bullers studio

Ovenware (1941)
iron glazed procelain. cat. no. 73

In 1939, Agnete and her mother left Denmark on holiday to visit her brothers who had returned to England a few years earlier to work. With the onset of war, they were unexpectedly exiled in England and Agnete went to Liverpool to be near her younger brother, Eric, who was working in the food canning industry. Unable to find suitable employment there, she decided to join her other brother Svend, who lived and worked in the heart of the pottery manufacturing area of Stoke on Trent and look for a pottery based job there. Taking a portfolio of specially prepared drawings, she approached Wedgewoods, who were unable to employ her at that time. They kindly referred her to Gordon Forsyth, the Principal at Burslem School of Art in the belief that he would have more contacts within the local industry. Forsyth introduced her to Bullers Ltd. in Milton, where she was able to secure the position as of head of the studio. This factory produced very high quality porcelain insulators for the electricity industry and had historically run a small design studio, headed by Ann Potts, who had just retired to get married. One of the directors of Bullers Guy Harris, was an extremely talented glaze chemist, who had a great interest in Oriental ceramics. With his support and expert knowledge, Agnete set about consolidating and expanding this unique industrial studio and began by producing innovative ideas for ‘oven to tableware’ – something that was virtually unheard of at that time.

Many of her pots were experimental in nature and with no specific brief or restraint on her ideas, some beautiful one-off ceramics were produced, as well as designs for mass production. It was Bullers intention to sell these wares to Heals in London and so when there were enough protoypes ready, Agnete herself went to see the Heals buyers. They liked the pots but immediately asked her to produce a range of porcelain animal models in similar colours, explaining that there was a market for such items in the USA.

As the confidence of the directors at Bullers increased she was allowed to choose assistants for the studio. The first one to arrive on the recommendation of Gordon Forsyth in 1943 was James Rushton, 15 years old, who was employed in the first place to be modeller and caster. Later they were joined by Elsie Forrester and Hilda Hind, both described as decorators. The team grew to 10 and included Harold Thomas whom Agnete considered to be the best ‘thrower’ in Stoke on Trent. As soon as the workers had ‘proved’ their ability, she positively encouraged them to develop their own styles. Over the years Agnete invited influential studio potters such as Bernard Leach and his son, Michael and Rosemary Wren to visit. The input of such illustrious visitors added to the general artistic and intellectual atmosphere within the studio.

Having supported this artistic studio throughout the difficult war years, the news of Bullers decision to close it in 1952 came as an unexpected shock to all. The studio workers were given very little notice and soon after the complete stock was sold off locally at knock-down prices.

Buller studio group (1946)
Leslie West (left), Hilda Hine (seated), Elsie Forrester, Agnete Hoy, Harold Thomas, James Rushton, Derek Wilshaw and Fred Hanley

Large Bullers bowl (1941)
31cm diameter porcelain with iron cobalt brushwork
cat. no. 11

Bullers young deer model (1941)
18.5cm high porcelain with blue celadon glaze
cat. no. 05