Robin Welch (1936-2019)

Student Holly John reviews the work of potter/painter Robin Welch in our collection. Holly is a third year on the BA (Hons) History course at UWE

Robin Welch (1936 – 2019)

Robin Welch is, was, and remains, a highly respected British potter.  At 15, in 1951, he attended Penzance School of Art and Design, where he was taught by Michael Leach, son of Bernard Leach – the founder of Leach Pottery, where Robin worked in the holidays and on the weekends. In 1956, Robin went to study at Central School of Art, where he built on his skills, and learnt to adopt a more informal and unfettered approach to making and cultivated his skills in painting and fine drawings.

Each of Robin’s ceramic pieces is finished like a painting, their surface texture and layered colours give his work a distinct quality. Visiting the Ken Stradling Collection several of Robin’s pieces particularly caught my attention.

Robin Welch. Tall Bottle (Ken Stradling Collection)

The conical piece was the first to catch my eye. The colour combination and the barnacle-like texture reminded me of coral. I was drawn to touch it in the same way I have felt the urge to feel everything around me when I have been scuba diving in tropical waters; these pieces capture that choir of textures and colours.

The warm earth tones and rough sandy finish echo a desert under the beating sun; ripples of heatwaves, rough and dusty terrain, and deep shades of a dusk sky. The pieces stirred up this environment or setting for me before I had discovered that Robin spent a lot of time in the Australian Outback. His first visit being between 1962-65, during which he helped Ian Sprague establish a pottery workshop in Victoria. Throughout his life, Robin returned to Australia multiple times. His visits were sometimes short, like when he went to New South Wales to continue his study of the Outback; and at other times he stayed for longer periods, taking up the Craftsman in Residence position at various Australian universities.

Robin always worked in a process of layering. He layered his colours to give depth; he often fired his pieces multiple times; and hand-built forms, altering individual pieces as he built. He often employed a technique of making up to twenty bases, from which he built upwards using coils and slabs or thrown additions.

Robin Welch, painted vessels. (Ken Stradling Collection)

Robin’s other items in the collection include a cylindrical vase, a tea bowl, and a rectangular form stoneware vase. While the pieces are all individual, but when combined each piece seemed to strike a different note of the same chord. Each piece incorporates earthy purple, orange and reddish tones of dusk sky and sand.

We are always drawn to things that relate to experiences we’ve had. I love these pieces because their earthy colourway and textured finish captures the hot climates and tropical waters that I always long to return to.

Robin Welch moulded mugs from the 1970s (private collection)

Oliver Kent, KSC trustee, was a student of Robin’s. I asked Oliver to recall the time he spent with Robin, and tell me about his practice:

“When I was a student in the late 70s Robin Welch was a visiting tutor whose main job was to teach us mould-making. We did basic casting but also multi-piece moulds and lathe-work. This was typical of his interest in industrial as well as studio processes and reflected his own work at the time.  We also did Raku with him – something he was doing quite a bit of in his own practice then. I think we drove him up the wall at times, mixing plaster badly and making a mess!

Later we visited his pottery in Suffolk and got a real impression of his practice. We visited factories in Stoke and several studio potteries including his, David Winkley’s pottery at Wellow in Somerset and the Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire. Wellow and Winchcombe were/are both very much studio domestic ware potteries with an Arts and Crafts/Bernard Leach philosophy behind them. Robin was different. His workshop was very much divided between mould-made production domestic ware and his own practice as an artist. Production work was partly done by him and partly by assistants (mainly former students as I remember). The Stradling Collection has examples of both – the domestic ware is very precise, geometric and Modernist with elegant matt glazes. The acceptance of industrial processes, and the acceptance of the idea of the ceramicist as artist was part of a strand of fresh thinking emerging from the later 1950s and 60s particularly driven by the course at the Central School of Art where Robin had studied. The Bristol course had been set up with that ethos in mind and I am sure Robin’s influence was planned.

At that time his personal work, which mixed throwing and hand building was quite black and white but in the longer term the matt glazes used on his domestic ware underpinned a lot of his painterly personal work. We loved his glazes and I think we had most of them made up at college and I still have them/permutations on them recorded in my notebooks. The glaze book at Bristol School of Art owes a lot to Peter Bridgens who had been a ceramics technician alongside Robin and the matt blue and buff glazes there are the same ones I think.”

Holly John

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When is a Teapot not a Teapot?

UWE History student Holly John reviews the work of potter Oliver Kent.

These exuberant teapots are a playful twist on an archetypal ceramic object. When I visited the Ken Stradling Collection, I was drawn to them because of their irregularity and their tactile quality. The deliberately incongruous insertion of the spout into the main body of the pots, and the rough attachment of the handles, allow for the making process to be seen clearly in their unrefined finish. To me, these teapots are a celebration of the act of making outside the constraints of precision, skill and tradition.

Habitat Teapot, earthenware. Oliver Kent, 2008. (Ken Stradling Collection)
Rhodes Architrave Teapot, earthenware. Oliver Kent, 2007. (Ken Stradling Collection)

Teapots have long been used to tell stories, both through the act of sharing and confiding in one another over a cup of tea; and aesthetically, through the countless design possibilities of their complex functional form. In their ceremonial context, they represent tradition, ritual and culture. In a domestic setting, they represent warmth, comfort, friendship, and community. Historically, teapots have been used for commemoration of events or to make (often subversive) political statements. Teapots tell their own stories, which is why many designers are so drawn to these homely, quirky objects.

Rhodes Grill Teapot, earthenware. Oliver Kent, 2007. (Ken Stradling Collection)

The Ken Stradling Collection holds four of Oliver Kent’s hand-built, irregular form teapots. A basic leaf shape is consistent of all four, as well as many of his other teapots outside the collection. Oliver works quickly, and the permutations of the basic leaf shape come about very directly with the clay on the spot.  Three of Oliver’s teapots in the collection are decorated with coloured glaze poured across them diagonally, creating loose stripes which flow in various directions. This motif of splashed glazing is a distortion of the sorts of patterns that you might find on the more traditional ceramics on display in a museum. The fourth teapot in the collection is unglazed raku, drawing from a process employed by Japanese potters.

Raku Teapot. Oliver Kent, 2004. (Ken Stradling Collection)

These ‘anti-craftmanship’ teapots were inspired by two subversive Japanese potters.  Jiro Takaishi was in Bristol in 1992, visiting several art schools as part of an exchange, which was organised through his connection with the British potter Kevin de Choisy. Jiro found Japanese ceramics to be constraining because of the very strong established traditions, which the majority of Japanese potters work within. Jiro deliberately subverted traditional making skills; he told stories through his work. Having never left Japan before, he was intrigued by Bristol, and Bristol’s graffiti. He use to walk around the city with slabs of clay, pressing them onto relief surfaces, including carved graffiti on the Clifton Suspension Bridge, to collect their marks.

British Pot, Jiro Takaishi, Bristol, 1992. Earthenware.
(Jiro Takaishi)

 The other influence came from Goro Suzuki. He too deliberately subverts Japanese craftsmanship. He works quickly, haphazardly chucking the clay around to create his form, but still decorates his pots with variants of the traditional Oribe style. Oribe is a style of Japanese pottery which dates back to the sixteenth century. This stoneware is characterised by richly coloured glazes, freely applied. Blue, green and copper glazes are common on Oribe ware, and common decorative motifs include plants, trees, and natural scenes.

Oliver’s ‘teapots’ are ceramic sculptures rather than utilitarian ware, but I think that it was precisely their resemblance to such a familiar functional vessel that drew me to them. The sense of comfort evoked by the idea of a traditional teapot is offset in these pieces by the freedom of their form and decoration. They bring about a sense of the joy of creation. Do these teapots inspire you to get making?

By Holly John

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Stradling Collection Automata on Antiques Roadshow!

Chris Yeo challenges Fiona Bruce with automata for Basic-Better-Best on the Antiques Roadshow (Feb 14 2021). Left and centre are pieces from the Ken Stradling Collection.

We were delighted to have two automata from our collection featured on BBC Antiques Roadshow on February 14 from Bodnant Gardens in North Wales (Series 43, Bodnant Garden 1 on iPlayer until January 2022). Expert Chris Yeo (until recently our curator) used them for a cameo Basic-Better-Best challenge with presenter Fiona Bruce. A Rare Appearance of the Lesser Spotted Markey Warbler by Peter Markey and Bathers by Sam Smith were placed alongside the rather macabre Sheep Shearers by Ron Fuller.

Chris drew out Fiona and the small Covid-19 crowd to decide which if the three pieces was the most valuable – and which they enjoyed the most. We all agreed that the birdwatchers took the crown for most entertaining, revolving enthusiastically with their binoculars poised and yet never quite pointing in the right direction to spot the circling warbler.

A Rare Appearance of the Lesser Spotted Markey Warbler. Peter Markey. c.1995. (Colin and Jennifer Beales Bequest, Ken Stradling Collection)
Bathers, Sam Smith. c.1972. (Ken Stradling Collection)

Sam Smith‘s Bathers is not so much an automaton as a story-telling machine. Like much of his work there is a story to unfold, revolve the changing room doors to find three stylish figures all ready for posing as much as the pool. The fourth door hides a coy figure unwilling to emerge. Smith career spanned the mid 1940s until his death in 1983 working in painted wood and found materials as well as writing and illustrating books and paper construction toys. His connection with Bristol was strong, his first major show held at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in 1972. Chris Yeo was of the opinion that this was the most significant piece of the three, a one-off and a great talking point.

The collection includes a number of other pieces by both artists. Several Peter Markey including the birdwatchers were bequeathed to the collection by the architect Colin Beales and his wife Jennifer. in 2015. ‘Kissing Couple’ dates from around 1998 and was sold as a self-assembly kit. These pieces were probably bought from the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre in Covent Garden. This highly unusual collection and shop sold unique handmade automata, as well as kites, card cut-outs and videos. The Ron Fuller Sheep Shearers featured alongside our pieces were also a popular item retailed by them. The permanent exhibition space and shop in Coven Garden closed in 2000, but they still organise exhibitions and events and are working hard to keep active online through their website.

Kissing Couple, Peter Markey. c.1998 for Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, London. (Beales Bequest, Ken Stradling Collection)
It’s Coming – It’s Over. Sam Smith. c.1970 (Ken Stradling Collection)

Go to the Ken Stradling Collection website for more information about the Collection, for details of upcoming exhibitions and how to visit us in Bristol.

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Julia Donnelly spills the glass beads! Everything you need to know about lampworking

Glass jewellery maker Julia Donnelly writes about the making of her delightful beads. Lampwork is an ancient skill and a process ideally suited to small workshop practice. Her work is featured in the Ken Stradling Collection‘s exhibition ‘Making Joy – Fire and Ice.’

Lampworking is a term given to the process of heating glass in a flame to be able to manipulate it in its molten state. I was introduced to lampworking some years ago by a friend, Liz Parker, in Devon where I lived before moving to Bristol. Just as I was captivated by glassblowing back in 1985, I was hooked instantly by this way of working with molten glass on a tiny scale. After Liz generously let me use her workspace for a few sessions, I set up my own studio in the small spare room at home in which everything I needed would just about fit.

As with much creative practise, spending a couple of hours in my studio is a mood enhancer and a great chance to escape into a world where colour and pattern are the dominating factors.

Equipment needed to make lamp work glass beads:

A torch – fuelled by a mixture of gas and oxygen – this is rather like a bunsen burner, with a flame issuing in which you heat the glass as you work. The name lampwork comes from years ago when people actually used a lamp to work with, and the name has stuck. Some people refer to it as torchwork today.

Oxygen concentrator – these are usually recycled medical ones. The oxygen mixes with the gas to reach the high temperature flame needed for working the glass – approximately 1000 degrees centigrade.

Mandrels – steel rods about 30cm long with a diameter ranging from 1mm – 3mm. These are used for winding the hot glass around. They are dipped in bead release (a liquid similar to kiln wash) before using, so the glass bead can be removed from the mandrel – otherwise the glass wouldn’t want to leave the metal.

Coloured glass rods, both opaque and transparent – these are about 5mm diameter and 30cm long.

Glass rods ready for making into beads (Julia Donnelly)

Kiln for annealing the finished beads – allowing the beads to cool down slowly to eliminate the stress caused by the heating.

Various tools such as a sharp hook (dentist’s hook), presses, graphite paddle and tweezers used for making patterns and shapes.

Safety glasses to protect eyes from the glare of the torch.

My work table – ready to roll! (Julia Donnelly)

The technique of bead-making starts by heating the end of a glass rod in the torch until it becomes molten, and then applying it to the heated mandrel (steel rod). I am right-handed so hold the mandrel in my left hand and the glass rod in my right (it clearly leads to skills in ambidexterity).

As you touch the heat-softened glass against the mandrel to attach it, you turn the mandrel so the heated glass flows on to the mandrel as you keep rotating. It’s best to stop applying glass every now and then to even up the shape that is forming on the mandrel. With the heat and the rotation, the natural shape for the glass to form is a round bead. When you have achieved the size of bead you want, you can spend some time in the flame making sure it is an even shape all around.

Applying on the bead and adding glass. (photo: Jean-Paul Metzger)

Next comes the decoration, which is the fun part. The range of glass colours available is a wide spectrum and opens up a world of creative inventiveness.

You can apply dots to the bead from a different coloured glass rod by heating the tip of the second rod and dabbing it gently and quickly on the surface of the bead and using the flame to break the connection. The skill is in knowing how much pressure and heat to apply with the second rod.

Putting on the dots (photo: Jean-Paul Metzger)

I enjoy making and like the look of cylindrical beads. These are made by forming different coloured round beads close to each other in a line on the mandrel and then rolling on a small graphite paddle to smooth them together; temperature is critical in being not too hot or cold.

Strata necklace (Julia Donnelly)

For flat beads I use a press – the beads starts out as round and are then pressed into shape in a brass mould.

Once the bead is finished it must cool down slowly, preferably in a kiln, which is programmed to allow the beads to cool down slowly at the end of the work session. When the beads are cool, you take them off the mandrel and clean the inside of bead release.

Beads on mandrells – these are colour tests. (Julia Donnelly)

Then you are ready to start creating your jewellery designs.

I love matt glass and a couple of years ago bought a tumbling machine in which you place beads for about 8 hours while it rotates with silicon carbide and water all sloshing around inside.

Pebbles necklace (Julia Donnelly)

It is very patient work that brings its own sense of rhythmic and meditative calm. And it is a wonderful feeling to reflect on being a part of the long history of glass bead making as this is an art form that goes back 3,500 years to Egypt and Mesopotamia. There is more information on lampworking on the Corning Museum of Glass website.

Julia Donnelly

Go to the Ken Stradling Collection website for more information about the Collection, for details of upcoming exhibitions and how to visit us in Bristol.

Posted in 20th Century Design, Crafts, Glass | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Don’t miss ‘Making Joy: Fire and Ice’ – one more month to visit

Celebrating Bristol’s long history of making beautiful glass we are shining a spotlight on this exciting world of ‘fire and ice’.  The Ken Stradling Collection at 48 Park Row, Bristol are using their windows as the exhibition space. In this way the exhibition can be visited at any time of day and night during February. It is designed to be Covid-19 safe. A destination for Bristolians to walk to and view from the pavement.  

The windows are a kaleidoscope of dazzling colours and tinsel tones to create sparkle. We have brought together the vivid coloured glass of Whitefriars, Britain’s most daring glassworks of the 20th century, and contrasted them with the bold ice white forms of mid-century Scandinavian glassmaking.

The period from the 1950s to the 1970s was a period of bold experiments which took glassmaking to new levels of originality. The Whitefriars factory had become famous in the 19th century for vivid stained glass and its association with William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. But the firm soar to new heights of success when people post World War Two sought to fill their lives with optimism and colour. Whitefriars in the 1950s, provided joy through their brightly coloured objects for the home. Meanwhile, the glassmakers of Scandinavia took a different path, seeking inspiration from the frozen landscapes of their homelands.

The exciting tradition of glass blowing continues in Bristol, and along our collection of the 20th century glass we are showcasing some 21st-century glass blower: Julia Donnelly, Catriona R MacKenzie based at Centrespace Studios, and Bristol Blue Glass.

Visit the exhibition or follow the links below to explore their work:

Gypsy necklace. Julia Donnelly

Glass jewellery maker Julia Donnelly writes about her love of glass and her background as a glass blower at Peter Layton’s studio in Bermondsey here on our blog.

Instagram: @juliamakesglass

Catriona R MacKenzie produces her work using hot glass techniques when the glass is fiery and molten and then carves into the cold glass to produce ice like textures. Many of her pieces embrace the colours, tactility and sanctuary found from walking in the wilds of Scotland where she is from, and these subtly appear within her contemporary glass pieces. The ethos of her FRITH Glassware is to create luxurious glass pieces that are a pleasure to own and a comfort to hold.

Instagram: Art Glass: @catmackglass; FRITH: @frith_glass; Jewellery: @catmackjewel

Bristol Blue Glass ‘is proud to be carrying on the tradition in the fabulous city of Bristol and with the exception of a few technological improvements, our way of blowing glass hasn’t changed much in 500 years, making each piece of glass unique.’ Visit the Bristol Blue Glass website for more information about the world of hot glass, and their online shop.    

Octopus. (Image: Bristol Blue Glass)

Go to the Ken Stradling Collection website for more information about the Collection, for details of upcoming exhibitions and how to visit us in Bristol.

Twitter: @BristolGlass

Instagram: @bristolblueglass

Facebook: @bristol.glass

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Getting Hooked on Glassblowing

Our current window show celebrates the potential of glass to brighten our lives. Not everyone knows our KSC Manager Julia Donnelly is also a glass-artist. Nowadays she makes glass jewellery – here she describes her journey into glass and the joys of blowing hot glass.

Back in 1985, I was lucky enough to be taken on at Peter Layton’s London Glassblowing Workshop (LGW) in Rotherhithe to help run their gallery and carry out administrative work. I had a strong interest in art but I didn’t know anything about glassblowing. It wasn’t long before I was invited to ‘have a go’ at blowing glass, such was the friendly and relaxed atmosphere in the workshop.

I was hooked immediately. After staying behind a few evenings with Karen Lawrence, one of the women who worked there, I was encouraged to take my making more seriously. I juggled my admin work with glassblowing and was able to assist the glassblowers in the workshop, including Peter.

This is me assisting a glassblower by applying a trail of colour to a work in progress on the blowing iron, around 1988. (Image: Julia Donnelly)

I was very fortunate to learn this amazing skill on the job with some brilliant makers. It was a very exciting time. I left LGW in 1990 to work full-time on glassblowing. I rented Siddy Langley’s workshop two days a week and sold my glass to shops and galleries around the country, including Liberty in London. I also had a stall at Covent Garden Apple Market in the ’90s which was great fun.                                                                                                                 

Playing with fire. What equipment do you need for a glassblowing workshop?

Furnace with a crucible for melting glass kept at a constant 1200 degrees centigrade.

Glory hole – heating chamber for reheating glass during process.

Workbench – bench with an arm at either end for resting and rolling the blowing iron on.

Marver – flat steel table for shaping the glass and laying out glass colours.

Blowing iron – long hollow metal pipe for gathering and blowing the glass.

Pontil iron – solid narrow metal rod used for various jobs including holding the piece towards the end of the process, and for making glass trails as decoration.

Jacks – large tweezers in various forms for shaping the glass.

Annealing kiln (or lehr) – hot glass needs to cool down slowly to let the stress ease out of it. Each piece of glass is put in the kiln which is on all day and then cools down overnight.

Shears – for holding on to the iron where it is hot, and for cutting and trimming hot glass.

How do you make a glass piece? The process.

First of all you need some glass to work with. Molten glass is kept in a crucible in the furnace, which is the heart of the workshop. It is kept at a constant 1200 C. Throughout the day, glass is gathered from it on blowing irons until it is more or less emptied, and then it is time to stop blowing glass. Each day is ended by shovelling glass into the crucible to be melted over night. The furnace is never turned off, unless you plan to be closed for at least a week. Back in the 1980s we used cullet (leftover glass and seconds) from Dartington glass factory that arrived in tea chests. We just had clear glass in the furnace and colour was added to each piece individually. Nowadays, most workshops will use pelletised glass manufactured specifically for studio furnaces, which makes life a lot easier as you don’t have to pick out the odd stones and bits of iron that you will find in cullet.

From my Wave series. Three layers of colour picked up from the marver, plus the yellow chips. The wave shape is achieved by twisting molten glass with tweezers. Acid-etched when cold. I love how the turquoise colour breaks up in contact with the hot glass. Each colour has its own character. (Image: Julia Donnelly)
Peter Layton shaping a glass gather on the marver in his Rotherhithe workshop, with Norman Stuart-Clark. Norman set up his own workshop in Cornwall in the early 1980s. Coloured glass chips are on the marver waiting to be applied to the glass by rolling. (Image: Julia Donnelly)

Gathering glass out of the furnace on the end of your blowing iron is rather like twirling honey on a dipper – but hotter. Much hotter. For a small piece you can gather enough glass with one go. You then roll it and even out the shape on the marver (a metal table).

The blowing iron is, of course, hollow so that you can blow into the glass to create the shape and size you want. Starting the bubble is a skill in itself, needing a fast jet of breath and plenty of heat in the glass. Once your bubble has started, you need to pace yourself so the bubble expands evenly. Another vital piece of equipment alongside the furnace is the glory hole, or heating chamber. As the glass you are working on cools (relatively) it hardens and we need the glass to be hot to be malleable. Every minute or so then needs a trip to the glory hole to re-heat the glass. Turning the blowing iron constantly is something that becomes second nature – as the glass is in a semi-liquid state, if you don’t turn, gravity will make your glass droop.

Shaping the glass – as the bubble in your piece starts to expand it’s necessary to start cutting in at the neck, where the glass meets the iron. Tools called jacks are used for this – rather like a large pair of tweezers. You may pull the neck down if you want a final object with a long, narrow neck or a pulled back flange.

I have heard about the ‘punty’ but not sure what it is.

The derivation of ‘punty’ is from the French for bridge, pont, and Italian, puntilo

When the body of the piece is blown and shaped as much as is wanted, the glass will need to be transferred to the punty iron allowing you to work on the mouth of the piece to finish it. To do this a punty iron is attached to the base of the piece with a small amount of hot glass which works as a bond when attached to the piece. The shock of a drop of water on the mouth end and a light tap with a file will make the glass piece break from the blowing iron while staying attached to the punty iron. The blowing iron is set aside and you continue working on the punty iron heating the neck in the glory hole.

The picture of the punty iron being attached to the main body of glass is courtesy of David Jacobson of Maine, USA. The punty iron will hold the piece of glass when it is unattached from the blowing iron.

The mouth of the piece of glass at this stage will be rather jagged as it has broken away from the iron. Applying some heat to the mouth and then using shears if necessary to cut any large jutting out bits, or just flattening down with a flat tool, you can make a lovely neat neck. Or you can widen the mouth of the piece to make a bowl, using well-directed heat and pressure from the jacks.

Much of the skill in glassblowing is in timing and getting the temperature right for what you want to achieve.

You can sometimes find the mark left by the punty on the bottom of handmade glass, but often it is ground away. I rather like it as it signifies the process.

Adding colour to glass

Most studios have just one furnace which contains clear glass. As many people will agree, working with colour in glass is one of the joys of this medium. Glass colour comes in a variety of forms, can be opaque or transparent. These are just some of the ways of applying colour:

Coloured glass rod – this is rather like a stick of rock and is used for casing colour, where you want an even distribution of colour throughout the piece. A slice of the rod is broken off, heated in the glory hole on the end of the blowing iron and smoothed to cover the end. Clear glass is then gathered over the colour on the iron, and as it is blown the coloured glass expands with the bubble. If you look at the top of a cased glass object, you will see a clear layer around the outside of the piece.

From my Water Garden range the background  is fine powdered opaque celadon, with transparent turquoise/purple and green trails. It has been acid-etched for a matt finish. (Image: Julia Donnelly)

Glass powder and frit – coloured glass is available in various forms from very fine powder similar to icing sugar through fine granules to frit or chips of up to 5mm. The colour is laid out on the marver, and when you have the right amount of glass for your piece, you can apply the colour by rolling the glass in the powder and chips. The colour will melt in to the glass as you reheat it in the glory hole.

Trailing colour – gather a small blob of coloured glass on a separate iron, heat it up and then trail it, as you might Golden Syrup, on to the main body of glass in horizontal, vertical or random ways.

In many cases the colour is applied to the main body of glass before the blowing starts and is melted into the glass. It is possible to add a trail of colour in relief form just prior to finishing, heating it enough to attach it to the glass but without melting it in.

Although I left London Glassblowing many years ago and have worked in various areas, I have kept in touch with Peter over the years. And we were delighted that he accepted our invitation to take part in the first KSC symposium back in 2018 when he came to give a fascinating talk about the history of studio glass in Britain, and his own individual journey. Here he is catching up on old times with Ken.

Ken Stradling and Peter Layton in conversation at the Stradling Collection in 2018

Here is a link to London Glassblowing’s website. You will find a film of glassblowing, and lots of information about the current glass world, which their Bermondsey studio is at the heart of.

I stopped blowing glass in 2000, but a few years ago was introduced to lamp-work glass bead making. I have set up a small studio at home and am able to work with hot glass on this tiny scale, which gives the opportunity to be creative with colour and shape but on a more economical budget.

More to follow about that!

Julia

Go to the Ken Stradling Collection website for more information about the Collection, for details of upcoming exhibitions and how to visit us in Bristol.

Posted in 20th Century Design, Crafts, Glass | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Making Joy – Fire and Ice

Making Joy – Fire and Ice is our latest Covid-19 safe, street viewable, show at the Stradling Collection in Park Row, Bristol. It is on from 17 December 2020 – 28 February 2021 and is a joyous, bright exhibition for the deep winter inspired by the festive colours of Christmas and the glossy iciness of clear glass.

From our own Collection we are exhibiting a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours and tinsel tones to add a seasonal sparkle for Bristolians taking a walk along Park Row. Fire and Ice brings together the vivid coloured glass of Whitefriars, Britain’s most daring glassworks of the 20th century, with the bold ice white forms of mid-century Scandinavian glassmaking.

There is some exceptional handmade glass being made and displayed in Bristol and we would like to shine a spotlight on this wonderful world of colour. To emphasise that we have invited Bristol Blue Glass and CatMackGlass to take part in Fire and Ice to help us celebrate the creativity of Bristol.

Bristol Blue Glass  Bristol has a history of glassblowing going back to the 1500s, and is known the world over for its famous cobalt blue glass. Thanks to the team at Bristol Blue for the wonderful hot glass photos in the top gallery windows.

https://bristol-glass.co.uk    https://twitter.com/BristolGlass    https://www.instagram.com/bristolblueglass

CatMackGlass

Based at CentreSpace in the heart of Bristol, Catriona Mackenzie, aka CatMackGlass, is a glass artist skilled in hot and cold glass techniques, for whom the tactility of glass plays an important role. Her work ranges from blown glass that has red and orange firey tones, made hot and in organic shapes, to cooler shades inspired by woodlands promoting sanctuary. Together with Cat’s jewellery designs, all her work is about bringing joy and comfort through touch and contemplation

http://www.catmackglass.com      https://www.instagram.com/catmackglass

The exhibition is designed to be viewed entirely from the street outside, making full use of the facade of 48 Park Row. Wrap up warm and include us in your walk around town. Why not post a photo or two on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and tag us – the exhibition looks particularly dazzling in the dark.

Go to the Ken Stradling Collection website for more information about the Collection, for details of upcoming exhibitions and how to visit us in Bristol.

Posted in 20th Century Design, Crafts, Glass, Modernism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Form and Function: Geoffrey Whiting’s Teapots

Geoffrey Whiting’s teapots are the forms for which he remains best known, having achieved a design that is at once highly functional, but also good to look at as a piece of working sculpture. It is one that combines all the synergy of throwing with post wheel additions and modification, one that looks deceptively simple to the eye, but in fact is a complex task for any potter. As Geoffrey wrote in his article ‘Making Teapots’ in Pottery Quarterly in 1955 (no 7, p 10); “A  teapot is a difficult thing to make well; yet, partly because of this, and partly, I think, because the teapot is such a deep rooted integral part of our daily lives, few things can give the potter greater satisfaction.”

Teapot, porcelain. Geoffrey Whiting, 1987
Teapot, porcelain. Geoffrey Whiting, 1987.

Lucie Rie’s appreciation of his teapots was perhaps not surprising, given the essentially modernist qualities of their fluid and understated forms. Bernard Leach was another admirer, acquiring one for his own collection and writing to Geoffrey after reading his 1955 piece; “Everything that had to be said, you said about teapots’”. Their shape had began to evolve in the early 1950s, gradually honed down to essentials, and the forms gradually more integrated, the strong loop of the handle balanced well with a spout that grew seamlessly out of the swell of the main body. His teapots epitomised the “almost industrial austerity” of his work that Ceramics Monthly (USA) identified in his obituary. This was a comment which would have delighted Geoffrey, drawn as he was to landscapes which he felt had only been enriched by the industrial, by distant power stations, of areas of marshland punctuated by pylons. His love of industrial archaeology was part and parcel with his interest in the mechanics of flame and the kiln (Michael Cardew dubbed him emphatically “a fire potter”). And after all, the craft of pottery brought together, as Geoffrey liked to point out, art and design, chemistry, geology and physics.

Fire Potter. Geoffrey Whiting testing the chimney for the new kiln. Avoncroft Pottery, 1955
Fire Potter. Geoffrey Whiting testing the chimney for the new kiln. Avoncroft Pottery, 1955
A classic Geoffrey Whiting stoneware teapot, c. 1980.
A classic Geoffrey Whiting stoneware teapot, c.1980. (Stradling Collection)

The classic Whiting teapot that first emerged in the 50s, with its familiar red-rust iron glaze (illustrated here, a more recent example in the Ken Stradling Collection), led to a number of variations in other glazes. Some had overhead handles, some were fluted or enlivened with brush decoration, but all shared his concern not only for balance and elegance, but a pot that was light and poured well and truly enhanced the matter of tea drinking. These pots also belied the simplistic notion of the rural versus the urban in modern ceramics. As the artists Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane observed when they included an early Whiting teapot in their exhibition ‘My Yard’ at the Whitechapel Art Gallery (2009), “with its flattened yet sleek shape, it dispels the idea that a rural pottery had no design connections with the 20th century”. 

Geoffrey Whiting lecture invitation with a tower of cups and saucers balancing on a teapot. 1967
Geoffrey Whiting lecture invitation with a tower of cups and saucers balancing on a teapot, 1967.

David Whiting

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Geoffrey Whiting: a potter and a painter

Geoffrey Whiting had an important parallel activity as a watercolour painter, but this is a lesser known area of his art. His great knowledge of the natural world underpinned all his creativity. It was there in the coloration of his pots, and in his particular brush motifs on clay, for example his foliate decoration and what he called his ‘bird table’ design, an abstracted motif of birds feeding. However it found wider expression in his pictures too.

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Estuary. Waterclour. Geoffrey Whiting, undated.

Drawing was an obsession from childhood, but it was no doubt strengthened by the draughtsmanship that came as part of his architectural training at Birmingham School of Architecture, just before World War Two. He continued to paint on war service in India, but his most typical subject matter really began to flourish in the 1950s onwards. His artistic heroes included John Constable and John Sell Cotman, and like them he was drawn principally to the natural world. The landscapes he painted were those of Worcestershire, the Welsh borders and northern England, but most commonly north Norfolk and latterly the estuaries of north Kent. His depictions of Worcestershire often included his beloved elm trees, now mostly gone from the landscape. He was attracted to understated places, to watery windswept regions, and his depictions connected to the economy and outward simplicity of his ceramics, his broad watercolour washes were in some ways an extension of his glazing on pots. His ceramic exhibitions frequently included his paintings.

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Autumn. Watercolour. Geoffrey Whiting, 1985

He, like his wife Anne, was a keen birdwatcher, and in 1948 Geoffrey became a founder-member of the Severn Wildfowl Trust (now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust), established at Slimbridge by Sir Peter Scott. The membership was diverse; as well as Scott other founder-members included the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the film producer Sir Michael Balcon, and the painter Edward Seago. In those early days the Trust was a relatively small and intimate affair, and Geoffrey recalled the pleasure of often sharing a bird hide with Scott. When based in Kent, he had a particular fondness for the north Kent marshes bordering the rivers Medway and Swale, often taking his sketchbook, and working his ideas into watercolours that were often a process he said of ‘memoration’, a mixture of memory and the imagination.

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Small watercolour sketch. Geoffrey Whiting, 1985.

David Whiting

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Geoffrey Whiting’s Candlesticks for Canterbury Cathedral

You can find candlesticks made by Geoffrey Whiting in Canterbury Cathedral

It is always gratifying, but still all too rare when potters get major commissions. In 1982 Geoffrey Whiting was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral to make candlesticks for a new altar at the east end of the church, to mark the forthcoming visit of Pope John Paul II.

Geoffrey spent some weeks working on test pieces and finally came up with a design which was low and broad, with a wide bowl and short cylinder for the candle. The exterior of the design was left unglazed, matching the coloration of the altar frontal and surrounding stonework. The effect was deliberately minimal and low-key, in contrast to the more prominent candleholders made, for example, by Hans Coper at Coventry Cathedral and Robin Welch at Lincoln Cathedral.

The altar and candlesticks were dedicated by the Pope in an ecumenical service in the cathedral in May 1982. In 2017 it became necessary to replace one of the candlesticks, and a near match was found, utilising one of the test pieces Whiting had made. The replacement was dedicated by the Dean, Robert Willis, at Christmas 2017. 

Photographs reproduced by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury and the Whiting family.

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