Albert Edward Gray FRSA 1871-1959
Elizabeth Gray (née Griggs) seated centre with her eight children, probably on her 60th birthday in 1895. The daughters are (from left to right): Florence, Elizabeth and Matilda. The sons are William Martin, Robert Thomas, Walter and Hazel Arthur. Albert Edward is seated, left
Edward Gray, so far as is known, never produced a design of his own, but he was an excellent talent spotter and he had clear ideas on the kind of design he was prepared to accept and promote. In May 1945 the British magazine Pottery and Glass described these views as follows:
As a basic principle, Mr Gray takes simplicity and restraint. A well-made plate can be a thing of beauty before it is touched by the artist's brush. The decoration is not just 'something added', not camouflage for imperfect potting; it is a means to enhance an already existent virtue. Better design, says Mr Gray, does not mean an increase in cost - it means an increase in thought. The flow of ideas is based on a knowledge of traditional ornament; but the designer must use tradition, he must not be controlled by it. Modern pottery should not be cramped by the influence of the eighteenth century; building on tradition and evolving from it, design should express the spirit of the age.
Writing in a personal Notebook, perhaps in the 1920s or early 1930s, Edward wrote in a reflective mood on his approach to his business:
The Victorian industrial drive had seen the introduction of lithography and roller printing into the pottery industry to meet increased world demand, to the detriment of good design and the neglect of craftsmanship: the machine and the technician were beginning to usurp the place of craftsmanship, quantity seemed more important than quality. Mr Gray's knowledge of the technique of pottery manufacture being small, he had much to learn and directed his mind to the decoration and designing of pottery. His knowledge of the cotton industry, which was divided and subdivided into separate processes by separate firms and put on the markets in the Manchester warehouse, led him to concentrate on designing and decorating, selecting his shapes from those already in manufacture or getting his own shapes made for him. Nor did he confine his interest in design to his own business but constantly cried the cause of good design and designers in the pottery and other industries, believing in the inter-relations of all industries in the creation of the home in the question of design, pottery being only right in design when it harmonizes with the background of the home. In this way pottery design must always be affected by other industries and cannot inaugurate a new motif in design. The firm was content to grow slowly but never lost its sense of good design.
With this philosophy in mind he engaged and encouraged young designers. In 1922, Miss Susie Cooper (1902-1995) joined his staff and began that brilliant series of designs which have since made her a national name. Some of her early pieces with Gray's Pottery show that heraldic style 'antelope salient' in which she combined shape, colour and design in the most pleasing harmony (Below). She left in 1929, partly due to the strictures imposed by a company that bought-in most of the products that it decorated: Miss Cooper wanted control of shape as well as of pattern. Another young designer was Dorothy Tomes who worked at Gray's Pottery in late 1929/early 1930. Susie Cooper had joined Gray's on the suggestion of Gordon Forsyth, the objective being to gain practical industrial experience of design prior to going to London's Royal College of Art. Miss Cooper joined from Burslem School of Art and her ultimate successor, also born in 1902 and a product of The Potteries' Art Schools, was Samuel Clyde Talbot who became responsible for Gray's designs right through into the late 1950s. SC Talbot joined the company in 1925. He was responsible for many of the designs that made the company famous. He created these new designs by having one of the top paintresses paint directly on to a specimen of each piece, thereby showing a sensitivity to the shape which would not be possible by designing on to a flat surface. He was appointed a Director and, in 1947, Joint Managing Director.
Examples of designs likely to have been created by Susie Cooper. The bowl was produced for an anniversary in 1923 but is also backstamped with the 1924 British Empire Exhibition mark.