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Exhibition: White Gold at Nantgrw China Works Museum

GWYN GRIFFITHS enjoys an exhibition of fine porcelain combining the functional with the decorative

There couldn’t be a more appropriate venue for this exhibition of porcelain tableware, which brings together 12 artists at the Nantgarw China Works Museum. 

Making fine porcelain — “white gold” — was the defining moment in Nantgarw’s history when, in 1813, William Billingsley and Thomas Pardoe came to the farmhouse on the bank of the Glamorganshire canal, just north of Cardiff. It was a time when porcelain in Europe was a blue-chip commodity for the very wealthy.

The recurring theme of this exhibition is the fusion of boundaries between the functional and decorative in objects used on a daily basis as is the case with Justine Allen’s works. 

Stuart Houghton’s very fine porcelain pots are robust and resilient while Carys Davies, originally of Conwy, makes bowls, vases and beakers, thrown on the wheel in porcelain. Smooth and white inside, rough with volcanic glazes on the outside, she makes a virtue of displaying defects inherent to the production process. 

Elegant oval shapes emerge from lifting pieces from the wheel while wet, or curved by the heat of the firing. Her works are ingrained with lines by contemporary Welsh poets, one craft fusing or translating into another.

Kate Evans’s work perhaps reflects the Nantgarw tradition best of all. Her inspiration comes from the flowers in the hedgerows of Monmouthshire, silhouettes and shadows contrasting abstract and natural forms.

The purity, sensitivity and strength of the 18th century porcelain vases, typical of Meissen and Sevres combine with the influences of graphic textile and ceramic designs of the 1950s and ’60s in the works of Australian-born Susan Nemeth.

The 18th century, when dining vessels came to accommodate new functions and fashions in porcelain, are an inspiration too for Louisa Taylor’s collection, the result of time spent as artist in residence at the Victoria & Albert museum.

Nantgarw House has international importance in the history of porcelain. It was, nevertheless, a small factory later producing kitchenware for the working classes. It is now a museum and gallery, a showcase to the art of ceramics and by developing links with the unique ceramics department of Cardiff Metropolitan University it has an exciting future ahead, as this exhibition amply demonstrates.

Runs until August 17. Free. Opening times: 01443 841-703

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