Published 25th October 2014
Whilst Roy Paine’s collection of Torquay and South Devon pottery was a broad, he certainly seemed to have a soft spot for ‘grotesques’. Those who have read my earlier blogs will note I have already featured a Sea Creature jug and a thoroughly bizarre ewer. Certainly there are precedents for these beasties in the form of the disturbing taxidermy tableaux created by Walter Potter, during the latter half of the 19th century, which included kitten weddings, four legged hens, guinea pig cricketers and frogs on see-saws. So it seems pretty unsurprising that Watcombe might attempt to meet this fashion with an anthropomorphic frog and a banjo playing cat.
A Watcombe pottery frog and shell group, circa 1885-95 (FS24/457).
A Watcombe pottery winking cat circa 1900-20 (FS24/505).
Adding to this both Aller Vale and Longpark used a menagerie of different dragons either coiled around candlesticks (FS24/467) or passing effortlessly through the body of ewers (FS24/472), but this was subject matter covered by their commercial rivals in Barnstaple and everyone who has read a fairy tale is already familiar with these monsters. What is more interesting to collectors of Torquay pottery grotesques are those more ‘trippy’ flights of fancy.
Again it is safe to say there was already an established Victorian precedent for the fantastical; Lewis Carrol, inventor of the Jabberwock, wrote his Alice in Wonderland and the Hunting of the Snark in the 1860s and 1870s and in later decades the Martin Brothers are well known for their stoneware Wally Birds, grotesque reptilian spoon warmers and gloriously a dead parrot! Again the Torquay Potters, particularly Aller Vale, were able to satiate those more unholy desires with their lovably malign series of grotesque jugs and vases – be indelicate with them and you may never flower arrange again.
Aller Vale grotesque face jugs a flower arrangers nightmare (FS24/471).
However, it is perhaps the pieces designed by, sometime Torquay inhabitant, Blanche Vuillamy that really strike a chord amongst collectors they are truly the most bizarre. One could be forgiven for thinking that hers was a troubled mind, her creations seem to be Frankenstein like assemblies of mice, frogs and sea creatures with overly large mouths or ears with exaggerated facial features. You might find them disarming, but there are plenty in the West Country that are passionate about them, but as Walter Potter’s collection of taxidermy was housed in the Jamaica Inn, Bolventor for the last decades of the 20th century that’s hardly surprising is it?
An Aller Vale Screaming Mouse by Blanche Vuillamy (FS24/469).