Saturday, August 11, 2018

Poole, Dorset

Carter’s cavalcade (1): Very Art Nouveau

I’m going to devote the next couple of posts to some of the things I saw on a visit to Poole the other day, when I went on a guided walk through the centre of the town led by Jo Amey, known online as The Tile Lady. The subject of the walk was the legacy of Carter & Co, the ceramics company that was once based in Poole and which produced a range of tiles, a number of which can be found on buildings around the town. Not all of these are in their original positions, and not all of them are easy to find, which was one reason I was very grateful to go on this walk.*

One of the tile gems we saw on the walk was this glowing panel bearing Carter’s name. It dates to around 1905 and was originally on a wall of the company’s East Quay works. When the works closed and the quayside was redeveloped, several examples of tiling from the old works were displayed on the walls of the new building: this is one of them. It’s prized for its rich reds and its beautiful lustre glazes. A lustre glaze is a metallic glaze that shines with iridescence, an effect produced by metallic oxides. Lustreware was produced in the great civilisations of early Islam, but its most famous exponent in the west was William de Morgan, who revived lustre glazes in the 1870s. The iridescent tiles in this panel were made under the influence of de Morgan, and they make a sumptuous border for the central area of the imposition, framing the company name.

The artful lettering of the Carter’s name is the other reason why I particularly like these tiles. Their expressively curvaceous lines are the essence of the Art Nouveau style, as many readers will recognise. The way the letters are full of curves and loops, the manner in which they break free of the base line, and their habit of overlapping and interlacing – all these are typical of Art Nouveau. But the most typical feature of all is the collection of multiple curves, many doubling back on themselves like waves or whips – hence the term ‘whiplash curve’, by which they’re known. Wherever there is Art Nouveau lettering of the curvaceous kind†, from the posters of Afons Mucha¶ to the early Paris Metro stations, you will find whiplash curves.

Now when I do talks and lectures I can show people instantly what architectural Art Nouveau is about. And one couldn’t wish for a more beautiful or memorable way to explain this.

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* Another reason is Jo’s wealth of knowledge of the subject; I’d advise anyone who might want to go on one of her walks to follow her Facebook page, The Tile Lady . The page has many pictures of beautiful tiles and she posts information about the walks there too.

† The other dominant form of Art Nouveau, the style of the Secessionist movement that prevailed in Germany and Central Europe, is much more rectilinear.

¶ Also known as Alphonse Mucha. His many French posters, his long residence in Paris, and this spelling of his name lead many people to assume he was French (or perhaps Belgian). Actually he was born in Moravia, which is part of what is now the Czech Republic. 

1 comment:

Stephen Barker said...

Such beautiful tiles.