Sunday, June 8, 2014

Clarice Cliff, Queen of British dinnerware, and “Rural Scenes” by Royal Staffordshire

This might as well have been titled “Confessions of a Bakery Babe: I have a problem with British transferware!” I adore it. I see it in vintage stores and my heart starts pittering and pattering. Royal Staffordshire. Johnson Brothers. Anything that looks like it belongs on Beatrix Potter's teatime table, and I’m hooked. So I am guilty of scouring the kitchen section of vintage and thrift stores, turning over plates and reading labels. I know just enough to know that it isn’t common to see Royal Staffordshire dinnerware that has a person’s name signed on the bottom.


Who then, I wondered, was Glarice Gliff? No, scratch that. Who was Clarice Cliff? This was while hunched over at a vintage shop, peering down at a set of dusty and well-loved purple lithographs on Staffordshire china that had pointy handles on the tea cups.

A little research soon paid off. Clarice Cliff has been called “one of the most influential ceramics artists of the 20th Century.” ( Born in 1899, she lived into the 1970s, and rose to prominence in the potteries area of England as a painter of pottery (yes, that really was a career in the early 1900s). She advanced to run a team of painters, all of whom produced hand painted, whimsical designs with bright, bold colors, and a distinctly artistic feel. 

One of many book that has been written about Clarice
That said, I’m not wild about the designs that she is most prized for. But I like her attitude. She was quoted in an interview as saying, “Having a little fun at my work does not make me any less of an artist, and people who appreciate truly beautiful and original creations in pottery are not frightened by innocent tomfoolery.” A woman after my own heart! 

Clarice, herself

But WWII changed Britain, obviously, as well as its tastes in dinnerware. And Clarice moved on to designing transferware for shell-shocked Britainers who yearned for the innocent, pastoral “good ol’ days” of the 1800s. The “Rural Scenes” design for Royal Staffordshire is considered “stuffy” compared to her early endeavors. Well, if the Bakery Babe be stuffy, so goes it. I think these scenes of woodcutters, beehives, cows, and chickens are utterly charming. 

And the purple color tempts me to fall into a mania of collecting that would likely take up a few decades. I am serious. Something this lovely cannot stay in my house, or I will spend the next thirty years hunting down Rural Scenes teacups and bone plates, until I have a complete set. First things first, my dove. There are still a few odd hundred or so pieces of pink transferware that I need to complete my budding collection! 

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