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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Fascinating Factory Tours at Emma Bridgewater

P1010284

On day 2 of my work placement with Stoke-on-Trent Tourism, I went to visit and take a tour of the working Victorian factory of the famous pottery name Emma Bridgewater. Arguably one of the most recognisable brands of pottery from Stoke-on-Trent, due to the prominence of the polka dots on most of the plates and mugs that it handcrafts.

Firstly, the Emma Bridgewater Factory is located at approximately a 10 minute walk from the newly built Hanley Bus Station on Lichfield street, and is easy to spot due to the large, comical polka-dotted sign on the side of the building. The factory has free parking for visitors, so it is easy to get to, whether you are arriving on foot, by car or even by public transport, due to its close proximity to the bus station.

One of the first things I noticed about Emma Bridgewater when I arrived was that the staff were warm and friendly, and a staff member offered me tea or coffee as soon as I walked through the door, into the (what can only be described as cosy) café area. As I was due to go onto a factory tour at 10am that morning, I was required to read a passage and sign my name, which is in place to make you aware that this is a working factory so there maybe some hazards in place.

The factory tours at Emma Bridgewater are at regular intervals throughout the day and on Monday through to Thursday’s, they take place at 10am, 11:30am and 1:30pm, and on Fridays at both 10am and 11:30am. I thought the factory tours were very reasonably priced and I was, if I’m honest, surprised at the low-cost. They are £2.50 per person, and children under the age of 16 can go on the tour for free. Even though this is not a free attraction, the £2.50 the visitor pays for their ticket is redeemable against any purchase in the Emma Bridgewater Factory shops.

Now – onto the tour itself! It started very promptly, and we were taken down to where the pottery is made straight away, where the guide told us a brief history of Emma Bridgewater herself, and how she came to obtain the factory.

The tour lasted for roughly 1 hour, and myself and the rest of the tour group were shown every aspect of the factory, from the casting of the pottery, right through to the decoration.P1010279 There were opportunities to find out about how each piece of pottery is made, and also to meet the people who work on each stage of the production, and how every aspect of the product is made by hand. In my opinion, there was a really nice atmosphere amongst the factory workers and this really captured the essence of what Stoke-on-Trent is famous for, and how it has claimed the title of being the World Capital of Ceramics. I also found it particularly interesting to see how exactly everyday items which we all use (such as mugs and bowls) are made, and to appreciate the tremendous amount of work that is involved in the production of each product.

During the tour, the tour guide was very informative, answering any questions the tour group had about any aspect of the factory. It was also clear that Emma Bridgewater pride themselves on being an all British company, as the tour guide proudly stated that all materials were bought from UK destinations such as Wales, Cornwall and more locally, Staffordshire. All of the designs on the pottery are designed personally by Emma Bridgewater herself, along with her husband Matthew, which adds to the homely feel that the company are evidently trying to create with their products.

We were also shown some new designs which are due to be released soon, and we were also invited to mould our own plates!

Other facilities in the factory include a café, which serves a selection of food and drinks throughout the day, along with a selection of cakes which I just had to try (one word – yum!). There is also a factory shop which sells seconds from the factory, and also products suitable for gifts.

Events are held throughout the year, with lots of activities available, especially for familiesP1010276 with children who are looking for a great day out. The factory has its own decorating studio open to the public, which gives you the opportunity to decorate your own piece of pottery, and to ‘Spot your own mug’. In addition, other events taking place at the factory are summer tea party packages, a courtyard party to celebrate our Queen’s Coronation, and packages for Father’s Day in June this year.

Overall, I would highly recommend the Emma Bridgewater Factory to anyone looking for a fun day out, and anyone who wishes to explore Stoke-on-Trent’s rich pottery heritage, as the Emma Bridgewater Factory is a prime example of this.

You can either book your factory tour by telephone or for more information visit our web page on www.visitstoke.co.uk

 

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Diamond JubileeThe Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is just around the corner in June 2012. Did you know that the manufacturers chosen to produce the fine china for the Royal College are based in Stoke-on-Trent? We’ve already put together a great Royal itinerary that you can download so you can see some of the commemorative ware actually being made. The tour takes in Moorcroft, Emma Bridgewater, Wedgwood Visitor Centre and Museum, and the Trentham Estate. Download your copy of the intinerary.

Don’t forget we are still running our ‘Does your gran look like the Queen’ competition. All you have to do to enter is to send in a picture of anyone you know who looks like the Queen. Click here for more details on how to enter and some of the great prizes.

Stoke-on-Trent creates crown jewels for for the Diamond Jubilee

Diamond JubileeStoke-on-Trent hopes to be one of the jewels in the crown in the run-up to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year. As World Capital of Ceramics we are aiming to be the destination of choice for anyone looking for distinctive ways to commemorate this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Wedgwood, Moorcroft and Emma Bridgewater are just some of the famous names where you can go behind the scenes to see the commemorative ware being created and where it’s possible to buy souvenirs and collectables in over 25 factory shops including Portmeirion, Churchill and Aynsley.

Follow in the footsteps of the Royal Family in Stoke-on-Trent at the Wedgwood Visitor Centre and Museum, Moorcroft Heritage Visitor Centre, Emma Bridgewater, Anysley China, Portmeirion, The Trentham Estate and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, which will also have its own special exhibition in 2012.

Diamon Jubilee, Royal WorcesterLast year’s Royal Wedding showed just how popular commemorative ware still is around the world.  And while that provided the nation’s pottery industry with a much needed boost, there was also a noticeable increase in the number of both domestic and overseas visitors who made their way toStoke-on-Trentand The Potteries.

It’s no accident that the manufacturers chosen to produce the official fine china chosen by Her Majesty The Queen for The Royal Collection are also based in Stoke-on-Trent.

Find out more by going to www.visitstoke.co.uk/royal.aspx.

Deck the Halls

This has got to be the place to come for all your Christmas Shopping. From dinner services to mugs, christmas decorations, casual dining, giftware and homeware, jugs and jewellery you are sure to find something for every difficult friend or relative. Maybe you need a new dinner service for this years christmas dinner? You will defiantely find one here. Check out Emma Bridgewaters Christmassy products or go along to the marquee sale at Portmeirion – on until Sunday 27th November. There are bargains galore with 25 pottery factory shops all over the City – so come and do your shopping here. 

Emma's Christmas table

A christmas table

Top things to do in Stoke-on-Trent for free!

Here are just a few ideas to keep everyone happy through the school holidays that don’t have to cost you lots of money. Enjoy!

  • Staffordshire Hoard at the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent City Centre.
    Staffordshire Hoard
    Staffordshire Hoard

    Discover the world famous Staffordshire Hoard now on permanent display at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery with enhanced interpretation for 2011. Also at the museum explore the history of the Potteries, including the world’s greatest collection of Staffordshire Ceramics.

10 reasons for visit the British Ceramics Biennial

  1. Enjoy afternoon tea at the Factory Refectory. No ordinary tearoom!  It is run by tea experts dedicated to bringing you the best cuppa alongside tempting homemade cakes, sandwiches, pies and soups.  
  2. Get some hints and tips from celebrity chef Brian Turner CBE. There are still tickets left for this special event on 23 October 2011.
  3. Buy your Christmas presents early. A special selling weekend has been scheduled for November 12/13, the final weekend of the BCB. 
  4. “Have-a-go” yourself at creating your own ceramic art by going along to one of the BCB workshops.
  5. The Great Wall….of Stoke-on-Trent! See the best of British industry on display.
  6. Visit the “Award” exhibition at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, to view the work of 24 artists and designers who have been specially selected.
  7. Explore the original Spode factory site.
  8. Invest in a ceramics star of the future at the “FRESH” exhibition on at the original Spode factory site. Can you spot the next Tracey Emin or Damian Hirst?
  9. See one of the premier art installations in the West Midlands this year. “Mould Store”, by the internationally acclaimed and world-renowned ceramics artist Philip Eglin
  10. Enjoy one of the associated events taking place across Stoke-on-Trent.