Clay keeps on ticking

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Andrew Robinson
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Chairman of storied pottery company stops by Gander

It might seem odd for the chairman of a well-known pottery company steeped in tradition to make a stop in Gander as part of a national tour, but that's just what Hugh Edwards did recently, making a temporary home inside the Gander Tourist Information Centre.

As Edwards sees it, Moorcroft owes much of its continuing success to Canada, following the company's hard times in the mid-1980s. At its worst, the company dwindled to a small operation of 12 employees.

Hugh Edwards, owner of Moorcroft Pottery in the United Kingdom, poses with the company's Niagara Falls design. Edwards was in Gander June 1 as part of a Canadian tour for the long-running pottery manufacturer. Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Beacon

Gander -

It might seem odd for the chairman of a well-known pottery company steeped in tradition to make a stop in Gander as part of a national tour, but that's just what Hugh Edwards did recently, making a temporary home inside the Gander Tourist Information Centre.

As Edwards sees it, Moorcroft owes much of its continuing success to Canada, following the company's hard times in the mid-1980s. At its worst, the company dwindled to a small operation of 12 employees.

In 1986, Edwards, who had collected Moorcroft pieces for many years as a commercial lawyer in London, became co-owner of the company.

"In that first terrible year, the old lady was very sick," he said of the business. "It was in Canada that our support came, without which, we would have died."

Now, the company employs almost 100 at its headquarters in England. Edwards became the company's sole owner in 1992.

Moorcroft's handcrafted pottery has been made in Burslem, Stroke-on-Trent, England, since 1897, when William Moorcroft began designing pottery at the age of 24.

"People always say, 'Why don't you take Moorcroft and get it made in Indonesia or China? Think of the cost savings.' But actually, it wouldn't work.

The designs on Moorcroft pottery are intricate and high detailed, using tubelining to give the pieces texture. The creation of the handcrafted items is labour intensive, as was explained by Lesley Cartlidge, who was on hand to explain the techniques used to craft Moorcroft's pottery.

It's the specialized, handcrafted touch, that may have made mass production using cheap labour a non-starter for Edwards. It was tried in the mid-1980s, during the company's near-downfall, but failed.

Edwards said some recent designs have been inspired by Canada, particularly due to the country's vast landscape. One of its more popular items, which was on display in Gander, was a large vase depicting a full view of Niagara Falls.

"Canadians tend to be very blunt. If they want to be critical, they're critical, and no one is being critical about Niagara Falls," he said. "Here was a design that was all-embracing. Nobody would dispute it."

He said much of Moorcroft's uniqueness today, outside of its ability to persevere during a changing marketplace, remains its manufacturing technique of applying decoration to raw clay.

"It can be heartbreaking too. You can imagine an unfired pot, with all the work, two or three weeks' worth, and all it needs is a casual flip of the wrist or an elbow to knock it. Then it's a thousand pieces and not repairable."

The price on some of those high-end fragile vases goes as high as $50,000, and Edwards adds it is rare for Moorcroft pottery to pop up in second-hand stores.

In order to have a prosperous future, Edwards said the company needs to employ people who understand the company and love it.

"We now know the one thing that nearly drove it to extinction, we know how to steer clear of that."

Soon, he intends to get out of the day-to-day operations and pass on his work to a younger manager within the company, adding it has become younger with time.

"We've just taken on three new tubeliners, and the average age of those is 19 years old," he said, adding the influx of young designers within the company also brings about new ideas.

"We're not designing for past generations - we're designing for future generations ... If we stay static, we die."

Organizations: Gander Tourist Information Centre

Geographic location: Gander, Canada, England London Niagara Falls Burslem Trent Indonesia China

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