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Table of Contents
The late 19th century represents a high point in the development of ceramics in Europe. Having put aside Victorian revivalism, and the decorative aspects of 1870s orientalism, potters in France, Germany, Scandinavia, the US and Britain were united in their search for new frontiers and new styles not dependent upon the past. Armed with the fruits of several decades of advanced technological study, notably by French ceramicists, potters turned their attention to the creation of a style of ware in which new and complex glazes were of primary importance.
In 1898, in partnership with his father, a leading figure in the world of art education, William Howson Taylor established in Smethwick, near Birmingham, a small art pottery that was later to take the name of the great Victorian writer, critic and historian, John Ruskin. From its early days this pottery acquired a reputation for the production of high quality wares whose decoration was based on adventurous, modern and abstract glaze effects. Awards at international exhibitions, such as St Louis in 1904 and Brussels in 1910 made the pottery well-known throughout the world, and examples made their way into important public and private collections in Britain, France, Germany, the US and Japan.
The Ruskin Pottery made several types of ware, both decorative and functional. First, there was pottery with plain or mottled so-called souffle glazes, in dramatically varied colors; second were the ranges of lustre glaze effects and third, and most important, there were the high-fired flambe pieces. These, individually made and each quite unique in its remarkable color effects, were produced from about 1904 to 1935, when William Howson Taylor finally gave up the pottery and retired. The inspiration, for shapes and glazes, was partly oriental, partly European, and partly contemporary, but the end product was totally original, its diversity and excellence placing William Howson Taylor among the great potters of the world.
There were major exhibitions in the 1930s, following William Howson Taylor's death, and in the 1970s his work was celebrated at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. However, little has been written about the Ruskin Pottery. By nature a private and rather secretive man, Taylor made sure, shortly before his death in 1935, that all records, recipes and personal documents were destroyed. This has meant that he has been poorly served by history, a shadowy figure whose work has been obscured by his better known, but less important contemporaries. There is no monograph or catalogue to give him his rightful place in ceramic history, yet during his lifetime he enjoyed an international reputation enhanced by frequent exhibitions.
Based on detailed original research, this book tells for the first time the full story of the Ruskin Pottery, its products, its people, and the roles played by William Howson Taylor and his father in the creation of a remarkable and grossly undervalued range of ceramics. With access to the most important private collections of Ruskin pottery and to previously unknown documents, the authors and the photographer have worked together to tell the history of a creative venture whose importance in its period is far greater than ceramic.
This book adds greatly to the knowledge and appreciation of a most adventurous period in the history of art and design in Europe. It will be of interest to collectors, dealers and experts in museums, galleries and auction houses and also to anyone attracted by 19th and 20th century decorative arts as a whole. For the specialist, and for those generally interested in the history of color and design.