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.

The Bowes Museum grounds are open!


Due to the government announcement on Thursday 17 December, that County Durham is to remain in COVID tier 3 restrictions, The Bowes Museum unfortunately will remain closed to all visitors. However, the grounds remain open to visitors from 10.00 - 4.00 daily, and we are currently hosting a woodland fairy trail, two spring trails and outdoor guided tours are available from 29 March 2021.

As we have already been shut for a number of weeks and there is much uncertainty around possible further restrictions, we have decided to use this period to undertake some work in Café Bowes, alongside performing some much-needed structural repairs to the building, notably to the windows. January and February are usually quieter times for the Museum, often due to severe weather, so we believe that this is the best time to carry out such works with the least amount of disruption to our visitors.

We have therefore decided to remain closed for a period of four weeks following any near-future tier 2 announcement from the government, as this will allow us time to deep clean the Museum prior to reopening our doors once again. We will, of course, keep you updated as the guidelines change.

Your ongoing support during these unprecedented times is hugely appreciated and we very much look forward to welcoming you back into the building as early as possible in 2021.

We hope to be able to offer a few COVID-safe outdoor events over the coming months, about which we shall make further announcements as soon as possible.