Clarice Cliff

Clarice Cliff

Clarice was born in 1899 and lived all her life in The Potteries; that part of Staffordshire around Stoke-on-Trent that has always been the centre of the china industry in Britain. From a modest home, she left school at 13 and was apprenticed to an enameller, moving on after three years to a lithographers. Her family encouraged her artistic talents and sent her to evening art classes, which she continued for many years.

She was able to take advantage of the absence of men during the First World War and quickly took an opportunity with a larger company, AJ Wilkinson, in the decorating department. It was not long before her talent was recognised and she was encouraged to produce designs of her own, using old stock from the newly purchased Newport Pottery. In 1927, the company sent her to The Royal School of Art in London for a few months to hone her skills, then set her up in a small studio attached to the pottery and gave her the freedom to pursue her designs and ideas.

Her first commercial designs were called Bizarre Ware, and her team of all female painters were called The Bizarre Girls. The designs were completely different to anything already on the market, using bold geometric designs and shapes and vivid colours. Bizarre Ware was very successful, and was soon being sold in the top department stores in the UK, the USA and in Australia. As a key part of the marketing effort, The Bizarre Girls toured the major stores and trade fairs, giving demonstrations of their techniques. The entire Newport Pottery was soon turned over completely to the products and Clarice was made art director of the company. Wilkinson also used her designs on their standard chinaware, and the designs themselves became much less geometric and more decorative, though always highly stylised and always much copied. The success continued through the 1930s. It was no mean achievement to keep a factory in full employment producing luxury china through the Depression. After the Second Word War, during which production ceased, through to the 1950s, fashions had changed and her designs were more subdued and less successful. All in all, she produced some 360 designs, many of which were used on a variety of chinaware, including vases, statuettes, plaques and bowls, as well as tea and dinner sets.

She always lived a quiet life, eventually marrying her boss Colley Shorter in 1940 when she was 41, after the death of his wife. He died in 1963 and Clarice died, childless, in 1972 at Chetwynd House, her home since 1940. She was found by her gardener sitting in her favourite chair listening to the radio.. By the time of her death, she was able to witness the first stirrings of the collecting fever that has since taken hold. The first major retrospective of her work was held in 1971 at Brighton, Sussex, for which she was interviewed. There have since been many exhibitions, books and TV programmes covering her work.

Clarice Cliff pottery was always aimed at the top end of the market, sold in Harrods, not Woolworths, but was, in its time, a bit of fun, cocking a snook at the sober and traditional ware on sale alongside it.