Did you know Norwich is home to the world's biggest teapot collection?
- Credit: Norfolk Museums Service
The growing interest in ceramics is not confined to pottery classes; people are also flocking to gallery exhibitions
The biggest collection of British ceramic teapots in the world is owned by Norwich Castle. It is the proud possessor of almost 3,000 teapots. Together they help tell a 300-year story of a nice cup of tea (and tea parties and the tea trade) through ceramics.
The collection includes pieces from the only porcelain factory in East Anglia, in Lowestoft. One miniature tea set made in the 1770s might have been a sample for a salesman or a child’s toy.
Francesca Vanke, a senior curator at Norwich Castle, said: “There are teapots in the collection of all shapes and sizes. Teapots are complex objects to make, but they offer the potter wonderful opportunities for creativity.”
She said early teapots were often small because tea was so expensive. One earthenware teapot in the Castle’s collection was made in Staffordshire around 1750. “The rounded shape, with the dragon on the lid, imitates the Chinese teapots which were being imported into Britain at the time. But its marbled surface pattern was an entirely Staffordshire invention, intended to imitate the semi-precious stone agate. This pot is very small, reflecting the fact that at this date, tea was so expensive it was only ever drunk in tiny quantities. Once taxes were lowered, teapots increased in size!”
The 3,000 teapots were given to the museum by two collectors. Edward Bulwer gave his collection of early 18th century teapots to the Castle in 1947 and Philip Miller’s collection of more than 2,000 teapots, focused on including the work of as many English makers as possible, was bought in 1992.
The Sainsbury Centre's ceramics collection
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At the Sainsbury Centre the ceramics collection spans more than 5,000 years – with a particularly important collection of mid and late 20th century ceramics.
Lisa Sainsbury, who with her husband Robert donated the art collection which launched the gallery, was fascinated by 20th century studio ceramics, and began collecting pottery in the 1950s.
Her first purchase was by Lucie Rie, an Austrian-born British potter who was initially inspired by her uncle’s collection of Roman pottery. Rie became renowned for beautiful, brightly coloured, delicate, modernist vases, bottles and bowls. Her studio has been reconstructed in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s ceramics gallery and a remarkable group of her pots, as well as examples of her war-time work creating ceramic buttons, are highlights of the Sainsbury Centre’s collection.
The gallery, on the University of East Anglia campus, also has the largest public collection of work by Rie’s protegee Hans Coper, known for his sculptural vases, bowls and candle holders.
Sainsbury Centre exhibitions curator Natalie Baerselman le Gros, said the current ceramic boom might be due to an increasing preference for hand-made rather mass-produced objects. “We are seeing a greater appreciation of the hand-made object across the crafts, with younger people seeing the value and investing in unique story-telling products, expressing individuality and supporting smaller local businesses,” she reveals. “The profiles of makers such as Grayson Perry and Magdalene Odundo have contributed to a growing interest in ceramic and exhibitions in museums and art galleries demonstrate that ceramics can be much more than the mug you drink from.”
The Sainsbury Centre collection, in the East End gallery, is free to visit and also includes pieces by ceramists including Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada, James Tower, Ewen Henderson, Claudi Casanovas, Rupert Spira, Jennifer Lee, Julian Stair, Sara Radstone, Gabrielle Koch and Ian Godfrey.
Grayson Perry exhibition arrives in Norwich this autumn
In September the long-awaited, pandemic-delayed exhibition of Grayson Perry’s pots arrives in Norwich.
Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years includes the pots, plates and sculptures that made Perry’s name – and shows that pottery has the power to shock as well as address radical issues and human stories.
He created them between 1982 and 1994, using pottery to address apparently unlikely themes of gender, identity, fetishism, humour, politics, the art world – and his home county of Essex.
The pioneering pots have never been exhibited together before. Today Perry is renowned for his tapestry, social commentary and television documentaries as well as the pots which were his first foray into the art world.
The exhibition involved a public appeal to locate the early works and Chris Stephens, director of the Bath museum where it opened, said he had been overwhelmed by the response from across the country. “We were thrilled with the range of irreverent, witty, and downright explicit artworks that came together to form the show. It is a fantastic celebration of Grayson's work,” he said.
The pots chart Grayson’s transition from playful pastiches of historic pottery to his unique storytelling and social commentary style.
The artist said: “This show has been such a joy to put together and to see these early works again, many of which I have not seen since the 80s. It is as near as I will ever get to meeting myself as a young man, an angrier, priapic me with huge energy but a much smaller wardrobe.”
Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years runs from September 19 to January 30 2022.