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Posts tagged ‘Chevron’

Gill Pemberton, Denby, Interview

Gill Pemberton, Denby Interview

An interview with Gill Pemberton and her early years at Denby Pottery. A fascinating glimpse into how the Chevron design developed and life in a pottery works in the 1960s. The interview was originally published on my first website in 2010 (Retro Pottery Net)

 Yes, THE Gill Pemberton! she who designed the renowned and admired Denby Chevron, and Arabesque amongst others. Gill contacted me a while ago when she had discovered my blog – and clarified a few things I wasn’t clear on with the production of Arabesque.

Gill left Denby in 1981 and pursued a whole different career which I hope we have the chance to discuss in another interview, but for now lets hear all about Chevron.

Gill, At Art College what were your major studies and preferences,…. were you planning to become a ceramic designer?

I won a scholarship to study at Birmingham College of Art and Crafts for 4 years, first 2 years general art and crafts (lettering, life drawing, silver, sculpture, embroidery, and pottery etc), for the last 2 I chose to specialise in Pottery.

….Then I got a place at The Royal College of Art in London, to study Industrial Ceramics for 3 years. In my first year, we all had to choose, study, draw, and MAKE some pottery piece in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I chose a small 18th century china teapot, covered with enamel painted flowers. It took a year of hard slog, but I learned SO MUCH about modelling, mould making, glazing, not to mention making the body, and of course that flower painting!

It was such an incredible experience to be able to handle such a fragile ,beautiful piece, almost in touch with the maker…..and modelling the handle and spout….in the shape of a dragon!, It showed me skills I didn’t know I had !

I spent many warm happy hours in the V&A,…..no TV in those days ! And no money to heat my basic bedsit! Looking back I can see the value of all that time looking at and sketching such treasures.

We also had the opportunity each week to do life drawing, taught by Arnold Machin [he of the Queen’s head on stamps and coins], and looking back again I see how much I learned from him about form, volume, shape, not to mention how to draw !

I spent the next 2 years making stacking teapots, cups jugs, and doing the obligatory flower painting. In the fifties England was in very austere times, not much had changed since the thirties, and rationing and restrictions on the pottery industry meant they wanted designers who could do beautiful watercolour flower sprays on existing shapes, but this was NOT for me ! I was quite sure I could produce MUCH better tableware than was in the shops, so YES, I did plan on being a designer, but not the kind Stoke on Trent wanted!

Were you given a specific brief, role or an outline of what Denby wanted when you started as a designer starting with Denby?

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Denby Chevron

Denby Chevron

Denby’s top designer in the 1960s and 1970s was Gill Pemberton, responsible for the creation of the iconic designs Chevron (Camelot U.S.), Arabesque (Samarakand U.S.) and Rondo amongst others. Gill was a standout student when she studied at both the Royal College of Art, (3 years) and Birmingham School of Art (4 years), before being spotted by Denby.

Gill’s primary brief at Denby was to re-define the traditional qualities of Denby Stoneware into contemporary sculptural shapes which could be admired as objects of beauty in their own while being highly functional.

Denby pottery was founded in 1809 and continues to the present day producing tableware and decorative stoneware items which are both practical and beautiful. Their practice of employing top designers and craftspeople has ensured its success for over 200 years.

Gill Pemberton’s Chevron design is I believe one of the design classics of the 20th Century…having as much in common with the principles of the Bauhaus as it does with domestic pottery. The Chevron range is ergonomically correct and balanced to use – in perfect alignment with one of the most important aspects of modern design principles – i.e. That form follows function.

Denby Chevron Saucer Boat

Denby Chevron Saucer Boat

Denby Chevron Cereal Bowl

Denby Chevron Cereal Bowl

To us today Chevron simply looks very modern with clean lines, but in the 1960s it was revolutionary, and was highly popular, typifying the mood of an era.

Gill’s method of working was always very hands on, working with the modellers, throwers and chemists, and nearly always working directly on to the clay without drawings, except for periods when she wasn’t able to work through having 3 children.

Working with Stoneware requires quite a different technique to working with porcelain or china clay. It’s probably best described as requiring a sculptural or modelling skill which Gill Pemberton certainly had.

The Chevron range was huge, consisting of over 70 pieces. Initially all the casserole dishes and cups/mugs were hand thrown, and the flatware hand jollied.

The tall straight sides shapes of many of the pieces of Chevron required great skill of the potters, and was at first difficult to throw with the high straight sides on many of the pieces. The distinctive serrated “chevron” pattern was created with a small roller.

Denby Chevron Tall Jug

Denby Chevron Tall Jug

Denby Chevron Extra Tall Coffee Pot

Denby Chevron Extra Tall Coffee Pot

As with other Denby sets of this time there were a number of sizes of coffee pots, tea pots, cups, mugs and jugs. Read more