Kennedy Wilson reports on how the humble pig inspired a ceramics


KIRKCALDY in Fife at the turn of the century played home to the

Scottish pottery industry. The best known and most sought-after work was

Wemyss Ware produced by Robert Heron & Son. Original Wemyss Ware plates

and ornaments are now highly collectable (and very valuable). Excellent

reproductions are also now available. One of the main sources is the

Griselda Hill Pottery, opened in 1985, a stone's throw from the site of

the original Wemyss potteries.

''I got interested in Wemyss Ware because my grandmother had Wemyss

pigs,'' said Griselda, who studied print-making rather than ceramics in

her fine art course. ''Later, I knew a curator at the Kirkcaldy Museum

and it seemed an obvious thing to try to reproduce Wemyss Ware.'' Some

of Griselda's first pieces were sold in the Kirkcaldy Museum shop. Cat

and pig ornaments were followed by kitchenware like mugs and honey pots,

and tiles followed in 1988.

The tiles, ideal for kitchens, bathrooms, and conservatories as well

as floor and hearth, use the old Wemyss designs and glazing techniques.

A new range from the Griselda Hill Pottery of 15 tiles depict

lusciously-coloured fruit including raspberries, red cherries, pears,

oranges, plums, greengages, and blackberries.

Griselda has also produced tiles designed to be arranged horizontally,

illustrating classical topiary and ideal for making a frieze or dado.

Other animal and flower designs make for a wonderful country-style

surround for kitchen sink or green or bone-coloured Aga.

Wemyss Ware takes its name from the Wemyss family of Wemyss Castle

near Kirkcaldy and has nothing to do with the Clyde port of Wemyss Bay.

The name Wemyss comes from the Gaelic for cave. ''The Wemyss family

bought a lot of pieces,'' said Griselda.

Patronage from and association with Wemyss Castle gave the wash sets,

pots and ceramic cats and pigs considerable cachet among the upper

classes during the early part of this century. ''Wemyss Ware was always

hand-painted and it was always expensive,'' said Griselda. ''If you go

into almost any stately home in Scotland there will be Wemyss Ware of

some description.''

Today, both Prince Charles and the Queen Mother have Wemyss

collections. Royal Doulton produced a Wemyss-style goblet to commemorate

the Queen Mother's 80th birthday.

The Griselda Hill Pottery began from humble beginnings. ''Me, the

kitchen table and a second-hand kiln,'' recalled Griselda. ''I had to

get up in the middle of the night to turn it off and on.'' The pottery

now has three kilns and several outbuildings.

Many of the original Wemyss designs have European antecedents. The

famous cockerel is French. Wemyss founder Robert Heron headhunted

craftsmen from as far afield as Eastern Europe. His chief designer was

Karel Nekola, from Bohemia, whose rich colourful and detailed fruits and

flowers became Wemyss hallmarks.

The arrival of jazzy Art Deco Clarice Cliffe in the 1920s nearly

killed Wemyss Ware off altogether. For decades it was unfashionable, but

in the last 20 years Wemyss Ware has come into its own again. Now

original pieces are much sought after.

''The only trouble with Wemyss Ware was that because it used bright

colours a special technique known as underglaze painting was employed.

The colours went on underneath the glaze and that meant you couldn't

fire it terribly high because the colours would disappear,'' explained

Griselda. ''Wemyss Ware was fired at low temperatures which meant that

it chipped and broke very easily. Because of this old Wemyss Ware is

increasingly rare.'' Thanks to modern technology Griselda's tiles, jam

pots and ornaments can be fired at high temperatures and are far more

durable than the originals.

Early Wemyss Ware used pigs and sheep and other farm animals to

decorate pots and plates. Griselda has taken the idea and played with

it. Silhouette dogs can chase cats across the tiles. Witty, frolicking

pigs really brighten a kitchen. Griselda's craft-made tiles are vastly

different and superior to the standard tiles offered in DIY stores.

Individual tiles are not cheap at #14.80 each (including VAT) but the

idea is to dot the picture tiles on a blank tile background. Griselda

also produces blank tiles, but cheaper, mass-produced blanks could be

used. The tiles are hand-painted and genuine pieces of craftsmanship (no

two are exactly identical). Griselda can also make one-off tiles or

designs that make up a custom-made picture or frieze. Existing tiles can

also be arranged to form an overall picture -- a beehive on one tile

surrounded by tiles sporting bees in diminishing numbers.

What's the fascination for Wemyss Ware today? ''I think it's the

quirkiness and distinctive individuality. It's very identifiable without

being cliched. It's also very continental; Karel Nekola brought a very

particular spirit,'' said Griselda.

''Griselda's fruit tiles are in no way twee. They are so much richer

than other tiles you can buy,'' said Suzie Single of the Original Tile

Company, the exclusive Scottish outlet for Griselda's tiles.

* The Original Tile Company, 23a Howe Street, Edinburgh EH3 6TF.

031-556 2013.