An artist orphan – Scottie Wilson

A thing that crops up in various disciples — pottery is no exception — is categorization and hierarchy. You can tell from my Gallery titles I am pretty much less interested in the usual pottery viewing lens  i.e. Artist, Form, Period, Style, Region,  than I am in understanding our usage of pottery — what it actually is doing within our culture.

I also use my titles as tools for thinking of pottery as functioning rather than as purely functional. Categories such as artist and region, implicitly create status, limit or direct conversation and frequently marginalize both potter/artist/designer, as well as our experience of pottery — intellectual or emotional.

An orphan artist with a claim for inclusion in Canadian pottery is the so-called Outsider, Scottie Wilson (Louis Freeman) 1891 – 1972. British born Wilson is recognized in the post-war years as being part of the European discovery and creation of Outsider Art as category and as companion to Surrealism. He spent a number of years in Canada with first attention from Douglas Duncan 1902-1968, a preeminent collector and curator.

Wilson is not just an orphan artist with work migrating from designs on paper to the china of Royal Worcester of all places, but an anomaly in categorization.  He neither fits into the fine art tradition nor could be labeled a professional or an avant garde (yet he was seriously collected by major artists). He is neither quite Canadian or British (though his work is in the National Gallery of Canada and the Tate Gallery); and finally he had precious little interest in Royal Worcester’s ultimate reworking of his patterns and design (he was apparently oblivious to what they produced).  Worcester’s work has been described as a clumsy attempt to be with it in the Swinging London of the 1960s.

Scottie Wilson - tea saucer

Scottie Wilson – tea saucer

I particularly like its red earthenware series with black transfers of Wilson’s iconic swans and fishes. One of my Gallery pictures includes a grouping with a coffee pot (minus the lid) that shows a bird tree like motif. Some observers have felt that his designs reflect the influence of native motifs from when he lived in British Columbia. I am not convinced of that but his artistic career did began abruptly once he had immigrated to Canada.

The Worcester is quite serviceable in terms of functioning, though Wilson would have loved a canteen tea mug or better yet a tankard. This work is more table settings in Mayfair than Camden Town. Wilson also attempted some hand painted plates but they’re a far cry from his renown drawings.

His compositions don’t seem to have traveled well onto functioning tableware which Worcester found out. Their various attempts were only produced from about 1960 – 1965.

Today, however, there is a strong collector’s market for Wilson’s china, a Modernist revival if you would. You can find more about Wilson’s work here

an interesting site with a penchant for Bad Modernism.


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