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Histories

George Clews & Co Chameleon Ware

greco-celtic flagon firebird pattern dragon Chameleon Ware

The George Clews Co. Ltd. was first registered in 1906 as 'Jet Manufacturers'. The 'jet' in question was a red clay, dipped in a cobalt glaze, which on firing became the then fashionable jet black. Their primary products were teapots. The company was run by Georges son Percy (Managing Director), and his partner Henry Preece (Sales Director).

The Works Manager (and another director) was David Capper, one of the key creative personnel at Clews. He had a great interest in the chemistry of glazing and by 1913 he was working hard on establishing the production of 'artistic pottery' at affordable prices. Perhaps he had in his sights the unsatisfied demand of the burgeoning middle class who aspired to purchase wares of the quality of the much admired Ruskin Pottery, which was hand-thrown and expensive. Capper's solution was to produce in commercial quantities slip cast oriental style shapes to which his experimental crystalline and opalescent glazes could be applied.

It was this art glazed pottery that was first given the name Chameleon Ware in 1914. The origin of the name is uncertain but anecdotally it is said to derive from the changes in the glaze colours during firing.

Wounded in the '14 -'18 war, David Capper returned to Clews in the early 1920's and it was then that the bold, hand-painted designs were introduced. Evidence from paintresses employed at Clews suggests that it was David Capper, together with Laura Robinson, ( 'The Missus' in charge of the decorating team), who originated the designs. Whoever was responsible, it is clear from the shapes that were adopted, such as the 'Persian leather bottle', the 'Graeco-Celtic Flagon' (see above) and the exotic 'oil lamps' as well as the oriental and Egyptian inspired patterns, that the creative talents working at Clews were very responsive to the many exciting archaeological discoveries being made at this time. These distinctive designs, along with the beautiful semi-matt glazes which are characteristic of Chameleonware, became very successful.

In 1926 a gold medal and diploma were awarded at the Philadelphia Exhibition for "originality of design" and a year later, the Pottery Gazette reported that after fourteen years of experiment and experience with Chameleonware, "Clews offer a line of ornamental wares which, from the dual aspect of price and quality, is exceptional". Chameleon Ware went on to become 80% of the factory's output.

In the early 1930's the trade press noted the introduction of glazed animal shapes, mostly in a mottled or vermilion splashed green. The majority of these were reptilian (real or imaginary, see above) and intended as garden or conservatory novelties. They included a most engaging chameleon on a log, which is very much sort after by collectors today.

Meanwhile, the firm continued and expanded its mainstay production of teapots (including the famous Cube teapot produced under licence for the Cunard Line) and other tablewares. These lines were retained when the outbreak of war in 1939 caused a major re-organisation of the whole ceramics industry, but, sadly at this point, the prodution of the vibrant and original hand-painted Chameleon Wares ceased forever. Percy Clews died in 1942 and despite attempts to modernise production and find a new direction after the war, the company faltered and eventually went into liquidation in 1961.

References: Chameleon Ware Art Pottery
Hilary Calvert; Schiffer*
  Encyclopedia of British Art Pottery 1870 -1920
Victoria Bergesen; Barrie & Jenkins
  Collecting Art Deco Ceramics
Howard & Pat Watson; Francis Joseph

*In the absence of factory catalogues etc. Hilary Calvert's research and the illustrations of patterns, colour and shapes is invaluable.
 
       
         
     
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