Art of the State:
Stoke-on-Trent:
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Art My first recollection of hearing the name of the place was back in 1984 when Liverpool's International Garden Festival closed and there was much publicity for a similar event in Stoke which I was very keen to visit but wasn't old enough to make a convincing argument to my parents. So when I was casting about for places which were (a) easy to get to and (b) relatively cheap on the train, it was at the top of the list. The museum is in the Hanley area whose city centre is not unlike a lot of the north western towns I saw for the other project, modern block paving and pedestrianisation for nought thanks to the decline of the high street and also in this case what seems like half the town having been demolished to make way for a shopping mall where all of the high street chains monolithically cohabit with a Cineworld and food hall.

The Potteries has numerous other museums dedicated to local manufacturing.  A glance at Google Maps shows why this is a tourist destination for people interested in china and pottery, which to be frank is something ... I'm ... not.  Despite everything, I have a disconnect with most plates, cups and vases unless they have some kind of fine art or sculptural element.  Which isn't to say I won't be returning to the area when the weather improves.  The local council also runs the Gladstone Pottery Museum which as Doctor Who fans will know was the scene of the Sixth Doctor's final battle within the Gallifreyan Matrix against the Valeyard in Trial of a Time Lord (a connection which is not immediately obvious from the website for some reason).  That I have to see.

Access to Collection.

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery is open Monday to Saturday 10am – 5pm and Sunday 11am – 4pm. The "art gallery" section of the museum title is a bit overstated. The majority of the displays present a massive collection of decorative arts from local hoard finds through to pottery manufactured in the area along with a smattering of local history.  This includes Ozzy the Owl, an old Antiques Roadshow find which was sold the museum at auction.  Only about a ten percent of the six hundred and eighty two paintings listed on the Art UK website are on display with a special emphasis on local artists although around a quarter of the wall space is set aside for their numerous Lowrys.

As this handy guide on the Art  UK site explains, the collection "grew out of a bequest from Dr John Russell, OBE in 1927 who had attached a condition that the Corporation of Stoke-on-Trent ‘provide a building or part of a building to be set apart for the reception and storage of pictures and to be maintained as an Art Gallery’"  How would he feel about the works which have been chosen?  Other than the Lowrys and a Constable, it's not a hugely significant collection, but I'd argue that there are some works in the archive which are aesthetically more interesting than what is on show, but I appreciate that's a matter of taste,



Collection Spotlight.

John Collier has become one of my favourite artists. He produced the ravishing Lilith at the Atkinson in Southport and the incredibly powerful depiction of Clytemnestra at London's Guildhall Art Gallery.  Brotherhood of Man which is the most eye-catching work in the space, depicts a collective of anarchists meeting to review a bomb which has been invented by a member of the group.  As Art UK explains "the posters in the background are based on actual Bolshevik designs that were confiscated by Scotland Yard and, at the time Collier was painting, held in the British Museum."

Perhaps most interestingly for the purposes of this project is that the "figure holding the bomb is Charles Robert Chisman who founded the Art Exhibition Bureau that circulated works by living artists to provincial museums. The organisation acted as secretaries to many painters including John Collier."  So arguably he's the man who created the explosive spark of culture across the country which meant that galleries didn't simply wallow in the past.  It was gifted to the gallery in 1936 by Collier's widow, two years after his death.

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