Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Bluebell Farm, 1996

This is L2013, Bluebell Farm, in the Lilliput Lane collection of country cottages which was available from 1996-99. Lilliput Lane Ltd was the creation of David Tate (1945-) who combined his natural artistic talents with practical production skills picked up in the army and a passion for vernacular architecture to launch in 1982 a company devoted to making detailed models of country cottages for general sale.

It started as a small family business based in the outbuildings of a Georgian mansion just outside Penrith. Fourteen models were initially on offer but thereafter the number rapidly increased as the popularity of the range grew.

Each one was very carefully researched and packed with detail to reflect the vernacular style and materials traditonally used in different parts of the country. Often, the models are based on a real building, in this case Tang House Farm at High Birstwith in North Yorkshire (photo below by Claire Scott)

Using moulds made from a hand-crafted master, the models are cast in Amorphite plaster and then painted by hand. The Lilliput range has been highly successful worldwide with its most ardent followers to be found amongst the 50,000 strong Collectors Club. It has turned the rural heritage into marketable form with mass appeal.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Clarice Cliff, 1930s

Even Clarice Cliff (1899-1972),who took the pottery world by storm from the late 1920s with her bold and colourful art deco designs, could not avoid traditional imagery of the countryside.

This is her Farmhouse pattern - with thatched roof inevitably - which made its first appearance in 1931. It's on the conical bowl shape that Cliff introduced in 1929, one of a series of new designs that were brought in as the stock of the old Newport Pottery - which had been taken over by Wilkinson's and which Cliff used for her early output - ran down.

The base of the bowl bears the name of Wilkinson Ltd, the firm in Middleport near Stoke that Clarice Cliff joined as a decorator in 1916. Here her creative talent in hand-painting of pottery was spotted and nurtured by Colley Shorter, one of the firm's directors and, ultimately, her husband. Also there is the brand-name Bizarre which Cliff used in the early period of 1928-1935 to give her ware a distinctive cachet. This bowl therefore dates from between 1931 and 1935, the heyday of Clarice Cliff output.

A hierarchy of three groups of workers, most of them female, decorated the ware: the outliners who drew the pattern, the enamellers who painted in the colours, and the banders who applied the bright colourful rings.

When production resumed after the Second World War, Clarice Cliff took more of a back seat. On the death of Colley Shorter in 1963, she sold the Wilkinson firm to Midwinter.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

'Cottage Ware' tea sets, 1940s

Kitsch is probably the word that would now most immediately come to mind here. But there is a lot of cottage ware still around from a variety of makers which suggests that it must have been widely popular at the time. It's those cosy cultural associations of the thatched cottage working their magic again. This set was made by Price Bros (Burslem) Ltd, a firm that began in 1896 and continued after 1962 as Price and Kensington Potteries Ltd. The design, number 845007, was registered in 1945.

This was a present for your auntie in the era of post-war austerity, with the old design imagery of the '30s still holding sway before '50s fashion found its feet. There is no sign of these sets actually having been used so I suspect they went into the glass cabinet in the front room, for show, which helps to explain why so many have survived.

The other set in this genre is by the Keele Street Pottery of Stoke whose origins go back to 1915. After being closed during World War Two, production resumed in 1946 and cottage ware was added to the range shortly after. As a way of rebuilding the nation's finances, there was much emphasis at the time on the export trade and the connection here of tea drinking with rustic imagery from the old country found much customer interest overseas.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Shell Guide to the Roads of Britain, 1965

This straight stetch of the A15 in Lincolnshire sits on top of the original Roman road, Ermine Street, which linked London to York. It is one in a series of four poster advertisements that Shell produced on a roads theme, using paintings commissioned from David Gentleman(1930-). The other three are the Berkshire Ridgeway, Sewston Lane and Corrieyairack Pass.

They were used as eye catching full-colour advertisements in up-market magazines such as Country Life. They are subtle in approach, with a low key and almost subliminal message at the bottom: 'Go Well-Go Shell. The Key to the Countryside'.

This is very much in a tradition of Shell advertising going back to the 1920s in which commissioned works from known or up and coming artists were combined with catchy slogans to identify the product with the joys of exploring the countryside by motor car, and wed the company name to heritage and landscape and everything the nation held dear. The campaign took published form with the Shell County Guides series, beginning with John Betjemain's Cornwall in 1934 and running on through to the 1980s.

David Gentleman, painter of the Ermine Street image above, is one of the most successful commercial artists and illustrators of his generation with a portfolio embracing the whole spectrum from postage stamps to campaign posters and from murals to bookjackets. He married the daughter of George Ewart Evans (1909-88), the famed recorder of East Anglian oral tradition whose many works include Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay (1956), and has a close connection with rural Suffolk. His father, Tom Gentleman (1882-1966)was also a commercial artist and included some Shell advertising material amongst his commissions as well as an inclusion in the School Prints series (see earlier post).

Stubble burning is shown in process just off to the right of the road. This operation became steadily more controversial for the hazard it posed to buildings, flora and fauna, and road users, and was finally banned in 1993.