Rachel Bishop holds the distinction of being only the fourth head of the Moorcroft design department over a period that extends almost 100 years, ever since William Moorcroft set up his own pottery after departing from the Burslem firm of James Macintyre and Company in 1913. Rachel can to a certain extent thank her late grandmother for the position she now holds as it was she who, in early 1992, brought to her attention the vacancies advertised by Moorcroft for people ‘who could paint and draw’. Her employment with the pottery was not immediate as her initial interview with the then co-owner Hugh Edwards, although impressive, was primarily for the position of painter and not designer. Rachel was rejected but both parties agreed to keep in contact.
Hugh well remembers this first meeting and how he was keen for the then fellow owner Richard Dennis to cast his expert eye over her portfolio. It was obvious to both of them that they were dealing with a modern day disciple of William Morris that combined an undeniable creative talent with a maturity well beyond her 22 years. At that time the design leader was Richard’s wife Sally Tuffin, who as one half of ‘Foale and Tuffin’ had already established herself as one of the UK’s most important fashion designers during the ‘Swinging Sixties’. However in December 1992 both Richard and Sally parted company with Moorcroft and decided to concentrate their efforts into their Dennis China Works.
Hugh Edwards and wife Maureen now found themselves with the unexpected problem of being without a resident designer with a company that was at last showing real signs of growth. It should be remembered that seven years earlier Hugh and Richard, together with their respective partners, had rescued the then failing company from certain closure, albeit at the eleventh hour. Hugh was however mindful of his meeting with Rachel and arranged for yet another meeting, the outcome of which was that Rachel Bishop was appointed as the company’s senior designer, a position she retains to the present day.
In 1997 the company celebrated the centenary of William Moorcroft’s appointment as designer for James Macintyre and Company, and the then present day design team had expanded to include eight members headed by Rachel. Today this same design team has been rationalised to four with further design work regularly being offered by several of the company’s painters and tubeliners. Within three years of arriving at the Sandbach Road works and the launch of her Tigris range, Moorcroft’s turnover had doubled and the new head of design was recognised as the primary impetus for this welcome growth. I was made aware of this new talent in 1993 after contacting Hugh Edwards to supply a Moorcroft pot to be featured with other examples of contemporary design on a TV programme with which I was involved being made by Anglia TV in Norwich. I can still remember opening the huge cardboard box on the studio set and unwrapping the most wonderful vase labelled ‘Oberon’. The floral composition was in total harmony with the chosen form and decorated with colourful glazes that hinted at Tiffany stained glass – I was in short beguiled by the jewel-like qualities of this remarkable vase and needed to own it. I now do! I was quick to contact Hugh in an attempt to glean as much information as possible regarding Miss Bishop in order to wax lyrical about this exciting new discovery. Eighteen years later and Rachel’s contribution to W.Moorcroft PLC continues, albeit for the past year health problems have prevented her working. Her style is often instantly recognisable by her devoted collectors with its inspiration frequently rooted in the design ethos preached by her mentor – William Moorcroft. Her portfolio today encompasses an extensive range of subject matter that depends way beyond her fascination with stylised and exotic flora. Her 2008 New Forest Collection consisted of fifteen individual designs, each then representing a year since her arrival at Moorcroft and illustrated well her ability to offer a wide variety of designs in subject choice and her instinctive use of colour to great effect. Her decision to accept the challenge of creating fifteen designs around this central theme was quite calculated, or to put it into her own words; ‘Every design in this collection is named after places scattered throughout the New Forest. In my mind’s eye I can see them all as if yesterday was today. I grew up in this historic and beautiful area and happily for me my mother and father still live there. Over the years the New Forest has provided me with a continual stream of inspiration. Throughout my childhood I would go out walking and literally absorb both images and emotions wherever I went. Sometimes those images evolved into a design and, perhaps more rarely, others were destined to emerge years later to challenge me for a second time.’
The collection is indeed a journey into a region populated by wild peacocks, colourful butterflies, bountiful rhododendrons and gently flowing rivers. And yet my personal favourite is a black and white study of sinuous fish set against turbulent waters. Titled ‘Ober Water’, the playful fish are set in habitat that begins as a gravel stream that wends its way to the Lymington River. There again, fish and frogs do feature regularly on the few Moorcroft pots in my own collection and I realise that it is only a matter of time and excess income before either the vase or the matching plaque end up with yours truly. Her best seller, launched in 2006, however, features everyone’s favourite insect amongst delicate blue flora adapted on to a range of shapes. ‘Fly away home’, as the title suggests, sees the introduction of numerous Ladybirds amongst exotic agapanthus flowers whilst set against bold reserves of creamy white that helps provide a relatively contemporary overall effect. In 2011 Rachel has once again adopted the mantle of William Moorcroft and introduced ‘Florian Flame’, a numbered edition vase of structured simplicity. Small shaded red flowers are set in two florian-style panels of stylised flame appearance with each red flower being offset against green leaves and reserves of smoky grey.
Most collectors invariably lament on the one the one you should have bought or the one that got away. In my case it was a veritable masterpiece of a vase designed by Rachel and introduced in 2003 under the title of ‘Destiny’. Here was a complex working of dandelion seed clocks capture by a late summer breeze sending a myriad of individual seeds into the air. The clever use of blues and neutral glazes all added to the sense of reality and the suggested belief that the vase actually offers a snapshot of an almost forgotten summer now remembered. Temptation is once again calling my name in the guise of a prestige vase launched in 2010 called ‘Thistledown’. On this occasion Rachel has worked her magic with a composition of light puffs of white thistledown that drift gently away from the host plant. In contrast vibrant thistle flowers stand proud in their cardinal purple attire awaiting their turn to whiten and follow their fate to a new beginning. When it comes to accomplished ceramic design it really doesn’t get much better than this, but there again we are looking at a masterwork of a master designer – Rachel Bishop.
Moorcroft Design Team Rachel Bishop by Eric Knowles www.ericknowles.co.uk first publishedin ARC Magazine