Burslem School of Art – notable students
City College is housed in the historic Burslem School of Art, which has had a notable impact upon the history of Stoke-on-Trent. Many students of the School went on to become well-known artists and designers, with others less well-recognised, but equally important in the development of ceramic manufacturing in the city.
Here are just a few notable past students:
Clarice Cliff (20 January 1899 – 23 October 1972) was born in Tunstall, and started working in the pottery industry at the age of 13 as a gilder. She moved to A. J. Wilkinson’s at Newport in 1916, and studied art and sculpture at the School of Art in the evenings. She quickly became a designer at the company, and after being sent to study at the Royal College of Art in Kensington, was in 1928 given her own studio at the neighbouring Newport Pottery, which had been bought by Colley Shorter, one of the owners of A. J. Wilkinson’s. Here, Cliff decorated pieces in simple, bold triangle patterns, in a style that she called ‘Bizarre’. This became a surprise success for the company, followed soon after by the famous ‘Crocus’ pattern. In 1930, Cliff was appointed Art Director to Newport Pottery and A. J. Wilkinson, and throughout this decade she rode the crest of the Art Deco wave, producing popular shapes and designs that gave her an unprecedented level of popularity and publicity in the national press. In 1940 she married Colley Shorter, and during and after WWII Cliff assisted with the management of the company, but was unable to continue design work to the same extent due to a demand for less decorative wares. After her husband’s death, Cliff sold the company to Midwinter Pottery in 1964, retiring from ceramics, but was by this time an icon of the Art Deco movement, and sought after by collectors across the world. To commemorate Clarice Cliff’s time at the School of Art, one of our teaching spaces now shares her name!
Susie Cooper (1902-1995) was one of the UK’s most prolific and successful ceramic designers. Her career spanned over seven decades, and she is one of the most famous students of Burslem School of Art. Unable to study at the Royal College of Art, London, for a career in fashion because she had limited industry experience, it was suggested by Gordon Forsyth (Principal of the School of Art) that she should work for local potter A.E.Gray to meet the college requirements. In 1922, Susie joined the company to train as a painter, but was promoted to resident designer, and her career rapidly grew from here. She started Susie Cooper Pottery in October 1929, increasing production over the years to meet demand, and eventually sold the company to Wedgwood in 1966, where she worked as a designer. Her work now is highly sought after, and her name is used for one of City College’s teaching rooms.
Jessie Van Hallen
Jessie Van Hallen (1902 – 1983) was born in Wolstanton and studied at the School of Art. She was a highly talented designer, and in 1930 joined the Burslem-based pottery company Wade Ceramics Ltd. She stayed here for 10 years, and became renowned for her creation of highly collectible figurines of garden gnomes, flowers, animals and ladies, based on celebrities and film stars.
Frances Richards, (1 August 1903 – 14 February 1985) née Clayton, was born in Burslem, and at the age of 16 began an apprenticeship as a painter and pottery designer at Paragon China. She also attended the School of Art, and in 1926 won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London, where she met her future husband, the artist Ceri Richards (1903-1971). While studying there, she would frequent the South Kensington Museum (now known as the V&A) to get inspiration from the collection. Between 1928 and 1939 Richards was Head of Design at Camberwell School of Art, and in the early 1930s received her first professional commission. During WWII the family moved to Cardiff, but Richards stayed in London as she was required to teach. Her works from this time share a sense of isolation and solitude, which gradually was replaced after the war with brighter colours and saw her begin to produce embroideries. In the late-1940s she began to teach embroidery while working at Camberwell School of Art, and taught at Chelsea School of Art from 1947-1959. Many of Richards’ works were published in books, and some of her drawings and paintings can now be seen in the V&A and Tate.
Victor Skellern (1909-1966) was born in Fenton, and trained at Burslem and Hanley School of Art, under Gordon Forsyth and Percy Lloyd respectively. Whilst studying, he joined Wedgwood at Etruria, where he worked in the Design Department. In 1930 he won a scholarship to study stained glass and its production at the Royal College of Art, London, and during his four years there he developed a keen understanding of Industrial Design. In 1934 he returned to the Etruria factory and became Art Director, beginning an association with Wedgwood (which in 1940 relocated to Barlaston) that was to last for 31 years, until his retirement in 1965. During his time there, he was instrumental in the production of new patterns, shapes, bodies and glazes.
Muriel Pemberton (8th September 1909 – 30th July 1993) was a fashion designer, painter and academic, who has been said to have invented art-school fashion training in Britain. She was born in Tunstall to artistic parents – her father was a skilled amateur painter as well as a photographic innovator, and her mother had been a professional singer and designer. At 15, Pemberton became the youngest student to attend the School of Art, and in 1928 she obtained a scholarship to attend the School of Painting at London’s Royal College of Art. Here, she persuaded the head of the school of design, Professor Ernest William Tristram, to introduce Fashion, and she was asked to design the curriculum for this course. In 1931, she was awarded the RCA’s first ever Diploma in Fashion, following which she begun teaching fashion drawing at St Martin’s School of Art. Almost solely through her own efforts, this part-time position expanded, and Pemberton became head of the first Faculty of Fashion and Design in Britain. By WWII, Pemberton’s innovative approach to teaching fashion – which gave the subject it a proper place in the art college curriculum, and included aspects of practical tailoring skills, artistic and design skills, and understanding of fashion history, combined with an experimental attitude – had attracted international attention, and her methods were taken up in the teaching of the subject across Europe. In her teaching Pemberton inspired many fashion designers, and helped to make London a global fashion hub.
Margaret (Peggy) Davies
Margaret (Peggy) Davies (1920-1999) was one of Royal Doulton’s most highly regarded figure modellers. Born in Burslem, she contracted tuberculosis at a young age and spent a long time in hospital. At 12 she won a scholarship to Burslem School of Art and she studied full time for several years until family circumstances forced her to seek employment before her course ended. She found a part-time assistant position with ceramic designer Clarice Cliff, and in 1939 took a position with Royal Doulton whilst at the same time setting up a small workshop at home. During WWII a bomb partly destroyed her home, and she joined the war effort, becoming a nurse. Afterwards, she worked freelance under contract to Royal Doulton, and produced a large number of new figure models, specialising in figurines of ladies, children and historical figures. After her retirement from Royal Doulton, she kept designing figures and character jugs for Pascoe and Company, and her work is in high demand from collectors across the world.
John Shelton (1923-1993), born John Hancock, gained a scholarship to the Junior Art Department of Burslem School of Art at the age of 14, and moved into the Senior Art Department in 1939. In 1941 he left to carry out war-related work, rejoining his friends Arthur Berry and Norman Cope at the School of Art the following year. He left to attend the Slade School of Fine Art in 1945, but he only stayed here until March 1946, when he then moved into teaching in Ramsgate, and attended briefly the Margate School of Art. Shelton then resumed his study at the Slade from 1948-50, and by this time he had changed his name from the family Hancock to Shelton, after the area in which he grew up. Until 1954, Shelton shared several London studios and was part of a silk screen ceramic transfer business, before moving to Burslem. He lived on Newcastle Street, and shared a studio on Porthill Bank with his friend Arthur Berry, who influenced his early works. Throughout his life, Shelton was a prolific painter and ceramic artist, producing many works in particular based upon the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The influence of Picasso can also be seen in many of his artworks, both on canvas and in clay, and his work was displayed in a number of exhibitions during his lifetime. In his later years, Shelton dropped the surname, signing his work simply ‘John’. Some of his works can be seen in the Potteries Museum, and many of his works are in the National Collection (published online via the BBC Your Paintings project).
Norman Cope (29th June 1925 – 19th December 1943) became an Apprentice Designer at Spode when he left school, but he was dissatisfied with this, and from 1938 became a pupil at the School of Art. He progressed from the Junior Art Department in 1940, an around this time he started to produce savage, expressionistic work. Some of this reflected his revulsion to the violence of the war. In October 1943 Cope was accepted into the Edinburgh College of Art on a Scholarship, and remained in contact with his friends from Burslem, the artists John Shelton and Arthur Berry, during this move. That Christmas, Cope returned to Burslem to attend the School of Art Christmas Ball, but it was during the course of this event that he fell backwards down the stairs. With no external injuries, his friends and staff put him up for the night to recover, but he died the following morning. In recent years, his artwork has been displayed by Barewall Art Gallery, with more examples of his talent available on their website: www.barewall.co.uk/collections/norman-cope
Arthur Berry (1925–1994) was one of the most well-known artists associated with Burslem School of Art. He was born in Smallthorne and studied here as a student, before moving on to study at the Royal College of Art during WWII. After the war, he became an art teacher in London and Manchester, but eventually moved back to Stoke-on-Trent to teach at the School of Art, where he stayed until 1985 (by which time the School of Art was a branch of North Staffordshire Polytechnic, which later became Staffordshire University). As well as a teacher, Berry was also a prolific painter – being compared to the artist L.S.Lowry in both style and subject matter – and writer. He had his first play performed in 1976, and became known for both his plays and radio monologues. His paintings and recordings of his broadcasts can be purchased from Barewall Art Gallery, and his name is now used for City College’s art room.
William Bowyer RA
William Bowyer RA (25 May 1926 – 1 March 2015) was a portrait and landscape painter who was born in Leek, and attended the School of Art for evening classes during WWII whilst working as a miner. In 1945 Bowyer started to train at the Royal College of Art in London, after which he taught at Gravesend Technical College and School of Art until 1951. Here one of his students was the future pop artist Peter Blake. Bowyer became a member of the Royal Academy in 1981, and it was at this point that he left his teaching post as head of fine art at Maidstone College of Art, Kent, and started to paint full-time. His first solo show wasn’t held until 2003, but two of his portraits had been purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 1988, and his bold work was popular throughout his career.