A brief History of the Visionary Clarice Cliff August 27, 2015 – Posted in: Ceramics – Tags:

clarice cliffClarice Cliff is held in the highest regard as one, if not the most, influential ceramics artists of the 20th century. Her ceramic pieces are so stunning and imaginative that her work is coveted worldwide and is only increasing in value. Here I present a brief glance at the formative years of this visionary of her field.
From tea cups to sugar bowls, vases to water pitchers and beer steins to Jazz figurines she did it all and she did it with such style.

Born on January 20th 1899 in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, Clarice attended a different school to her siblings, which many consider to have been quite a factor in her strong independence and approach to her work. After school she would often visit her aunts who were employed as hand painters at a local pottery company.

By the age of 13, Cliff decided she wished to begun forging a path within her chosen industry so she approached the company “The Potteries” at Hollinshead & Kirkham. They employed her as an apprentice enameler. Her first tasks were as a gilder adding the gold lines to finished ceramic work. When she mastered this, she changed roles to learn freehand painting all the while studying art and sculpture at Burslem School of Art in the evenings.

It was in 1916 that Clarice received what would be the defining break in her young career. The firm, AJ Wilkinson, employed Clarice as an apprentice lithographer. Her talent was immediately obvious.
In 1924 Clarice was granted a second apprenticeship primarily as a ‘modeler’ but AJ Wilkinson also now began to tap into her design prowess. The company, as most ceramics firms were, primarily were producing Victorian style ware so imagine their shock and surprise at what Clarice Cliff was to introduce them to.

By 1927 Clarice’s prodigious talent was rewarded with her own studio at Newport Pottery (a company owned by Wilkinson). At Newport, Clarice was permitted to apply her freehand design style to the defective ‘glost’ (white ware). Imperfections were camouflaged with patterns of triangles which she coined as “Bizarre”. On-glaze enamel colours were used allowing for brighter, more vibrant colour patterns to be employed.

These initial pieces were so against the conservative grain the Ewart Oakes, the companies senior salesman, was skeptical they would even sell let alone be popular. To his surprise he took a car load to a major stockist and their popularity was instant success.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Key Dates:

  • Clarice begins work at age 13 in ‘The Potteries’.
  • Moves to the AJ Wilkinson’s in 1916.
  • Clarice given Newport studio. The famous ‘Bizarre’ wares launched 1927.
  • Married then boss, Colley Shorter 17 years her senior, in 1940.
  • Factory produces Clarice’s pieces right up to Following Colley Shorter’s death Clarice sells the factory to Midwinter’s.
  • Clarice retires to Chetwynd House.
  • The first Clarice Cliff exhibition takes place at Brighton in 1972 and Clarice provides comments for the catalogue.
  • Clarice Cliff dies suddenly at Chetwynd House on 23rd October 1972.