Quality in Miniature - a profile of Stokesay Ware
by Linda Willis
My interest in the miniature world reflects my desire to live in an impressive house surrounded by lovely things, but also my extreme reluctance to hoover and dust it all! It was while visiting Miniatura in Birmingham seeking inspiration for my second dolls house that I came across Stokesay Ware, a whole stand of beautiful items in miniature that were exactly the sort of thing I love (and don’t want to dust) in full size.
Karen Griffiths, the artist behind Stokesay Ware, produces fine china and pots often inspired by traditional and elegant 18th and 19th century patterns from factories such as Worcester and Chelsea. The designs and prints are however Karen’s own and the pieces are her creation from start to finish. In the early 90s Karen stopped using commercially available prints when she and her business partner Peter Armstrong found that they were being used on poor quality tourist souvenirs in Caracas!
The first Stokesay Ware range
The moulds for the pieces are made either on a lathe using high density plaster or by hand carving plastics. The technique is the same as you would apply to make full sized ceramics, which goes some way to explain the incredible attention to detail displayed by each and every piece. I often notice that in mass produced china the handles of cups and teapots look clumsy and oversized, as a result of the difficulty in working with such tiny items. Stokesay Ware on the other hand is perfectly in scale.
My collection of Stokesay Ware. Photo © Linda Willis
Once a “blank” is produced from the mould the decorative print is applied by transfer. The transfers start as detailed drawings which have to be blown up to four times their size in order to get the right amount of detail in. The drawing is then inked and reduced to its correct size, being tailor made to fit the individual piece. The print is produced by silk screen in ceramic enamels to make water slide transfer prints. If you take a look at a full size transfer printed object such as a Spode Italian pattern dish you will see that this technique sometimes results in the edge of the transfer being visible as the picture ends abruptly in a straight line! This does not appear to have been a problem for Karen working in miniature.
A piece mould and jug
The bone china is fired in temperatures between 1060-1200 degrees centigrade - not something you can achieve in a normal oven! Each item can need up to six firings to complete.
I asked Karen what inspired her to create pieces in miniature when she had originally trained to produce full sized ceramics. She explained that the market for full sized ceramics was limited by people’s ability to afford high quality work, and miniatures were more readily affordable for collectors. Once she started, she was hooked – something we can all relate to.
Nursery wash stand
Having attempted to make miniature bowls and plates using Fimo, I know that it’s difficult to get the piece from the mould without damaging it, and this type of work takes enormous skill and patience if you’re aiming for the quality achieved by Stokesay Ware (we can alI dream!). I am filled with admiration at the skill and dedication shown by Karen. It’s no surprise to hear that she has a first class degree, plus a master’s degree from the Royal College of Art and extensive experience in teaching and design work. She has been creating Stokesay Ware ceramics, named after the Shropshire village of Stokesay where she has close family connections, since 1981. Having started on a part time basis while continuing to lecture, she became full time when Peter joined her to manage the business side of things in 1986. There are Stokesay Ware collectors not just in the UK, but all over Europe, in America and New Zealand. The demand for Stokesay Ware is currently so great that they have had to close the order book for the time being. You can still catch them at the forthcoming Miniatura fairs in Birmingham NEC and Cranmore
Park, plus the dolls house festival in Kensington in December. If you’re outside the UK and planning a trip here, it really is worth trying to fit in a visit to one of these venues. Take lots of pocket money and allow plenty of time.
You won’t be disappointed!
Jubilee tea set
Except where otherwise indicated, all photos are © Stokesay Ware.