This is a long post as I want to tell you about an important local event. This weekend was the start of the British Ceramics Biennale in Stoke-on-Trent. This initiative, in the home of British Ceramics, is a tremendous event both for ceramics in the UK and also for the City of Stoke-on-Trent. I took advantage of the free shuttle bus between the 5 main venues. It ran this weekend, and will run again on 17/18 October, and again on14/15 November. There are lots of additional events happening then, as well, which are great for involving all family members.
I started off at the Gladstone Pottery Museum, which is always a treat. I loved the ceramic interventions which happened throughout the museum in very unexpected locations and which always raised a smile when I spotted one! These were part of Guerilla Ceramics – artists working with ceramics in public spaces. I also loved Stephen Dixon’s battleship in the courtyard! It was lovely too to have a long chat with Stephen (name-dropping shamelessly here!!) whom I last met about 11 years ago!!
Next door, in the Roslyn Works, there is a wonderful collection of Indian bowls, plates and urns, made by 4 Indian families. More on the bcb website. These are for sale, but unfortunately didn’t have any prices on at this, the very start of the 2 month exhibition. There was also a very atmospheric piece by Heidi Parsons, one of 3 “Artists into Industry” . Her exhibit, Cameos, was sited inside a bottle kiln. I loved this exhibit. Upstairs were images of the 3 of the flower makers who work in the Gladstone Pottery Museum, along with Stephen Dixon, and his assistant Claire, and a couple of videos on how to make the pottery flowers. One of the ladies was demonstrating in the Museum that day, and you can buy these demonstration flowers for £1!! A bargain! Gladstone also runs a ‘have-a-go’ on throwing a pot which costs £3 and you take away your unfired, thrown pot with you! Great fun for all the family!!!
After having a lovely lunch at the Gladstone Museum’s Cafe (10% off if you download a coupon from the website!!), I took the shuttle bus off to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. As you’d expect, there is a goodly portion of the museum already devoted to ceramics created in the area, and it has been added to for this biennale with the lower ground floor exhibition space completely taken up with contemporary pieces as part of the Excellence – Breaking New Ground, and also on the ground floor situated in cabinets on the far side of the shop. I was also rather taken with the Johnson Tiles exhibit “Cascade” which got me thinking on weaving lines….
Across the road from the Potteries Museum is an old accountants’ office, I think, which has been turned into an artists’ venue for the duration by Airspace. They are showing a great video of several ceramics artists working directly at a clay quarry, intervening in the landscape of the quarry, another of the Artists into Industry installations. This is a great video. Next door are two installations directly coming from the ideas behind the interventions and are very immediate and physical in their presence. Great fun! There were loads of children there enjoying themselves whilst I was there!
Next stop was the graduate display, Fresh, and the Jaime Hayon exhibit at the Emma Bridgwater Pottery. There were a number of pieces I would have loved to have bought at the graduate selling show, where ceramics graduates from many colleges and universities were showing. It seems such a ridiculous state of affairs to me that so many ceramics courses are closing down when there is such obvious talent, and a need for these courses to exist. So short-sighted!! And even more poignant when Staffordshire is one of those universities axing its course!!! The one place where ceramics ought to be celebrated!!! What are the leaders and funders of the university thinking of??? Ceramics are going through the same down-turn that textiles were mired in for so long. Now textiles are on the up, but why should it be that some crafts are in favour whilst others are not? How ridiculous is that?!!
Sorry – off the hobby horse now, but if you feel strongly about this ridiculous state of affairs, then please make your feelings felt where they count – at your local college/university!
On Sunday, I finished the tour and took the free shuttle bus to Burslem, and the wonderful Victorian building of the Wedgwood Institute which has had its ground floor restored, but the first floor remains derelict. What a sad state of affairs for a wonderful architectural gem. The facade of this building, directly opposite the Burslem School of Art, is an absolute wonder. The coach driver and I stood there for a good few minutes just admiring the 12 panels representing the months, and the mosaic work. Lovely. Inside are the remaining 3 Guerilla Ceramics Artists, CJ O’Neill, Association Inscrire, and Denise O’Sullivan. There is also an exhibit called Our Objects – Contemporary Ceramics in Context, with some very amusing pieces.
Across 3 of the venues are also light boxes depicting scenes from some of the old potteries, and these have also been made into free postcard and bookmarks. They are very atmospheric and I now have them decorating one of my boards in my workshop.
The last stop was the Etruria Industrial Museum where the 3rd of the Artists Into Industry, Andrea Walsh, had her installation. Of all the interventions, this was the one which didn’t feel as connected which was a little disappointing, but the setting of the Industrial Museum more than made up for my vague disappointment. On the canals, with beautiful birds, and well-kept locks, the Industrial Museum is a flint grinding mill which is run by steam power on selected days. Sunday was such a day, but with a few problems ongoing, they weren’t able to get enough head of steam whilst I was there to run the Princess wheel and the machinery. Mind you, the huge beam of the Princess was lovely just to look at, and the information boards on the processing of the flint and bone that goes into the bone china is very good.
I was really surprised that no-one else took advantage of the free shuttle-bus. I was the bus-driver’s only passenger on both the buses all that day, and they had only had 4 passengers on the Saturday. I’m hoping that people wake up to this useful service for the next two weekends that they run as this is such a good way of getting round Stoke-on-Trent without having to pay the car-parking charges that the City Council imposes everywhere!! I think perhaps that there needs to be more advertising about the event locally, but I hope that there are plenty of visitors to this two-month long event. There are two more biennales planned, but unless people come and visit, that will be the end of it, which would be a huge shame for the area, and for ceramics. I hope you can come and visit…..