- Nuala Clooney
- Middleport Pottery
- Arts Council England
In 2021 Middleport Pottery commissioned artist Nuala Clooney to produce an artwork in response to their site as part of the Meeting Point programme.
Nuala Clooney said:
“I am thrilled to be working with Middleport Pottery. To have access to such rich resources to draw upon, such as the biggest mould archive existing, while being able to share it with the community, staff, and volunteers will be a very special opportunity.”
Middleport Pottery is participating in the fourth Meeting Point programme, building on the success of previous and current programmes, which have seen 25 museums working with more than 50 museum professionals to create 25 new artworks and over 100 workshops.
Middleport Pottery, located in Stoke on Trent, is a Grade II* listed site, and is one of the last Victorian potteries remaining in operation today.
In 1862 Mr William Leigh and Mr Frederick Rathbone Burgess formed a partnership to take over the running of an earthenware business in Burslem, Stoke on Trent. By 1889 Burgess and Leigh moved the business to a new site next to the Trent and Mersey Canal now known as Middleport Pottery. William Leigh was an orphan and a Methodist and his personal background may have informed the brief to his architect Absalom Reade Wood as Middleport Pottery was quickly recognised as a model factory. It was considered a site of innovation and flow; from unloading the clay from the canal to the streamlined manufacturing process inside. It also set high welfare standards with the provision of a wash house for workers and every year employees would receive a Christmas Goose.
The sons, Edmund Leigh and Richard Burgess, continued the business after their fathers’ deaths until the Leigh family took sole control of Middleport Pottery in 1912 after Richard Burgess died. The 20th Century saw ‘Burleigh’ ware continue to be manufactured from Middleport Pottery throughout international conflict, financial crisis and receivership. In the late 1990s, the Dorling family purchased the business and trading under the name Burgess, Dorling and Leigh, ensured the survival of business and building for a further 12 years. In 2011, the company passed into new hands again when it was acquired by Denby Holdings Limited.
The pottery still produces ‘Burleigh’ ware using much the same machinery as designed by engineer William Boulton in the late 1800s and using many of the same processes developed during the factory’s Victorian origins. The earthenware is acclaimed internationally for its unique underglaze tissue transfer printing, creating patterns using hand-engraved copper rollers.
The remaining buildings on site are used for new creative businesses and a visitor centre where you can learn about the people and events that shaped this pottery industry. Within the complex, Clay College has been established to train aspiring new potters in studio ceramic techniques and factory tours allow visitors to experience pottery being made using handcraft methods dating from the 1880s.
Nuala Clooney is a practicing artist based in Birmingham. Nuala has exhibited internationally and extensively across the UK, including in 2018 where she was included in the Arts Council England exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Women, Protest Power. In 2017 she was shortlisted for the John Ruskin Master of All Trades Prize, Sheffield.
In addition, Nuala has developed work for a variety of contexts including Science Gallery London, Barts Pathology Museum London, and the Art and Science Festival Birmingham. Nuala is also the Recipient of the 2020 Feeney Fellowship https://www.feeneytrust.org.uk/fellow-2020.
Sophie Dixon at Grace Darling Museum
Grace Darling Museum commissioned Sophie Dixon in Spring 2019 as part of the Meeting Point programme.