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?