Clarice Cliff is very much a name I have grown up with as her designs are well known and for good reason. As I have worked on the ideas for my final project I have been looking at bags and art from the Art Deco era and her name cropped her – brief research on Google images provided examples of her ceramic plates with simple shapes, colours and lines which are continuing to inspire me along with the work of Paul Corfield, a painter of my own era.
My biographical information largely comes from the reliable source of The Clarice Cliff Website which I found to be comprehensive and incredibly knowledgeable as you would expect.
Clarice Cliff was born in the same years as my own maternal grandmother – 1899 in Tunstall in Staffordshire. Clarice was the fourth of 8 children born to an iron-moulder and started working at the now young age of just 13 – at the time this would have been common for children. Her first job was as an apprentice enameller and from there at aged 17 she became a lithographer working for A. J. Wilkinson’s Royal Staffordshire Pottery – it seems her talent for drawing was quickly noticed. Burslem School of Art in the years 1924-25 became her place of study for evening classes which was soon followed by the Royal College of Art for scultpure lessons in 1927. However Clarice stayed just a few months at the RCA as she soon set up a little studio at A. J. Wilkinson’s Newport Pottery with her skills being used to decorate white-ware pottery – this was essentially utility ware pottery which may be defective in some form.
It seems in 1927/8 Bizarre Ware pottery was market tested by Colley Shorter of Wilkinson’s – this style of pottery was the bold designs of Clarice Cliff and it rapidly sold and such was her popularity and skills she was made Art Director of the firm in 1930 and in 1940 married Mr Shorter after the death of his first wife (she had been having an affair with him it seems for some years which at the time would have been quite scandalous). The fact that the vibrant pottery was selling so well during the 1920’s is testament alone to her exquisite designs and talent as during that period there was a great economic recession – other business’s were really struggling but Wilkinson’s was blooming.
Within one year of being made Art Director Clarice was supervising 1000 people at the Newport Pottery with 150 boys and girls specifically trained in decorating new shapes and designs.
During the 1930’s there was great variety of patterns and shapes produced at Wilkinson’s and in 1935/6 finally the pieces were marked with the name Clarice Cliff after the dropping of the Bizarre name. Like in many factories in 1939 as World War II broke out the creative output of the factory stopped as the men were drafted into the Armed Forces and the women’s labour needed to produce either utility ware pottery or in other work forces.
As is well known rationing continued until 1954 and what I have never considered is that this included the restrictions on such things as decorated pottery and like in other industries or indeed art forms the Newport Factory never manged to produce the style or quantity of the pottery that it had before war broke out – at this point I think back the Futurism movement pre-World War I which I have recently studied in History of Art and which was foundered post-war.
After Colley Shorter died in 1963 Clarice retired and in 1964 the factory sites were sold to Midwinter’s – production of Clarice Cliff pottery ceased and an era came to an end. Eventually W. R. Midwinter merged with a firm called Meakins (1968) before they in turn merged into the Wedgewood group in 1970 – I never knew that Wedgewood had incorporated effectively Clarice Cliff!
1971 came the recognition of Ms Cliff as a major art deco designer by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts at their World of Art Deco Exhibition and it is this recognition that has no doubt enabled so many people to become aware of her work and to become collectors or just fans of it.
Clarice Cliff eventually died in October 1972 at the home she had owned since 1940 – Chetwynd House in Newcastle-under-Lyme and what is lovely is that she was found in her favourite chair listening to the radio which is the way many people would like to pass away in peace.
Images of Clarice Cliff’s ceramics can be seen on any of the websites in my bibliography – I am unsure of copyright status so have decided not to include photographs directly with this blog but I will be including some on my story boards as I work on my final project.
As I stated above I am inspired by the simplicity of the shapes and the vibrancy of the colours but also there is a sense of depth and perspective and form due to her use of line and those aforesaid colours – the designs have a whimsical quality to them whilst not being childlike and despite the passing years from the height of their popularity the ceramics still have an elegance and beauty of a bygone era.
BBC. 24 September 2014. Clarice Cliff Pottery [online]. [Date Accessed: 26 October 2016]. Available from; http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/westmidlands/series2/clarice_cliff_pottery_stoke_on_trent_1920s_collection.shtml
Clarice Cliff Limited. 1998-2013. Clarice Cliff [online]. [Date Accessed: 26 October 2016]. Available from: http://www.claricecliff.co.uk/newhistorycc.htm
Pottery Marks/Famous Potters. 2016. Clarice Cliff Biography [online]. [Date Accessed: 26 October 2016]. Available from: http://pottery-english.com/clarice-cliff-biography/