Friday, 7 October 2011

The British Ceramics Biennial: 22 Hands

Blue Italian Mug by Spode.
With part of the British Ceramics Biennial being held at the old Spode Factory in Stoke, it seems only right and proper that the company's industrial and design heritage be celebrated in situ.

Spode's story - its fortunes and misfortunes - are sadly commonplace in an industry that has largely outsourced production overseas and in an increasingly difficult economic climate. After over 200 years of production, Spode went into administration in 2008, the factory closed its doors and hundreds of people lost their jobs. What happened next, however, is not commonplace, and provides a fresh and much-needed glimmer of hope to the pottery industry in North Staffordshire.

The Spode label and intellectual property rights were acquired by the Portmeirion Group, another Stoke-on-Trent ceramics company, who then set about returning the production of Spode designs to the Portmeirion factory in the city.


Spode's legacy - and its future - has been celebrated in a special exhibition within the old factory. The Spode Room displays current and popular designs and pays homage to one of the company's most famous patterns - Blue Italian.

Blue Italian was created in 1816, and features Italian country scenes in iconic blue-and-white colours. As popular today as when it was first sold, Blue Italian is also a great example of the pioneering production techniques for which the pottery industry in Stoke-on-Trent is famed. 

Film-maker Johnny Magee was commissioned by the British Ceramics Biennial to produce a short film about the production of Blue Italian. The result is a beautifully filmed and edited piece set to Johann Strauss II's famous waltz, The Blue Danube. As odd a music choice as this sounds, it works brilliantly well, as the various elements of the piece fit different parts of the manufacturing process. 

Magee has created a quirky but elegant film, which takes the popular preconception that the industry is dirty, nasty work and turns it on its head. Of course, as with any manufacturing industry, the production of pottery is dirty, smelly and noisy, but even in an age where machines have taken over from previously hand-crafted work, there is an immense amount of craftsmanship and patience required. The production of Blue Italian becomes poetic and hypnotic, and the light-handed skill of the Spode employees featured is a real joy to watch. 

See for yourself...

22 Hands by Johnny Magee, courtesy of Cangyroo on youtube.

Image courtesy of Spode. 

The British Ceramics Biennial runs from now until November 13th at the Spode Factory, Stoke and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Hanley. For further information, visit the website, here.

1 comment:

  1. So sad that I missed this Biennial. I adore ceramics and collect them, too. The first image appeals to me - blue Italian mug atop antiquarian books - sublime. Have a fun weekend.

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