07 January 2013

Spode and Michael Cardew

This blog was originally going to be entitled Spode and Artists in Residence. But then I found that there was too much to say! So the best way forward seems to be to consider artists and potters individually and I start with a favourite potter, Michael Cardew (1901-1983), perhaps unexpectedly connected with Spode in the late 1930s.
Spode in the 1930s
There is no easy definition or generalisation concerning outside artists and studio potters working with the pottery industry. Even with Spode each occasion was individual. The company might have contacted the artist. The artist may have approached the company. There may be a definite plan in place to come up with a collaboration for a commercial product. There may be a fee; there may be no fee at all. It may be a special commission by a third party who wishes to use a particular artist. The artist may simply work freely, with access to all areas, to come up with their own work, sometimes much to the bewilderment of Spode employees who might think it was all a bit weird.
Cardew at Spode, 1938
Whilst working as curator at the Spode museum several outside artists were involved with the company. I kept records in the Spode archive, accepted some of their work into the museum collection and worked closely with some who were interested in the Spode archive papers and objects in the museum collection, perhaps looking for inspiration for their work. It would seem that there are few records in the archive before this of these 'artists in residence'.

As I become more and more interested in studio pottery, finding that Michael Cardew had been associated with Spode in 1938, under the Copeland family ownership, was fascinating. And I wanted to know more and what might have been made. In the 1930s the Design Department at Spode was modernising. Young designers were flourishing; new ideas, shapes, patterns, and products were being tried. This can be seen as an overall impact when looking at archive material of the time. The Second World War, though, put an end to this but for a while Spode was going modern; and I would think that Cardew's input was perhaps part of this change.

A cup and saucer, an example of his work at Spode, is shown here. More illustrations can be found by clicking Staffordshire Past-Track. Similar pieces are illustrated in the booklet 'Michael Cardew Ceramics of the Winchcombe period 1926-39' (cover shown here) by Dr Kathy Haslam produced for an exhibition at Blackwell in 2008 (an excellent read and was still available in their shop at the time of writing).

I remember nothing in the Spode archive to shed any light on Cardew's time at Spode but it is great to be able to see some pieces he made during his time there, along with other pieces of his work, which are in the collection of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

There are unidentified studio pottery style pieces in the Spode museum collection but whether Cardew's or not is impossible to say in the absence of records.

You can find plenty about Cardew on the web and this is not the place for his biography. Some useful websites are listed at the end of this blog. A recent bargain book find was 'Pioneer Potter' by Michael Cardew, 1969. A technical book, it is wonderfully dog-eared, much used and annotated by an anonymous student potter. The foreword by Bernard Leach is inspiring and includes this description of their first meeting:

'Just down from Oxford with good degrees...Cardew came to see for himself what two potters, one Japanese (Hamada) and the other English (Leach) were up to at St Ives. He strode in, nose and brow straight, handsome as a young Greek god, eyes flashing, blue, hair waving, gold, and within the hour announced this was where he wanted to work'. 

How can you not want to know more?

In Michael Cardew's own words in 'A Pioneer Potter, An Autobiography', Collins, 1988 he says: 'the main difference between the way of working at Copelands [Spode] and that of our little group in Winchcombe was not, essentially the difference between mechanization and handwork; it was rather the difference between a very large, sophisticated organisation and a very small primitive one'.

So yet again there is something unexpected from Spode. Two different pottery worlds mixing and coming up with a collaboration of sorts even though not something commercially successful. A chance for both parties though to learn from each other perhaps.
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Here are some websites for more on Michael Cardew and his beautiful pots:
Ceramic Collection & Archive, Aberystwyth University where there is an exhibition on Cardew until January 13th 2013
Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art scroll down the page after clicking link here for text and images of Cardew and his pots
V&A search the collections

Here is a film of Cardew on YouTube.

This is a completely different way of throwing from that which would have taken place at a factory like Spode; and it is certainly not fast enough to be commercial for a company like Spode!