Lowri Davies - BA Hons Ceramics 
Lowri Davies outside Nantgarw Chinaworks Museum

With her forthcoming exhibition beginning on December 9th, writer Gwyn Griffiths (Cert Ed (PE) 1961) caught up with Lowri Davies BA Hons Ceramics 2001.

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“Nantgarw is my inspiration – the place, its history and the rare and beautiful porcelain produced here in the second decade of the 19th century,” says the internationally known ceramic artist Lowri Davies, whose work will be exhibited at the china works museum from December 9, 2011, until March 10, 2012.

Her delicate, elegant work has been shown in galleries over the world, including the SOFA (Sculpture Objects & Functional Art) exhibition at Chicago and, most recently, ‘Collect’ at the Saatchi Gallery, Kings Road, London.  But bringing her collection home to Nantgarw, between Cardiff and Pontypridd, is the greatest thrill of all for her.
 
Understandable, when we recall that she was born up the hill at Tonteg, and her uncle’s garage in the village, was her first studio after she graduated in Ceramics from the Cardiff School of Art (UWIC) in 2001.  There is pride and delight at seeing her work displayed alongside that of William Billingsley and Thomas Pardoe in the same farmhouse turned factory where they worked nearly 200 years ago.  (Some of her pieces are already on display in the museum.)      

She has spent time at Nantgarw observing and copying the floral images decorating their works.  Her line drawing is exquisite.  As a child her father encouraged her to draw with a pen and she enjoys working small scale.  “I have studied the patterns of other porcelain works – Swansea, Llanelli, Buckley, Ewenny, - and I am aware of others in the Welsh tradition and the importance of floral decoration in that tradition,” she says.  She draws upon those images, their formality, but giving them her own flourishes and deliciously delicate contemporary touch.

The art of making fine porcelain has been her life over the past 10 years.  Still only 33, she studied the Nantgarw collections at the National Museum of Wales and at the Victoria & Albert Museum. 

Also among her collections are images of birds and animals inspired by the work of the Hutchings taxidermy business in Aberystwyth who operated roughly in the period between 1860 and 1940.  “My parents moved to Aberystwyth when I was four and I became aware there were in many homes in the area stuffed birds and animals in glass cases which were set against atmospheric backgrounds.  I don’t suppose I found them in the least unusual – there were a few in my primary school, Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth.”
 
Lowri plays with traditional stereotypical Wales.  There is mischief in her work.  And disturbing, too, like the teapot depicting a Welsh tale about an evil spirit imprisoned in a teapot.  The past, whether it is the art of Billingsley, or the ghost stories she heard at her grandparents’ fireside, are all part of the inspiration.

In 2007 she went to Staffordshire University, at the heart of the potteries, to do her Masters in Ceramics Design.  “I went to Staffordshire University to improve my technical ability and change the clay body that I work with. I learnt how bone china was produced in industry,” she says.  “I am now able to imitate those techniques. During my time there, I also had a placement at the Wedgwood Design Studio where I had the opportunity to delve into drawings and designs from their archives.”



She uses bone china from Stoke-on-Trent, working with this fine clay in the Fireworks Clay Studio, Riverside, Cardiff.   The forms are slip cast with the liquid clay poured into a mould and allowed to dry into the shape.  The forms are biscuit fired and then given a clear or coloured glaze on to which the images are applied using a transfer-print system and decorated with gold and silver lustre.  On the interior and exterior of the cups, bowls, jugs and vases are delicate drawings of cups, vessels and floral decoration imitated and developed from the traditional Welsh porcelain that she has observed and studied over the past four years.
 
In this age of concept art it is refreshing to meet someone with the skills and techniques to produce artistry and beauty which we can all love and appreciate.

The Nantgarw Chinaworks Museum is very much a project in progress.  Here, Billingsley struggled and experimented to produce the finest porcelain in the world.  Like Billingsley, Lowri learnt that porcelain is a hard master with works often ruined in the firing process.  Billingsley and Thomas Pardoe painted their delicate illustrations here and Pardoe would later produced earthenware pots and clay pipes.  Where the finest bone china was produced for grand palaces and mansions, and then the pots and pipes for the cottages and farms, Nantgarw is turning full circle with the lovely elegance of Lowri’s work attracting world attention.  Thanks to the work of the Trustees Nantagrw is coming to life again with Sally Stubbins teaching pottery and water-colouring at the Museum and she and Lowri are bringing back the traditions of the past.
 
In the 1990s the old farmhouse was bought by Taff-Ely Council, a part of the site was excavated and the outside kilns renovated.  Further renovation saw one of the outside buildings adapted for work with schoolchildren which flourished for many years.  Local authority re-organisation saw Nantgarw taken over by Rhondda Cynon Tâf. 
 
Lowri has found inspiration in the place, and she in turn is proving an inspiration to others.
                                                                              Gwyn Griffiths

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