Ceramics as show – site specific ceramics in 1950s London coffee bars
Partington, M. (2010) Ceramics as show – site specific ceramics in 1950s London coffee bars. In: Ceramics on Show: Public and Private Displays, Victoria and Albert Museum, Lecture Theatre, 24-25 September 2010.
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This paper discusses the phenomenon of the London coffee bars of the 1950s from the point of view of the ceramics which were made for them by a small group of potters – primarily Margret Hine, William Newland and Nicholas Vergette. Whilst little if any of these ceramics survive the author has brought together photographic, documentary and oral history evidence to paint a picture of a group of artists working for clients who wanted work which would make their coffee bar stand out from the 500 or so which had sprung up in London during the mid 1950s. Freed from the constraints of good taste and restraint so beloved of the Leach school, these artists were free to use colour, size and exotic themes to realise their client’s desire for their bar to ‘stand out’. From the early commissions for wheel-thrown cow heads and tile panels for the Moo Cow Milk Bar in Victoria Street to a whole series of bars with French, Mexican and American themes through to their work in the 1960s on Indian restaurants, the work of these artists represent a fascinating example of site specific ceramics. A client who commissioned some work from Newland for his bar described the result – ‘a ghastly eight-ft. high head, a ceramic mask, in the window. People stopped to look. They were horrified. They were mystified. But it intrigued them and they went in [to the coffee bar].’ They were ceramics conceived for particular spaces to amuse and engage the public.