Studio visit with ceramicist Frances Priest

  • This week we caught up with ceramicist Frances Priest in her Edinburgh based studio, albeit virtually. This self-confessed pattern addict has had a bumper couple of months, securing a much-lauded Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) Scholarship Award*, becoming the Johnnie Walker Scholar for 2020 and, if this wasn’t enough, she has just landed an exciting commission for the Edinburgh Haematology Centre at The Western General Hospital. It seems like there is no stopping her. We were enthralled to hear about these new projects knowing that they will lead to a whole new body of work from Frances. The kind of work that is, exquisitely formed, joyfully coloured and with decorative motifs that are embedded in a rich historical narrative. Our appreciation of each piece Frances makes is heightened by the narrative taking it way beyond an appreciation of aesthetic sensibility or technical skill both of which are already exemplary in their own right.


    From her studio, Frances talks about the start of her passion for pattern, The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones, one of the great colour plate books of the 19th century and a book she was given as a child.

    Video by kind permission of Cro+Kow


    In her studio Frances showed us some of the pieces she was working on and some of the familiar patterns and designs that have made up the work we’ve exhibited over the past two years of working with her.


    Designs from Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament Byzantine section which formed part of the research Frances carried out for the Vase Forms we featured on our stand at Collect 2020 earlier this year.


    Some of Frances’ original drawings for the work we had on show at our recent exhibition at the Design Centre Chelsea Harbour.


    Frances showed us how she incises the clay with her scalpel, drawing onto the clay her own designs which are inspired by historical references taken from the Grammar of Ornament and combined with her own documentation of decorative designs from her travels around the globe.


    Newly incised ceramic forms are washed over with a black oxide to highlight Frances’ design before the coloured glazes are applied.




     Francis Priest, ceramics, Scottish design, contemporary ceramics


    During our virtual visit, Frances explained that The QEST Scholarship Award she secured over the summer will support her while she trains with leading handcrafted tile manufacturer Craven Dunnill Jackfield. She will work directly on the factory floor to gain an in-depth understanding of all aspects of encaustic and moulded tile manufacture, supported by archival research at Jackfield Tile Museum and The Minton Paper Archive. This training will enable her to incorporate heritage manufacturing skills within her contemporary ceramic practice, and develop further work for interiors and architectural settings. 


    Frances went on to talk about the commission for the Edinburgh Haematology Centre at The Western General Hospital, where she is one of several artists who have been commissioned to make work responding to the landscape and heritage of Edinburgh, The Lothians, The Borders and Fife.


    Frances is developing work which looks specifically at linoleum and ceramic manufacturing in Kirkcaldy, one of the main centres of the Scottish pottery industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This area was home to David Methvens Links Pottery, famous for a range of spongeware (ceramics decorated using fine-pored sponges cut into shapes to print simple, coloured patterns on to earthenware) and transfer printed ceramics.  The area also played host to the pattern books of Nairn’s and Barry’s Linoleum factories.  Frances’ work will take the form of a series of decorative panels in ceramic and marmoleum (a natural floor made from 97% natural raw materials, 70% of which are rapidly renewable, along with a 43% recycled content) which will hang in the family room.  Work is due to be completed in January 2021 and is being curated and managed by Arabella Harvey of Round Table Projects, funded by Edinburgh & Lothians Health Foundation.




    Frances’ work is collected worldwide and her ceramic pieces can be found in the following public collections: The National Museums of Scotland Edinburgh, UK 2003 & 2018, The Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge, UK 2004 & 2018, The Victoria & Albert Museum London, UK 2006, McManus Galleries Dundee, UK 2005, The Shipley Art Gallery Gateshead, UK 2002, The International Museum of Ceramics Faenza, Italy 2001 and The International Museum of Contemporary Ceramics Ichon Province, Korea 2001


    Much of the work we have shown by Frances has now sold but we do have a few statement works by the artist available on the website and Frances is currently working on ideas for a new body of work for Cavaliero Finn which will be ready in the early part of 2021. 


    If you would like to talk to us about commissioning a piece or about any of the available pieces below, do not hesitate to get in touch.