It’s very hard to believe that it’s 25 years since Kate Glanville Tiles and Tableware was born!
It was originally conceived as a combined business with my now ex-husband, the potter Duncan Ayscough. We met on a foundation art course in Bristol in 1986 and when we left our degree courses in 1990 we both taught in the art department at Heathfield Girls School in Berkshire. We started working together on various creative projects and set up in business in 1991 producing screen printed fabrics for upholstery and decorated bowls and vases.
In the summer of 1991 we moved to London and had a studio at The Pimlico Pottery, which we rented from the talented ceramicist Barry Guppy. Barry was a great source of inspiration and entertainment, we spent many evenings in his flat upstairs drinking wine and listening to his stories of his life in 1960’s London!
We soon gave up on trying to print fabrics and upholster furniture and started to concentrate on a range of brightly colored decorated ceramics. We developed the majolica technique of decorating that I still use today. It’s based on the centuries old glaze techniques of Italian and Portuguese ceramics and is also very similar to the Dutch Delft technique used in blue and white pottery.
I had trained in fashion design at St Martins College of Art in London and when I graduated in 1990 I worked as a freelance textile designer, designing for Japanese swimwear companies who wanted all sorts of weird and wonderful patterns, from crazy cats to giant lobsters! My illustrative textile designs transferred well to the pottery and I began painting naked ladies and mermaids on Duncan’s beautiful bowls and vases, as well as painting floral designs and animals and sea creatures.
Our central location in Pimlico was perfect for passing trade and Barry let us fill the big shop windows with our work.
The ceramics shop, Ceramica Blue, just off the Portabello road started stocking our pots and also our handmade tiles. Lindy the owner was a great promoter of our work getting it into many magazines and noticed by interior designers. One of my first tile commissions was for the film director Richard Curtis and then another for John Cleese!
In 1992 Duncan was offered a place on the ceramics MA course at Cardiff College of Art to develop his own ceramic work. So we said goodbye to London and life at Barry’s studio and set off together to the unknown land of Wales (unknown to us!)
We rented an extremely damp flat on Claude Road in Roath and I set up an electric kiln in the spare bedroom (when not in use I disguised the kiln as a television table in case the landlord came round!). I sourced ceramic shapes and tiles from various potteries in Stoke on Trent and developed more commercial designs under my own name.
With a grant from The Princes Youth Business Trust I started exhibiting at trade fairs at the NEC and Olympia, my mum Biddy was always a great help on the stands. Within two years I was selling pottery in Liberty, The Conran Shop, Fortnum & Mason, John Lewis and over fifty smaller shops and galleries in the UK and also in Ireland, Australia and the U.S.A. In 1994 I started making tiles for Fired Earth and soon their orders made up a third of my business.
By the time we moved to our cottage in Bethlehem, on the edge of The Brecon Beacons National Park in 1996 I was working fifteen hour days, seven days a week in a studio that we converted from a pigsty! It was very cold and every winter I suffered awful chilblains!
In 2000 my son Harry was born so working such long hours was no longer possible though I still managed to keep going – I remember coming home from the hospital after having Harry and packing up a big order for Fired Earth that evening – I do not recommend this to any new mothers!!! I realised that something had to change.
Two other things happened that year which ended up affecting my business – the foot and mouth crisis and the advent of Internet shopping.
Because of the foot and mouth disaster many of the smaller galleries and shops I supplied (which tended to be in market towns and villages) had to close as tourists were discouraged from using the countryside; my orders fell dramatically. At the same time Country Living magazine offered heavily discounted advertising to rural businesses to help support them through the crisis and I had just had a very small website designed.
I decided to advertise personalised wedding plates in Country Living magazine and tile murals in The Aga magazine with links to my website – though I doubted people would really be bothered to look at this new internet phenomenon, let alone buy something online – I knew I wouldn’t!! I was wrong – on both counts (as Johnny Boden can testify!!) People immediately started ordering plates and tiles and I realized it was much more satisfying dealing directly with customers.
I loved painting bespoke, one-off pieces of pottery and creating tile murals rather than painting lots of the same design over and over on a mugs or tile for the wholesale market.
My new way of working was much better for looking after Harry – and then his younger sister Daisy and little brother Tomos. It was the perfect way to combine my work with bringing up a family.
The website has developed greatly over the years and the arrival of social media has meant I no longer need to advertise in magazines. It’s lovely to be able to work with customers directly to develop design ideas and its hugely satisfying to see how happy they are with their new tiles or a plate or mug for a special gift.
Over the years I have sold my ceramics to many celebrities, including Madonna, Prince Charles, Rodger Daltry and Robbie Williams and my pots have been featured in many magazines and also on TV programs including The Great British Bakeoff!
Last year the children and I moved from Bethlehem to a cottage on a National Trust estate and I work in a converted barn at my partner Nick’s house, Birdshill Farm, just outside Llandeilo. For the first time ever I am warm when I work – chilblains are no longer an issue in my life! I have a new, much bigger kiln and lots of light and space.
In the last year I have been developing new designs based on the animals and birds that surround the cottage where we live in Dynevor Park.
In the last five years I have also had three novels published and have just finished a fourth. A Perfect Home, Heartstones and Stargazing. These have been translated into Norwegian and German and also sold in the USA, and long-listed for several major literary awards. I’ve enjoyed designing the covers for those published in the UK.
When I look back over the last 25 years I think how lucky I have been to find a way of making a living that I enjoy so much. Every time I open up my kiln I still feel very excited to see what will come out.
I’ve worked with such lovely people and have had some wonderful commissions. I love hearing from customers who have been collecting my work for many years. Recently I made a plate to match a bowl that I painted in 1993!
I hope very much that I will still be painting pots and coming up with new designs in another 25 years time!