Enfilade

Public Lecture Course | Ceramics in Britain

Posted in lectures (to attend), online learning by Editor on October 29, 2020

The series, originally scheduled for the spring, will now take place online; from the Mellon Centre:

Public Lecture Course, Ceramics in Britain, 1750 to Now
Online, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, Thursdays, 5 November — 10 December 2020

Pre-recorded lectures to be released weekly at 3pm GMT on Thursdays and a live Q&A (Zoom) on 10 December 2020 at 6pm GMT

This course, delivered by experts in the field, will explore five key influential developments in the history of British ceramics since the mid-eighteenth century, examining the multiple ways in which innovators, entrepreneurs, and artists have reinvigorated the field. While the story of ceramics is a global one, Britain has played a leading role in the last three centuries, a period in which British invention has shaped developments and brought constant renewal to the industry.

By 1750, ceramics of different types were available to all levels of society. However, the uniquely British innovation of combining print culture and ceramics, transfer-printing political propaganda, and the graphic satire of London’s leading caricaturists onto earthenware, enabled these contemporary controversial messages to be understood by all classes. During the same period, scientific experimentation by Josiah Wedgwood led to the invention of new bodies and glazes, many copying the ceramics and glass of ancient Greece and Rome. His range and ambition, summed up by his aim to become ‘Vase Maker General to the Universe’, helped to change ceramic tastes to an unprecedented degree.

The production of an abundance of styles characterised the nineteenth century. However, blue and white—one of the most distinctive visual effects in ceramics—became, and remained, more popular than any other. Heavily influenced by porcelain exported from Asia, Britain became the leading ceramic producer of this style, driving international trade and retail opportunities. ‘Chinamania’ gripped the nation; debates about taste and authenticity drove collectors, consumers, and creators.

Ceramics was largely unaffected by the first wave of anti-industrialism in England. Neither William Morris nor the Arts and Crafts movement fully established a new type of pottery. However, an urge to turn away from the industrially-produced ceramics of the late nineteenth century, combined with a renewed interest in form, earlier Chinese ceramics, and abstract art, gave rise to a wave of pioneering British potters who insisted on the importance of the handmade and established the role of the ‘artist-potter’. This philosophy was widely popularised by the influential studio potter, Bernard Leach, who spent formative periods in China and Japan and wrote that ‘all my life I have been a courier between East and West’.

While studio ceramics continue to flourish today, global economics and advanced production technology have greatly impacted the ceramics industry in Staffordshire, the traditional heartland of British ceramics production. Artists have played a key role in documenting and commentating on these changes. The course will conclude with an artist’s examination of the decline of ceramic manufacturing and its associated artisanal skills, emphasising the importance of sustaining the intangible heritage of this longstanding and important industry.

No prior art historical knowledge is necessary.

Thursday, 5 November
Patricia Ferguson (Project Curator, British Museum), Pots with Attitude: British Satire on Ceramics, 1750–1820

Thursday, 12 November
Catrin Jones (Chief Curator, Wedgwood Museum), Josiah Wedgwood: Experimentation and Innovation

Thursday, 19 November
Rebecca Wallis (Curator, National Trust, London and South East), ‘Blue and White’ in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Beyond

Thursday, 26 November
Simon Olding (Director of the Crafts Study Centre, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham), ‘Beyond East and West’: The Founding of British Studio Ceramics

Thursday, 3 December
Neil Brownsword (Artist and Professor of Ceramics, Staffordshire University), Obsolescence and Renewal: Reimagining North Staffordshire’s Ceramic Heritage

Thursday, 10 December
Ceramics in Britain: Live Q&A

2 Responses

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  1. Sophie G. said, on October 29, 2020 at 5:47 pm

    I feel rather stupid, but cannot figure out from the website whether there is a charge to attend this course. Does anyone know?

  2. Editor said, on October 29, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    Not at all a bad question, Sophie! I’m fairly sure the course does not include a fee, given that it consists of videos being made available each week. I realize my formatting may be confusing on that point. Each date is the point when the lecture is scheduled to be released. Only the final round-table discussion is live. If you’re interested in receiving links, it’s worth an email to the Mellon Centre. Thanks for asking. -Craig


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