Last week was extraordinary. A 3 day whistle-stop tour of the manufactories of Stoke-on-Trent, the heartland of British Ceramics. We got a unique perspective on the history, the heritage that still stands the test of time, current best practice and the future of our industry. Starting with Emma Bridgewater, who was amazingly generous in her candor, sharing her experience of setting up a hand-made ceramics empire in the dying industrial embers of Stoke-on-Trent over 30 years ago. Go Emma! To a tour of Endeka Ceramics, which has been producing clay for the industry on its present site since the industrial revolution. Endeka are kindly sponsoring our next project by providing the Second Year CSM students with their eco once-fired clay and glaze, to get us to think about reducing our carbon footprint in our production methods. This was followed by the impressive Wedgwood factory, museum, shop and design studio, plus Johnson’s Tiles – ceramic making on a gargantuan scale, and last but not least Armitage Shanks / Ideal Standard who are steadily robotising their factories and producing 100’s of thousands of ‘pans’ and sinks each week.
The numbers of people involved in Stoke’s production is dwindling. For the big boys, robotisation is the only way to survive. Ideal Standard and Johnson’s tiles employ around 35 people to run their factory floors in any given shift, with the factory running 24 hrs a day 362 days of the year. While Emma Bridgewater’s USP is based on the handmade, and employs around 300 workers who run 3 shifts a day, manipulating the plaster casts and hand decorating the ware with hand-carved sponges to her English cottage-inspired style.
We got home exhausted but bubbling with ideas for Manufactoring and Materiality. Watch this space …. Looks like my project will be a rye challenge to Take-Away food culture, and reflect on the importance of sharing home cooked meal – all in ceramics of course.