Denise Wren and the Knox Guild of Design and Craft: Shifting the story of interwar studio ceramics from pot to process
Kingston University, London
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Denise Wren (1891-1979) was among the first female studio potters in Britain and had a long and varied career employing experimental methods of making ceramics, such as finger-built techniques (as opposed to solely throwing on the wheel) and saltglazing. She also taught pottery, gave demonstrations, published practical books on pottery, and designed textiles. Through a much overdue critical evaluation of the practice and thinking of Wren and her major role in the Knox Guild of Design and Craft, this PhD seeks to outline her importance within the history of interwar craft where she is hitherto largely absent. It will assess the pertinence of her practice to re-evaluating histories of craft dominated by Bernard Leach and William Staite Murray and accompanying discourses on gender and the amateur. In effect, the research shifts the focus from the finished artefact to the overlooked features of Wren’s early studio pottery such as process, teaching and education, demonstrations of technique and writing accessible instructional texts: aspects that resonate with contemporary craft preoccupations and the increasing visibility of ceramics. My primary research resources are largely archive and collection based, including the extensive but as yet unresearched collection of Wren material held by Kingston Museum. Through an in-depth study of material held in public and private collections and Wren’s publications, I will examine how Wren and the Knox Guild can be situated with reference to other craft collectives at St. Ives and Ditchling in the interwar period and analyse their affiliation to other groups, such as the Kibbo Kift and suffrage organisations, and what effect this had on their overall philosophy and approach. The proposed PhD will consist of a written thesis, an exhibition, and a published catalogue of Wren and Knox Guild archival material held at Kingston Museum.