The 'Paintress Designers'

There is little doubt that the most accomplished Gray’s Pottery paintresses were involved in pattern design (Illustration 33). Stella Taylor, for example, is credited with developing patterns using rows of raised dots and the generic name Stella was used on the works for a range of designs incorporating this theme (Illustration 34).

Vinnie Dutton worked with Sam Talbot on developing and fitting patterns to the various shapes being decorated. Ada Shufflebotham did specific work, specialising in lustres. These examples show that anyone with artistic talent at Gray’s Pottery could contribute to the design process, undoubtedly agreed and approved by the Art Director of the day.

Illustration 33

The only known photograph of the ‘upper decorating shop’ at Gray’s Glebe Works in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. The designs being worked on all appear to be totally freehand painted; there are no banded or print & enamel patterns to be seen, suggesting the highest quality output by employees who were known to be capable of developing existing or even initiating new designs. Patterns 7912, 7960, 8071 Cubist and 8560 are in evidence, suggesting a date of late 1929 or early 1930.

The poster on the wall (at right in the image) is almost certainly that of the American actress Nancy Carroll (1903-65). Her film career started in 1927 and she was deemed a star by 1929.

Illustration 34

A range of Stella-derived patterns:

  • B&B plate, D681, 246 dia, mark N6.
  • Plate, A2002, 133 dia, mark N2.
  • Service plate, A8515/2, 270 dia, mark N5.
  • Vase, 139 high, mark N5.
  • Sauce boat & stand, A7341, 99 high, both marked N7.
  • Teapot, 140 high, mark R2.
  • Teapot (pink), A7083, 109 high, mark N2.
  • Eggcup, 43 high, mark N3.
  • Jam & toast-rack, 152 long, mark P1.
  • Creamer, A4629, 76 high, mark N4.
  • 3-piece cruet set, tallest 67 high, mark N3 on mustard pot only.
  • Coffee can & saucer, A3872, can 57 dia, both marked N4.
  • Cornucopia, D1123/2, 192 long, mark N8.

Signed names
Gray’s Pottery paintresses* used signature marks on the back or bottom of the ware to indicate their work, typical of the piece-work practice in the pottery industry. The signature may or may not give a clue to the owner: ‘AB’ was Alice Bloor, ‘NM’ was Nellie Mullock but ‘A’ was Phyllis Bennett, ‘···’ (three dots) was May Salt and ‘K’ was Stella Taylor.
A phase also existed when a signature was painted on the front face of the ware (Illustration 35). Research shows that this is almost exclusively limited to floral patterns incorporating an amount of ‘sponged’ decoration (known as ‘bossing’) and where the pattern number falls within the range 8800 to A3100 (see table below). This puts the practice in use during 1930 and up to the start of 1936, at a time when Sam Talbot was Art Director. Names so far discovered are as follows, though they are not always easy to decipher:
Ann, Annie, Betty, Dora, Dorothy, Elsie, EvaC (Eva Cyples), Hilda, Hylda, Jane, Janet, Jean, Kathy (Vera Williams), Kay (Emily Hulme), Lily, Mae, Nita, Phyllis (Phyllis Harrison), Rene, Rita, Stella, Vera, Vida, Zena.
It can be seen, again, that the signatures and the actual names are not always obvious!
Note that there has never been any suggestion that, in a general sense, these signatures represent designers in the accepted sense of the term.
  * the word paintress is used because only one male decorator’s name has ever come to light.
    This is Roland Heath, whose monogram on his pots is an entwined ‘R’ and ‘H’.

M Baggaley
Four examples of pattern A7365 and one example of pattern A7366 have been seen with this name incorporated in the design. The significance of the name is unknown.

Margaret Bryan (1903-85)
A Nottingham artist, most especially a wood engraver working from the mid-1920s to the late 1930s, may have offered some designs to Gray’s Pottery in 1929 – ref Pat Watson, Antique Dealer & Collectors Guide, July 1992. With the exception of research done regarding Miss Bryan’s engravings by Tony Ingram, this assertion has not been verified by any other sources.

A Stogdon and J Stogdon
From time-to-time matt-glazed straw/buff-coloured pots, usually tankards, sometimes with matching jugs, are seen with the name A Stogdon, J Stogdon or simply Stogdon hand-written on the base. Often the name is accompanied with a simple mark comprising three vertical strokes with a line and a dot beneath. All the pots so far recorded have Gray’s backstamps P1 or R2 (the rubber-printed stamp associated with Kirkland-supplied products and in use from 1935-45). All the decorations are simply executed and relate to country pursuits: angling, grouse shooting, hunting and polo (Illustration 36). The designs appear to be entirely hand-painted, with no printed outlines.
The identity of A Stogdon remains unknown and it is possible that this person purchased the pots either directly from Kirklands, or from Gray’s Pottery, and, in most cases, was allowed to leave the Gray’s Pottery backstamp intact. This suggests an approval on the part of the company: perhaps it was a ‘special series’ for a Gray’s customer.

Illustration 35

Examples of signed names on the front of Gray’s Pottery products:
Mae – A2411
Nita – A3041
Ann – A1016
Lily – A2107
Elsie – A2818

Illustration 36

Examples of 'Stogdon' pots and the typical mark alongside the Gray's backstamp.
The line of four mugs: image courtesy huntsmanantiques (USA).
The lower mug probably relates to School Prints, a national scheme developed in the 1940s by which artists were commissioned to create original lithographs. These were then produced in very large numbers and sold cheaply to subscribing schools to enable children to enjoy real works of art. The lettering appears to be entirely hand-painted and the 'signature' comprises the entwined letters 'J' and 'S' (thanks to Nick Dolan for the detail).

Names on the front of pots

Patterns recorded with the signature of a paintress within the decoration, usually in the sponged area (known in The Staffordshire Potteries as ‘bossing’) – these are marked with blue shading in the table below. Note that the signature may or may not be the actual first name of the paintress.

EvaC was Eva Cyples, Kathy was Vera Williams, Kay was Emily Hulme, Phyllis was Phyllis Harrison and Zena was Zena Glover.

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