British Ceramics Biennial launch night

I’ve got to be honest, being invited along to spend a Friday evening in a disused factory would not normally sound like the most appealing start to my weekend. But this was not any disused factory, this was the original Spode factory – the birthplace of English fine bone china, and this was not any ordinary Friday evening event, this was the launch night of the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) – a six week festival showcasing a celebration of ceramics right in the heart of the World Capital of Ceramics between 28 September to 10 November 2013.

Our evening began however, not at the original Spode factory, but at another BCB venue, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in the City Centre, to see the preview of BCB’s Award 2013. Award 2013 showcases a broad range of work currently being produced by some of the UK’s finest ceramicists. This year, 22 artists have been selected from over 170 applications in a bid to be awarded the £10,000 winners prize, and I don’t envy whoever has the impossible task of picking a winner from this magnificently unique collection of pieces.

Award 2013

Award 2013

Having been wowed by the genius on display in the Award 2013 exhibition, we made the short journey down through the University Quarter to the original Spode factory in Stoke, which, from the moment we stepped foot into the factory grounds, displayed a magical energetic rebirth as we were transported into a magenta-lit ceramicists dream. Inside the original Spode factory in the vast China Hall space, the magic continued with breathtakingly creative displays and installations and innovative ideas.

The Original Spode Factory

The Original Spode Factory

Inside the Original Spode Factory

Inside the Original Spode Factory

Throughout the six-week festival, the original Spode factory hosts a number of exhibitions, installation and projects.

Fresh 2013 looks at the work of new graduates breaking through as they make the transition from learning to earning.

Fresh 2013

Fresh 2013

The Pavilions are four temporary structures that create unique spaces within which the public can engage with the artist’ response to their experience of the ceramic industry.

The Pavilions

The Pavilions

Explore 2013 has challenged four artists and one group of nine artists to make responses to the Spode site and Stoke-on-Trent itself. These range from an archaeological dig, through ceramic slip graffiti and the re-utilising of discarded moulds, to a poet’s lyric narrative.

BCB Design: Tableware is a strand of the festival that looks at limited edition and bespoke table-ware, created specifically to cater for a special dining experience. Case studies provide illustration of trends and trials that are currently underway and indicate one direction of travel for the ceramic industry, the creation and the capture of niche markets.

BCB Design: Tableware

BCB Design: Tableware

A particular highlight to me was the thought-provoking Made in China by Clare Twomey which comprises eighty red porcelain vases each 1.5m tall produced in Jingdezhen in China. Seventy nine have been decorated at the Chinese factory using transfers, one has been decorated at Royal Crown Derby using 18-carat gold. The latter took longer to complete than the 21 days it took to complete and deliver the seventy-nine. This placement unpicks “some of the issues faced by globalisation and outsourcing of production, and questioning the way in which value is assigned. The work also examines what else is lost, over and above jobs and knowledge, and where there might be the possibility of complementarity as opposed to opposition.”

Made in China

Made in China

One of the great things about BCB is that it is not a festival that is dominated by the “Please do not touch” sign. There are lots of opportunities throughout the six weeks for visitors to have a go, get messy, have fun, and get creative through various workshops and the BCB Family Weekenders.

Have a go!

Have a go!

The free festival is also really easy to get around with the main venues being in three locations – the original Spode factory in Stoke, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and Airspace Gallery in the City Centre, and Burslem for the Burslem Weekend in mid-October. The main Stoke-on-Trent railway station is 5 minutes’ walk from the original Spode factory site, and regular buses link it with the City Centre.

There simply was not enough time to take in all of the offerings on Friday evening and so it will be with great pleasure that I will have to return to this historic pottery site once again to see it all. And I urge you to join me – you will not be disappointed!

For more information about the British Ceramics Biennial visit http://www.visitstoke.co.uk/bcb.aspx

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Middleport Pottery – the home of Burleigh

New Dresser Shot sqToday, I visited the Burleigh Factory Shop at Middleport Pottery, next to the Trent and Mersey Canal. Similar to Gladstone in charm and character, however this factory is the only working Victorian Pottery Factory still in existence and producing high quality pottery products today. Originally a family run business; this is now a part of Denby Holdings Ltd, which is a parent company of Denby Pottery.

This Victorian Factory, establised in 1851, has been manufacturing the highest quality pottery for 150 years now and is recognised around the world, mostly for its distinct Blue and White designs. Located in Burslem, this charming factory has 1 original biscuit oven left standing, and still uses traditional methods today, which is one of the reasons why it is so unique. Once a common process, the timeless decorating method of under glaze transfer printing from engravings is now extremely rare and can only be seen in practise at Burleigh.

Although Middleport Pottery is under development by the Princes Regeneration Trust to regenerate the factory whilst still keeping with its traditional values and processes, the factory shop is still open as usual. Selling an array of products (including factory seconds) – dinner sets, jugs, mugs, cups and saucers, bowls, plates, platters, kitchenware and bathroom ware can still be puchased. Other well-known pottery names can be purchased in the factory shop, namely Poole Pottery, and Leeds Pottery is due to be included soon. The shop is very cosy, offering a warm coal fire in the winter months and free coffee, tea and biscuits are provided to factory visitors.

Factory tours are available; however it is absolutely essential that these are booked in advance and prior to your arrival date. Factory tours are available on Monday and Wednesday’s at 2pm along with Friday’s at 10am. Unfortunately, the main car park to the site is closed during the developments, however this is compensated by a small car park being opened across the road from the factory entrance and there being unrestricted parking on the street which the factory is located on.

The Middleport Pottery Visitor Centre development is due to be completed in the spring of 2014, and from then on the factory will be holding more frequent factory tours. Also, a visitor and education centre and a café are expected to be built which will enhance the visitor experience and make this a great visitor attraction in the Stoke-on-Trent area.

The factory shop is open 7 days a week. 9am until 5pm on Monday to Saturday, and from 10am until 4pm on Sunday’s.

For more information about Burleigh and its home Middleport Pottery, visit www.visitstoke.co.uk