The Willow pattern is one of the most famous British ceramic designs. The scene of a temple with bridge, boat and willow tree was inspired by images found on Chinese ceramics, but was the creation of British manufacturers in the late-18th century. The love story it supposedly depicts was invented later as a clever marketing tool. An early dated example of the Willow pattern design is in the V&A collection, a plate inscribed ‘Thomasine Willey / 1818’ . The Willey family of Cornwall, for whom this plate was made, supplied the Staffordshire potteries with the blue pigment, cobalt, in the early-19th century.
The Willow pattern has an enduring quality that continues to prove popular with contemporary ceramic manufacture and art production. A series of plates made by Wedgwood in 2005 will feature in the display, here architectural ceramicist Robert Dawson takes elements from the iconic pattern – pagodas, Chinese figures crossing a bridge, two lovebirds – and uses digital technology to distort and make us look afresh at the familiar imagery.
Preparations for the display this week included a visit to contemporary artist Livia Marin at her studio to see her Willow derived ‘Nomad Patterns’ series, it was a great opportunity to examine the pieces and discuss which ones to include. Livia makes these from found and broken ceramics, immersed in resin and plaster forms, transfer-printed with a dispersed composition of the Willow design. The once formal pattern intended to cover a teacup or plate, has become a floating element, altering the placing and scale of the decorative pattern to present a series of unique objects part broken and yet complete.
The Willow pattern continues….watch this space!