Clarice Cliff 1899-1972
Clarice Cliff was born on 20 January 1899 in Meir Street, Tunstall. Tunstall is the most northerly of the six Potteries towns of Staffordshire, in the English Midlands. She was the daughter of Harry Thomas Cliff and Ann (nee Machin) and she had two brothers and five sisters. Clarice attended the High Street Elementary School and later Summerbank School in Tunstall, and left school at the age of thirteen.
Her first job was at Lingard Webster and Co where she was apprenticed as an enameller for the wage of one shilling (5p) a week. Here she learned freehand painting, and after 3 years moved to work as a lithographer at Hollinshead and Kirkham.
Clarice Cliff went to evening classes in Tunstall and in 1916 joined A J Wilkinson Royal Staffordshire Pottery in Burslem. Jack Walker, her decorating manager, soon recognized her artistic flair and brought her to the notice of the company boss Colley Shorter.
In 1927 Clarice Cliff’s employer arranged for her to study sculpture for a few months at the Royal College of Art, London, and then set her up in her own studio adjoining the Newport Pottery. Clarice was allowed to experiment with designs and her first pieces were brightly colored geometric patterns and shapes. These early designs were called Bizarre Ware. She was in charge of a small team of paintresses, dubbed Bizarre Girls and these patterns were in direct contrast to the prevailing traditional styles.
Bizarre Ware was a success and the name Clarice Cliff became a household word throughout the Thirties. Her new shapes and patterns became a standard to be copied by other manufacturers.
Novelty and variety were the keynotes of her success, but she shrewdly kept traditional shapes in production. Soon, the whole Newport pottery employing 1,000 workers was taken over entirely with the production of Bizarre Ware, and Clarice was appointed Art Director. Other ranges were added, including Fantasque, a variation of Bizarre ware. Like all designers, she took inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including art and botany. Her earliest flower design Crocus was produced in several colorways. Each year the company took stands at the British Industries Fair and the annual Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition as well as other leading fairs in London and elsewhere. Clarice Cliff and her Bizarre girls gave in-store demonstrations at leading retailers like Lawleys, Selfridges, and Waring and Gillow, attracting much publicity.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, all pottery manufacturers were faced with restrictions and shortages, which effectively put an end to the colorful hand-painted pottery of the Thirties. Clarice Cliff and Colley Shorter were married in 1940, soon after the death of his first wife, who had been an invalid for many years. The Newport pottery was taken over as a government store and by the time the War ended Clarice discovered that tastes had changed and mass production methods pushed out hand-painted pottery.
Colley Shorter died in 1963, after which Clarice Cliff left the business world, selling the two firms to Midwinters in 1964 and living quietly in retirement in the suburb of Clayton, south of Stoke-on-Trent. She died on 23 October 1972 after a brief illness. Midwinters was merged with J & G Meakin in 1968 and became part of the Wedgwood Group in 1970.
Since then Clarice Cliff wares have become highly collectible, with prices running into thousands of pounds for exceptional pieces.
For further reading and books by Clarice Cliff please use the link below.