CERAMICS – Pattern Book

For nearly two decades Prf Neil Brownsword has highlighted endangered forms of industrial craft specific to the ceramics industry of his home town – Stoke-on-Trent. His residency at the V&A in 2017-18 was driven forward by the museum’s collection of 18th and early 19th century North Staffordshire ceramics and pattern books that convey and document production methods. The residency, supported by the Korean Cultural Centre UK, was in collaboration with Juree Kim to explore interactions with site, place and indigenous ceramic practice. It culminated in production of “Pattern Book”, a new performance installation in collaboration with Paul Holdway in April 2018.

The artistic and technological advances that evolved out of this region’s early industrialisation, were greatly influenced by the borrowing and assimilation of styles from East Asia. Prof Brownsword revisited examples of Staffordshire Chinoiserie, with a particular fascination for the ‘slippage’ that occurs via this mode of cultural appropriation, due to variants of skill or unavailability/substitution of specific materials.Chinoiserie sketch, Pattern Book, Neil Brownsword 2018

To better understand and directly work with some of these early reproductions, Prof Brownsword collected his own examples akin to those held in the collections of the V&A via online auction websites. Decorative surfaces unique to ceramics production have been digitally extracted from their form, via scanning technologies that embrace the ‘glitch’ as a means to transform instead of duplicate. The deconstruction and reimagining of this archive has informed the creation of Prof Brownsword’s own pattern book. Elements will be replicated via traditional industrial craft systems through a series of live events.

Master copper plate engraver Paul Holdway who worked for over 40 years at the former Spode factory, has been specially commissioned to engrave one of Prof Brownsword’s adaptations of a Staffordshire Chinoiserie prototype. At the live events, the intimate space where actions that constitute the engraving are performed will be amplified, providing a rare opportunity to observe an industrial craft no longer practiced. Through this process the immediacy of the digital is returned to the slow paced tactile and material interactions of handwork. Alongside this traditional mode of image re-production for ceramic manufacture, various iterations of Prof Brownsword’s pattern book, together with a taxonomy of his original eBay collection will be on display.

Deemed outmoded or economically unviable, much of the traditional know-how retained by a senior generation of industrial artisans in North Staffordshire remains in danger of being lost. South Korea’s safeguarding of intangible heritage associated with its own ceramic history, has ensured that associated skills are maintained for future generations. Prof Brownsword’s practice continues to explore aspects of North Staffordshire’s intangible heritage that remain worthy of comparable status and preservation.

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