Actually the quote doesn’t relate to the Martin brothers pictured in my header photograph, but to something called a puzzle jug. Puzzle jugs were an 18th century drinking game, where the drinker was encouraged by the inscription on the side of a jug to drink from it without spilling any of the contents. Sounds relatively easy until you see the jug! Note the position of the numerous spouts.
But let’s return to the Martin Brothers. The eldest brother Robert, assisted by his younger brothers Walter and Edwin were potters in London. Robert was the modeller, Edwin the decorator and Walter the thrower and kiln supervisor. A fourth brother Charles, joined them later and was their retailer. They are believed to have had the first studio-workshop, and leading the way in Britain just at the time when ceramic industrialisation was being rejected for artisan pottery. They were particularly known for their grotesque birds, imps and monsters. I rather like their jug below!
All of these ceramics can be found in the wonderful industrial gallery at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, a space which seems to be dedicated to highlighting many of the crafts produced in Birmingham and wider afield over the past 200 years. When it opened the space would have been jammed packed with paintings, sculpture, and displays of glass, ceramics, and more. These days as you arrive in the gallery it feels quite open and airy, but then as you begin to look round the upper galleries you realise there is actually quite a lot to see. If you love ceramics and metalwork then this is a must visit for you. It was the tiles that caught our eye. In fact you cannot miss them as they cover the walls!
A significant proportion of the tiles on display were the work of William de Morgan, one of the most renowned ceramists of the Victorian era. As you may have surmised from his work he was a close friend of William Morris and part of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Like many Portuguese ceramic painters he often created individual designs which became more intricate when several tiles were placed together.
His tiles and tiles in his style were not the only ceramic tiles on display. There were also tiles from the previous century, of which the majority were ‘printed’ by John Sadler and Guy Green. Now whilst unlike de Morgan they did not try their hand at making tiles, they did develop innovative and cheap techniques for ‘transfer printing’. By 1756 their techniques were so successful that they could apparently print 1200 tiles in six hours, consequently undercutting the Dutch in the manufacture of tiles.
As well as tiles they also printed creamware for Wedgewood’s rapidly growing North American market. I am sure there were examples in the gallery but unfortunately I didn’t take any photographs of them. However this rather splendid red fish on a plate did catch my eye, and with the reflections of the BMAG Industrial Galley I thought rather a good place to finish.