The name Clarice Cliff conjures up bright coloured pottery typical of the 1930's style design known as Art Deco.
Clarice Cliff was born on the 20th January 1899 in Meir Street, Tunstall, Staffordshire. The most northerly of the six pottery towns in the Midlands of England. She was the daughter of Ann and Harry Cliff and had two brothers and five sisters.
She left school at the age of thirteen and started an apprenticeship with local potters learning her trade. At the age of sixteen she began working for theA.J. Wilkinson Company in Burslem, where she had grown up. The Managing Director of the Company, Colley Shorter was informed of her talent by her decorating manager Jack Walker, and soon sent her to the, Royal School of Art in London to further develop her skills.
The result was that the company set up a separate studio from which she could experiment with new designs. Clarice was a skilled potter; and it wasn't until 1925 when she was exposed to the Exposition Internationale of Arts Decoratifs et Industrialies Modernes in Paris that her creativity came into full bloom. This was the international exhibition during which the Art Deco and "modern" style burst onto the international design scene, and Clarice was fascinated by the geometrically grounded modern designs being introduced for all the necessary amenities of daily life. Wilkinson had always encouraged Clarice to design her own lines, and she was offered an even greater opportunity to create when Wilkinson purchased the Newport Pottery. Clarice took Newport "blanks" and began decorating her own unique and whimsical designs.
In 1927 Clarice Cliff's employer arranged for her to study sculpture for a few months at the Royal College of Art, London.
1928 she began producing one of her most favoured lines "BIZARRE WARE" which she continued until around 1937. She had an all female group of potters known as the "Bizarre Girls" who travelled to country trade fairs to promote the lines. Clarice used the geometric shapes of Art Deco, but she also worked in shapes of figures as well as abstract shapes. During the depression of the 1930's she managed to produce bright cheery designs of couples dancing with vibrant colours and shapes so collectable today.
Additional artists were hired to produce Clarice Cliff designs by hand on the company's products, and the "Crocus" pattern became one of her all time best sellers. The success of Clarice Cliff ceramic designs during this period gave her great success and prominent recognition in the arts world, still unusual for a woman during the 1930s.
With the outbreak of the Second World War all pottery manufacturers were faced with restrictions and shortages, which effectively put an end to the colourful hand-painted pottery of the Thirties. Clarice Cliff and Colley Shorter were married in 1940, soon after the death of his first wife, who had been an invalid for many years. The Newport pottery was taken over as a government store and by the time the War ended Clarice discovered that tastes had changed and mass production methods pushed out hand painted pottery.
Colley Shorter died in 1963, after which Clarice Cliff left the business world, selling the two firms to Midwinters in 1964 and living quietly in retirement in the suburb of Clayton, south of Stoke-on-Trent. She died on 23 October 1972 after a brief illness. Midwinters was merged with J & G Meakin in 1968 and became part of the Wedgwood Group in 1970.
Since then Clarice Cliff wares have become highly collectable, with prices running into thousands of pounds for exceptional pieces.
Clarice Cliff designed over 500 shapes and 2000 patterns. Shape pattern and condition determine collectability.
Sought after shapes include the "Conical" range with cone-shaped bowls, vases and teaware with triangular handles or feet, as well as the "Bonjour" and "Stamford" ranges.
Rare, desirable patterns include "May Avenue", "Appliqué", "Inspiration", "Sunray",
"Mountain" and "Solitude". Novelties, such as the sought after "Age of Jazz" figures and her facemasks are very desirable.
Look out for collectable pieces with deep, luminous colours and obvious brush marks.
Check condition by looking and feeling for chips on delicate areas like rims, handles and spouts.
Fakes are common. Tell tale signs include washed out colours, an uneven, slightly "honey coloured" glaze, and a deliberately "aged" glaze around the mark on the base.
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