Is there a special word for the love of ceramics? If there isn’t, I think there should be. I take great pleasure in the beauty of everyday objects. I enjoy fine art too, but unless I win big on the National Lottery – which would be highly unlikely even if I did buy a ticket regularly – or I come into a sizeable inheritance – probably more unlikely than that Lottery win – I’m only going to be able to enjoy fine art in a gallery or museum. Everyday art, with its functional beauty, really appeals to me and I think that’s why I love ceramics.
In the interests of full disclosure, although I am a card-carrying member of the V&A, I am no expert on ceramics, nor am I anything as committed or organised as a collector. I don’t know my earthenware, from my stoneware or porcelain, and I suspect bone china is a category all of its own, and does it contain real bone? What I do know is that I enjoy looking at, handling and owning affordable and beautiful pieces of china and ceramics; crockery (“flatware”), a few vases, trinkets and jugs tend to catch my eye most often, jugs especially (as my Mum announced on Saturday, with an absolutely straight face: “our Em’s got a thing about jugs”).
I can date my interest in ceramics to 1986 and the half a dozen years that followed. For my 19th birthday, a university friend bought me a tiny ceramic piggy-bank in a silk pouch made by a local ceramicist in Bath. I adored this little curiosity and, although the silk pouch is long gone, I still have the piggy.
As a gift to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, my maternal grandparents (the ones of Mr and Mrs fame) asked for a new dinner service. The design they chose – which was very en vogue in the late 1980s – was the Johnson Brothers Eternal Beau originally designed by Sarina Mascheroni, a pretty ribbon and bow motif on octagonal-shaped pieces. At the tender age of 20, I was quite taken with it and thought it very stylish. I don’t recall having thought about plates and cups and saucers before Eternal Beau. I wonder where my grandparents’ dinner service ended up? A couple of years later, moving into our first home as a young family, I was smitten with Portmeiron’s Botanic Garden range and enjoyed using it every day. I’ve held on to a few pieces: a side plate decorated with a lily and one decorated with Sweet Williams (of course); a formidably heavy bowl which I use as a mixing bowl and a vase (also decorated with lilies). My lovely Mum also gave me a large jug from her Botanic Garden collection last year which is in near-permanent use as a vase.
In the late 1980s, my paternal grandmother died and I was asked if there was anything of hers I’d like as a momento. I asked if I could have the pink ceramic coffee pot which had sat in a cabinet in the corridor of her flat. I must have walked passed this small cabinet displaying her bits of china dozens of times over the years and the pink coffee pot always caught my eye. I still adore it and today it sits on a table, at the head of my stairs, and I get to enjoy it every time I cross the landing. I researched it a few years ago and discovered that it is, in fact, a tea pot from the Arthur Wood Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent. To me it’ll always be the pink coffee pot.
My tastes have changed over the years and I much prefer unpatterned, or certainly minimally patterned, crockery these days. I’ve also come to learn that I don’t particularly desire matching crockery – I think there’s something wonderfully pleasing about mismatched plates and bowls. I also don’t hold with the notion of keeping things for “best”: I like to see, touch and use my best china and ceramics every day. I still enjoy buying pieces that appeal to me and current favourites include Van Verre cabbage bowls, Lene Bjerre pink crackle-glazed dishes, a cute Bombay Duck jug and a gorgeous pot handmade by Studio Arhoj which Lily bought as a gift for me when she visited Copenhagen last year (and which she massively covets and, I think, rather wishes she’d kept for herself).
So if you stumble across a word for a love of ceramics, do let me know. And if you find pretty pieces you fall in love with, share and tag us in. ~E.