Like most employees of the Spode company little information exists about individuals whether the famous 'premier' artists and designers who were men, apprentice boy painters training to work in the style of the premier artists or women working as anonymous paintresses.
There are signed pieces painted by Kate Bruce in the Spode museum object collection and they are not uncommon amongst private collectors either. A quick search on the web and you can find her signed pieces for sale. She seems to have been prolific! Pieces are known to be painted by her because, very, very unusually for a woman at Spode, she was allowed to sign her work. Most of what she painted uses designs of small cornflowers.
|Soup bowl/bouillon cup & saucer from Worthpoint|
|Backstamps on soup cup & saucer|
A report of a Royal Visit to the factory on January 6th 1897 by the 'Princess of Wales and other members of the Trentham party' (Trentham was the seat of the Duke of Sutherland and is not far from Stoke) says that:
'...The royal visitors were met at the showroom entrance by Mr. R. P. Copeland, the head of the firm, and Mr. W. F. M Copeland. They were first shown some artists engaged in decorating articles of pottery, one being the venerable and respected Mrs. Bruce, who after 53 years of service with the firm, still skilfully handles the camel-hair pencil and was engaged in applying a cornflower to some plates...' Pencil is the pottery industry term for a paintbrush.
|Dessert plate, Gadroon shape painted by Kate, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery|
Although unusual for a woman to sign work at Spode it was not unusual to work for the company for many years, well past what would now be thought of as retirement age.
Sometimes, together with her name on the pieces, will be her age and an example is known (from a private collection) with the inscription 'painted by Mrs Bruce aged 74 1900'. This, together with the inscription on the piece above would make her date of birth 1826/7 and, if the royal visit report is correct, starting to work for the company at about the age of 18 although I would expect earlier, for she would have had to complete a seven-year apprenticeship either at Spode or another manufacturer.
|Mrs Bruce featured in at W. T. Copeland souvenir booklet c1902|