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Terence Conran for Midwinter Showcases Progressive British Tableware

The DAM is hosting an exhibition of industrial designer Terence Conran’s dinnerware from the 1950s in Terence Conran for Midwinter.

During the 1950s, W.R. Midwinter Ltd. became the first British manufacturer to mass-produce ceramic tableware in fashionable shapes and lively patterns that reflected the youthful informality of postwar life.

The Festival of Britain, held throughout the country in 1951, had a huge impact on popularizing progressive British design but, unlike other disciplines such as furniture and textiles, the ceramic industry was slow to respond. Roy Midwinter, the son of the company’s founder, recognized that no truly contemporary ceramics were being made industrially in Britain. Drawing inspiration from American manufacturers Metlox and Hallcraft and from designers such as Eva Zeisel, Raymond Loewy, and Russel Wright, Roy repositioned the company to fill the gap in the British marketplace.

Midwinter released its revolutionary Stylecraft line of tableware in 1953. The earthenware range consisted of all new contemporary shapes and patterns and was a huge success. Stylecraft was followed by the even more progressive line, Fashion, in 1955. Soon after other manufacturers started moving towards a more modern approach and by 1954 it was prevalent.

To sustain momentum and remain competitive Roy Midwinter recruited the best contemporary British designers and artists for these collections, to include Terence Conran. Now one of Britain’s top designers, retailers, restaurateurs, and businessmen, Conran was already a well-established furniture and textile designer by 1955. Initially hired to design a showroom at the Midwinter factory to compliment the contemporary pottery on display there, Conran soon became one of Midwinter’s most significant consultants.

Here are a few highlights of some of the patterns currently on exhibit (not all objects pictured are on view):

Saladware, tableware (1955); Earthenware with printed and painted underglaze decoration; Image from the book Midwinter Pottery: A Revolution in British Tableware (3rd edition) by Steven Jenkins, published by Richard Dennis Publications.

Saladware—inspired by the growing influence during the 1950s of French and Italian eating habits on the British.

Nature Study, tableware (1955); Earthenware with transfer-printed underglaze decoration; Image from the book Midwinter Pottery: A Revolution in British Tableware (3rd edition) by Steven Jenkins, published by Richard Dennis Publications.

Nature Study—with its wiry dragonflies and leaves—is Conran’s interpretation of a nature notebook. It was one of the first designs to be released in Midwinter’s Fashion line.

Chequers—as seen in the image at the top of this page, this tableware pattern was based on a fabric Terence Conran designed for British textile manufacturer David Whitehead in 1951.

To learn more about Terence Conran’s work for Midwinter please visit the exhibition Terence Conran for Midwinter located in the Post-1900 Design Gallery, Level 2 of the North Building, through November 3, 2013.

Credits:  Midwinter: A Collector’s Guide by Alan Peat, published by Cameron & Hollis.

Image credit: Chequers, tableware (1957); Earthenware with printed and sponged underglaze decoration; Chequers, furnishing fabric (1951); Screen-printed cotton satin; Image from the book Midwinter Pottery: A Revolution in British Tableware (3rd edition) by Steven Jenkins, published by Richard Dennis Publications.

Laura Bennison is a curatorial assistant with the department of architecture, design, and graphics. She has been with the museum since 2006, and she recommends that visitors don’t miss the post-1900 design galleries on level two of North Building.