Behind every successful man, there stands a woman.
A Pioneering Ceramic Studio
There is a very old and famous saying, ‘behind every successful man, there stands a woman’, and Geoffrey Whiting had Anne Whiting. After the second war she co-founded with her husband one of the pioneering studio workshops. Avoncroft Pottery at Hampton Lovett, Worcestershire was established in 1955; alongside Geoffrey’s individual pieces, Anne helped to design and develop the “standard ware”, a domestic range fired in a coal and wood kiln, modelled on that made by Bernard Leach in St Ives.
“Artistically-gifted herself, she is typical of so many women of the 1950s and beyond who put her family first, and worked hard to support my father, who insisted on selling his pots at very modest and accessible prices!” David Whiting
The pots were marketed through the Craftsmen Potters Association and the British Crafts Centre, and was collected by museums in Britain and abroad. Anne enjoyed press-moulding dishes, a canvas for her fluid brush decoration.
“My mother was one of those very self-contained and stoic people who quietly pressed on, buoyed up by her positive frame-of-mind and a wonderful and often wicked sense of humour. She took on numerous other jobs to help bolster the family income, perhaps being relief milk-woman on a local farm was closest to her heart.” David Whiting
She was born in Golders Green, north London, into an artistically gifted family. Her father combined work in the RAF with making woodcuts, and Anne was a great-great-niece of the watercolourist John Sell Cotman. Her uncle Adrian Berrington, an architectural draughtsman, had been treated at Craiglockhart war hospital, Edinburgh, in 1917 and redesigned its magazine, the Hydra, in which his fellow patients Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen published their poetry. She studied sculpture at Wolverhampton School of Art and nursed war servicemen at nearby Patshull Hall before working as a technical draughtswoman with the Polish air force in Blackpool. In 1947 she went to teach at Dane Court, a prep school in Dorset, her pupils including the distinguished artist Richard Bawden. Geoffrey had started a pottery at Stoke Prior, Bromsgrove, having returned from army service in India in 1948; he met Anne when he went to teach at Stoke House, Bletchley, Buckinghamshire. This had been set up by Anne and her parents, Noel and Dorothea Heath, as a residential college running innovative courses in the arts and education; visiting speakers included Alec Clifton-Taylor and CEM Joad.
David Whiting remembers the difficult times too when his father had periodic bouts of depression and heavy drinking; “this tested us all, but the fact that we somehow got through them was due in no small part to my mother’s strength and resilience. Like my father, she drew so much from the natural world, and their knowledge of birds, trees and wild flowers was formidable.” The success of Avoncroft Pottery was largely thanks to Anne’s strength. She was selfless and optimistic.
Visit our exhibition on Geoffrey Whiting at 48 Park Row, displayed to be completely Covid-19 safe, designed to be viewed from the pavement at any time until the 14th December 2020.
Text and images copyright: Davis Whiting/Whiting Family Collection