The Classic Creatives: Clarice Cliff

Who?

Clarice Cliff, ceramic artist extraordinaire (1899-1972).

What did she do?

Clarice was famed for her iconic designs: her striking use of colour and pattern make her pieces instantly recognisable, and her work is still highly sought after by collectors. Her pieces regularly sell at auction for thousands of pounds.

Having been surrounded by the industry from a young age – her aunts worked as hand painters at a nearby pottery firm – Clarice undertook a number of apprenticeships before being given her own studio; it was then that she began to create her own patterns on pieces of broken pottery. She named her products the ‘Bizarre’ range and called the team of young women who painted her designs the ‘Bizarre girls’.

In 1928, she created the ‘Crocus’ ranges, and it was here that her success began to accelerate. By 1929, she had over 70 people working for her.

In the early 1930s, she was appointed the manager of a project that involved dozens of the period’s best artists, titled Modern Art for the Table. Other artists involved included Barbara Hepworth, Vanessa Bell and Paul Nash.

She worked with a diverse range of products, including plates, vases and coffee pots, and created all of her designs by hand.

What inspired her work?

Clarice was born and raised in Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, which is still famed for its pottery today (among others, it’s home to the Wedgwood Museum); it was a city buzzing with opportunity for budding ceramic artists.

One of the biggest influences in her work was the Art Deco movement, which favoured bold patterns, striking colour and screamed 1920s glamour. Many of her pieces were based around hot, dusty landscapes, often painted in Mediterranean-esque brights: think deep blue skies, rolling yellow fields and a red-roofed cottage.

What is her best known piece of work?

Her Crocus range is still what she is best known for, but all of her work is loved across the globe; a plaque she painted sold in America for £39,500.

Why should I care about her work?

In a time when the ‘career woman’ didn’t exist – women had barely managed to secure the vote when Cliff was at her most prevalent during the 1930s – Clarice managed to successfully make her mark on a traditionally male industry, based purely on her talent.

Her hard-work ethic – undertaking strenuous apprenticeships and developing her talents on the job – makes her an inspiration. Work hard and the results will – eventually – come.

Considering that she created her designs alone, her huge range of varied patterns reflect her expert eye for design. Her colourful pieces  brought a splash of practical style to homes across the country.

She said…

‘Having a little fun at my work does not make me any less of an artist and people who appreciate truly beautiful and original creations in pottery are not frightened by innocent tomfoolery!’

More of Clarice’s designs can be seen at the Victoria & Albert museum

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