If you’ve been following the progress of our Technology Workshops, you’ll already be able to imagine Gladstone Pottery Museum: it’s there in our very first photos of the striking red brick bottle kilns that so vivified the website. Located in a Victorian pottery factory, it’s where the team experienced, first hand, tales of the Potteries and Stoke-on-Trent. But before Pararchive was Gladstone 2013 – fired up!, an innovative community heritage project that brought the working museum and its stories to life through an immersive on-site performance and, later, a film. Wendy Davies tells us more:
Gladstone 2013 – fired up! was a year long community project involving over 100 people of all ages, including local schoolchildren, residents of a care home, local industrialists, ceramic suppliers, ceramic artists, local historians and former pottery workers as well as staff from Gladstone Pottery Museum, local artists and musicians, the British Ceramics Biennial, the Longton based Centre of Refurbishment Excellence (CORE) Longton heritage project, Creative People and Places Stoke and members of the British Police Symphony Orchestra.
Through a series of workshops for schoolchildren and adults, running from April through to September 2013, we created original words, film, new music, drama, dance and a unique sculpture which we wove together with archive records and film to celebrate the beauty, grit and resilience of the Potteries’ most famous product and its people, past and present. This fed into a celebratory immersive performance on site in and around the original factory buildings at Gladstone Pottery during HERITAGE WEEKEND 2013, which was filmed.
The construction and firing up of the “Firehand” (see the featured image) by international ceramic artist Wali Hawes and colleagues was a dramatic and symbolic centrepiece of the performance. Inspired by the bottle kilns which once dominated Stoke-on-Trent’s skyline, the Firehand represents friendship, unity and above all the skilled hands of pottery workers and Stoke-on-Trent’s proud history of hand made china.
Here’s a clip showing the firing of Wali’s sculpture:
According to Wendy:
The five fingers and the palm symbolise the Mother Town and five sister towns which make up the City of Stoke-on-Trent.
The base is decorated with fragments of pottery made in Stoke on Trent and excavated from a town rubbish dump at Beaumaris, Anglesey. The mouth of the “kiln” is decorated with a backstamp incorporating the Chinese characters for “dragon” – as dragons are associated with fire and Wales (and this is the year of the Dragon!) we thought it was a very fitting addition to the sculpture.
The graffiti was added by participants in the project and members of the public. The City’s motto “vis unita fortior” (united strength is stronger) has a prominent place on the Firehand and also represents the community nature of the project.
Fire is a symbol of re-birth and the Fired up! project sought to celebrate the past as well as looking to a positive future for Stoke-on-Trent.
For more on the project see its Facebook page Gladstone 2013 – Fired Up!
And, see here for a short film of The Making of the Firehand: https://www.dropbox.com/s/k4zknaa55y10lxe/Fire%20Hand%20Short.mov
Finally, for a clip of the Fired-Up! film see: https://www.dropbox.com/s/btacw235xwxdehv/Pulling%20the%20Stories.mov If you’d like to watch or know more, please contact Wendy on: firstname.lastname@example.org.