Published  09/06/2005

A Century of Ceramics: A Selection of 20th Century Potters and Potteries in the Isle of Wight

A Century of Ceramics: A Selection of 20th Century Potters and Potteries in the Isle of Wight

Lisa and Andrew Dowden, Robin Goodredge. London: 2005
£28, ISBN 0-9548745-1-X

This is an exceptional example, in the realm of crafts, of a small island community seizing the initiative to promote their home-grown potteries industry through a publication. This has been achieved by Lisa and Andrew Dowden and Robin Goodredge, with typical industry and considerable success. There has been pottery on the Isle of Wight for 5,000 years, as the authors claim. But this book surveys the work of some 27 potters, all of whom are profiled in such a way that the period in which they worked is reflected.

At first glance, this could be a commemoration of a balmy but lost England, but the Isle of Wight potters co-exist today with much success. One reason for this is the sponsorship provided through the island's education system. In most primary schools there, children work with simple pottery from an early age, engaging in clay work (without kilns) and using clay types that can harden without any firing process. This opportunity is also open to pupils attending middle school, where they work in ceramics and pottery. At secondary school level, pupils are offered opportunities for advancement in ceramics and pottery within the GCSE/GNVQ/AS/A level English programmes, and those attending special skills courses are provided with their own kilns. The island take-up for students joining foundation courses in art and design, or full courses at art college, is certainly above the national average.

The island's ceramics and pottery industry has been dominated by families for many years, such as the Pritchetts (linked to farming and brick making), who also became expert in terracotta work. The Gunville brickworks later branched into producing fine glazed pottery, using kilns based on a design from the Desvres pottery in France. The so-called Isle of Wight Handcraft Pottery became well established in the l920s. Superb designs boasting an exceptional range of colours began to proliferate from the company. Harold Charlesworth, originally a Yorkshireman, blossomed as a potter at Sandown Grammar School on the island, working chiefly with earthenware and experimenting with local clays. An outstanding work by Charlesworth is the tiled panel that he used as a reference for colours and a number of glazes. (He celebrated his 101st birthday in August 2004, which says something for the local environment.) Krystyna Trzebski (Young) produced striking and original pottery throughout the l970s, with something of an exotic touch, but sadly died of cancer in 2000. John and Sheila Francis came to the island from the Royal College of Art via Africa: their work also reveals an exotic tendency. Brother Alexander Tingay from Quarr Abbey is part of a Benedictine community on the island that originated in France. His 'African' pots are notable amongst a range of eclectic work.

The authors of this encyclopaedic survey are to be congratulated for their perseverance and proficiency in mapping the trials and vicissitudes of all who have helped to develop pottery on the Isle of Wight throughout the 20th century. They are modest about their own attainments, yet this fine book is their testimony.

1. CG Holme, SB Wainwright (eds). The Studio Yearbook of Decorative Art. London: The Studio, 1928.

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