decline, fall, and regeneration

Bottle Kiln in Stoke

One of the few bottle kilns left, near Hanley

Stoke with 100 bottle kilns smoking

At the height of ceramic production. Bottle kilns were usually fired with coal.

lovely village view

The view from Stoke Bus station, yesterday

Stoke Bus Station

Stoke Bus Station

I was in Stoke on Trent yesterday: and despite wanting to report back on the British Ceramic Biennial – of which more soon – what’s on my mind is a conversation I had there, with one of the knowledgeable local BCB guides.

After a long talk about the beauty of the works displayed, the interesting use of the old Spode Factory, I started to talk about my own experiences of working in a factory – and the differences between British, European and American management styles. I much preferred the US style – at IBM,
for example, many senior managers had started work as secretaries – something inconceivable at the time in the British companies I worked with.

She told me of her husband, who had worked at Spode all his working life, made redundant at 47, now working for DHL. At Spode, workers’ ideas, needs and health were not respected; at DHL, his initiative is rewarded, health and safety are paramount, he feels a partner in the enterprise.

When I visited Wedgewood a few years ago, the rigidities of the management style there were pretty obvious: men designed shapes, women designed surface patterns, prototyping and manufacture (and any ideas they had) were kept far, far away.

If you still need convincing that it’s about management: Toyota’s green-field, Japanese-managed factory near Derby has higher productivity than Japan.

The view from Stoke Bus station is now rather lovely: maybe what it was like before the forces of capitalism came in a exploited the raw materials and the workforce before leaving for richer pastures.

Of course this is a really simplistic view: I love Spode china, there’s no going back to a bucolic past, there are fantastic modern building that are part of Stoke’s regeneration, the BCB are part of this future not a nostalgic view of heritage.

It’s very unfashionable to talk about the economics of artistic production (Marx, anyone?) – but visiting Stoke and Spode for the Ceramics Biennial, it’s hard to avoid.

**rant over!**.

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2 responses to “decline, fall, and regeneration

  1. Really interesting comments. I do think it’s important that we talk about management styles in all kinds of work- giving people autonomy and responsibility creates a much happier, more productive environment!

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    • Thanks Catherine – I wasn’t sure whether to wander into this territory as part of a ‘critical journal’ style blog, but it’s one of the taboo subjects in art, I think: who pays, and how that changes the work. I’m thinking of Damian Hurst laying off his minimum-wage employees as well as Spode…

      I love Pam Bowden’s photos of StIves on your blog, by the way – I’m just going to look up the lane you’re at the end of to see where you are!
      very best, carys

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