IRISHARTS REVIEW EARLY BELLEEK DESIGNS "t he would wish to give to a young comely daughter all the cares of the house, the silver, theWaterford glass, the ancient Belleek china... "1 That quote from a novel is one of the many which could be used to prove that in a relatively short time, ceramicsmade at Belleek became identified in the eyes of many, with themost respected tradi tional Irish manufactures. Part of this adulation may have been due to the success of the pottery which chauvinis tically claimed that it would produce first-class ceramic goods composed of Irishmaterials, made by Irish labour on Irishsoil and to the standardsof the best English potteries. Itmay also have been due to a local pride which Mairead Reynolds, Assistant Keeper,Art and Industrial Division,NationalMuseum of Ireland,writes of the foundation and early years of the Belleek porcelainfactoryandof her own researchinto the registration of theirearlydesigns. J _~~~~~~~~~~~l gave birth to many colourful exaggerations, if not myths, about the earlyworkings of the pottery. This reputation, however, must have been due to the artistic andmanufactur ing success of the pottery, a success which was due ance of a good ceramic in no small part to the work of RW. Armstrong, the Art Director. The interest and involvement of his friend,W.H. Kerr was also crucial to that success.Kerr was then co-owner of the Kerr and Binns pottery at Worcester. The other two directly involved with the pottery were little concerned with production methods or designs. John Caldwell Bloomfield, the land-owner, had previously exported porcelain clays toWorcester and other British potteries so as to help to relieve the poverty in his locality.When he came into control of his encumbered estate, Bloomfield made a suitable site available for the project in 1857.2 David McBirney made his fortune through running a new-style drapery store in Dublin and through investment in railway stock. He under-wrote the Belleek venture and then remained its owner and financial controller for his lifetime. W. H. Kerr It is unlikely that such a sophisticated pottery could have been established in an area so remote from Staffordshire at that timewere itnot for the involvement of W.H. Kerr, and yet his influence is often ignored.Kerr, a Dubliner, joined theChamberlain company atWorcester in 1850, a time when that pottery was experiencing difficulties. Energetically he set about improving the pottery and encouraging industries based on Irish raw-materials.Considering this, it isnot surprising that when Kerr needed an architect atWorcester, he employed an Irishmanwho was working in London, Robert Williams Armstrong, the man who later became Art Director at Belleek. The same nationalist approach may be seen in the firstmajor display of Kerr and Binns ware which emphasised parian porcelain made of "materials principally the produce of Ireland". These, called Irishstatuaryporcelainwere designed by three Irish sculptors,W.B. Kirk, J.E Jones, and J. Kirk, and they were displayed in the Irish Industrial Exhibition, 1853.3 That Kerr had access to Irish clayswhich were unappreciated by others isnot surprisingsince tradition claims that both Kerr and Armstrong spent holidays together in Ireland searching for good porcelain clays.That Kerr continued to believe in the import 'W. 1 FigureModelling, Belleek Potteries Assemblyof theClytie figure, photographedbyW.A. Green c.1902 industry for this country is suggested in the annual report for 1870-1 of The Queen's Institute, Dublin. There that Institute records its indebtedness to Kerr for financial help in building a kiln, helping them to expand into porcelain design and for market research on their decorated porcelain.4 It is not surprising therefore that the advice if not imprimaturof a person of Kerr's stature should be sought before deciding on the Belleek venture. The Dublin International Exhibition Cata logueof 1865 points to the fact thatKerr accompaniedArmstrong and McBirney on one of the preliminary investigations of the feldspar deposit at Castle Caldwell (Belleek). It also reported that when Armstrong and McBirney visited Worcester, "Mr.Kerr brought his com rnercialand practical skill to bear upon the enterprise which, after the most mature consideration, he considered in 1852 invited RW. Binns to become Art Director. They took control of the Royal PorcelainWorks and thenworked to "enhance the reputation of Worcester". They improved the artistic quality of theirware by employingyoung artists in every department and through copying classical pieces from important ceramic collections. They experimented and developed new ceramic bodies. In general they improved not only the )ught to become one of the staple technical and artistic quality of prestige nanufactures of his native land."5 ware but also of the standard utilitarian Kerr'sadvicewas essential to theventure range. ;inceArmstrong, the architect, had still Considering his personal background, :o learn the ceramic manufacturing the strength of Kerr's Irish nationalist )usiness. This is obvious from his feeling is surprising.Yet it must be d4emorandumsof various matters con remembered thathe was a product of his tectedwith Pottery Bodies and Glazes age, an age which had become ollected or invented by Robert W. newly aware of their Irish history. It was a time krmstrongcommencedBelleekEnniskillen too when nationalists like Robert Kane and William Smith O'Brien advocated the doctrine of self-help through 860.6 At a time that the factory was )uilt but not furnished, he made an ~ntry: -24 Irish Arts Review is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve, and extend access to Irish Arts Review 1984 1987 ® www.jstor.org IRISHARTS REVIEW EARLY BELLEEK DESIGNS "Facts to remember The greatest amount of Flint (Silica) that can bemixed with the body paste thewhiter theware - but beyond a certain quantity (varying in each clay) it (might?) cause the vessels to crack. Hard porcelain contains a greater proportion of alumina than soft". This entry is in vol. 8 immediatelyafter a listing of worthwhile books and articles on pottery-makingand the ceramic art. It is unlikely that a person who was so naive in ceramic manufacture would have been able to identify suitable master potters and give them confidence and assurance to transfer to a new pottery far away from Staffordshire. Assurances from a respectedmember of the pottery world would have carried thatweight. That these potters instilled in the Irishworkers the strict code of behaviour and discipline of The Potteries may also show the influence of one who was sufficientlywell versed in that way of life to appreciate the advantages and necessities of such res triction. That Armstrong appreciated Kerr's opinion is obvious from the entry about the first trials fired for Belleek at Worcester, Armstrong recorded that on Friday, 12th of October, 1860, Mr. Kerr along with Mr. Handcock the slip manager and a Mr. Lane, declared that these were "the most successful first trialsthey ever saw".7 One might suspect also that Armstrong, living inBelleek, would not have had readyand continuous access to the new ceramic recipes of the English potteries were it not for Kerr. That he had this access may be seen in that in his memoranda Armstrong considers the recipesnot only ofWorcester but also of potteries such asWm. Bloomfield and Coalport, progressive contemporary potteries. Kerr's influential support can be seen also in that the first prestige orders for the tea and dessert services for Queen Victoria and Edward, Prince of Wales came about 1868, the time that W.H. Kerr's family shop, James Kerr, 114, Capel Street, became the Dublin agents forBelleek. Robert Williams Armstrong To stress the importance of Kerr's guiding hand is not to derate Armstrong, aman who was able to learn a complete a few years. ly new profession within Indeed by the time theLord Lieutenant, Echinus pattern tea ware Although a plate of this design was registered on September 5 th, 1868, the complete tea and breakfast service of this design was not registered until February 22nd, 1869. n Asrviceoof tchiscdesignwspacqured by e ria. -25 IRISHARTS REVIEW EARLY BELLEEK DESIGNS and in spite of the success of producing such a good body, the pottery did not registerany designs for Parian porcelain items until 5th of January1872. They then registered theMinstrel Comport, a dessert service piece which used a com bination of glazed and unglazed Parian porcelain. An example of the type of Parian which they copied directly isClytie.That bust was firstmass-produced in Parian ware byW.T. Copeland who modelled it Lord Carlisle visited the new pottery on June 20th, 1863, Armstrong was already acting as a Staffordshire-style Art Director - and it is obvious that, like them too, he was prepared to promote Belleek wares not by advertising but through tours of the pottery and relying on the praise of satisfied customers.8 That Armstrong lived-up to the standard of a good Art Director can be seen through his devotion to meticulous scientific trials on bodies and glazes throughout the restof his life. Armstrong, however, was awareof the success Kerr and Binns made of the revitalisationof thepottery atWorcester. Therefore, following their example he worked to ensure thathis potterywould survive and that the ceramicsproduced, both prestige and utilitarian,would be of a high technical and artistic standard.He sought a strong financial base by identifying and serving specialmarkets. For example, the cheap utilitarianware was sold in local shops, on Flora, a marble at fairs and by itinerant salesmen. The pottery's ceramics for pharmacies, sanitary and industrial stonewares had obvious markets. The pottery won a valuable contract to produce telegraph insulators Variation of the Echinus Comport Design No.258816 registered December 16th, 1871. attitude modeller atW.H. Goss' factorywould -26 was dis to art and design in Britain used an edition of 878 busts for distribution in 1855. in prizes have been keenly aware of the more in contempor successful lines produced using local feldspar at a time that the "electric telegraph"was being extended ary English potteries. That Belleek was throughout the country. Even when not unique in this practice can be seen making his first trials in 1860 Armstrong by comparing the products of English of the need to potteries. It would be wrong to suggest, was already conscious develop special styles and weights of however, that Belleek only adapted or ware to American standards. Indeed he modified designs at this time as is proven own by, among other items, Gallimore's seems to have realised then that the via which Dickens Charles bust of superb range of the depended porcelain bility was made at Belleek. However the heavy on exportmarkets. reliance at first on the successful inspir In the same Kerr and Binns manner Armstrong was not fool-hardy in his ations of other potteries was noted by choice of designs. Indeed itwould seem Sean McCrum who pointed to the close of the products between similarities that from the time the pottery went into nineteenth other and Belleek century regular production in 1863 until the time they needed to protect the designs English potteries. He also pointed to 9 ceramic motifs. gof earlierExhibitio of 1865,s Dblomain I useteraioa purchased for Queen Victoria and Belleek's success to This attitude adaptation of Edward, Prince of Wales in 1868, the pottery frequently adapted a selection of ful lines can be seen clearly in the Parian the commercially successful designs of ware. Armstrong seems to have started other potteries. This might explain why to experiment in his quest for a new it was possible forWilliam Gallimore, Parian body on June 15th 1863. It is the chief modeller, to produce as tradi generally accepted that the Parian ware had a unique tion claims, "over five hundred designs" which he developed - a daunting work-load praised the quality and contemporaries even for a person at fact that it was more easily cleaned than calibre as he worked of Gallimore's Belleek only from 1863-6. Obviously, much of the Parian ware of English potteries. Yet although Belleek exhib though, Gallimore who came from and returned to his position as chief inte n qelection of Parin wanre at the bust which covered near Naples in the eighteenth century. Flora was considered by art critics as the epitome of feminine beauty and because of this, full-size copies were produced in alabaster in the eighteenth century.The bust was acquired by The British Museum who suggested that it representedAntonia (36 B.C.-A.D. 38), the daughter of Mark Anthony and Octavia.10 However, Copeland's redu ced version in Parian porcelain won approval when the .Art Union of London, in an attempt to improve the So popular was the Clytie bust that it was subsequently copied by James and Thomas Bevington of Hanley as well as by Belleek. That Clytie was not unique may be seen from the CrouchingVenus which is based on John Flaxman's interpretation of a Roman statue. That Venus was first mass-produced by Wedgwood in the earlynineteenth century. In similarvein Belleek's Prisonerof Love owes much to Minton's Solitude, a statuettewhich was firstproduced by them in 1852. Obviously, though, a pottery of Belleek's aspirations did not depend only on plagiarism for their early Parian ware as apart fromGallimore's Dickens, the pottery also commissionedWilliam Boyton Kirk (1824-1900) to design at least, the bust of Lord JamesButler and Hibernia awakinigfromher slumbers(also known as Erin). The surprise is that these fine figureswere not registered so as to protect the designs. An explanation may be that some of the pieces were so exclusively of Irish interest as to be of little temptation to English potteries or otherwise that Gallimore would not relinquishhis right to his own designs. The Pottery Fortunes Contrary to popular opinion Belleek IRISHARTS REVIEW EARLY BELLEEK DESIGNS was not an instant success. Indeed, Sir Charles Cameron, one of themany who claimed that he was the first to discover theBelleek china clay, said that the pot tery"wasnot a profitable enterprise,and Mr. McBirney lost heavily by it."11 Henry Parkinson,Armstrong's executor, to a reason pointed [ FAMAVA.,H Nov iASi ?. E ot 'POrrsRY OAs'IO -M L?1RANts V'Li,Ams ARMfsROAC ASA0CAS A'&ROal-i' J UA ;i/tsy v CY, he saw ?560 worth 'SA~~~' of ware packed at Belleek, goods valued at ?5 were destined for Irelandwhile the rest .~~~~~~~~~ were exported to Milan, Florence, Rome, Paris,Vienna, London, New York and Philadelphia.12By 1865 the pottery still only employed "70 hands of which number 30 are boys and girls, learning the different branches of making ware, firing, dipping, printing, lining, gilding, burnishing I/ALa'CArq lEi )%NAlh ~~Otshcj \, . i for this in his sub mission to the Select Committee on Industries(Ireland) 1885; he stated that Irish people preferred to buy "cheap Glasgow ware" and reported thaton one day on which | etc." 13 The change ' 1 L: A s .'s ' s in the pottery fortunes is underlined by the fact that by 1869 there were 180 men, women and children employed includ ing27 "imported artists".14This growth could be explained by a number of factorsapart frommaturity.The opening of theEnniskillen-Bundoran railwayline in 1866 was of major impor eventually tance since it gave a more reliable transport system not only from Belleek to Dublin and Belfast but also to the important sea-port, Derry. The success of the pottery's displays at the International Exhibition in Dublin in 1865 and in Paris in 1867, opened the export market considerably for the pottery.The prestige orders fromQueen Victoria and Edward, Prince of Wales meant thatBelleek would be in demand by other members of the aristocracy Trinket Box Designs registered November 13 th, 1869 and therefore of the general public. Those orders also ensured major coverage for Belleek in the premier art journalof the particularly for the forthcoming Dublin Exhibition. "Design" on ware other than at this time seems to Parian produced have applied only to painting, gilding and transfer- printing. 16 The Designs September the fifth, 1868 was the first date on which Belleek registered designs at the Board of Trade, London. 17 The first piece registered (number 221217) was an Echinus pattern Plate, the design tea and break used for Queen Victoria's fast service. The second piece was A Vase, the Echinus footed bowl, a sea urchin held by three nymphs in similar style to the upper section of number 238816 illustrated here. Design number 221219 was for A Vase, which was later known as the Prince ofWales Ice Pail and Cover. The early designs registered by Belleek were drawn in ink on a "vellum by, or Designed by RobertW. Armstrong, Melrose (?) Rose Isle, Belleek. There is, however, a distinct difference between the clear line of the professional drawing and insriptions,andArmstrong's cursive and strong script. This might suggest that the drawings were professionally prepared by somebody other than Armstrong either inBelleek or London. The Art Journal of 1869 puts Armstrong's role in the design depart ment into context: "Mr. Armstrong continues to be the Art-Director and designer of the factory, and under his direct superintendance the several designs andmodels have been produced and executed. Indeedwe believe we are justified in stating that all the better order of productions, whether original, modified, or adapted, have emanated from him. Some of his inventions he has patented or registered."This Art Joumal quote might suggest that Armstrong superintended the production of many designs and did some himself. Certainly there is a triumphant ring partcularly about the inscription,Designed byRobert Williams Armstrongat the bottom of the Echinus pattern tea and breakfast services.Moreover there is no signature for the Spill Pot which was on the design registered on October 14, 1869. This was for the piece usually known as the Cleary spillpot,which isbelieved to have been designed by JamesCleary. He was a local man who was apprenticed to Gallimore at the pottery, and who con tinued to work in that department after Gallimore's departure.18 It is probable that some of the designs were made, by Armstrong's wife, Annie Langley Nairn. She had won a reputation in as a landscape painter and exhibited the Royal Hibernian Academy exhibi tions before her marriage to Armstrong in 1848.19 Local tradition and W.G. Strickland give her credit especially for the designs based on flowers, fish and shells. The omission of her signature ceramics. could be explained by propriety in the male-dominated society of the mid The Dublin Exhibition of 1864 shows that at that time the products of the tracing cloth" which is occasionally nineteenth century which may have pottery consisted of earthen and stone marked Saggars Patent Broughton Works, militated against giving her credit for work done for her husband's pottery. ware in "dinner, toilet and other table Manchester. The same materials were of 62, Brookes Unfortunately, apart from the few used press and by William services"i made by moulding, Chancery Lane, London who at the time designs signed by Armstrong, credit for die, or pressure from powdered clay.15 the others seems to depend only on local By the following February the pottery drew Worcester's designs for the Patent was making a great variety of articles in Office. Although theBelleek designs are lore.The dangers of accepting such lore Parian,consisting of urns,Etruscanvases, drawn inBrookes' style a few aremarked uncritically isobvious when we consider figures, statuettes, toilet articles etc. inArmstrong's own hand-writing,Signed that there is evidence to suggest that if day. Possibly because of all this success Armstrong was in demand in 1869-70 as a lecturer on the history and art of -27 IRISHARTS REVIEW EARLY BELLEEK DESIGNS the poet William Allingham's sisters worked for the pottery, it is less likely that theyworked, as tradition claims, in the design department, than that they were involved with the decorating department. From the Board of Trade designs it would seem that Armstrong's script occurs only on the few early designs and on one of 1877. Apart probably from those few signed pieces, Belleek's early designs would seem, therefore, to have been produced by Gallimore, James Cleary, and eventually by Cleary's successor Michael Maguire, as well, probably, as Annie Langley Nairn. According to his memoranda and the contemporary accounts, Armstrong's interest, if not obsession, was not in design but in the invention and develop ment of new ceramic wares and glazes - an interest forwhich Belleek can still be justlyproud. Itwould seem therefore, that through Kerr's guidance,Armstrong followed the accepted practices of themore advanced high-class English potteries of the day. To ensure success the pottery adapted classical, Renaissance and pleasing eighteenth century designs; they adopted and modified some of the suc cessful unprotected designs of other potteries while tentatively introducing a few of their own.When through success itwas necessary forBelleek to protect its own creations, they approached this in a similar manner to Worcester. It was because of all of this careful and well thought-out design that Belleek succeeded in its aim to produce high class ceramics to a high technical and artisticquality. Mairead Reynolds The earliest designs registered for protection Date RegisteredDesignNo. RegistrationDescription by D. McBirney & Co., Belleek ExtraInscription ModernDescription PotteryRef. No. andRichard Degenhardt2O p.No. Sept.5, 1868 221217 "Plate" Echinusplate D360 Deg. P. 177 Sept.5, 1868 221218 "AVase" Echinusfocoted bowl No. 380Deg. p. 121 Sept.5, 1868 221219 "AVase" PrinceofWales IcePail andcover D3-1 Deg. p.99 Oct. 22, 1868 223309 "TeaandBreakfast ServiceDecoration orOrnamentation" "Signed Rob.W. Armstrong,Artichokedejeunerset Melrose (?)Rose Isle, Belleek" D709-713Deg. p. 184 Feb.22, 1869 227409 orornamentation "Decoration forTea andBreakfast Service,BelleekPottery, Co. Fermanagh, Feb.20th,1869. TradingasD.McBirney & Co." "DesignedbyRobert WilliamsArmstrongFeb. 1869" Echinuspatternteaand breakfast service D358-365Deg. p. 177 June3, 1869 229837 "DesignforaDejeunertray" "DesignedbyRobtW. Armstrong" Echinustray D650 Deg. p.94 Oct. 14, 1869 234465 "SpillPot" ClearySpillPot No. 903Deg. p. 103 Oct 25,1869 235168 "EggHolder" EggHolder D1534Deg. p. 147 Nov. 8, 1869 235827 "Designforflowervase" "BelleekFermanagh Nov. 8th 1869DavidMcBirney & RobertWilliams Armstrong. TradingasD. McBirney & Co." MarineVase No. 513Deg. p.49 Nov. 8, 1869 235828 "DesignforWater LilyVase" Nov. 8th 1869 Water LilyVase DI 234Deg. p. 134 Nov. 8, 1869 235829 "DesignforFlyingFishVase" Nov. 8th 1869 FlyingFishVase No. 532Deg. p.98 D23 Deg. p. 169 Nov. 13, 1869 236184 "DesignforTrinketBox andcover" Jack-at-Sea Trinketbox Nov. 13, 1869 236185 "DesignforTrinketBoxandcover" Jack-on-Shore Trinketbox D24Deg. p. 169 Nov. 23, 1869 236858 "Stilton CheeseStandandCover" PapalTiaraCheeseStand D1552,Deg. p. 108-but andCover with stand Dec. 18,1869 237230 "DesignforTablejug" HarpJug D586 Deg. p. 182 NOTES 1. Donn Byrne, Hangman's House, New York and 1926. London, 2. Registry of Deeds, Memorial dated 9th to 29th 1858 but post-dated October, 1857 and made for a term of 999 September years "subject to payment of rents". 3. John Sproule (Ed.), The Irish Industrial Exhibition of1853, Dublin, 1854, p. 407. of The Queen's 4. Ninth Annual Meeting Institute (of Female Professional Schools) Dublin, 1871, p. 14. 5. Henry Parkinson, compiler and editor, The Illustrated Record and Descriptive Catalogue of the Dublin International Exhibition of 1865, London, 1866, p. 289. are now in the 6. These volumes of memoranda of Applied Arts and Sciences, Museum Sydney. By courtesy of Svitlana Das, Librarian ofthat Museum, of seven of the photocopies eight volumes are now inThe National of Ireland. One volume is in too Museum fragile a state to be copied. 7. Ibid. Vol. 8, p. 261. 8. The Impartial Reporter, June 25, 1863. 9. Sean McCrum, The Belleek Pottery, The Ulster Museum, (undated, c. 1969) p. 12. -28 10. The British Museum Catalogue of Sculpture, no. 1874. 11. Reminiscences of Sir Charles A. Cameron, Dublin, 1913, p. 32. on Industries (Ireland), 12. The Select Committee 1885, p. 111. 13. Henry Parkinson, op. cit. p. 289. 14. The Art-Journal, London, 1869, p. 150. 15. Royal Dublin Society, Official Catalogue of the Exhibition of Manufactures, and Fine Machinery Arts, 1864, Dublin, p. 71. 16. The Bally shannon Herald, 25 February, 1865, p. 3. 17. These designs are now in the Board of Trade design volume 43, 68 inThe Public Record Office, Kew, London. on this I am grateful to Sean 18. For discussion Art Director, The Belleek Pottery O'Loughlin, of James Ltd., and Philip Cleary, a descendant Cleary and at present of the design department of the Pottery. 19. Walter G. Strickland, A Dictionary of Irish Artists, Vol. 11, Dublin, 1913, p. 161. 20. Richard Degenhardt, Belleek, The Complete Collector's Guide and Illustrated Reference, New York, 1978.
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