William Bower Dalton (above) (1868-1965) was one of the pioneer studio potters, making ground-breaking experiments in Chinese-style stoneware glazes and presiding over the Camberwell College of Arts and Crafts from 1899 to 1919 during a period of rapid expansion, including a pottery class run by Richard Lunn. By the time Dalton retired in 1919, Camberwell had become, in the opinion of many contemporaries, the best art school for pottery teaching in Britain.
I was pleased to be able to see an unusually fine collection of Dalton’s pottery yesterday, which gave an insight into his work and the way it developed. He was fortunate after retiring from Camberwell at the age of fifty-one to have sufficient means to make pottery as he wished and to experiment freely without the pressure of selling. What I hadn’t realised is that he spent the last twenty years of his very long life in the USA, where, when he was in his seventies and his eighties, he established a reputation as a potter in the 1940s and 1950s, exhibiting in New England and New York.
The collection covers Dalton’s whole career and shows the many influences that came to bear on it. He shared his interest in Chinese glazes with his students Reginald Wells and William Staite Murray, and though he knew Bernard Leach, Dalton’s trajectory appears to have been independent of his. In the 1920s, when figure modelling became fashionable, Dalton made some small ceramic sculptures. He knew Gwendolen Parnell but his work is far closer in teachnique and appearance to the ceramic figures that Wells made. There are also vessels similar in style, colour and surface texture to those of Staite Murray.
One of the outstanding qualities of Dalton’s ceramics is their surface decoration, which in modern studio pottery is variable, sometimes consisting merely of dabs and splashes, but Dalton could draw well and he had a good sense of balance and rhythm and made fine surface marks and sometimes added lettering to vessels otherwise Chinese in feeling.
His serious interest in high-fired glazes (above) developed in the 1920s. Before that date (he conveniently dated his pots) there are ceramics in the Turkish and Persian style (below) with polychrome decoration on a white ground. (The images are from Jane Bailey’s paper on Dalton in the Journal of the Decorative Arts Society.)
These add to the evidence of the prevalence in early studio pottery of an interest in the Middle East rather than the Far East, also preferred by Richard Lunn in his courses at Camberwell and the Royal College of Art, by William de Morgan, Alfred and Louise Powell and Gordon Forsyth, an important tendency that has been rather sidelined in the histories of studio pottery.