Potteries has designs on creating another ceramics masterpiece

One of the UK’s biggest ceramics celebrations is heading back to the spiritual home of British pottery this autumn and in a new venue – a historic church built ‘by the potters, for the potters’.

Staged every two years, the British Ceramics Biennial has grown to be the country’s single largest contemporary ceramics event, and for the eighth time it will take place across Stoke-on-Trent, a world capital of ceramics.

The only city in Britain to be named after its primary industry, The Potteries, it has been shaped by ceramics production for centuries and today is home to award-winning attractions, tours, and factory shops – as well as the place where TV’s The Great Pottery Throw Down is filmed each year.

Now The Potteries is once again set to host the Festival, a vibrant, world-class six-week celebration of contemporary ceramics, featuring new artist commissions, exhibitions and hands-on events that celebrate the life, character and creativity that ceramics bring to the city.

From spotlighting the UK’s leading ceramicists to introducing work by international artists and fresh new talent, the Biennial (23 September to 5 November) will be a celebration of the creative potential of clay for storytelling, playfulness, risk-taking and activism.

And for 2023, it will have a new Festival hub, All Saints Church in Hanley, a Grade II listed building, designed by architect Gerald Horsley in the Arts and Crafts style, with a rich history in the ceramics industry and regarded as the ‘potters’ church’.

It will be home to the flagship exhibitions Award, which presents major new work by 10 of the UK’s most innovative ceramic artists competing for a £10,000 prize, and Fresh, a showcase for 25 emerging talents from the UK and Ireland.

The church altar will also play a role, featuring a large-scale tile panel inspired by renaissance and pre-renaissance Italy, created by 2021 Award winner Stephen Dixon, whose work features in collections including New York’s Museum of Arts & Design and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Among other leading international artists exhibiting at the Festival will be a new commission by critically acclaimed multidisciplinary artist and writer Osman Yousefzada at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. At nearby AirSpace, artist William Cobbing, will also reveal newly commissioned films and sculptures, as well as the premiere of his newest performance work. This will be complemented by a clay-based live art programme and hands-on public workshops.

But this year will also see a big emphasis on local artists as well as works inspired by Stoke-on-Trent, its landscape and heritage. Staffordshire-born artist Nina Thomas will create Place Setting, working with the local community in The Potteries to explore the deaf experience in the ceramics industry.

The Biennial’s first People and Place Commission will see artist Emilie Taylor interpret and respond to the post-industrial landscape of Staffordshire and the people who live there. Known for her large-scale ceramics, she will use heritage craft processes to create a group of six pots that reference Stoke-on-Trent’s iconic bottle kilns.

For visitors wanting to have a go themselves, the ever-popular Project Space will offer the chance to get hands-on with clay while exploring the themes of local tile making, ecology and environmental sustainability.

Along with the Festival every two years, the Biennial works year-round with people living in Stoke-on-Trent to bring about change through clay and this programme will be reflected throughout the Festival with a range of events and displays.

Full details of the 2023 programme can be found at www.britishceramicsbiennial.com.

For more information on Stoke-on-Trent as a destination, see www.visitstoke.co.uk.

Main photo, above: Jenny Harper

All Saints Church: Natalie Armitage