A Life with Mud – Stephen & Caroline Atkinson-Jones
April 15, 2021
I have been producing ceramics in my various workshops since I was 17…I’m still doing that – it’s a lifetime’s work and interest, although I have been involved in a great variety of other pursuits over the years.
After working and training in business studies for 5 years, I wanted to learn more about industrial ceramics. To that end I gained a BA Hons at North Stafford University, and employed that training to my work in the ceramics industry in Stoke-on-Trent.
I was also a freelance designer for brands such as Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Rosenthal and Midwinter.
In 1979 I applied for, and was offered, a place at The Royal College Art and was very fortunate to have the inspiring Lord Queensbury as my tutor. I gained an MA in ceramics and glass and developed small batch production using industrial techniques. Caroline trained at Ravensbourne College of Art and gained a 1st Class degree in industrial design, specialising in ceramics.
In my first year of trading, I was offered a space at the Chelsea Craft Fair which resulted in orders from most of the Crafts Council selected galleries. As a result of those contacts I was subsequently offered a bursary from South East Arts. Another high point was having a piece of work bought by the Victoria & Albert Museum ( now on display in the ceramics gallery ).
Leon Brittan, the then Foreign Secretary, bought work to present to all foreign diplomats, and there was also work commissioned for Diana, Princes of Wales.
A milestone event in my life was when Caroline and I met in 1987….we were married in 1990 and joined forces together to produce new ranges of work which were sold to, among others, Liberty, Harrods, Heals, The Designers Guild and Fortnum and Masons.
Over the years, we have produced many ranges. Designers are, essentially, problem solvers so it is important for us to make work that is both aesthetically pleasing but also functional. We research old ceramic techniques, try to master and develop them, ensuring that our work is both useful and relevant in today’s world, and enjoyed by many. For the last 27 years we have been developing our onglaze lustreware technique. This involves firing precious metals onto the porcelain ceramics we produce in our workshop. Lustreware is a very labour intensive and costly process, and prone to error. Gold prices are continuing to rise, which may prompt a change in direction for us…already we are developing new ranges of work featuring texture rather than shine.
Caroline and I have been very fortunate in our careers – we have worked with Anita Roddick of Body Shop fame, and also Aston Martin/Lagonda. We also produced the winning entry for the South East souvenir competition.
I became a member of The Sussex Guild of Craftsmen in 1981, and Caroline joined in 1988. Our business mode now is to sell directly to the public, mainly at the Sussex Guild events. This provides us with enough business for our production capacity, allowing the time and flexibility to develop new work without pressure.
Both Caroline and I have also been involved in education – as visiting lecturers over many years in most of the art colleges in the UK and teaching at BA and MA levels. I was also a government moderator for several BTECH courses.
Our career in ceramics has given us great joy over many years. I gives us an inner peace to know that we have earned a living from our own endeavours and ideas.
It has been a long and eventful Life with Mud!