Collection

Ruskin Pottery Lamp Base

Collection: Branded

Category: Ceramics

Date: Circa 1920s

Designer: William Howson Taylor

Nationality of Designer: British

Manufacturer: Ruskin Pottery

Manufacturers Location: Smethwick, West Midlands (U.K)

Material: Stoneware, crystaline glazed

Dimensions: Height 26.5 cm x Width 11 cm

Purchase Price: £22

Abstract:

Art Deco crystaline lamp base

Provenance:

Known shape and colourway – marked by hand to the base

Personal history/nominator:

"No Ruskin collection would be complete without a few pieces of Ruskin Pottery – both Brantwood and the Ruskin Museum feature collections. The Pottery had no real connection with Ruskin, it merely had permission to use his name and the bulk of production was carried out well after Ruskin’s death. I like the tenuous connection and the idea that the pottery and its production is somehow connected to and endorsed by Ruskin - so grey. I particularly like the lamp stands made early in the days of electricity, an uncomfortable fusion of modernity and craft. The Pottery was essentially/principally Art Deco in its style".

Adam Sutherland

Adaptions/renovations:

None, good condition

Why it's in the Collection:

In a similar vein to the Mallet vase and the Ruskin Cigar Box also in the Lawson Park collection, the lamp base falls into the Branded category as a tasteful version of celebrity endorsement. 

About the Designer/Maker:

William Howson Taylor (1876 – 1935) founded the Birmingham Tile and Pottery Works in 1898 with his father, Edward Taylor. The factory was located at 173-174 Oldbury Road, Smethwick. In 1902 Howson Taylor renamed the pottery after his idol, John Ruskin, as he believed they held similar ideals of quality and beauty with an apparent respect for individuals within his factories. In 1912, Howson Taylor’s father died and he took sole control of the factory. 

Howson Taylor was influenced by Dresser and Japanese design, specialising in exotic glazes and high fired flambé wares. Many of his pieces were re-glazed multiple times with bases often ‘ground off’. Many of the fabled glazes are just multiple dipping and the flambé and high fired glazes where attempts to replicate existing Chinese and Japanese glazes which are now available in any high street glaze store.

However,in a most ungracious act Howson Taylor, determined that his special effects remained a secret, took his miracle glaze recipes to the grave with him. It is said, that he burnt the formula and put a curse on anyone using the name 'Ruskin' for pottery. None of his workers subsequently betrayed their employers' confidence which shows the rapport which had been built up between the workforce and their boss. After Howson’s death, Ruskin Pottery ceased production.

 

 

About the Manufacturer:

As well as the vases and bowls Ruskin Potteries were also incorporated into fine jewellery and metalware which was produced in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter. At the St Louis Centennial exposition in 1904 and also in Milan in 1906, the Ruskin pots began to collect awards and later Liberty's of London became important customers.

The Ruskin Pottery factory employed a small and loyal workforce, many of whom were related to each other and stayed throughout the factory’s fifteen years of production. At weekends there would even be charabanc (coach) outings to the Clent or Walton Hills, with picnics, music and boxes of Brownies. 

The workers were encouraged to search the natural world around them for inspiration. You can see evidence of this in the colour scheme of the glazes. For example, a pink hawthorn along with gorse yellows or a harebell blue.

When the men from the pottery factory were conscribed during the First World War, Howson kept their jobs open, presenting each ex-serviceman with a hand-made suit on his return. Howson could well have afforded a Rolls-Royce but chose instead to ride through Smethwick each evening on his bike, delivering his pottery designs to art shops in Birmingham, such as the The Ruskin Gallery on Paradise Street.

Violet Stevens daughter of the head turner William Nixon, who worked as a painter at the Ruskin potteries from 1919 to 1931, talks to Richard Edmonds, a journalist writing a feature on Ruskin Pottery for The Birmingham Post in 1978.

Howson Taylor was“the most wonderful boss and, in fact, the most wonderful man I have ever known in the whole of my life. . .he'd always wear a white apron, no matter who the visitor might be. He was best with the work people; with us he was at ease.

In the summer he'd say: 'Vi, are you hot?' I'd say it was terrible in the workshop. 'Then take two flasks,' he'd say, 'Go down to Trow's, fill them up with ice cream and we'll all have some”.

Apparently nothing is now left of the Ruskin pottery itself, except the modern trading estate which replaced it and a cul-de-sac called Ruskin Way.

Bibliography & Further information

The world's largest public collection of Ruskin Pottery is displayed at Wednesbury Museum & Art Gallery (U.K)

Ruskin Pottery Centenary Exhibition (pdf)

Ruskin Pottery: Pottery of Edward Richard Taylor and William Howson Taylor, 1898- 1933, Paul Atterbury and John Henson, Baxendale Press, 1993, ISBN-10: 0952093308