Friday, July 26, 2013

Ho Hum........

I don't often get bored, there is usually so much to do, but I have to admit to feeling a little bored this week.

The reason for this is my frozen shoulder. I had one maybe two or three years ago, and it never really healed, and it came back with a vengeance not long before Quilt Festival, (I think it's the stress), and entailed several visits to the Chiropractor to get it into some form of working order. He gave me exercises to do which I have, and there have been periods of time when it has felt great, no pain etc., so I think I can work and the next day I'm back to square one. The funny thing is, I have become very aware of how I work, I suddenly discovered that I seem to pull my shoulder up on the left hand side which seems to cause the problem, so I find myself deliberately pulling it down.

Computer work aggravates it too, so I have tried to limit that, unsuccessfully I might add, and as I write, I am pulling my shoulder down to stretch those muscles.

So, I thought this might be an opportunity to bore you all with the finer points of China Restoration!

I mentioned in my previous post that this was my career prior to quilting. I sort of fell into it. The husband and I used to buy and sell 1930's china, Art Deco period and we also collected wonderful designs by some very innovative FEMALE designers. I put that in capitals as I think for the period during the two wars, it was pretty unusual. Clarice Cliff was one, and Susie Cooper was the other, and there were more, but these are probably the best known.

We collected the work of Susie Cooper, it was one of those things, you collected one or the other but never both. Miss Cooper, (forgive me, but it would be unforgivable to call her by her first name), came from a good family, and studied at the Burslem School of Art. She worked for Gray's Pottery, and I had some truly lovely early pieces of her work from the 1920's through to the 1960's when she worked for Wedgwood. Her designs were neat and well thought out, the early ones being colourful and then becoming more muted. She also designed ceramics, teapots, coffee pots etc., as she said that it was obvious a man had never poured from a teapot, and I have to say, that her pots pour beautifully, the best known design would be Kestrel, a really pretty shape and one of my favourites. I still have some of her pieces especially the very first coffee service we ever bought from a lady who is now a very good friend, but who dealt exclusively in Susie Cooper.

Clarice on the other hand, (and it's ok to call her by her first name), came from a completely different background. One of a large family, painted her bedroom black and orange, and caught the eye of the factory owner. She was asked to leave home. But again, one of the most successful designers of that period. Much more colourful than Susie Cooper, the designs were brasher but no less exciting, and if you were buying at antique fairs, her work commanded higher prices. Her workshop was laid out in a particular way so that if the girls were working on the Crocus pattern, which was one of the best known and most popular, there would be girls who would paint the orange crocus, others would paint the yellow, and others the green leaves, repetitive work, but they would have a jolly sing song while doing it.

I always got the impression that it would have been more fun to work for Clarice than for Miss Cooper, just because she was more "one of the girls".

This piece is by Susie Cooper, and dates to the late 20's early 30's. There are no factory marks or stamps on the back, but I have seen other pieces in this design which come from the Susie Cooper factory.

This is one of my favourite  pieces of Susie Cooper, a Sgraffito bowl, which means the pattern is incised, and an incised signature on the bottom, these were made during the 1930's and in various colours always with a matte glaze, I've seen them in black, pink and brown. 

This  is a sugar bowl/jam pot/marmalade pot I think, it has a small lid on the top. The pattern is hand painted onto hand painted bands of colour and would probably have been don in the 40's, it would reflect the more austere times. The mark on the bottom shows that this came from the Susie Cooper works in Burslem, the number refers to the pattern.

This is a soup bowl from the 40's, it has a handle missing and I had every intention of replacing it and putting it back to an almost original state. The pattern is a lithograph which was a method which had been developed of transferring printed design during the firing. The banding and handle is hand painted. I do have a banding brush which I bought in the Potteries and have used it on occasion. The trick is to put the ceramic on a small pottery wheel, give it a spin, get the brush loaded and then gently lay it on the area and let the paint flow.

I used to visit the Potteries quite regularly, partly because it was on my way to the Wirral, which is where I did my Restoration diploma, and, if you look at a map of the British Isles, looks like the little arm sticking out between Liverpool and North Wales, but also because I chose to do my written thesis on the work of Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper, comparing and contrasting the work of both. I was able to gain access to the Archives in the Central Library of Clarice's work, it was amazing to see the patterns drawn out in pattern books with annotations.  I was unable to view the archives at Wedgwood which held Susie Cooper's pattern books, as, just before I was due to keep the appointment that I had duly made, several items went missing from it so all visits were stopped which was a great shame.

The Crown Works which was Susie Cooper's factory, I got to know quite well as it owned by a couple of young men who produced Moorland Pottery from it, I used to take people up for tours of the pottery which hadn't changed since the 1930's apart from the fact that it was fired in more modern kilns. The decorating shop was still up a set of rickety stairs on the outside of the building. 

One of my other favourite places to visit was the Gladstone Pottery which was a working Museum and one of the few originals left.  It was an experience walking into a kiln, and to find that a Sagger Makers Bottom Knocker really did exist! Not a lot of people know that when the Potteries were working at their fullest during the 19th Century, there were many kilns and lots of small family factories working from home, some of the best pottery and china in the world was produced in the six towns.

You may be asking yourself what that is. Stoke-on-Trent is made up of six towns, Hanley, Burslem, Stoke-on -Trent, Longton, Tunstall and Fenton, which was a smaller producing area. All I can do is to direct you to google "six towns of Stoke-on-Trent" and you will find lots of images. It was a place I was very fond of, but manufacturing of pottery was dying and has since all but dried up I believe with manufacturing being moved to the Far East in many cases. 

So, where are Clarice's pieces? Well, I didn't have very much and we did sell a lot before we emigrated, so I think I have one small piece left which I will have to find and post later. However, I do have some Wedgwood reproductions.

This is Blue Trees from the Wedgwood Centenary collection of Clarice's Bizarre ware. If you saw an original piece, the differences would be very obvious, but this was more affordable than the original.

There were so many factories producing during this period, so I have included a small selection,

This  beautifully decorated coffee can is by Crown Devon. The Crown Devon factory produced some beautiful pieces of ware, some were highly decorated such as this piece, and would have been very expensive, not only to buy, but to produce, this piece could have been through as many as eight firings, which means that it was baked many times. The gilding would have been added last and been the final firing.

Another of my favourite factories was Shelley. Both these pieces were damaged, if they had been perfect, I wouldn't be able to afford them. They are very thin china, and totally impractical! The cup shapes make the tea cold very quickly as there is too much surface area, and they are horrible to hold when full, trust me, I've tried it. But the design was modern and very stylish and it is a pleasure to own such pieces.

The Art Deco period produced so much that was exciting in the way of ceramics, furniture and clothing that it would be too much to list here, so it will have to wait for future posts. It also created a huge collecting problem, because we then moved into the 1950's, 60's and 70's. I am really going to have to clear some stuff out to display some of it.

But anyway, back to the finer points of china restoration....................


  1. Cynthia - how lovely to meet someone who knows so much about Miss Cooper. My grandmother and my mother had a few Susie Cooper pieces ( sadly my mum put her dinner plates in the dishwasher - I gave her a little telling off) which to my mind demonstrates that both these ladies had refined taste. I know so little about the potteries really but when I was last in Stoke did a galloping tour of the fabulous museum there.

    I have a personal mantra, that life is too short not to use nice china, and so all my mugs ( even at work) are porcelain or bone china. I have very good friends who run a china decorating business from the South Coast (Rob Turner China - google them) but sadly their blanks now come from China, though are still sourced from Stoke.

    What a lovely post. And hope your shoulder is better soon.


    1. I am going to try and go through the boxes that were never unpacked when we got here and see what is in them! I know I still have some lovely pieces tucked away.

      Good for you for using fine china! There is so much cheap Pottery on the market nowadays.

      Thank you for your comments and I will certainly look up Rob Turner.