Stoke: Fifth Workshop
14th May 2014
On this sunny late afternoon in mid-April, we had our fifth workshop with the Ceramic City Stories group again at the Burslem School of Art. Facilitated by Danny as usual, Jane, Pat, Phil and Ray attended. We were pleased to welcome Jayne and Lance who are keen to take part in the project. Jayne is currently participating in an activist campaign to save a building in which the former Fenton Hall was housed and in which a World War One memorial resides. The City Council is in the process of selling this heritage building despite the memorial. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the memorial – on which Jayne’s father is named – cannot be moved or else it would crumble and get damaged. We learnt from Ray that a host of consultation meetings with residents had taken place over the last couple of years but nothing appears to have materialised. The Council argues that heritage buildings can only be maintained if there is use for them – momentarily the building is disused. Until seven years ago, according to Ray, the building in question housed Fenton Town Hall and three magistrate courts which have since been moved elsewhere. Ray also noted that there exists film footage in the form of a “visual archive” which shows the interior of the building from different angles – something that could inform Jayne’s project in some form.
Lance told us that he has a strong interest in architectural ceramics. He owns a private collection of chimney pots worth 1500 items of various shapes, sizes and designs. Interestingly, Lance noted, he is still discovering new chimney pots of all sorts and kinds thirty years after he began collecting them. Lance explained that the ceramic industry constitutes two halves: architectural and sanitary ware on the one hand, and heavy clay on the other. The former, Lance stated, has been widely covered in research over the last thirty years. An illustrative example that Lance provided to underline his point was that of Henry Doulton – a famous, British, nineteenth-century manufacturer of pottery among other things – who is most well-known for the manufacture of medical appliances than for his significant contribution to the heavy clay industry. By contrast, the latter seems to have disappeared, and as such is uncelebrated. The “forgotten side of the heavy clay industry”, according to Lance, encompasses brickyards, roof tiles and quarries alongside chimney pots. It was interesting to see that Lance brought a large folder with documents and photographs of chimney pots for members to take a look at. The folder arguably constituted an archive in its own right!
A number of interesting points about archives more generally were made in the ensuing discussion. Ray, for instance, noted that archives tend to be massive and huge but that the group’s task on the Pararchive project should be about opening windows to explore the seemingly huge quantity of assets therein. In reference to the Film Archive he administers, Ray said that employing a cataloguer to make a systematic list of items can be useful, that “access to archives shouldn’t have a feeling of ‘dauntingness’” but rather, should “be engaging and fun for people”. Phil saw the engagement with archives as two-fold: collecting facts and artefacts and then curating – making sense of them. He also sounded a note of caution that members’ stories should not be single, little, individual narratives but rather they should help to open up channels for further exploration of the ceramic city. Danny spoke to Lance’s chimney pot collection and wondered whether there would be a possibility to catalogue it within the framework of Pararchive, how this would be made workable, and if there was scope for Ray and Lance to team up. Danny also flagged up the question of access to archives arguing that this can be a hindrance considering that archives tend to be in the hands of private, commercial and independent hands.
The session then moved on to the practical bit – the story building exercise. Dean and Tom explained the concept of building stories and likened it to building pieces of Lego. The idea is that a story or an idea is broken into the smallest atomic element possible. Such elements can be in the form of a block or an event, information (metadata about dates, places, people), artefacts (which enrich/support the story e.g., photographs, museum assets, video footage, birth certificates or any other collections that one knows exist but may not have access to) and connectors (which link the blocks/events together). It was gratifying to see that the concept resonated with members for the most part despite a couple of “rough edges and interesting interpretations” that provided some food for thought. Overall, members felt the session was productive and they appeared to have enjoyed it. Tom and Dean, too, thought the session went very well. Taking stock, it is fair to say: Another session held in the beautiful ceramic city, further progress made – We couldn’t be happier!