The story behind Emily Mitchell’s ceramics
Emily Mitchell is a UK-based ceramicist and artist producing hand-built and hand-thrown ceramics from her studio in Norwich. Emily studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art, London and has taught at art colleges across the UK. Emily’s connection with ceramics began with her mother, the ceramicist Judith Onions, best known for her re-invention of the classic blue and white striped ‘Cornishware‘ for TG Green & Co.
Emily’s work grows out of an interest in everyday objects to tell their own stories. She explores narrative and classic fiction, as well as museum collections and archives to develop ideas. She is interested in historic ceramic forms and processes and uses hand painting, slip decoration and sprig work to create her pieces.
We are delighted to be stocking Emily’s new collection of candlesticks and small vases.
A quick chat with Emily Mitchell and Nicky Hancock
I sat down and asked Emily some questions so that I could learn a bit more about her work.
NH: Can we call this collection you are making for Homeward ‘everyday’ objects, and by ‘everyday’ we mean things to be used and handled? For instance, do you view the recent work you produced for The Shop Floor Project as something separate i.e to be viewed and displayed as art? Is there a clear distinction in your head between the work?
EM: I like that ceramics are used, useful and handled, so in that sense, the pieces I have made for Homeward Studio I see as ‘everyday objects’. I wouldn’t make a distinction between how an object is made, experienced or valued. I create all my pieces with the hope that they might become special to the individual for a variety of reasons. I think of the collection of plates I made for the Shop Floor Project as somewhere between display and use and I like the way an object is used and experienced differently through specific circumstances and desires of the owner.
NH: I ve heard you mention your interest in ‘souvenirs’. I’d be interested to hear a bit more about your ideas around that. Are you a collector of souvenirs? Is there anything in particular you collect? I tend to collect things purely by chance so my ‘collections’ really are quite random! My buying trips for Homeward have made me a magpie, I have to be careful! Objects that have found their way into my home often have no great monetary value attached to them but vary from mass produced everyday items (I am a fan of items made of Bakelite for example) to one-off handmade personal treasures that have been carefully made by an unknown person from the past. I like that idea.
We’ve always had Mum’s hand stitched quilts around – I think she knew she was making family heirlooms at the time. They are special and treasured pieces too as she has sewn names and dates on them and sometimes little messages.
EM: Perhaps by ‘souvenir’ I mean ‘commemorative object’ items that have been produced specifically to mark events and have a story locked to them – births, deaths, celebrations etc. The word plates I made from literature are sort of souvenirs of the narrative made ‘real’.
I grew up with two serious collectors, my granny and my mother, so I was surrounded with unusual objects in everyday life at home. My granny was an antique dealer, who specialised in early English oak, and I always wanted to play dolls with the oak cribs and she always let me! As a child I was more captivated by the ‘fancy’ items, like a stump work picture or an oyster walnut mirror, but now, perhaps, have more appreciation for something more dark and spare in design too. The idea of ‘value’ for me was more about something contained in the magic of the object itself and the way the imagination spins a history.
I’ve inherited a lot of collections – and I also collect antique ceramics, often commemorating events or people. I’m very interested in embroidery and I do have one or two samplers, which I love.
NH: I love how you have referenced the two handled ‘loving cup’ or multi-handled Harvest Cup form in some of your pieces, which has made for some really intriguing and unconventional looking pieces and why I love your work! Are there any other specific historic ceramic forms which inspire you? Handles do seem to be a ‘thing’. Can you perhaps tell us anymore about that?
EM: Handles are the interface between me and the person using them. I am enjoying exploring the form of the handle as almost a ‘portrait’ of a cup.
I generally like extravagant forms! Given a lump of clay I am excited and interested to see how it might evolve through the process of making it into something both unique and useful. References that I draw upon often include 17th and 18th century kitchenware. I am inspired by particular times in history, but also by the particularity of an object that might have been mass produced and has now survived as something unique.
NH: Your recent collection of plates for The Shop Floor Project was wonderful. Typeface and colour, two of my favourite things…! The colour of your glazes for this collection were just lovely. Is it hard to get such bright clear colours, like the crisp bright yellow and the blues? Is it something to do with the type of clay you use too? Have you referenced anything in particular to arrive at these colours? I love them!
EM: The collection of plates I’ve made for The Shop Floor Project are coloured with slip (a liquid clay, painted in layers at greenware stage) rather than glaze. I like the density and depth of colour that slip can give. I used terracotta to make the plates and I enjoy the contrast of the red clay with the sharpness of colour. The colour choices find echoes in the narratives, be it mood, era or place.
NH: It was a great pleasure to be taught ceramics by your Mum, Judith Mitchell as I knew her back in the late 1980s, on my Btec in General Art & Design at Newcastle under Lyme Tertiary College in Stoke on Trent. I remember her with very fond memories; a teacher with a brilliant humour, enthusiasm and warmth. Funnily enough three pots from my Newcastle College days still survive! Once I’d left home my Mum merrily used them for her dried flower arrangements! I’ve got them now here at home with me. Big lumps of earthiness is how I’d best describe them!
To be honest I’m a bit embarrassed that I knew nothing of the success of the younger Judith Onions and that she had such an impact on the redesign and success of T & G Green in the 1960s. She was obviously pretty modest as I’ve since checked with friends who were taught by her at the same time, who didn’t know either. By happy accident I have a set of 1930’s T.G Green – Domino side plates found on one of my vintage buying trips ages ago for Homeward that I kept for home. More recently around the same time that I got in touch with you, Emily, I came across a 1960s TG Green sugar bowl and jug on Leek market, which is back stamped with a Judith Onions RCA It’s a lovely bit of serendipity and a lovely connection now that I have the pleasure of stocking your wonderful work at Homeward.