Couple’s labour of love goes on display
AN impressive collection of 20th century ceramics which has taken more than 20 years to amass has been on show at The Bowes Museum this summer.
About 40 pieces of Charlotte Rhead designed pottery has been loaned to the museum for a temporary exhibition by Startforth residents Margaret and Ian Newton, who hope visitors will appreciate the work of the shy but inventive potter whose ideas dominated ceramic production between the two world wars. The exhibition, which ends on Sunday, September 9, focuses on Crown Ducal work.
But it is just a fraction of their collection, which amounts to hundreds of individual pieces, some of which adorn walls and cabinets of their home. It includes a simple basket-shaped piece of earthenware that started it all off.
“When my grandmother passed away my mother asked me to choose a memento,” said Mrs Newton.
“She chose the simple piece as she remembers it used to stand on the mantlepiece in her grandmother’s home, in Hutton Magna, where she was postmistress for many years.
“We didn’t have any idea about who designed it or what it was until a few years later. I spotted a jug with an identical pattern in an antique shop.”
She was astounded to find out it was selling for £90 and decided to find out a little more about their basket.
Mr Newton said: “That’s what really started us collecting Charlotte Rhead. I like a mystery and I can be a bit like a dog with a bone. I just wouldn’t let go and had to find out more about her.”
So fascinated did the couple become with the work of Ms Rhead, who was a contemporary of Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper, that they began scouring antique shops, junk stores and car boot sales for pieces.
“When we started trying to find out more information it was before the advent of the internet so we had to trawl to different antique shops,” said Mr Newton. When they tracked down a copy of a book written by Bernard Bumpus, the leading authority on the maker, they were both hooked. They have since purchased many pieces through online auctions and have had them shipped from America, which is where the majority of Ms Rhead’s work ended up due to wartime restrictions on selling glazed pottery in the UK. Mr Newton is now an expert on Ms Rhead.
As well as managing a website devoted to her, he has penned a book about her Crown Ducal Snow Glaze work and has created a database charting the sales of her pieces.
“I have managed to track more than 9,000 pieces of her work,” said Mr Newton. “And if I see a piece come up for sale, I note down the makers’ numbers and the tube liners mark for my records as well as the overall condition.”
Ironically while creating this database he found out that the piece which started their collection, although it bears Ms Rhead’s name, was not in fact produced while she was at the factory and, therefore, not an original piece.
However, they still love the piece.
A 28-page colour booklet, written by Mr Newton, has been produced to accompany the exhibition at the museum and provides detailed information on each exhibit.
Included is a unique Iris charger, which was made as a trial piece. It featured in a 1985 television programme about Ms Rhead and when it came up at auction at Christie’s in London, Mr Newton decided he had to have it for their collection, paying more than £1,000.