The 104 files in this series document the ceramic objects that were designed and produced by the KDW ceramics department over the period from 1966 to 1987. The documentation is in the form of slides, photographs and negatives. There are no KDW record sheets related to this series in the Archive. The items depicted in this collection include tableware, cookware, vases, lamp bases, candle holders, plant containers, plaques, sculptures, statues and ornaments.
Administrative and biographical history
The KDW ceramics department was part of the early workshops established in 1965, alongside candle-making, printed and woven textiles, woodturning and silversmithing. Similar to the silversmithing workshop, a few pottery staff were working in the KDW as early as 1963, although they produced only plaster moulds and models until the kilns were installed. The Amsterdam born ceramic artist Sonja Landweer was invited to join the KDW in 1965 after she completed six months as a guest potter for the Arabia company in Finland. Landweer remained in the KDW for one year and undertook extensive glaze testing and clay research. The core task of the KDW ceramics department was to carry out design and development work for the Irish pottery, china and earthenware industries as well as to carry out its own design development programme with materials, glazes, forms and decorations. Alongside Landweer, the English ceramic designer David Reeves, was instrumental in the first few years of the ceramics department and he is listed as the designer for all ceramic items intended for industrial production that was on show at the first KDW exhibition, held in November 1965. Landweer is named as the designer of all 'hand-made pieces' on view at the same exhibition. The exhibition was an important showcase of what KDW were capable of designing, and all items were intended as prototypes for other industries to license and manufacture. One prototype designed by Reeves at the opening exhibition – a hors d'oeuvres set – was reproduced by Arklow Potteries Ltd, exclusively for the big Nieman Marcus Department Store in Dallas. The prototyping facilities at the KDW were key to research and development, and in the ceramics department designers and modellers worked beside the potters to develop slipcast pieces for production, and all designs were proved under production conditions before they were licensed to factories.
No record sheets were located with the ceramics files in this series, therefore it is difficult to identify many designers, although names are recorded on the reverse of some photographs and others were identified through archival records, catalogues or published materials. Although Landweer was fundamental to the workshop in the foundation years, no files at this point are overtly connected to her. Approximately 70 files in this series have unidentified designers, however it is possible that some early files could be linked to Landweer or Reeves. Only two files can be definitively associated with David Reeves, these are for two tea services, one called the 'Irish Lace Range' which was manufactured by the Carrigaline Pottery Company Ltd. from Cork, and the second was called the 'Kinvara Range', both circa 1966-1967. The 'Irish Lace Range' featured a fluted design and they extended the range into dinnerware and cookery pieces. It was reputed in some published materials to have been a very popular range and was manufactured with different glazes by other potteries after the Carrigaline Pottery's initial license. The 'Kinvara Range' was a simpler and more contemporary design, primarily in white with bold red or blue floral patterns around each piece of the set. One photograph in the series depicts a 1967 Brown Thomas promotion of the Kinvara mugs displayed in a point of sale within the store.
The designer Jim Kirkwood joined the KDW in 1971 and undertook many of the large scale ceramic projects. He is directly associated with 12 files in this series, and is possibly responsible for many more files that remain unidentified. Some examples designed by Kirkwood include the 'Man Set' and the 'Vita' vases which were manufactured by a large company called Rosenthal A.G. from West Germany in 1972. The 'man set' was a ceramic desk set comprising of smoking paraphernalia and stationery items. The pen holders were multifunctional as flower vases and all were finished with a solid enamel in black or white. The 'Vita' vases came in three different sizes, in white or lamina gold. A popular product designed by Kirkwood for Wades Ltd. from Portadown, Co. Down was a brown glazed oven-proof stew pot. This stew pot was made even more successful by the inclusion of a removable label designed by Elizabeth Fitz-Simon, which featured a recipe for making Irish stew. The KDW helped Wades factory to diversify into the consumer kitchenware market by showing them alternative approaches to using their industrial semi-automatic lathes. Another company availed of Kirkwood and the KDW ceramic department's expertise – Celtic Ceramics Ltd, Kilrush, Co. Clare – a subsidiary of the German company Rosenthal. The popular rich peat brown glazed 'Ennis' range of earthenware ceramics was extended to almost 28 pieces at the peak of its popularity, incorporating fondue and oyster plates, and beer pitchers. This range earned the KDW substantial royalties for many years and was produced in other colour ways such as oatmeal, variegated green and a very pale blue.
The KDW worked with many industries to help them diversify and modernise their range of products, the Belleek Pottery company from County Fermanagh was one example of this type of association. Kirkwood worked with the Belleek Potteries to establish a new range of commemorative pieces such as the annual Christmas plates of which there are some samples illustrated in this series. The bud vase was also designed by Kirkwood and manufactured by Belleek, this product sold consistently well to new customers and was packaged in a specially designed box by Holger Strom and Elizabeth Fitz-Simon.
Oisin Kelly, the KDW artist-in-residence, designed some functional as well as sculptural pieces for the ceramics department over the period from 1966 to circa 1978. His functional pieces came in the form of large plant containers, which were manufactured in terracotta by Fleming Fireclay Ltd. in Athy. Some of his sculptural pieces formed a range of stoneware animals and birds, including horses, puffins, mallards, wrens and grouse to name a few, all of which were hand painted. Young designers and model makers were employed by the KDW to work alongside older technicians and designers to gain experience. This range of stoneware birds was reputedly painted by Marie Hennessy, who was 'loaned' or sent out to undertake consultancy work with ceramic factories. Other sculptural pieces designed by Kelly came in human form, such as an elderly man with his arms behind his back or a man playing an accordion. Other plaques feature relief portraits of some famous Irish literary men, including James Joyce, Sean O'Casey and W.B. Yeats. A series of files depict similar stone plaques with religious, sporting or nature themes which are possibly designed by Oisin Kelly, although they have not yet been formally identified as his work.
Other designers featured in this series include Bertel Gardberg, Jens Carlson, Nick Marchant, Maureen Matthews, Jenny Trigwell and Michael Ashur or Michael Byrne. Gardberg designed the first item in this series, which includes two stoneware teapots, a sugar bowl and a cream jug from circa 1968. A note on the reverse of a photograph states that this range was manufactured with different glazes by various potteries. Jens Carlson designed a set of four oven-ware jugs which were pale brown with a deep blue band at the rim and were manufactured by Celtic Ceramics in Kilrush. Nick Marchant a designer from the Industrial Design department of the KDW is responsible for one item depicted in this series, a range of ceramic quadrant vases and vessels designed circa 1975-78. His designs consist of individual vessels which are curved in a semi-circular shape or a V-shape for example, which can be interlocked with multiple vessels to create a cluster. These were designed to hold flowers, or alternatively pens and stationery in an office environment. Maureen Matthews designed a set of two bowls depicted in this series from July 1987, with claims that 'Irish Music and Classical Greek pottery' were the inspiration for her 'unusual bowls'. These bowls were on sale in the Kilkenny shop, Dublin for £14.50 and £24.50. Jenny Trigwell is associated with one file which contains 32 slides of tableware patterns for the 'Kerry' range and the 'Ennis' range. These slides show various illustrated designs by Trigwell for these ranges. Finally, two files in this series are associated with a designer named Michael Ashur, although this is unconfirmed, as published sources associate both items with a designer named Michael (Mike) Byrne. The files depict a once fired vitrified stoneware piggy bank from 1978, and a stoneware pebble box which was hand painted to resemble a real stone from 1977. These pebble boxes were reputedly designed by one of the work-experience participants, possibly Mike Byrne, and became a successful souvenir product for the KDW. They came in various sizes and were packaged in crate-like boxes filled with straw.