One of the things which I think is very difficult to capture in this sort of research writing is the theme or idea that slowly comes into focus from something unconsidered into something important. It requires a degree of prophecy in the record keeping or almost a 1:1 ration of record to action which is more or less impossible to do.

A good example of this in this project is the role of Lowestoft Porcelain in the work. I was aware of the existence of the factory in Lowestoft and its local importance and it was one of the factors in the idea to make commemorative plates. I knew that they had made some of the first seaside souvenirs and that tied in with the idea of seaside ceramics and collectibles as part of the commemorative plate concept. I had seen the displays at the Norwich Castle Museum and I had made that connection but no more. It was a background part of the general idea. There seemed to be something of a seafaring and naval theme to some of the pots I was referencing in general and the cult of the naval captain such as Keppel and Nelson used in the earlier plates.

My technician, Shirley, told me that I should talk to David, one of our caretakers, about Lowestoft Porcelain as he was something of a local expert. David had told me a bit about the factory before and he had told me about the early pots with “A Trifle From Lowestoft” written on them; some of the earliest seaside souvenirs. There are also pots with bathing machines on them.

Some of the early plates got A Trifle From Lowestoft inscribed on them after talking to David. Later on he bought in a book to show me about the collection in the Castle Museum (Smith, Sheenah 1975 Lowestoft Porcelain in Norwich Castle Museum- Volume 1, Blue and White Norwich Castle Museum, Norwich). I did a set of drawings from this and photocopied the borders and put them in the journal. I used these on the edges of some plates and I made one plate with a lot of these border designs going across the surface.

David has taken to coming through the art room first on his rounds to see what I have been doing. He has been fascinated by watching someone grapple with these pre-industrial ceramic techniques that I have been using in the project. And every day there has been something new. David has bought in plate from his collection to show me.

Because of David I now have two further books about Lowestoft Porcelain and he has kept me in touch with developments in the local collecting scene. It seems that Davis has been collecting since 1974 and has owned and traded a lot of Lowestoft Porcelain in his time.

On the last day of term he took me to an auction of Lowestoft Porcelain at the Beaconsfield Club in Lowestoft, run by Russell Sprake. In the centre of a horse show of tables was a long table with all of the lots set out. I sat at the outside tables and helpers would bring out the lots for inspection so one could handle and examine the lots. Some people were asking to look at all of the lots but I was too shy for that and just asked for the coffee cans and the tea bowls and some of the plates. Handling the ware was very interesting. They are heavier and more solid than the idea of porcelain leads you to expect and the qualities of the pots were highly variable. there was a beautiful custard cup (Lot 84 in the catalogue) which was very appealing.

As the auction went on I realised that I was sitting amongst a set of experts on the ware. It is a community of collectors with a huge amount of knowledge about the ware and the history. I realised that one of the reasons we were there was to get more knowledge about the ware. People were sitting there handling and examining all of the lots in sequence with no hope or interest in buying a great number of lots. The handling and the examining is part of building up a knowledge, a touch, a feel for the ware. I was fascinated by the idea of people deliberately building their knowledge by touch in this way. It made me think about how one learns about this sort of thing. I was really looking hard at the things I handled, really trying to impress them onto my mind somehow. Whipping out a sketchbook seemed probably the wrong thing to do but that’s very much what I wanted to do. The process of drawing is part of the imprinting for me. Recording it on paper records it onto my mind as well. People were enjoying the touch and feel of the pottery. There is a definite thrill to holding something made 200 years ago that could live in a museum case.

I realised that part of the appeal is the varied quality and levels of production. The ware goes from very simple and quite primitive blue and white ware to much more sophisticated polychrome ware made later in the life of the factory. This embodies the history of the factory. There isn’t that much to go on which is also part of the attraction. The factory didn’t leave a pattern or very good records so much of what is known has been deduced from what ware exists and what has been excavated during a couple of digs when gas mains went in and new buildings were put up on the site of the cottages and kiln which constituted the factory.

I had picked up from the Sheenah (1975) book that the patterns started off very simply and then worked their way up to more complex variations made up of multiple uses of the simpler themes. I had deduced from this that there was a possibly a training element to this and this would seem to be true. A few key painters and potters came from London, probably Bow, and bought some expertise but many of the painters were drawn from the local fishing and farming communities. Many would have been children so this is building up of expertise is built into the decoration of the ware. There is learning in the history of the ware as the factory and the people in it got better at what they were doing.

In the terms of the times they were fantastically successful. They lasted for forty years and stopped when the original investors got too old to be bothered with it. They never went bankrupt which was a common outcome for many pottery factories of the time. They survived by being flexible, innovative and happy to copy too.

The auctioneer made some reference to a piece of damage on a pot being a minor firing accident ‘all those years ago’ and I realised that is part of the attraction for the collectors, that connection with the past in the processes and hand touches of the makers.

I did bid on a couple of things but not very well. At the end David spoke to Sprake about the pot that I hadn’t bid up to the reserve and he agreed to sell it to me for the reserve price of £60 so I have become a collector. I am the owner of a small Lowestoft Porcelain tea bowl, Lot 6, Small blue & white teabowl, Mansfield pattern, crescent mark. I have been inculcated.

How do you learn about something like this? Every collector there has there own story about what piqued their interest and drew them in. This would appear to be mine.

In March I also made a blue and white plate with a design of a Lowestoft fish smoker smoking some herring on tenter hooks over a fire. I used a Lowestoft Porcelain border and I wrote ‘Made at Lowestoft Mar 24th In the presence of D. Sturman’ for David. This is in reference to the the pots in Norwich Museum, made as samplers, with ‘Made in the presence of R. Browne’. This pot came out of the kiln this week with a nice clear glaze on it. I shall give it to David once it has been exhibited somewhere as part of the project. He hasn’t seen it yet.

It is to thank David for his input into the plates, of course, and his showing me Lowestoft Porcelain. It is also supposed to be about the people involved in the project. I remember making a spider gram about some art work last year as an example for the summer school at SARU and being surprised about how it became about the people I had met in the making of the work. In this reflective writing, continually examining the inside of ones own head, it is possible to forget the interactions and the people that you talk to that fire off so many connections, explain so many things and have such an impact on the work.

It is certainly a major feature of this project, carried out as it is on a table in the back of classroom as pupils and teachers and cleaners and caretakers wander past. These interactions are very much part of the project and are part of what makes making work there very different to making work in the peace of a studio.