The V&A’s Friday Late in October 2015 is all about the Potteries. To tie in with it, I got the opportunity to explore warehouses of industrial plaster molds at Stoke-on-Trent. The former Spode factory site houses a large quantity of these molds which were formerly used in mass manufacturing and are now redundant.
The site was taken over by Stoke-on-Trent city council which is doing great work at breathing new life into the factory buildings which are in the heart of the city. Aside from hosting the British Ceramics Biennial and a visitor centre, plans for the buildings include new artist studios and student accommodation.
It is difficult to convey the atmosphere in the mold stores. Whilst a lot of the molds are from relatively recent tableware production, there are areas in the stores which feel as though they have not been touched in many years . With no lighting, searching through the molds involved a bit of guesswork and luck.
I was allowed to take a number of molds from the site to work with back at the V&A. The plaster molds are used to cast clay objects by pouring liquid clay (slip) into them, the plaster absorbing the liquid and leaving a solid clay form behind. These 31 molds are being recast from again, some possibly for the first time in decades, and the resulting forms brought together in new combinations. Molds have a limited lifespan, which makes each cast taken special, and it is a privilege to be able to work with them.
The new work has a bitter sweet quality – both celebrating the skilled work of the potteries, but also mourning the loss of jobs and skills. I’ll be working with the molds and the objects cast from them at the Friday Late which takes place on Friday 30th October between 18.30 and 22.00. Entrance is free.