September 28 2011
Getting under way on Friday September 30 is an event close to my heart. With an exciting programme of events and exhibitions running until November 13, the British Ceramics Biennial ticks the obvious boxes for someone with a penchant for pottery – the chance to see the ceramic creations of internationally renowned artists such as Tony Cragg and talented young graduates, artist-studio workshops, afternoon tea on the finest china – but it’s the event’s location of Stoke-on-Trent that really resonates. After all, the reason I know my Wedgwood from my Spode from my Burleigh is that I was brought up in this capital city of ceramics.
With a long and illustrious industrial history, Stoke-on-Trent is hosting the British Ceramics Biennial this year for the second time, and it’s a major draw for the city. Flexing its regenerative muscles, the nexus of the Biennial is the original Spode site, which stopped production in 2008 when the 1767-founded company went into administration. Here, visitors can glean an insight into manufacturing processes in the Spode Room (in 2009, the Portmeirion Group acquired the Spode brand, returning the manufacture of many items in the iconic Blue Italian range, third picture, to Stoke-on-Trent).
They can also browse the Fresh exhibition for new talent, and new purchases, from Jenny Backstrom’s installations of simple forms, some of which are unglazed (£1,000-£1,500) and Katherine Butler’s textured, knit-like sculptures (first picture, from £100) to Jill Shaddock’s Cluster collection of chic and useful vessels (£25-£100) and Amy Helena Clarke’s delicately patterned teacups and saucers (second picture, £35). Then, if inspiration strikes, there’s the chance to get behind the potter’s wheel and throw your own pot.
There are further exhibitions at the forward-looking AirSpace Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, where the bigger-name artists such as Julian Stair are on display – being in with a chance to win the Biennial’s £10,000 Award (the 2009 Award was won by local artist Neil Brownsword at a gala hosted by Grayson Perry). Plus there’s a host of talks, seminars and open weekends taking place across the city. They are all listed on the British Ceramics Biennial’s very nice-looking website, making it easy to plan a trip to the Potteries.