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The future of ceramics:

Following the demise of Wedgewood there has been much speculation about the future of ceramics and particularly the ceramics industry. I went to a debate at the Design Museum recently on just this topic with Richard Slee, Carol McNickol, Clare Twomey and the head of the Harrow ceramics dept (whose name escapes me). Richard was laconic, drole and slightly depressing as he always is, Clare was intelligent, measured and impressive as she always was, and Carol was just plain wacky! Harrow's head of ceramics was somewhat down in the dumps as it seems her dept is set to close in spite of being recently rebuilt following a devastating fire. Her presentation was more of a plea for help than anything else - and it is a great shame to lose Harrow, I have been to several degree shows there and always found some excellent work on display. Camberwell may of course at some point follow suit. Despite the fact that the reputation of the college was built on ceramics, the department gets smaller every year, teaching hours are reduced, and ceramics students are seen as demanding too many resources (unlike graphics students who require less space, equipment etc. I have always maintained contact with Camberwell, having been a technician there when illness meant they were one down, I have also taught summer courses there - and am currently teaching the basic ceramics course on a Saturday morning. Plus the very lovely Jessica Joslin - currently in her final year has worked as my assistant off and on for the last 18 months. The department head John Forde is incredibly committed to his students in spite of having been fairly shabbily treated over recent years.

So back to the debate at the design museum. There was little consensus on anything and not much cause for optimism. It seems to be a case of individuals ploughing their own furrow with varying degrees of success. My own view is that like the Huguenot silk weavers of the 17th century who initially flourished and then foundered as overseas competition made them uncompetitive, the demise of the Spodes and Wedgewoods of this world was inevitable though still very sad. Many hugely skilled crafts people are now presumably applying to work at Tesco and Aldi but what alternative is there? Some smaller firms will no doubt survive and thanks to innovative design, efficient working practices, and good marketing go from strength to strength but the big firms of yesteryear are destined to go the way of the dinosaurs.

On a slightly more positive note my own business has been enjoying its best start to the year since I set up. A reasonably successful trade show, combined with sales from my e-shop have given me cause to be optimistic about the future. Plus being cited as one of five ceramic makers worth watching in Helen Brown's article in the Guardian "How the Ceramics Industry can avoid Wedgewood's fate" is a bit of a fillip.

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