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Anatomy of a Teacup: The Marriage of Ceramics and Business

Anatomy of a Teacup : The Marriage of Ceramics and Business

There are comforting routines people do when they are sick. So when I came down with the flu last week I switched to tea from coffee for the duration. When I got to that certain stage of recovery where you are still sick but feeling well enough to feel sorry for yourself, I decided that I would “treat” myself to tea in a proper teacup. My collection of mugs was not going to cut it.

The proper china teacup was titled “White Mist” and made by the Ulverston Ridgway company in England. I actually looked at the teacup and its design and began to properly appreciate its merits: and may I add, without the assistance of any pharmaceutical product at that moment .

As I sipped my tea, I noticed the design of the cup and how it sat solidly on its saucer and how its handle suited my hand—my fingers never touched the hot cup surface and it felt “just right”.

The indentations of the cup at the bottom and the elegant line of the handle are so simple and functional and also pleasing to the eye. An ordinary china cup but so much more—or as a certain Martha would say: “It’s a small thing but a nice thing.”

After spending hours in a ceramic studio learning how to create teapots and cups and bowls (and doing it only passably) , I have come to truly appreciate creative design that works. Good design is making art and function work together seamlessly. The professional ceramicist makes it look effortless. One instructor/ceramicist at the Woodlawn ceramic studio (an institution of sorts in Toronto) said the first ten years of throwing on the wheel and working in ceramics is just the beginning of the journey to doing really creative and original work. But fine china is another ball game entirely—where commerce and art merge.

Ridgway was established in 1792 in Staffordshire, England according to the markings on the saucer. The internet material I found says around 1755-- so we can safely assume the company was started in the mid to late 1700s. Ulverston refers to the town where the manufacturing was done. The heart and creative soul of the company was John Ridgway, son of the founder. Ridgway was one of the first companies to take the lead in marketing bone china porcelain and was held in high regard along with Wedgewood and other prestigious china companies in its heyday. John Ridgway was even appointed Royal Potter to the Queen in 1851.

Ridgway not only established a sucessful export trade, he also helped found in 1855 a company that would evolve into the world renowned Poole Pottery. Along the way he also was involved in establishing a school of design and created a scholarship that continues to exist to this day at the University of Manchester.

The bottom line however, is exactly that: ceramics is an art form that is governed by the rules of business. Without the driving creative force of John Ridgway and his business acumen, it appears the company suffered and by the 1950s it was taken over by a conglomerate group named Pearsons . Royal Doulton acquired the group in the 1960s.

It’s amazing what you do when you are comatose on the sofa but still motivated to do something. What seemed like an ordinary tea cup turned into a bit of a history lesson. And sure enough, drinking from it made the day a bit brighter.

For anyone interested in china, pottery and all things ceramic, I highly recommend a visit to the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. It is a small gem of a museum and highlights not only the history of ceramics but also the creative potential in the medium.

There are so many creative ceramists at work today but I will leave you with a couple of my favorites and their sites to visit: namely, Renata Podlog and Marney Mcdiarmid.

In Toronto there are two pottery/ceramic studios to definitely check out: Ardith One where they specialize in Canadian potters and Clay Design Studio which is a collective of ceramicists with a contemporary edge.

1001 Pots is also an annual event for the small village of Val David in the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec. Every July and August tourists come to see ceramics and pottery from all over the country and is worth visiting. I leave you with a collage of how much fun it is with talented Canadian potters and ceramicists from all over Canada, demonstrations, music and of course the picturesque setting of Val David. For more photos check out their website at 1001 Pots Can't wait for summer now and the great organic bakery in Val David called La Vagabonde and the Linear Trail (otherwise known at Le P’tit Train du Nord) for bicyling the calories off!

I will now go back to nursing my tea in a mug today since it appears I have caught another cold—gotta love winter! Teacup soon to follow with an accompanying dose of self pity, lemon and sugar.

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