When Two Worlds Collide: Studio Ceramics and the Factory 

From the Industrial Revolution, ceramics produced in factories were made by skilled workers where the work was divided into tasks – preparing clay, throwing, slip-casting, decorating, and firing – often in hazardous and poorly paid conditions. In the early 20th century, studio potters believed that all stages of pottery production should be done by the potter themselves following the traditions of country craft potters. Guided by Bernard Leach (1887-1979), studio potters also adopted the philosophy of Chinese Sung pottery, emphasising the touch of the hand in simple forms with minimal decoration.  

Industrialists who ran factories may have conducted experiments with clay bodies and glazes, but they rarely touched the clay themselves. Royal Doulton also tried to imitate Chinese Sung pottery, and developed a factory-made version called Chang Ware in the late 1920s, although it had little resemblance to the original. 

Some factories were not opposed to individualism or originality and welcomed artists as designers. In 1914, Roger Fry (1866-1934) of the Bloomsbury Group did some pottery training at Carter & Co. (Poole Pottery). Fry’s hand painted geometric designs and fresh colours influenced the company’s future designs. Wedgwood adopted Alfred (1865-1960) and Louise (1865-1956) Powell’s revival in hand painting and implemented it at Etruria in 1926.  

Artist-designers such as George Serre (1889-1956), Grete Marks (1899-1990), Piet Stockmans (b.1940) and Janice Tchalenko (1942 – 2018), had simultaneous careers working for factories while producing their own work. However, both Charles Vyse (1882-1971)) and Alan Barrett-Danes (1935-2004) who trained and worked in factories, became frustrated and left  industrial ceramics.   

In a bold move away from the dominance of Leach’s oriental wheel thrown tradition, studio potters began to use factory techniques such as slip-casting and transfer printing from around the 1970s. Factories also began to offer residencies, providing access to workshops and materials as well as their archives. For example, Ken Eastman (b. 1960), who usually works with T-material, learned to cast bone China during his time at Royal Crown Derby in 2009, and developed a successful body of work manipulating archive patterns such as Old Imari.  

Many contemporary makers today make a feature of historic industrial ceramics in their work.  Paul Scott (b.1953) is known for his manipulation of blue and white transferware, subverting familiar patterns to highlight contemporary political, environmental, and social issues. Lowri Davies (b.1978) explores her Welsh identity by referencing souvenir pottery in her slip-cast porcelain. Polish maker Monika Patuszynska (b.1973) demolishes found factory moulds to make new shapes, creating a feature of where the clay seeps into the cracks.  


While the studio and the factory are very different worlds, the back and forth of ideas between the two has contributed to creativity, innovation, and dialogue in ceramics.  

Work from the Ceramic Collection featured in this exhibition

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *