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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Discover Stoke-on-Trent’s past at The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery

 

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Today, I visited The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, which is one of the main visitor attractions in the Stoke-on-Trent area. With plenty of exhibits on display across 3 floors, this museum is a detailed insight into the historic and interesting past of Stoke-on-Trent and it’s pottery industries.

I found that the museum is easy to find, due to its location on Bethesda Street within Stoke-on-Trent’s City Centre – Hanley. There is plenty of parking nearby, and the closest car park I found to the attraction was the multi-storey car park on John Street (almost directly opposite the museum). This car park is just £3.50 to park on for the whole day, although you can pay cheaper prices for shorter times. If you are arriving by public transport and not by car however, the museum is also a very short walk away from the new bus station.

The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery is open to the public 7 days a week – 10am until 5pm from Monday to Saturday and 2pm until 5pm on Saturday. Admission to the museum is free; however you are encouraged to give donations if you wish to, as these are subsequently used to improve the Museum and Art Gallery and it’s collection.

I arrived at the museum just after 10am, and found out that you are allowed to take photographs anywhere in the museum, apart from inside the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition.

Beginning on the middle floor, I entered the first section of exhibits, which contained an informative look on wildlife and insects of past and present times, which reside in Staffordshire. I noticed that this section is very interactive, especially for children. ThereP1010298 were games, quizzes and things to touch and guess. In my opinion, these aspects will make this attraction a great one for children and families, as there are plenty of opportunities for children to learn about local and general history in a fun and interactive environment. Also in the wildlife section, there was information on things such as common birds, which can be found in home gardens, entitled the ‘Discovery Zone’.

The next section of the museum consisted of archaeological displays, that archaeologists have discovered in the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire area, including pottery and old ceramic pieces. Along with this, there are also old pictures of places in Stoke-on-Trent, which is very interesting as it enables you to see how iconic places looked in the past. In this section, there is also information on the Romans and Victorians, and how they lived. This was also interactive for children, and all cases had information attached explaining where the piece came from, and a brief history.

Next, was the Spitfire Gallery. Probably one of the most famous objects from Stoke-on-Trent built by Reginald Mitchell who lived in the city, this gallery in the museum features an actual Spitfire model on display, and fascinating information about it dotted around the room. You can also take photographs of the Spitfire, and can ask a member of the museum staff for assistance if you wish to take a picture from an elevated view.

A football theme is also prominent in the museum, appreciating the two football teams which reside in Stoke-on-Trent – Stoke City and Port Vale. Football strips from the past are on display, including a detailed history of both teams. There was also a TV showing video clips of Stoke-on-Trent’s teams, and interviews with local people about their memories. You can take away information sheets about Stoke City and ‘the £10 team’ of the past.

The following section of the museum was displaying what Stoke-on-Trent looked like in the past, and how the local people lived. In possibly the most interesting aspect of the museum in my opinion, there were replicas of different locations such as a traditional fish and chip shop (‘chippy’), a chemist, a pub and a typical family terraced house living room and kitchen. These displays were shown to represent what they would have looked like many years ago, which gives an interesting insight into the city and the reality of local people’s lives back then, when the pottery industry was thriving.

One of the main exhibitions in The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, and now a permanent fixture is the Staffordshire Hoard. The largest Anglo-Saxon hoard in the P1010314world, this exhibition is owned in conjunction with the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and has a selection of recently unearthed Anglo-Saxon treasure on display. There is plenty of informative information about the Anglo-Saxon people and the actual unearthing of the hoard. Around the hoard, as with the rest of the museum, there were various members of staff on hand to explain any aspect, and to answer any questions you may have, along with information sheets and iPads giving a detailed description of each piece included in the hoard.

As expected, the museum also has an Art Gallery, showcasing art work from many local artists, and including more famous names such as Lowry and John Currie. Ceramics are also on display – including a history of the pottery industry. There is information on how it is made, along with things such as a model of a famous ‘bottle kiln’, which in the past made up most of Stoke-on-Trent’s skyline, and there are still a few around today.

The Potteries Museum can also be enjoyed if you are in a group; however you have toP1010292 book a group tour in advance. The museum offers a café service, selling a wide selection of hot and cold drinks, along with a lunch menu. Additionally, if you are looking for something to take away with you, the museum also has a shop located in the foyer, selling Stoke-on-Trent souvenirs including a selection of mugs, cards, stationary, key rings and badges.

Overall, I would highly recommend including this attraction in your visit, as it is a very interesting and informative insight into the many aspects of the history of Stoke-on-Trent and the local areas, from the famous pottery industry, right through to the local people, football clubs and Anglo-Saxons.

For more information and to see a full list of events and exhibitions taking place at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, visit www.visitstoke.co.uk