Makers & Brothers

Spongeware

Irish spongeware dates back to the eighteenth century when it was the chosen country crockery for everyday use; jugs for milk and bowls for soup, and so on. Nicholas Mosse’s new lawn pattern bowls and platters have been created using the same technique of decorating with cut sponges.

Nicholas Mosse produces pottery in the style of Irish spongeware, traditional Irish pottery from the eighteenth century. He grew up surrounded by his mother’s collection of antique spongeware. The patterns with their childlike quality have clearly influenced Mosse, who is now synonymous with spongeware in Ireland, however his designs have developed from the original pottery patterns with more detail all the while maintaining an emphasis on simplicity.

Spongeware has a long tradition in Ireland. The patterned pottery became widespread in the nineteenth century country home when cheap undecorated white earthenware was dabbed with cut sponges in the house. A simple process to adorn the inexpensive pottery. The body of the earthenware items were much coarser than china, so by adding bright and colourful patterns they became more attractive and decorated the kitchen dresser, which indicated the wealth and therefore the social status of the household. Patterns applied were often rurally inspired and featured animals and plants. The designs were sponged on to simple honest shaped pottery used for storing food staples like flour, tea and milk. The spongeware held both a decorative function and also an everyday use in the farmhouse.

To create one of Nicholas Mosse’s pieces, it undergoes a 20-step handmade process. The clay is formed into a basic shape before being cleaned and dried. A slip coat is applied before it is fired in a kiln and ready for the decoration to be applied by hand with a cut sponge. In the eighteenth century the earthenware was decorated by unskilled labours, people untrained who bought the pottery cheaply and added colourful sponged patterns as they desired. In this short video we see how this has changed. The immense workmanship and skill involved is evident in the sponging of the jug. Patterns are applied with intricate detail and specificity resulting in Nicholas Mosse’s signature aesthetic.

The pattern on each bowl requires the application of around 2000 sponge imprints

The lawn pattern, developed by Susan Mosse layers shades of blues and greens using the same technique. Continuously repeating the cut sponge shapes results in a really dense pattern that is subtly textured and almost becomes a solid colour piece.The lawn pattern bowl is printed with large sponge shapes about 2,000 times and the platter over 1,500, which indicates the time involved in creating the hand painted detail. We really love this new pattern that is still produced using an old tradition.

Credits
Imagery: Makers & Brothers
Video: Nicholas Mosse

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