We are so excited, The Colour Room is released at the cinemas today and we can't wait to see our very own Will Farmer, will you be watching? can you spot him?
Will was so delighted to have been invited to the premiere, please see the photographs of the evening and was recently asked to write and article about the film in this month's Radio Times, if you missed the article no problem, read below.
Clarice Cliff - A Bizarre Life - by Will Farmer
I vividly remember the first time Clarice and I were thrown together! I was just eleven years old and was traipsing through the rows of stalls at the Newark Antique fair with my parents, the rain had pushed us into the tented areas and there on a table was the most “Bizarre” cup and saucer I had ever seen. Its solid triangular handle and bright paintwork were an instant draw that took all of my hard saved £15-00 spending money.
It never ceases to amaze me how people instantly recognise the work of this dynamic and driven career girl of the 1930s however opinions tend to be strong which ever side of the fence they fall, from those ready to defend her to the bitter end against those wishing the denounce her as nothing more than an amateur, naive decorator!
To the dissenters it is one thing not to like the work of this hugely important 20th century designer it is another thing altogether not to appreciate it for its academic qualities and artistic skill. Over recent years a huge amount of new research has re-appraised Clarice the designer, businesswoman and most importantly the artist.
A story years in the making….
Hers was a true rags to riches success story founded on hard work, determination and an unwavering clear vision. A modern and fashionable woman of her time who showed she had the skill to be a successful business woman.
Clarice was born in 1899 in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent and grew up in a typical Potteries working class family, as one of eight children she was expected to go out to work at the earliest opportunity. Clarice’s career like many others was to be found in the workshop of one of the local potteries around her.
In 1916 Clarice found herself settled at the A.J.Wilkinson pottery works and it was here that she was to stay and flourish under the guidance of managing Director Colley Shorter. Clarice’s work had been brought to the attention of Colley in 1920 by the paint shop director and it was decided that she should be allowed to develop her ideas and develop she did.
Over the coming years Clarice was challenged to prove herself and she grasped the opportunity with both hands proving all too quickly that she was a force to be reckoned with. Together with a small team of paintresses she sparked a new mood in ceramic art, gone were the old fashioned floral prints replaced with bold geometric patterns unashamedly abstract and quite obviously individual. All that remained was an identity; on reflection Clarice announced that her work would be “Bizarre” not only in design but name also.
By the start of 1930 the kilns were manned 24 hours a day and by 1931 the Bizarre team had grown to 150. The early 1930s saw her fame rocket along with the fortunes of the firm. Throughout this period Clarice continued to expand the design books creating numerous landscape scenes with her whimsical cottages, large blousy florals and of course her most striking wares, the Abstracts. On reflection today we can see how Clarice was inspired by the high art movements which she saw on her travels and in fashionable journals; her wares perfectly display the transference of abstract movements’ ideas into everyday household items for the design conscious consumer of the day. Such was the demand for Clarice's work that at its peak her wares were being exported around the globe as far away as the Americas and Australia.
During a time of great depression Clarice excelled and found fortune in the Avant Garde designs she bought to the English home. As an industrial designer she had great intuition for what the public wanted and between 1928 and 1936 at a time of high Art Deco her shapes, colours and patterns delivered where many of her competitors fell short.
While many others looked back Clarice grabbed the “new” with both hands, Art Deco, Modernism, Cubism. With an open mind and positive attitude she recognised the best qualities in these movements and developed them into commercially viable domestic wares.
During her life time Clarice was never truly acknowledged by her peers; it was only after her death in 1972 that she began to receive the recognition she so duly deserved. Over the following years Clarice’s work began to re-appear on the market creating a new following of collectors and enthusiasts. It became clear that Clarice’s vast legacy of pattern and form were to illuminate her as one of the most important ceramic designers of the 20th century.
Here come the girls….
Nearly a hundred years on from the launch of Bizarre Ware, Clarice is as much of a household name as she was back in the 1930s, her work continues to inspire contemporary designers, is widely written about and discussed and is even now part of the curriculum in schools across the country.
Non of this would be possible had those early pioneers not begun to re-evaluate the immense contribution Clarice Cliff made to the domestic landscape through the interwar period.
A moment of recognition must be given to the likes of Peter Wentworth-Shields & Kay Johnson, who published the first ever book on Clarice in collaboration with
L’Odeon on the Fulham Road in London, Beverley who was one of the first specialist dealers of her work and Len Griffin and Louis Miesel who’s research for the ‘The Bizarre Affair’ awakened my passion for this landmark designer.
Len Griffins dedication to telling Clarice’s story unlocked far more than just the appreciation for her work. Len was at the forefront of a new wave of passionate collectors determined to secure every last fragment of her life before time would take the stories with it. One of his greatest achievements was to locate as many of her surviving ‘Bizarre Girls’ and record their memories that we may understand quite how remarkable her story was. During the 1980s Len placed an advert in the local press around Stoke on Trent asking if anyone had information to share about Clarice Cliff and her life.
No one could have ever believed the response as one by one original paintresses came forward to be reunited once again! This single act proved pivotal with a deluge of facts, stories and reminiscences which have been documented for all to enjoy.
I for one will never forget meeting Elsie Nixon, the original Delecia girl who was filled with love and giggles, Rene Dale whose tales would bring laughter to all around or the formidable Marjorie Higginson who was one of Clarice’s foremost decorators.
Clarice on the small and large screen….
Since 2004 I have been part of the BBC Antiques Roadshow team travelling across the British Isles seeking out rare finds and over the years I have been fortunate enough to present Clarice’s work on many ocassions. Of all the wonderful examples of her work one piece stands head and shoulders above the rest. Last year we recorded at Forty Hall in Enfield and I was presented with not only the best piece of Clarice Cliff I have ever seen on the Antiques Roadshow but one of the best pieces I have ever seen in my career.
The piece was an 18” ribbed charger created in 1930 and decorated in a design called Sunburst. The piece was the perfect storm of everything you would wish to see in scale, condition and of course design. The wide flat plaque was impeccably hand painted with radiating panels of red, orange and yellow, clearly displaying influences from the Art Deco era dramatically painted onto the surface of a piece of domestic ceramic. As bold as the design was the price, £10,000, which even now, just a year on seems modest! The appetite for pieces of this caliber show no signs of abating as the interest in her work continues to grow.
The release of The Colour Room beautifully represents The Potteries of the 1920s & 30s with the smog filled industrial landscape punctuated with bursts of colour from the wares Clarice created. In addition, Phoebe Dynevors portrayal perfectly displays Clarice’s drive and determination to succeed! Clarice was seemingly blind to the ‘constraints’ of her life and broke through social and gender boundaries of the day to place herself at the heart of an industry dominated by men.
Clarice’s success was in no small part supported by Colley Shorter, owner of A.J.Wilkinsons who was himself something of a character! His admiration of her unique talent was pivotal to her success and furthermore proved to be catalyst for their burgeoning romance. Colley was captivated by the young Clarice and this soon developed in to the affair which runs through the film as a subtly played sub-plot between Phoebe Dynevor and Matthew Goode.
The film will no doubt create renewed interest in a market that has steadily grown over the last forty years and hopefully with it a whole new collector base keen to own a small part of this designers inspirational legacy. More importantly it will educate the uninitiated and display the immense talent of a Staffordshire lady whose name has become known affectionately (or not) in homes across the country.
In 1931, the Pottery Gazette had hailed Clarice as "a pioneer of advanced thought" and assured buyers that her work represented heirlooms of the future. Today salerooms across the world have seen pieces of her work realize figures not only in the thousands but into the tens of thousands, it would appear that the Pottery Gazette were indeed correct!
Amid all the growing excitement amongst diehard fans and the rising interest from new I feel it only appropriate to give Clarice the last word……“Having a little fun at my work does not make me any less of an artist”
As someone who has read, researched and told Clarices story for over 35 years the news that a film was in the making was like a dream come true! Clarice’s story is filled with more glorious plot points than any filmmaker could wish for, drive, determination, social and gender challenges and of course lets not forget romance!
A press release back in March started a chain of events which rapidly gathered pace! A few well placed emails from my colleague resulted in a zoom meeting with the production designer, Damien Creagh and Set designer Marian Murray, and then, well lets just say things move quickly in movie land!
An understandably secretive and guarded production team were interested to know my thoughts on some key elements of the film, locations, plot points and most importantly pots! A large number of new wares had been produced in the Clarice cliff style, but would they cut the mustard on camera?
Clarice has always been a corner stone of my life, a place to which I always return, so give me the chance to talk about her, share stories or just rattle on well, wind me up and let me go! After an hours Clarice chat it became apparent to the team that my love of Clarice ran deep, very deep and over the following days emails pinged back and forth followed by further zoom meetings until that fateful moment when Damien said those fateful words ‘how can we ever thank you?’. Well, not one to be backwards at coming forwards my reply spilled out ‘thats easy, let me be in the film!’, the rest as they say is history!
I’ve long championed Clarice Cliff, collected her work and shared her story but to be so involved in this project means that some small part of me has now become forever entwined in something that has been so influential on my life and career!
Posted on 12 November 2021