We hop back to England, Stoke-on-Trent, to be specific. This conglomeration of six small towns in Staffordshire, England, was Ground Zero of British ceramics production in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. The region was frequently referred to as "The Potteries." Clay could be dug out of the ground. Coal was plentiful. Labor was cheap. And the region's glut of manufacturing ensured that train service (for shipping-out merchandise) was frequent and efficient.
The George Clews pottery company was founded in 1906 in one of Stoke's towns, Burslem. In 1908, they moved to bigger facilities in the adjacent town of Tunstall. Although the company was named after the Clews family patriarch, George, the organization was actually run by his son, Percy Swinnerton Clews (1875-1942) and a team of non-relatives. Their initial product was ceramic teapots—specifically teapots of red clay, glazed with cobalt. When such a glaze was fired, it turned Jet Black—and such teapots were very popular in Edwardian England. Teapots always remained a part of the George Clews production output.
The "Works Manager," David Capper, was much interested in the chemistry of glazes. He also wanted to marry good taste and artistry with modern production methods—an attempt to make an affordable version of the Ruskin pottery which he greatly admired (yet was very pricy, due to its hand-thrown, labor-intensive production method). Capper saw potential in making decorative art pottery (in addition to the more utilitarian teapots). Just before World War One, Clews introduced their line of "Chameleonware" art pottery: vases, bowls and plates styled in the "Oriental" (Asian and Middle Eastern) manner. The name "Chameleonware" referred to the change of a glaze's color during the firing process. David Capper had achieved his aim of manufacturing items which were both beautiful and affordable. Such high-margin output became increasingly important to the company's profits.
Alas, World War One (1914-1918) depressed demand for discretionary decorative items. Many of the company's workers were also called-up for military service, including Works Manager David Capper. When he returned (injured) after the War, he developed the painted range of products under the Chameleonware brand. Such "exotic" hand-painted ceramics were inspired by the archaeological discoveries of the day: Egyptian, Persian, Asian and Celtic. The range was enormously successful, accounting for 80% of the company's production. In 1926, Clews won the Gold Medal for "Originality of Design" at the Philadelphia Exhibition.
In 1939, when World War Two began, George Clews experienced more financial difficulties, forcing them to discontinue their art pottery production. The company did continue to make teapots, including a Modernist "Cube" Teapot which was used by the Cunard Lines aboard their ships. Such teapots could be stored very efficiently in stacking crates, taking-up the smallest possible space. George Clews closed altogether in 1961.
The Chameleonware vase, shown above, has a bulbous base and a tapering, trumpet top. It is glazed in a handsome blue glaze—accented with subtle green dappling. Click on the photo above to learn more about this handsome vase from the Twenties.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248