People Will Always Need Plates

 Porcelain Bowl by Lucie Rie 1977

Porcelain Bowl by Lucie Rie 1977

I have just been to a  brilliant exhibition at the Jewish Museum in London on ceramic art. The last time anyone got really excited about pots involved Patrick Swayze (although The Great Pottery Throw Down could change all that).

Whatever.  For people who love art and design this is a must-see. The exhibition focuses on the work of four ceramicists, Ruth Duckworth, Lucie Rie, Grete Marks and Hans Coper. They came to Britain in the 1930s as refugees from Nazism and brought with them a new brand of European modernism that revolutionised ceramic art in Britain.

 Tea cups by Lucie Rie and Hans Coper 1955

Tea cups by Lucie Rie and Hans Coper 1955

Half way through the visit my aunt (museum companion for the day) reveals that she had once taken tea with Lucie Rie from Rie’s own teacups “as thin and delicate as paper”. Claim to fame or what?

 Admiring the pots- snapped by my name-dropping aunt

Admiring the pots- snapped by my name-dropping aunt

A new style for the 20th Century

Aside from the beautiful ceramics on display I loved the old footage of David Attenborough interviewing Lucie Rie in 1982. He explains how British ceramicists had traditionally derived their cues from medieval England or 12th century China. By contrast:  “Lucie Rie showed how this ancient craft could produce new shapes, new colours, which are quintessentially of the 20th century”.

 Recognise a young (er) David Attenborough from a 1982 interview with Lucie Rie?

Recognise a young (er) David Attenborough from a 1982 interview with Lucie Rie?

This new 20th century style was not immediately appreciated. Grete Marks, who had enjoyed real commercial success in Germany,  was seen as too Avant-garde for the traditionalist Potteries of Stoke on Trent.

 Grete Marks Earthenware plate 1930

Grete Marks Earthenware plate 1930

The Exhibition is a fascinating glimpse into this time in the mid 20th century when, as a side effect of war and persecution, stuffy old Britain was being faced with sophisticated forward thinking design ideas from central Europe. (I'm keeping everything crossed that recent events can’t turn us into stuffy old Britain once more)...

 Grete Mark's German designs were too Avant-garde for Stoke on Trent

Grete Mark's German designs were too Avant-garde for Stoke on Trent

Art or Craft?

The exhibition alludes to the fact  that people were often snobby about pottery. Before anyone came up with the grand title of ceramic art there was an argument about whether it was art or craft. Ruth Duckworth heads off any need for further discussion with these words:

“If it means something to you and if it moves you in any way ,then it’s art, otherwise it isn’t”

This exhibition moved me. Hurry, it closes Feb 26th.

 Ruth Duckworth 1964- although this pot is functional her later work became purely sculptural.

Ruth Duckworth 1964- although this pot is functional her later work became purely sculptural.

TOP TIP: If you’re looking for somewhere to take the kids during half term in London then head here.  The exhibition is small and manageable but there is also a real life potter spinning the wheel every morning.  The museum’s permanent collection traces Jewish history in Britain and offers a child friendly gallery with interactive displays and dressing up. They also have a café with cake.

Shaping Ceramics is at The Jewish Museum in London until February 26th 2017