The Bowes Museum > Exhibitions > 2018 > Charlotte Rhead: Between Art & Industry

Charlotte Rhead: Between Art & Industry

26 May - 7 October

This inspiring exhibition of elaborate pottery designs is by Charlotte Rhead, who worked in Staffordshire between the two world wars of the 20th century. Inventive and adaptable, she was descended from a famous family of designers.

One of a generation of ‘pottery ladies’ whose work and ideas dominated ceramic production in Staffordshire at the time, Charlotte is best known for her designs in the distinctive hand produced technique of ‘tube lining’. She employed a whole team of these ladies who like herself were highly skilled, but not always of high status in the industrial world of the 1930s.

Charlotte was quiet to the point of reclusiveness, but seemed to have acted as the unacknowledged lead designer for the firm of A & G Richardson at the Crown Ducal factory between 1932 -1942. Her designs were angular, floral, geometric, figurative and occasionally almost ‘expressionist’, making it difficult to pigeonhole her as Art Nouveau, Art Deco, or any of the styles of the first half of the 20th century.

Renowned amongst collectors and historians of this period, the pieces drew the admiration of Royalty but sadly, with the coming of the Second World War, her production team was run down in favour of purely ‘utilitarian’ patterns and shapes.

This display includes some rare examples of her work, generating excitement in the world of ceramics. The shapes, colours, and level of detail are exquisite and required a significant degree of skill. However, it was still able to be produced in quantity by Charlotte and her team and therefore represents a historic watershed between the mass production of the 20th century and the finely made handcrafted pieces of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Each item is slightly different, given the hand-applied process, with variations in the glazing, enamelling and lustre of the work. Patterns were sold in alternative colours and finishes to appeal to different audiences and budgets, with some features reminiscent of Far Eastern decoration and others utilising simpler geometric blocks of colour. 

Charlotte Rhead died in 1947.