Clarice Cliff

"I was born in the potteries in the town of Tunstall. I remember when drawing classes in school were of only half an hour a week's duration. How pleased I was to miss some lessons and be entrusted to make large papier mache maps built up on nails of varying heights and coloured, for use in Geography lessons. I won scholarships for attendance at the local art schools, Tunstall and Burslem, where drawing from plaster casts and vases of Honesty were the sum total of tuition. I passed exams to become a teacher, then, at the age of 16 or 17, decided that I would most like to learn the various branches of pottery decorating.

"In the early 1920's I had progressed as for as modelling in clay, keeping pattern and shape books up to date, very fine filigree gilding with a pen, tracing spiders webs, butterflies, etc., to hide small imperfections on expensive ware, at A. J. Wilkinson Limited, The Royal Staffordshire Pottery, Burslem. During this time I gained useful knowledge of the making and firing of pottery.

"The adjoining factory which A. J. Wilkinson had acquired (in 1920) provided me with a studio cum workshop in one of the showrooms. The warehouses of the Newport Pottery Company Limited were stacked with bowls, vases, jugs and candlesticks, etc. mostly of the Nouveau Art period. This huge stock had always interested me, and presented a challenge! Eventually about 1924-25, I was allowed to experiment. First, with one or two girls who had learned how to use a decorator's wheel, round shapes were covered from top to bottom with coloured bands. As these were the days of short time and unemployment, it was very easy to get girls straight from school who, if lucky enough to be taken on as learners (for a shilling a week pocket money) would normally have to spend weeks practising strokes and curls and flat shading. Instead of which, a few of them with an aptitude for drawing were put straight to work, and so earned an extra few shillings. Between guide lines, they drew simple diamonds which in turn were filled in with bright colours by other girls. then the article was passed on to be banded at the top and bottom by others.

"Meanwhile a sizeable amount of goods were accumulating. These were a source of much merriment and derision to travellers, to whom, the idea of having to offer so much crude colour, after selling only traditional prints and enamels and lithos, was a shock. However, after much persuasion the largest car on the factory was filled with a representative assortment, and to their amazement, it was quickly sold, and within two days they were back for more. So - Bizarre by Clarice Cliff was launched.

"We progressed to circles and squares and simple landscapes - all within the operatives capabilities. These cried aloud for shapes other than the traditional and so the conical shape was evolved. As we grew, so did the number of shapes, and the number of boys and girls we trained increased to about 300 (this did not include makers, who increased also). We were copied by so many that we had eventually to patent many shapes. Even the Japanese copied some.

"A. J. Wilkinson Limited, Royal Staffordshire Pottery and Newport pottery adjoined; after a few years all making was transferred to A.J.W. and the whole Newport Pottery was taken over for the decoration of Bizarre ware, and the laying out of orders and packing. There was one large department for the decorating of Crocus, the Ravel pattern, etc., etc. Although some customers preferred modern shapes and patterns, and so naturally these was bound to be a little confusion when the backstamp names were mixed. Then war came, and overnight the army, munitions, mines, etc. claimed all our workers, except one girl who was a semi-invalid. This happened just as they had become very skilful and clever".



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