Kate Malone: Inspired by Waddesdon

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CR’s Editor, Sue Herdman, was at the opening of Kate’s new show at Waddesdon Manor

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‘We kept finding her with her nose in our textile stores, our archives…’ said Pippa Shirley, Head of Collections at Waddesdon Manor, as Kate Malone’s new show there opened. The ceramic artist explored those stores and archives – and the house and grounds – to seek the shapes, forms, colour and stories that she was to draw on for the astonishing body of work – over 50 pieces – that she has created for this exhibition. It is a collection, says Pippa, ‘that has made us look afresh at Waddesdon.’

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Once work began, as art dealer Adrian Sassoon (who collaborated with Waddesdon to realise this show) revealed, the calls began. ‘Kate’s a night owl,’ he says, ‘so I’d often get a late, late call to say: “I’ve done a very strange thing … I don’t know what you are going to think of it.”‘ Those ‘strange things’, in his opinion, have led to ‘a peak in her career’.

Kate was given a month’s time ‘to breathe’ at the start of the project: to think and to plan. She says that her experience of being a judge (along with Keith Brymer Jones) on the BBC’s The Great Pottery Throw Down, fed into her approach to it all. ‘I had been watching the contestants rise to each task we gave them; that, in turn, made me want to really challenge myself,’ she says.

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Above right: ‘Miss Alice’

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Her ‘first pot’ was the Miss Alice – inspired by Alice, the youngest sister of the creator of Waddesdon, Baron Ferdinand Rothschild. ‘I wanted to make a pot like her: stout, stable, reliable.’ Made from shimmering crystalline-glazed stoneware and porcelain, the ‘pot’ is all that, with the added razzle-dazzle of hundreds of lustrous porcelain daisies and a pumpkin finial, all to reflect Alice’s interest in gardening.

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Alongside such pieces are others that carry transfers gleaned from the fine embroidery found on precious items of historical clothing. Further along, you come to the ‘pumpkin stage’ – the ‘pumpkins’ (looking good enough to eat) cast directly from moulds taken from 14 varieties, displayed every autumn at Waddesdon.

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Other pieces in the collection speak of the lavish decoration found inside the house: pots decorated with layer upon layer of clay knots and twists to represent passementerie. ‘The knotting was difficult,’ Kate explained: ‘I found that if we wet the surface and worked the clay on it whilst still wet – and worked in seconds, rather than minutes – we could just make the knots in time before the clay became too hard.’

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‘The kiln gods were kind to me,’ Kate says. ‘For instance, when we opened the kiln a drip on the Miss Alice had held in just the right place. It felt a little miraculous’. For the artist, all the works in this show ‘represent so much of what I have learnt over the past 30 years.’

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A pair of Waddesdon Estate Vases

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From the Young Ferdinand Vase to the verdantly glossy pair of Waddesdon Estate Vases, you can see them all,  until 16 October, with each piece being for sale. Find out more within our new issue, and at waddesdon.org.uk

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KATE MALONE

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Images: portrait John Millar; pieces Sylvain Deleu, courtesy Adrian Sassoon/Kate Malone

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