“Collections are the life-blood of makers. With a discerning eye they quickly identify the makers they like and many follow their careers for many years. For makers such support is not only financially beneficial but more importantly collectors identify the pieces they prefer and so make a critical contribution to a maker’s career. Museums and art galleries are particularly important in nurturing and preserving makers’ work, giving it status and presence while building up a resource of the finest work. Museum collections serve as both a record and celebration of the best contemporary applied art. Whether private or institutional, collections are an important part of the creative process, adding their own voice to the world of applied art.” Emmanuel Cooper*
Since the mid 1990’s The National Museum of Wales in Cardiff has had a strategy to collect and exhibit the work of contemporary ceramics with a focused view on a representative cross-section of studio practice in Wales. From 2000, the collection has been further expanded through limited retrospective buying of works that place that collection in a broader context both nationally and internationally.
Collecting has always been an important strand of the applied arts sector in Wales and the desire to cultivate the private collector’s ability to own work by contemporary makers saw the launch of the first interest free credit scheme in the UK for buying art in 1963. This later developed into The Arts Council of Wales Collectorplan scheme which still operates in galleries today and became the model for other schemes in England to be developed.
The National Museum holds work by the best of Wales’ contemporary potters and ceramicists including Walter Keeler, Morgen Hall, Michael Flynn, Claire Curneen and Richard Deacon alongside classic 20th Century works from makers such as Bernard Leach, Michael Cardew, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper. Significant purchases from beyond Wales can also be seen in works by such significant figures as Edmund de Waal and Julian Stair.
In 2006, Ruthin Craft Centre held an exhibition called Collecting Contemporary Ceramics as part of the Celf Cymru Gyfan/Arts Share Wales partnership which drew on the collection bringing it outside of the Museum environment and into the gallery space. The show featured one piece from the collection alongside new work from each of the chosen artists, Beverley Bell-Hughes, David Binns, Clive Bowen, Claire Curneen, Michael Flynn, Catrin Howell, Mo Jupp, Walter Keeler, Julian Stair and Takeshi Yasuda. The exhibition reflected the growing trend for Museums to make their collections more accessible and meaningful through innovative partnerships and collaborations with artists revisiting and reinterpreting their own work in the context of historical collections.
*From Collecting Contemporary Ceramics, Ruthin Craft Centre publication ISBN 1 900941 92 9