Clarice Cliff

August 24, 2014

Clarice Cliff was born on January 20, 1899 in Meir Street, Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent England. Her father Harry worked at a local iron foundry in Tunstall and her mother Ann took in washing to supplement the family income. She was the middle of seven children. She started working in the pottery industry as a gilder at the age of 13. At the age of 17, she switched to different pottery company and apprenticed for A.J. Wilkinson. She was rather ambitious and chose to acquire various skills instead of maximizing on one. In the early 1920s, her immediate boss brought her to the attention of one of the factory owners, Colley Shorter who noticed her artistic skills.

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By 1924, at the age of 25, she worked as a modeler but also worked with factory designers John Butler and Fred Ridgway. They produced conservative Victorian style ware and she was allowed to decorate some of the defective pieces with her own freehand patterns. She covered the defective pieces with simple triangle designs in bright colours calling the style Bizarre. To the surprise of everybody it was an instant hit. Clarice was then joined by Glady Scarlett who helped her decorate more wares.

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In March 1927, Colley Shorter sent Clarice to the Royal College Art for two periods of study in March and May. From 1927 onwards, Clarice was credited for shapes she designed, the designs she produced from 1929 onwards were considered more modern and was later termed Art Deco. In 1928, she produced a simple hand painted pattern of the Crocus flower in orange. She only had one other decorator produce the Crocus pattern but by 1930s the orders skyrocketed that they needed more decorators to produce the piece. Her team of decorators had grown to a team of 70 young painters mainly women who she calls her Bizarre Girls.

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In 1920, she was appointed art director to Newport Pottery and A.J. Wilkinson, the two factories producing her wares. Together with Colley Shorter they worked closely to catch the attention of buyers in the middle of a major economic depression. Between 1929 and 1935, she produced a mass range of shapes, Conical, Bon Jour/Biarritz, Stamford, Eton, Daffodil, and Trieste. All designs were well received that even through the depths of depression she was able to sell volumes. Her Bizarre and Fantastique ware was sold throughout America, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

After the death of Colley Shorter’s wife in 1940, he married Clarice who then moved into his home in Staffordshire. During World War II only plain white pottery was permitted so Clarice assisted with management and focused her artistic energy on gardening at the 4 acre garden at Chetwynd House. When her husband died in 1963, Clarice sold the factory to Midwinter in 1964. Clarice died on October 23, 1972.

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