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Unveiling the Story of Parkinson Pottery Pioneers of British Ceramic Artistry

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In the quaint village of Brabourne Lees near Ashford in Kent, a remarkable chapter of British pottery history was written by Richard (1927-1985) and Susan Parkinson (1925-2012). Between 1952 and 1963, this couple embarked on a creative odyssey that would leave an indelible mark on contemporary ceramics. Richard Parkinson Ltd, or better known as Parkinson Pottery, became synonymous with innovativeness, artistry, and distinctiveness, setting new standards ahead of its time. In this feature we include some examples of the wide variety of pieces (including figures, animals and domestic wares) created by the pottery along with a price guide of realised prices at auction.

Two 1950s Classical Heads by Richard Parkinson pottery sculptures designed by Susan Parkinson
Two 1950s Classical Heads by Richard Parkinson pottery sculptures designed by Susan Parkinson. Sold for £550 at Windsor Auctions, November 2023.

The highly accomplished artist Susan Parkinson, formally educated at the prestigious Royal College of Art, brought with her to the pottery a level of craft and artistic vision that already boasted with some 1,000 original designs, ranging from houses to children to animals and line-inspired decorations. Expertise showed through in the unique offerings of the company in slip-cast figures, animals, and domestic wares.

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Elegant simplicity and black decoration on a white body lend these pieces—common as they are with most of the Parkinsons—one would say a testimony glowing with Susan’s artistic flair and attention to details. The Parkinson’s approach was truly a revolutionary one. Slip casting was a very new process for small-scale potteries, allowing much more complex and uniform shapes to be produced. The richness of the material and the diversity of its possibilities with Susan’s artistic designs brought out pieces that would in themselves look appealing and at the same time project a due understanding of the material and all it could carry.

A Richard Parkinson Pottery dish designed by Susan Parkinson plus fish bottle stoppers
A Richard Parkinson Pottery dish designed by Susan Parkinson, elliptical form, resist decorated with two fish, in blue-grey on a white ground, another similar decorated with two figures, and two Richard Parkinson Pottery bottle stoppers one modelled as a fish the other a French Gendarme originally designed by Guy Neale. Sold for £180 at Woolley & Wallis, March 2023.

The product range of Parkinson Pottery varied. While the domestic wares served the function of everyday need in British homes, it was the slip-cast figures and animals that truly represented the artistic talent of the Parkinsons. Often inspired by both the natural world and the everyday, these works managed to strike a chord with collectors and enthusiasts alike for their whimsical charm as well as for their technical accomplishment. Their iconic heads in monochrome colours remain a favourite among collectors.

Parkinson Pottery small slipcast porcelain model of a robin
Parkinson Pottery small slipcast porcelain model of a robin. Sold for £40 at Adam Partridge Auctioneers & Valuers, October 2022.

It’s just that the success and the acclaim the brand could amass did not, however, manage to keep Parkinson Pottery around for that long. It’s what made the company’s closing in 1963 the end not just of an era but of a legacy—those of ceramic artists and collectors whose lives it touched after that day. After the closure, the moulds used by the Parkinsons were acquired by George Gray for Cinque Ports Pottery. While a few of the items from the domestic range have been reintroduced, unfortunately the greater majority of the original moulds for the figures and animals were destroyed, so that the survivors are even more valuable for collectors.

A Richard Parkinson Pottery Rook wall plate designed by Susan Parkinson From the Chess Series
A Richard Parkinson Pottery Rook wall plate designed by Susan Parkinson. From the Chess Series, with resist decorated/scratched with a rook and a castle in the background, in blue-green. Diameter 340mm. Sold for £340 at Wallis & Wallis Auctions, January 2022.

Yet the Parkinsons and their pottery did cast huge shadow on many years of their business. Today, Parkinson Pottery pieces of pottery are sought after by the people who collect them and can be seen in the museums, admired because of the design and the craftsmanship which had been put into making them. Vision of an artist by Susan Parkinson, and the identification of the determined couple with their works still urged to create contemporary ceramics, reminding of the potential of this embodiment in modern clay.

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