Clarice Cliff was born in Tunstall, Staffordshire in 1899. At 13, she became apprenticed to Lingard Webster and Company where she leant to paint on pottery. In 1916, she joined A.J. Wilkinson as a lithographer. Wilkinson’s were already using the vibrant orange and blue colours with which Clarice Cliff came to be associated.
In 1927, Clarice was sent to Paris to study the work of French designers of the new Art Deco style which had its foundations in the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriales Modernes held in Paris in 1925. Later that year, Wilkinson’s acquired Newgate Potteries and Clarice used a large quantity of their discarded dated and imperfect wares to perfect a style of decorating with bold colours (orange, yellow,blue and black) and broad brushstrokes. The result of this was the “Bizarre” range launched in 1928. The first batch sold out within a week and by the end of the year Clarice had a staff of twenty-five producing her designs.
Late in 1928, “Crocus” pieces were added to the range. These soon became the company’s best sellers.
By 1929, the stock of pottery from the Newgate Potteries was running out and Clarice began designing her own vase and bowl shapes. First “Conical” shapes were produced and then teapots and jugs with triangular handles and spouts and bowls with triangular feet. Later that year, the first non-geometric pattern, “Inspiration” which used shades of turquoise and a matt glaze, was produced
Late 1929 and 1930 saw the production of many designs, including “Applique” which is regarded as among her best work.
At the height of the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1931, the Wilkinson/Newport potteries were booming, thanks to the success of the “Bizarre” range. Many more designs were added in 1932 and 1933 with the “Biarritz” range of tableware become popular in North America. A range of figurines depicting dancers and musicians, called “The Age of Jazz”, which is now highly regarded and extremely collectable, was not a success at the time.
From 1934, Clarice’s work lost some of its originality with more traditional shapes and colours being produced. The factory closed during the War but re-opened in 1945 to produce mainly tableware with transferred patterns, although the “Crocus” design continued to be hand painted albeit in pastel colours. Post-War works are stamped “Clarice Cliff – Royal Staffordshire Ceramics”.
Clarice married Colley Shorter who had been the Managing Director of Wilkinson’s since she joined them in 1916, soon after his wife died in 1940. Colley Shorter died in 1963 and the potteries were sold to Midwinter/Wedgwood. Clarice Cliff died in 1972.