Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not, and a sense of humor was provided to console him for what he is. - Oscar Wilde
Animation, Art, and Other Shiny Things
On our first full day in Birmingham we spent very little time in Birmingham. Our hotel is right next to the New Street station and the Bullring so there is an incredible number of stores we could of drained our pockets at, and it is part of the second largest con-urban in the UK, second only to London, but we had other plans.
Instead, I had my eye on a smaller city about an hour and a half to the north-west called Stoke-on-Trent. One of the city’s nicknames is “The Potteries” and it is considered a world capital of ceramics as some of the world’s most respected companies create their wares there. Among them are Wedgwood and Royal Daulton, Portmeiron, Royal Stafford, Gladstone, and the place I wanted to go – Moorcroft.
Some years ago Mrs Crow and I came across this little show that’s not seen in the US called Bargain Hunt. We were hooked immediately. It’s huge here in the UK and it pits two pairs of players against each other to gather three items at antique shops and boot sales and make the most cash selling them at auction. Well, every once in a while someone would pick up a very small vase or bowl to find that it was outside their 300 quid budget.
It was always a striking piece, quite unlike the porcelain and pottery my mother collects. The colors were unusual and vibrant, and there was an edged beading between the colors creating an almost a cloisonne effect. I collect glass and never really looked at potteries, but this stuff was special.
So off Mrs Crow and I flew, training it out to Stoke-on-Trent to the Moorcroft manufactory. Walking through the shop for me was a near sacred experience. The colors were intense yet restrained, the designs were of every kind – from simple to detailed scenes. Did I mention the colors?
One of the shop ladies was kind enough to show us a short film on the creation and manufacturing process guided by Eric Knowles who we know from Bargain Hunt and Antiques Roadshow. It was truly an entrancing experience for me. We ended up buying two rather small items and spent a few hundred pounds for them, but just having two Moorcroft pieces is indescribable.
From there we began a walk up towards the Royal Doulton outlet, but as we hadn’t had more than coffee and a doughnut for breakfast, we neeeded fuel and chanced across a small fish and chips diner a half block off our route and took the opportunity for a quick sit-down.
I love diners. I see them as little windows into the local culture and this one was no exception. The sign noted that it was ‘award winning’ although didn’t mention what award that was. Inside was a take-away counter and several booths and tables that were half filled with local folks and families. Very working class, just like us. It looked as if we were noticed right away as ‘not from around here’, but everyone was nice, or at least tolerant of our presence. Mrs Crow was kind of pedestrian in choosing the cod and chips, but me, being the rebel that I am, went for the haddock.
Topped up, we made it up to the Royal Doulton shop. There were stacks of pattterned dinnerware for some incredible prices! You could probably put together a full 8-piece dinner set for less than 200 pounds! There was also an area where, I presume, school kids could paint their own pottery and get it fired. I ended up with just a mug, but it had an octopus on it, which my mother collects (yeah, she collects a lot of things) and it is surprisingly difficult to find octopus themed items. In Royal Doulton ware it was a real coup in my thinking.
Walking out of the shop we prepared to call a car to take us back to the train station, but there was a little gallery nearby I wanted to peer in it’s window so we wandered over that-a-way. I’ve mentioned that Mrs Crow and I have come across some wonderfully unexpected things when we just wander and this was one such time. Getting around the side of the building we found a small bit of street art on the wall next to the gallery – Banksy’s Keep it Real. From what I gather, the design has had several incarnations on various media, but Stoke does count him as one of it’s own, so it’s quite possible it’s genuine. Nonetheless, it did make for a wonderous capper to our visit to this city of clay-makers.
Observations from day…uh…today…and maybe yesterday too: I use the term ‘city block’ frequently but it has no meaning here.
We have yet to see a washcloth-sized towel.
Today we’re doing the train up to Birmingham, and with Young Master Crow coming in to meet up with us last night, we delayed our big tour of the street art until today since he and I are both huge fans of the genre.
After a bit of breakfast at one of the ubiquitous Costas near the hotel we set off in search of Banksy. Mrs Crow and I had found a few of them yesterday in the M-Shed and near Spike Island so we dragged the young man down there to start our pilgrimage.Since Young Master Crow’s phone’s direction cone works far better than mine (it actually points the correct way) he led the way out and onwards to the next and subsequent pieces.
Now until Bristol, we hadn’t really had to contend with hills. That changd with a vengeance today. One of the pieces, The Rose Trap, is under plexi on a wall which is great. It is up a very steep hill, which is not so great. The fortunate bit is that just a little tad further up the hill is a life-saver of a tiny park where we sat under a tree to regain our breath and legs.
By that time we’d been wandering around Stokes Croft for a bit already and, unlike the rest of the city, street art was everywhere. I’m not exaggerating, either! Turn a corner, there’s a wall of it. Get a bit down a street and turn about for another persepective and find one you almost missed. Look up a building and there’s something you could’ve walked right by. It was a dream!
I’d studied my street art app last night and was able to recognize some of the art or artists and was like a cat with three mice in a bucket (pronounced boo-kay, but that’s another story for a few days from now).
Cheo, Chinagirl, Nick Walker, Cheba, Tom Miller, Sweet Toof, Banksy, and more. I should list them all, really, there were just so many! Mrs Crow is the photographer of us, but I still took over 60 pictures along the journey! There was so much that in some cases I just took a picture down the alley way to at least show the expanse of quality artwork along our way.
When I’d planned our trip to the UK and decided on the stop in Bristol just for Banksy (and Bristol Blue Glass) I wasn’t sure what we’d find – if we’d just have looong walks between Banksy’s bits, or what, but this around six mile walk made this stop so worthwhile I just can’t express it properly.
Between the Mrs and I we have a sh*t-ton of pictures and I will very likely add many of them at the tail end of this post even after it’s published, so if you love street art as much as I do, check back over the next several days. We’re hitting the Welsh coast late next week and I should have the time to get caught up with the posts themselves and finish adding and captioning pics on this one.