QUERUBIM LAPA

On a visit to Lisbon I found that the azulejo tradition is not only more deeply rooted in Portugal’s culture than I realised but that it remains alive and is being continually renewed.

The Lisbon metro has been decorated in azulejos over the last twenty years, using modern techniques like screen printing and styles and themes that are completely contemporary. Then, when we were walking past the Pasteleria Alcôa at 37 Rua Garrett, I saw the tiled shop front made by Querubim Lapa in 1960, a beautiful, softly-painted panel in shades of blue.

Lapa, I discovered, was one of Portugal’s principal contemporary ceramic artists. The high esteem in which tile painting is held in this country meant that after a training and early career in easel painting, he was able to concentrate entirety on ceramics.

The shop in Rua Garrett, originally for Casa da Sorte, was a collaboration between architect Francisco Conceição Silva and Lapa. Lapa rated his contribution so highly that he asked for his application for the chair in ceramics at the school of fine arts to be assessed on it alone.

When Casa da Sorte closed, there was concern for the future of this fine ceramic work, but, when Alcôa took over the building in 2015, they undertook not to disturb it.

CLAUDIA CLARE ON CENSORSHIP

Claudia Clare with Nightwalker 2014 view2

My Harrow colleague Claudia Clare (above) wrote in response to a Sussex University student request to borrow work for a show about Clause 28 an eloquent account of the issues surrounding censorship, no-platforming and illiberal intolerance. She has allowed me to reproduce this edited version.

“Thank you very much for your enquiry and I’m sorry you were unable to borrow the C28 Tea set. Taking into account the title of your proposed show, ‘What Clause 28 Did to Me,’ I may have other pots that could work in this context.

If you’ve had a look at my website and at my artist page on my gallery’s website, you’ll see that I do relatively little work that is directly related to being a lesbian. More of it is feminist, and politics of various sorts come into it.

The focus of the C28 Tea Set was to record lesbian protest specifically – although I have also included the big marches. I have noticed that much for the history sticks to the ‘united front’ narrative. It wasn’t like that though. I also notice that some of the protests recorded by my tea set have been written out the the accepted ‘united front’ version. C28 really went for lesbian mothers so there were a number of specifically lesbian and feminist protests to confront those issues.

On a slightly more ‘delicate’ matter, I have taken some time to look through the student union guidelines on ‘external speakers’ and various ‘safe space’ policies.

I appreciate that you may wonder why I raise these. The problem, in my experience, is that these policies do affect artists as well and are extended to the work we show. I am being cautious – I am wary, in fact – because I have had work withdrawn from exhibition that had previously been agreed, because someone decided they were offended or because someone was scared that someone might be offended. I do not want the same thing to happen with Sussex University.

My past experience involves the following Institutions: The People’s History Museum, Manchester, and the Bradford Museums and Galleries.

I myself refused to participate in The Woman’s Hour Craft Prize because the T&Cs expressly prohibited blasphemy – which is not prohibited in British law – and because they stated they may withdraw anything they considered offensive. I have made nothing in the past few years that can be guaranteed to offend no one. I wrote to the three institutions concerned – the V&A, the Crafts Council, and the BBC. They wrote back saying nothing much. I withdrew my application. That’s it.

I cannot begin to tell you how utterly dispiriting all this is and how tremendously damaging it is to artists. There is a received wisdom the ‘controversy’ is good. This is true if the public are ‘allowed’ to see the work and decide whether or not they are suitably scandalised or offended. If the the audience/public is prevented from seeing the work, however, they cannot decide. It is simply suppressed.

Clause 28 was nothing if not an exercise in gross and extreme censorship and ‘no-platforming’ by government, singling out lesbians and gay men and especially lesbian mothers. It is therefore worrying to find universities imitating this kind of conduct although perhaps one should not be surprised. If government does it, why not students? Similarly, if students copy governments and affirm their worst policies and instincts, then why would governments not continue down that road?

Returning now to your title, ‘What Clause 28 did for me,’ I would have to say it taught me a thing or two about censorship and the right to free expression. I was a slow learner, however. It was not until my own work, ‘Princess Hymen,’ part of ‘Shattered,’ (see website) was initially removed from exhibition and then partially obscured, that I really started to understand the disaster that censorship is.

I have a small vase, a ‘pilgrim vase’ just out of the kiln, which could be perfect for the show BUT you/your co-curators would have to see it, agree it and then agree not to remove it from exhibition no matter how much merry hell a small group of loud mouths may wish to raise.

It was photographed on Tuesday and I expect to receive the images by the weekend or early next week.

Alternatively I could just make you a jug with the words ‘This Jug has been removed from display’ which might just be easier all round. I’ve been meaning to make one for a while so this might be the perfect opportunity.

From my point of view, I would wish to use this as an opportunity to train student curators in the matter of censorship and free expression. I do hope that may be possible.

People whose work I respect and love have been ‘no-platformed’ by Sussex University and I am reluctant to show my work if they cannot show/share theirs.

I should also add that I strongly disapprove of the BDS and would wish to raise that as a censorship issue too.

I do appreciate these policies may have nothing whatever to do with you. Very often they are established by a small group of activists who have little or no connection to the wider student body. 

Do let me have your thoughts on this, whenever you have time.”

GIFFIN GRIP

IMG_20180505_081023_831.jpg

The picture shows a vase I’ve turned in my new Giffin Grip. What a great piece of kit! How did I manage without one for so long?

Other potters I consulted before buying one were divided between those who advocated traditional methods for holding the pot (three blobs of clay or a clay chuck) and those who said the Giffin Grip was useful. It’s an expensive bit of kit, but I don’t regret buying it and it will soon pay for itself.

The Giffin Grip is beautifully engineered and makes turning pots of differing sizes an easy task. The instructions are clear and operation is simple. Setting up took about an hour and getting ready for a turning session takes three minutes.

For turning the odd bowl, three blobs of clay will do, but for repetition work, where time is important, this device is a huge leap forward. It is quick and easy to place and remove the pot and, unlike wet clay, does not leave a mark on the outside. Placing pots over chucks can also leave marks inside, and in the past I have spent a long time forming the chuck and then drying it with a heat gun.

I have to confess I dislike turning but I have decided to turn foot rings on hollow ware (mugs and vases) for a more elegant finish. The Giffin Grip makes it a more agreeable job.

Such a beautifully designed tool is useful for both the amateur and professional potter. For the amateur it makes centering easier and for the professional it increases productivity. I suspect that some of the opposition to it comes from potters who think their craft should be difficult, but my motto is “Work smart, don’t work hard”.

WEDGWOOD’S ETRURIA

Josiah Wedgwood acquired the Ridgehouse estate in 1766 for his Etruria factory during a period of commercial expansion, when he had launched his cream-ware and was beginning to get commissions from the upper class. The company traded there until 1940, when they moved to the new factory at Barlaston, and production at Etruria finally stopped in 1950. The estate was demolished in 1960.

In 1966, when I lived at Keele, the site hadn’t been completely cleared and I took a few photos  – technically poor, but they give an idea of how it looked then. This (below) is the Round House by the Trent and Mersey Canal with the Shelton Bar steel works in the background. At night, the flames from Shelton Bar lit up the sky like Vesuvius in the other Etruria.

Wedgwood Etruria 1966 M Colman

There is a picture (below) taken from a similar angle when the factory was in use:

Wedgwood Etruria roundhouse

The purpose of the Round Houses – there were two, one at each end of the factory – is unknown, but it’s thought they may have been merely decorative, punctuation marks at each end of the building, “in keeping with the 18th century preference for symmetry in architecture” as the Wedgwood archive put it. “It is possible that the Round Houses were Josiah’s own idea possibly having viewed the elevation of Shugborough Hall (below) the home of his patron Lord Anson which is similarly terminated with circular structures.”

Shugborough Hall

WEDGWOOD’S HOUSE (III)

Wedgwood-works Ewart Morris
Wedgwood’s works at Etruria by the Trent and Mersey Canal. (Photo: Ewart Morris)

I’ve been reading Robin Reilly’s biography of Wedgwood, which tells us that he must have heard the name Etruria before he read it because, in his correspondence about his new factory and house, he calls it “Hetruria”.

His promotion of James Brindley‘s Trent and Mersey Canal involved negotiations over its route, ensuring that it ran through Etruria, which other landowners opposed. The Wedgwood Museum summarises his involvement:

“In view of the uncertain and poor road communications it is not surprising therefore, to find Wedgwood, an ardent supporter of James Brindley and his latest plans for the development of a system of canals. Brindley known as ‘The Schemer’ was well known in the Potteries as a millwright and a builder of windmills.

“The earlier navigation schemes of the 17th and early 18th centuries had consisted merely of improvements to natural rivers, which were always subject to the risk of droughts and floods, but Brindley’s new scheme in which he succeeded so admirably, was to make canals independent of the rivers by building them so that they could be carried across the countryside at one level, where necessary on aqueducts or through cuttings and tunnels. … 

“A greater scheme by far was a canal linking the rivers Trent and Mersey or ‘Grand Trunk’ canal, as Brindley called it, which was warmly supported by Wedgwood, who acted as its Treasurer as he states: ‘at £000 Per ann. out of which he bears his own Expences’. … The proposed line of the canal passed the front of the Etruria Works and afforded an easy means of transport connecting with both the ports of Liverpool on the west coast and Hull on the east coast.”

Mervyn Edwards says of Wedgwood’s Etruria works, “had the rambling complex not been demolished, it would by now have been a world heritage site.”

 

 

WEDGWOOD’S HOUSE (II)

Etruria Hall
Photo: Jill Liddington

Here is a more recent picture of Wedgwood’s house, Etruria Hall, than the one on the plate in my last post.

Wedgwood called his factory estate Etruria because he was part of the late 18th century vase mania generated by the discovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum. He was directly influenced by Sir William Hamilton’s great Collection of Etruscan Greek and Roman Antiquities (1767), which he owned. He was himself a collector of vases, to the despair of his wife. She wrote, “I am almost afraid he will lay out the price of his estate in vases he makes nothing of giving 5 or 6 guineas for.”

Etruria gave its name to the surrounding district, and anyone like me who spent time in Stoke-on-Trent in the sixties thinks of Etruria as a dirty industrial area in North Staffordshire, not as a place in Italy. (Since the Garden Festival, it is no longer dirty or industrial.)

The house was built about 1770 next to the Wedgwood factory, between Burslem, Hanley and Newcastle-under-Lyme. The enlightened and progressive Wedgwood was a promoter of the Trent and Mersey Canal, which passed by carrying clay and coal to Etruria and finished pottery to the customers.

Etruria Hall was designed by Joseph Pickford of Derby, who worked for several members of the Lunar Society, including Wedgwood, Joseph Wright of Derby, Matthew Boulton and John Whitehurst. The house was extensively remodelled in the 19th century. It’s not an outstanding building and its Grade II listing must be for its historical rather than architectural interest. Only the shell has been preserved and there is nothing original inside. Pickford’s own house in Derby (below) is grander.

WEDGWOOD’S HOUSE

I’m visiting Stoke-on-Trent for a university reunion and had to choose a hotel incorporating Josiah Wedgwood’s house, Etruria Hall. The Hall is now the hotel conference centre and there’s little left of Wedgwood.

The company moved their factory out of Stoke to modern, spacious premises in Barlaston almost a century ago, to the bewilderment of more conservative potters. When I was student at Keele in the 1960s, the Etruria site still had remnants of the old Wedgwood factory.

Etruria was part of Michael Heseltine’s Garden Festival in 1986 and it has been redeveloped for business and leisure, but I’m glad there’s still scrap of Britain’s greatest potter there.