Although a term broadly used to differentiate between what would now be called ‘artisan’ pottery and factory-made pieces, this distinction should not be taken too literally. It’s more a case of a label for items which retain the essence of having been produced in a solitary potter’s studio rather than having come off a production line. It is a name, however, which is now almost exclusively used for hand-painted materials, or items requiring another manifestly manual operation which is integral to their final form.
Lorna Bailey’s quirky tableware, for instance, was first made at her father’s factory where she had begun work as a painter in her teens. This offshoot eventually devolved in to Lorna’s own company in the fullness of time, although never operating on a scale much more than ‘cottage industry’ level.
Similarly, the Poole Pottery started life as something of a sideline to a commercial tile production manufactory, with the importance of the ceramic ‘friggers’ eventually supplanting that of the commercially-made products. The pottery was renowned for employing female decorators – known as ‘paintresses’ – whose personal artistic foibles greatly enhanced what were already individually hand-made items.
British studio pottery was not an entirely provincial undertaking. London had its share of workshops too, and our own Mark Hill is very much a fan of the Briglin studio, a collaboration between Brigitte Appleby (née Goldschmidt) and Eileen Lewenstein which was based in Baker Street at the heart of Marylebone.
Farther afield, the movement – such as it was – could number adherents right across continental Europe, unsurprisingly when you consider the rich heritage of pottery going back millennia, particularly in Mediterranean countries. Fratelli Fanciullacci must have been mindful of Etruscan and Majolica heritage in their Italian studio whilst Moorish wares and talavera would have impinged on the creative conscience of the Trianaian craftsmen of Seville. North America also had its share of notable exponents of the art, with Herbert Sanders and Arthur Baggs leading the way.
Studio pottery is therefore very much more of a style, rather than an acutely defined production regime, which in itself is the kind of loose pseudo-definition ideally suited to such inherently free-form works. The range of items which come under the remit of the name is also wide ranging – a bowl or a vase, a jug, a plate or a dish – all or any of these could fit the bill as ‘studio pottery’, as could abstract pieces with no fixed function other than being an artistic form to be appreciated.
The term can cover unglazed stoneware, tin or lead-glazed earthenware or fine porcelain or bone china – anything from the most basic of substrates which fall in to the category of pottery to the most artfully of refined pieces.