Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Though I have been called many things including 'post modern chameleon' by Garth Clark and  'magpie-like' by Glenn Adamson I would describe my experience in discovering ceramic history more akin to a mudlark. Unlike my extraordinary mentor and friend Ivor Noel Hume OBE who's beginnings on the banks of the Thames has given contemporary archaeology its most poignant and creative voice, I had only seen ceramics found in America.  And although these ceramics came from America's earliest and most significant Colonial American sites, I was not really informed as to their  historical context. So I came to know ceramic history in reverse: I learned about the circumstance of those artifacts through  my study of the ceramic arts. It was my complete lack of formal understanding of the broader study of colonial American archeology and anthropology and material culture that allowed for my idiot savant approach to this history through making. The single publication who's title alone captured my imagination for decades to come was Noel's book English Delftware from London and Virginia. This book was so influential that I dubbed my exodus to the V&A  "From Virginia to London" as a humble tribute to Noel Hume's genius and remarkable spirit which never ceases to amaze me.

I made it my mission to join the more dubious ranks of mudlarkers past and present while in London and get down on the shores of the Thames to see what I could find. My partner Rob Hunter the real archeologist had left for the states but sent me a link to the tides chart and encouraged me to venture down into the mirk and mire.  Although it wasn't listed as one of the "suggested" spots, I decided to check under Blackfriars Bridge on the south bank.  Here at low tide the beach is fairly wide and the view is pretty amazing, but what was surprising was the mass of centuries of rubble and fragments that make up the shoreline relatively washed clean for the picking.

The steps down were another matter.
 My first attempt was a lot more productive than I had anticipated and I realized I didn't have anything to put the loot in so ha had to use my lucky New Orleans Saints ball cap. WHO DAT!

I found everything from late 16th-century borderware to 19th=century willow pattern but the finds I kept were things that I recognized parallels to from American archeological contexts. A trip that coincided roughly with my Thames adventure was a visit to Blythe House where the store of the V&A is kept that is not on display and of particular interest was some archeological material though not contextual was certainly familiar.
Archeological English Delft at Blythe House V&A collections store

The archeological material at Jamestown Rediscovery is really worth looking at and they also have an incredible archeological database at St. Augustine both have early European tin glaze examples (above) and this type Midlands Purple butter pot (below) mirrors similar excavations at Jamestown and other early sites.

My second mudlarking adventure was when Rob returned and as we crossed the Millennium Bridge the heavens opened and the sun shown down on the Sherd like Oz so we had great expectations . This time Rob ventured down the steep steps first to document my descent or downfall!
Though we didn't find the Holy Grail we had a pretty good hall and a really useful tool in the studio

1 comment:

  1. Dear Michelle
    I came across your blog through googling mudlarking & have really enjoyed reading all of it. Your work is beautiful and I can feel the excitement about your V&A residency. I've only recently discovered the V&A ceramics collections, which now have real meaning for me as they link so directly with my new found passion for Thames mudlarking. If you are interested in taking a peak at my mudlarking blog here's the link I'll look out for your work next time I visit the V&A. With best wishes