A shining star of Moorcroft Pottery's design team visits New Zealand this week.
Emma Bossons is an extraordinary talent. As an artist for the respected English company Moorcroft Pottery, which has been in operation since 1897, her work is sought after by collectors around the world. She is responsible for the majority of the company's turnover and has been insured for more than a million pounds. This week she visits New Zealand.
How did you become a pottery painter?
By accident. I lived in rural Cheshire and it was only because I was artistic that I went to work at Wedgwood via a Youth Training Scheme. I was selling my watercolours in the restaurant where I worked and felt that I needed to work with other artists, so I applied to Wedgwood. I painted tableware there and felt that as it was too big it wasn't the place for me. I like to be in a place where I know everyone by name. Then while I was working at Wedgwood I went into the Moorcroft Heritage Visitor Centre and I was amazed at the beauty of the pottery. It was a strong calling. There wasn't a job advertised so I sent my portfolio to the chairman. I was interviewed the following Monday and started work that week. I began my working life at Moorcroft painting the art that others had designed and I absorbed myself in understanding the glazes. After a year or so I did a design for the staff auction, and my piece did very well. That gave me the confidence to take some designs to show the chairman.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Everywhere. I could be walking along looking at a hedgerow - there is beauty in the small and the large, from a petal to St Paul's Cathedral.
What do you like about working with pottery?
My watercolours are brought to life through the glazes and unique Moorcroft "tubelining" technique. It gives the pottery a tactile appeal. If you like, my watercolours are the lucid dream and the finished vase the physical interpretation.
How would you describe your designs?
Organic, fluid ... I hope they come from a deeply spiritual place, from somewhere good. I draw from my mind's eye, so my feelings and emotions will always be in the work, but sometimes I lose myself completely in what I am doing and I amaze myself. Did I really do that? Collectors can recognise my style without turning the vase over to see my backstamp so I guess seeing my work is like seeing my face, another part of me.
How many designs have you come up with in your time at Moorcroft?
Over 300 in the past 15 years. Now I do one a week. Sometimes I will spend months on something that captures my heart, like the Chatham Island robin. I absorbed myself in its story before I picked up a pencil. History will judge my designs at the end.
Describe the process from inspiration to finished product?
A thought turns into a rough sketch. Then I dream a little and sit down and look at shapes before doing a final sketch (not a watercolour), then I draw straight on to the clay body and take off tracings. I draw on wet clay as I like to see the design dry out. This puts on a bit of pressure to finish it before the pot dries out, so inspiration has to work its magic. Then I will do a watercolour to show the artist the colours I would like.
Tell us about Moorcroft.
What makes it special is that we are not told what to do, that way our designs can be deeply personal and also have a spiritual quality. Moorcroft was the vision of one man and this vision was realised through many people for over a century. Go into the Moorcroft Museum and you can see for yourself how the surface design and shape reflect each design decade. From art nouveau at its very best, the war years of plainly decorated ware, art deco streamlined designs and then broad florals. That was where we were in the 70s - great big flowers against avocado backgrounds. Designs, style changes, colours palettes and shapes ...some of the shapes I have designed will be used many years from now, but with a design style way beyond my dreams. That said, it is comforting to think that Moorcroft will still be made using the same techniques as William Moorcroft gave us 100 years ago, but with design creating something different for each generation.
You were insured for £1.5 million back in 2005. How did that make you feel?
Scared. A lot of jobs depend on my work but I try not to think on negative things. I also am one of four very talented designers.
Do you feel a lot of pressure to come up popular designs?
Because I am a creative person I don't feel pressure. I let things flow, do not force them. Peace is in all of us. Sometimes I worry about silly things and then I start designing and I am brought back to life, in a way. When a design is finished, and I look at it and have a deep sense of peace.
Why do you think pottery continues to be such a popular art form?
Moorcroft is tactile; warm to touch, rich in colour. It is tactile in form - blind people can see my designs by running their hands over the tubelined slip. Pottery is a timeless art form. A a man centuries ago may have created a vase for storage purposes only and may have been inspired to gently curve the handles. Then the vase becomes different from the rest. It is still a utility vase with a function but there is a creative mark on it - I guess all people are like that with our differences. How boring life would be if we were all the same!
Each piece of Moorcroft is turned, tubed, painted and dipped by many hands and sometimes you can even find a thumb print! Though I give the same design to a limited edition of 150 pieces, they are all different, unique, special.
What do you do in your spare time?
A designer never stops designing. Peel back the paint on the walls of my house and they are an ancient oak, with many layers. I like walking my dogs, and enjoying the natural world around me. Family and friends are important.
Tell us about the five limited edition New Zealand pieces you have designed.
I love the Lincoln sheep on the North & South vase. As a breed with their dreadlocks they almost look as if they are smiling. That vase is my second favourite to the Black Robin. I would not design anything if I thought that it would not give joy. Morbid or self-serving art does not sit well with me. We can choose to create anything, we are all equipped with that gift - in how we speak, work and play. I would hate the thought of them being boxed for investment. All our work and craft skills are handed down from generations past and are part of something beautiful, something living. Dead things get put in boxes!
* Today Emma Bossons will be at Tanfield Potter, 2nd Floor Darby Bldg, cnr Darby and Elliott Sts, City, from 1pm-3pm and 5pm-7pm, ph (09) 309 0935. Tomorrow you'll find her at Antiques on Manukau, 48 Ellice Rd, Glenfield from 11am-1pm and 5pm-7pm, ph (09) 360 0065. For details on her tour around the rest of New Zealand, see moorcroft.com.