Education via decoration
Diverse routes into the ancient world are exemplified on products from other potteries as well. Scenes from the Aeneid were reproduced in a combination of painting and printing on pieces produced at the Bow Porcelain Factory in London as early as the 1750s; one example in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, depicts Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius fleeing from Troy, with Creusa sorrowing in the background.99 The heyday of Enoch Wood’s pearlware figurines, which included Neptune with bright green dolphin and trident, a bearded Demosthenes in full oratorical flow and a colourful, recumbent Antony and Cleopatra two-piece set, ran from around 1785 to 1820. Bell’s Pottery in Glasgow made elegant pitchers depicting three black-figure vases (one design was called ‘Athens’), an Amazonomachy, or Sappho, surrounded by books and ancient Greek ceramics herself.100 The workers at this factory enjoyed their own library, which included books on ancient Greece and Rome.101 One rare design from Copeland and Garrett (so between 1833 and 1847, when the firm worked under this name) embellished a dinner service in white, each plate painted with 22 replicas of known ancient Greek jugs, vases and bowls—oenochoe, hydria, pelike, krossos, stamnos, pyxis, krater and karkhesion, whether geometric, black-figure or red-figure. It resembles nothing more than a page from a textbook on ancient ceramics (Figure 21.3).
FIGURE 21.3 Decorative plate by Copeland and Garrett, © Edith Hall.
Brightly coloured porcelainware, from tea services to replica ancient urns and pitchers, were produced at Samuel Alcock’s Burslem works in the mid-19th century, in which ancient Greek figures are picked out in brilliant jewel-like colours against backgrounds of deep blue, turquoise, brown, pink, orange, black or red, often with a key-pattern border. Favourite scenes are Greeks fighting Amazons, processions of musicians or victorious warriors, hunts, chariot-rides, sacrificial rituals and weddings complete with fluttering Erotes. In the late 19th century pictorial wall tiles became important after the introduction of cast-iron grates in fireplaces. Beautiful octagonal ‘mosaic’ tiles with classical heads were already produced by Maw & Co. in Shropshire in the early 1860s.102 The series ‘Classical figures with musical instruments’, produced by Minton Ltd. (designed by John Moyr Smith) offered the workers involved in their mass production and their consumers an education in ancient Greek furniture and costumes as well as in different types of cithara, drum, cymbal and aulos.103
Pottery workers’ ability to study ancient art formally, rather than by absorbing information during working hours, was slow to emerge. Public art lessons in the
Potteries first became available after the benefits they would bring locally, especially the provision of highly skilled labour, had been identified in a pamphlet written by the Reverend Benjamin Vale.104 The Potteries Mechanics’ Institute was established eight years later and its first premises were in Frederick Street, Shelton. But uptake was slow. The situation improved after the 1836 Select Committee of the House of Commons on Art and Manufacturers drew attention to the need for instruction in art amongst the working class.10’ Such instruction was only available from private masters, who generally taught the children of the wealthy in their homes. The Government School of Design was then established at Somerset House in London under the Board of Trade, but similar schools were also established in industrial centres such as Manchester, York, Birmingham, Sheffield, Nottingham, Glasgow and Norwich.
The workers in the Potteries themselves then began to agitate for a local school of design, and in 1845 the Hanley Mechanics’ Institute applied to the Somerset House authorities for assistance. They responded by sendingjohn Murdoch down from London to set up branch schools in both Hanley and Stoke.106 The schools were managed by a committee of master potters and businessmen, with Herbert Minton acting as treasurer. A series of lectures delivered there by Edward Villiers Rippingille (1798-1859), an art journalist and water colourist, attracted wide public attention. But when John Robinson, who had trained in Nottingham, replaced Murdoch, the workers were not impressed with his plan to deliver a set of freestanding theoretical lectures with the highbrow title The Aesthetic Theory of Ornamental Art at the Mechanics’ Institute in 1851. This initiative was abandoned after the first one because of the low turnout.107
But working-class art education in practical skills had the potential to grow. The first art classes in Longton began in 1852 at the Athenaeum and Mechanics’ Institution, and the Burslem School of Design in 1853-1858 in the Burslem Wesleyan Schoolroom.1011 Extremely popular and affordable practical classes (43 takers and many more turned away) were briefly given in a local inn (in the evenings so that the workers could attend them), in drawing, landscape and perspective as well as figurative and ornamental design.109 But once again the initiative failed. The failure was blamed on the insalubrious venue and the failure of bosses, workers and the art experts brought in to teach them, to agree on the purpose of the classes:110
the manufacturers looked upon the working man as a sort of machine to produce marketable patterns, and the working man considered that by going to school a number of quarters, he should obtain the power of designing which would enable him to increase his wages; but a school of design had nothing to do with patterns, but was intended to make everybody recognise the great principle ... of adding beauty to utility.
Nevertheless, the Minton Memorial Institute in Stoke opened in 1858 and included a museum to illustrate the history of pottery, a free library and a studio for teaching art.111 Fenton followed in 1889 with Fenton Art School in the Athenaeum (which had failed as a Literary Institution)112 and in 1899 the Sutherland Institute opened at Longton.
The most important art education establishment to be founded was surely the Wedgwood Institute itself, in 1869. This was in response to the continuing need for a Burslem School of Design as well as for a memorial to Josiah Wedgwood. Arnold Bennett himself was to study there in 1885. The architectural designs by George Benjamin Nichols of West Bromwich were chosen by competition, but the actual decorations were by Robert Edgar and John Lockwood Kipling (father of the famous author Rudyard). Kipling had risen from the rank of modeller at Hope’s Factory, Fountain Square, Burslem (and we have met him earlier as the voice decrying the failure of the earlier Burslem art classes). His life had been transformed by winning a National Scholarship to South Kensington and some experience overseas in the Empire as Curator of the Central Museum, Lahore. The modellers of the decorations were also upwardly mobile Burslem men.113 There are 12 ‘zodiac panels’ with female personifications of the months, imitating draped figures on the Parthenon frieze. But there are also 2 sets of‘process’ panels, with animated classical working figures depicting all the various processes of pottery manufacture, described in an article the designers published in
1864.1,4 The Institute contained a free library and a school, and was opened by William Ewart Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1863.