FIRST POTTERY TEACHER
AT THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART
Richard Lunn was born in 1840 in Bromley, Kent. At the age of 17 he was an art student in Sheffield. His first occupation was as a silver engraver in the city. He moved to London in his mid-twenties to study at the National Art Training School, where he assisted as a modeller on the ceramic staircase at South Kensington, now part of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The decoration of the V&A was one of the few opportunities for art students to gain practical experience. After the completion of the ceramic staircase, women students painted the tiles in the Poynter Room to Edward Poynter’s designs. The Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society says of the ceramics staircase, designed by Frank H. Moody, that it includes “some of the finest products of British nineteenth century ceramic design, installed to display the possibilities of contemporary building materials.”
By 1874 Lunn was back in Sheffield, teaching modelling at Sheffield School of Art. He appears to have been popular with his students: after a period of illness they presented him with Turner’s Liber Studiorum and Viollet le Duc’s Dictionnaire du Mobiler Français, “and a valuable timepiece, as a practical expression of their pleasure at his return to their midst.” (The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, 1880) In 1881 there were differences between Lunn and the headmaster and Lunn was dismissed for reasons that he was unable to ascertain. On his departure from Sheffield his students gave him a presentation dinner.
It is a good time to remember Richard Lunn, the first pottery teacher in England. Lunn ran the pottery course started by the Royal College of Art in 1901, the first in any art school. His role in the history of ceramic education is known but the details of his life have not been recorded.
The government art schools in the 19th century were intended to teach the principles of design to workmen in in industry. They had a rigorous syllabus of drawing and copying approved models, but practical crafts were not taught. Indeed, creativity and originality were discouraged. The pinnacle of the system was the National Art Training School in South Kensington, which changed its name to the Royal College of Art in 1898. (The Royal Academy and private art schools were outside this system.)
NEW ART SCHOOLS
The system was sterile and it never did what it was supposed to do; the standard of design in manufacture was patchy. Many graduates became art teachers rather than designers and several of the women students followed classes only as a leisure activity.
The real impetus to reform came from outside the system, from artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement who were associated with new, practical art schools founded by local authorities. The first was the Birmingham School of Arts and Crafts (1885), followed by the Central School of Arts and Crafts (1896) and the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts (1898.) John Ruskin should be considered as a prime mover in these developments. Ruskin’s acolyte, Walter Crane, became head of the Royal College of Art in 1898 and tried to introduce a more craft-based curriculum, but he was defeated by the bureaucracy of the Board of Education; he resigned after a year. His successor, Augustus Spencer, brought in members of the AWG (Art Workers’ Guild) as professors: W.R.Lethaby to head design, Beresford Pite, architecture, Edward Lantieri, sculpture, and Gerald Moira, painting. Richard Lunn, the college’s first instructor of pottery, was not a member of the AWG coming instead from a background of industry and teaching.
Lunn’s course was the first where students could actually make, glaze, decorate and fire their own pottery from start to finish. Lambeth art school, under the direction of John Sparkes, developed a fruitful arrangement with Doulton’s, but the ceramics classes there concentrated on decoration and omitted many ceramic processes. Even the art schools in the North Staffordshire Potteries didn’t provide a complete curriculum. Practical training was the job of the pottery employers. Lunn was the pioneer.
The RCA prospectus described Lunn’s course: “The object of this class is to illustrate in a simple and inexpensive manner principles and facts relating to the making and decorating of Pottery – enabling students to design, make shapes, and decorate them, with a knowledge of the requirements of this important industry.” We can get some insight into what Lunn taught by his book Pottery (two volumes, Chapman & Hall, 1903 and 1910), which includes photos posed by students in the studios in South Kensington.
Lunn’s syllabus included tile-making, mould-making, use of the jigger and jolley, glazing, decorating, and firing bisque, glaze and enamel kilns. Lunn could not throw on the wheel and throwing was not taught. A picture of him taken in his studio at the RCA shows him surrounded by plaster molds. On the walls are pictures of Persian, Iznik and Italian maiolica, which he also illustrated in his book. This decorated pottery was the inspiration for his course and the kind that his students made.
Lunn’s was the first course where students were taught to design, make, glaze, decorate and fire pottery from first to last. Even the Stoke-on-Trent art schools did not teach pottery in such a comprehensive way.
DIRECTOR, DERBY CROWN POTTERY
Appointed Director of Derby Crown Pottery in 1882, the years of Lunn’s leadership following the Royal Warrant saw the company reach the heights of its artistic achievement, with the works of the celebrated Desire Leroy and Albert Gregory, along with John Porter Wale, Fred Marple, Charles Harris, Reuben Hague, George Darlington (also an accomplished gilder), later to be joined by the likes of William Dean and Cuthbert Gresley. The sumptuous gilding, one of the highlights of many Osmaston Road productions, was achieved by a string of talented gilders including, aside from Darlington, included such figures as Charles Rouse, George Hemstock and Albert Bunker. It was during this period that such services as that commissioned through Tiffany’s of New York, the magnificent Judge Gary Service, were produced. However, the company struggled to turn a profit in its early years, something not helped by the McKinley taxes, and the production of more utilitarian and household wares, including those bearing the ornament for which the Osmaston Road factory is perhaps known, the Imari-style, Mikado and Posie patterns, were of huge importance.
Although Lunn’s own pottery is almost unknown, he designed a dinner service for presentation to Gladstone at Hawarden Castle by the Derby Liberals, each piece decorated with a Derbyshire view, the many pieces painted with landscapes by Landgraf and florals by Rouse. In receiving this dinner service Gladstone said, “I think those are entirely mistaken who consider your production merely as a branch of industry, or a branch of skilled industry. It is likewise a branch of art, in which the principles of fine art are applied to industrial purposes.”
After seven years Lunn struck out on his own, taking over the Cockpit Hill China Works. In the absence of much documentation it remains hard to say whether it was a success or not, but his daughter remarked that he was “not business-like.” Lunn was interested in pottery as an art, taught it as such and regarded himself as an artist.
In 1901, aged 60, he took up the new post of pottery instructor at the RCA (Royal College of Art.) From 1908 he also taught pottery at Camberwell, where he was assisted by an experienced thrower, Alfred Hopkins.
JOHN ADAMS AND DORA BILLINGTON
Although Lunn was liked by his students, he had a difficult personality illustrated by dismissal from Sheffield and irreconcilable differences with his principal; at the RCA he had a petty row with his student John Adams, later of Poole Pottery. Adams had learned the technique of lustre when he was working for Bernard Moore and submitted lustre ware that he had fired in the Potteries. Lunn was furious about his not using the RCA kiln and went over the head of the principal to complain directly to the Board of Education. The bemused Board officials asked Adams for his comments and Adams replied robustly that Lunn was incapable of teaching lustre decoration and knew nothing about it, and that Adams had to go elsewhere to pursue his studies. Adams was a very accomplished student who had won awards for his ceramics even before he was at the RCA and Lunn may have been jealous of him. Lunn’s other eminent student at the RCA, Dora Billington, barely mentioned him.
Apart from the question of lustre ware, and despite his long experience, there are indications that Lunn’s pottery teaching was inadequate. One reviewer of his book thought his methods were outmoded. In his final years, his daughter Dora was afraid that he would be dismissed because of his age. In Lunn’s defence, she said that at the RCA “it was very difficult to secure the requisite equipment and to get the authorities to recognise pottery as an important subject in the educational sense.” (Dora Lunn, A Potter’s Pot Pourri, typescript)
He died aged 75, still in harness. His Camberwell class was taken over by Alfred Hopkins, his RCA class taken over by his students Adams and Billington; when Adams left for South Africa, Billington, aged 25, ran it alone.
Out of Lunn’s two courses came some of the earliest studio potters, including Adams, Billington and William Staite Murray, as well as a cohort of pottery teachers who were appointed to new posts in other art schools. Partly due to Lunn’s work, we know that by 1925 pottery had been added to the curriculum of colleges at Battersea, Clapham, Putney, Leeds, Glasgow, Swansea, Woolwich and Brighton.
The portrait drawing is by R. R. Tomlinson, one of Lunn’s many students who went on to a professional career in the arts.