-effective economic development in my experience is targeted basic skills training. For £1,000 you can transform someone’s life. But that’s not visible and trainees are not glamorous. Politicians prefer large, expensive buildings that they can be photographed in front of with important people. Turner Contemporary was opened by the Queen.

DEAL, KENT

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We stayed a few days in Deal, which is contributing to the revival of the Kent and Sussex seaside. It’s a sober resort with a couple of little galleries, a maritime museum and a modernist pier built in the 1950s. Norman Wisdom spent a miserable childhood in Deal and Charles Hawtrey a miserable retirement.

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We were attracted to The Rose Hotel, which descended from family and commercial house to roughest pub in town. Then it was reinvented as boutique hotel with London chef. Restaurant open Wednesday to Sunday. (We stayed Sunday to Tuesday.) There’s nice attention to detail, such as the room numbers painted by a sign writer.

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Next door is St George’s Church, neo-classical with 19th and 20th century additions and 21st century subtractions: its happy-clappy vicar has taken out the furniture for pop-music services. Gravestones are stacked against the wall to make a park for dog-walkers and joggers, lovely in the early-morning mist.

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The foreshore, as you walk to Kingsdown, is part of a site of special scientific interest, unfortunately without an information board. Wild fennel grows in the shingle and in the gardens. Soon the chalk rises to form the famous White Cliffs.

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A flat in this 1920s coastguard house (now a café) is on sale for £1.25m. There’s a bunker underneath it, excavated in the war as part of the Channel defences. Seeing the coast of France 18 miles away made me wonder how we stopped the German invasion. An exhibit at St Margaret’s Bay, evacuated for use by the armed forces, helps to explain.

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