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As Harold Rathbone was no potter, he collaborated with two sculptors, Conrad Dressler and Giovanni Carlo Manzoni, who were able to work in three dimensions. In addition one or two experienced potters came from Staffordshire but, apart from them, Rathbone took on a group of local young people to train them up in the art of pottery and design. He believed that everyone had within them a spark of creativity and he wanted an opportunity to nurture any latent talent.
The pottery that came out of number 2A Price Street, Birkenhead, (and later from Argyle Street too) was sold in exhibitions throughout the country, through Liberty’s Regent Street shop in London and William Morris’s own company. It was very varied, very colourful, especially known for using a characteristic turquoise, and for 13 years was a reasonable success. A great deal of pottery was produced, from tea sets and small vases to fountains and large architectural decorations.
The pottery closed in 1906 and was forgotten about for many years, as Victorian art was out of fashion. Large wall plaques are in Birkenhead Central Library and the important collection of Della Robbia Pottery housed at the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum, Birkenhead, began to be formed in the 1920’s and now numbers nearly 250 pieces. One of the sites of the former Della Robbia pottery now houses the Rathbone Studio and gallery, run by potter, Janet Holmes who encourages others to experiment with clay and follows the Della Robbia ethos of bringing individuality to each piece produced; allowing each artist to express and create unique and original designed ceramic work.
Alison Bailey Smith, our freelance press officer and Anna Pierce – Hayes have been looking at Della Robbia for a course called Digital Skills in Museums with Culture 24. Anna has recently set up a blog which will be used to explore our collections further. Alison has been pulling together a board on Pinterest to feature Della Robbia in our collection and beyond. To find out more, we have a number of books for sale within the gallery including the accompanying book for the 2015 exhibition From Renaissance to Regent Street.