Two newly acquired Rosemary Wren birds have just been installed in Kingston Museum’s Wren Collection display case. Last year, Bret Gaunt of Buxton Museum and Gallery contacted me to say that he was leading on an Esmee Fairbairn funded project to oversee the dispersal of material from the former Derbyshire School Library Service. Amongst the objects looking to be rehomed were two Rosemary Wren works, a ceramic pigeon and an owl cast in bronze resin.
These birds make a great addition to our Wren display, created in 2019 thanks to a £5K Collections Access Grant the Decorative Arts Society awarded to Kingston Museum. This double case in the Town of Kings Gallery contains 34 Denise Wren ceramics, a textile design on paper, and a poster advertising a 1925 exhibition by the Knox Guild. The interpretation includes information about the Wrens’ life and work and a photograph of Rosemary, aged 4, with her parents and two students packing an outdoor kiln. However, until now there had been no Rosemary Wren objects to include.
The owl is a stylised representation with radiating lines denoting feathers around the eye slits. ‘Rosemary Wren 1970’ is incised on the inner edge of the base. Each bird arrived in a custom made wooden box. The label on the owl sculpture box says ‘Biding Owl’, which I searched for online, to see if it was a species. I didn’t find anything, so presumably it is a description of the owl waiting, perhaps for its prey to appear.
The pigeon is attached to a wooden base with a metal label which reads ‘Pigeon by Rosemary Wren/ Raku ceramic’. Raku is a method of making pottery that originated in Japan. The object is removed from the kiln while it is still very hot and left to cool rapidly. Thermal shock causes cracks on the surface of the ceramic, known as crackling, giving it an uneven texture. The pigeon is glazed in lifelike colours. It was probably also made in the 1960s or 1970s, a period when Rosemary Wren produced many raku animals.
It looks as if Rosemary Wren used raku in conjunction with other techniques. The following description appears in a catalogue for Mallams Auctioneers listing lots for sale in May 2013, including several ceramics by both Wrens and detailing a ‘Runner duck, raku’ by Rosemary Wren. Presumably it was provided by Rosemary herself, or her husband Peter Crotty (as Rosemary died in 2013):
‘This piece was made in two firings – the first a conventional biscuit firing to make the ware mechanically strong enough as well as absorbent enough for decoration. The second a firing where the biscuited pieces, decorated with bright low firing glazes, are put straight into a red hot pre-heated kiln, where the glazes melt and fuse. After which the piece is withdrawn still red hot and plunged into a bin of sawdust to provide (in this case) a strong black background to the strong primary colours. The piece was finally drenched in water, crackling the glaze and producing the finished effect….The Oxshott Pottery made its living entirely from Raku in the early 1970s and this is a classic example of their work.’
These creatures link to the Denise Wren animal figurines made in plaster moulds in the other half of the display case. Among the miniature animal forms are a parrot and a cockerel. All are positioned at a level where children can easily see them. Creating this fresh display has enhanced the galleries by highlighting Kingston Museum’s studio pottery collection for visitors. We have started to include this material in learning activities and it is highlighted on the website which has proved a valuable platform for reaching out to audiences during the pandemic.