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Chameloen Ware Art Pottery 

George Clews & Co. Ltd started in business in 1906, and operated from the Brownhills Pottery in Tunstall, Staffordshire from 1908 until closure in 1961.

The core business was producing pottery teapots and other tableware.

A line of art pottery was started in 1914, with the aim of producing a range of pieces on a commercial basis that would have previously only been available individually from studio potters, thereby making such pieces easily available to collectors and lovers of art pottery.

The line became known as Chameleon Ware. There are no records as to why this unusual name chosen, but one explanation is it was because the colours changed during the firing.

The early pieces featured crystalline and opalescent glazes, and have the words “Chameleon England” impressed on the base.

This is a fine example of early Chameleon Ware, circa 1915:

  

 

Chameleon Ware is best known for brightly-coloured hand-painted pieces with bold designs, finished in a silky semi-matt finish which is lovely to touch.

These were made from the early 1920’s until the outbreak of World War II in 1939 after which pottery manufacture was closely controlled and only for more utilitarian purposes.

The designs often show Egyptian and Middle Eastern influence, as archaeological discoveries such as Tutankhamun’s tombs were in the news and generated great public interest.

The manufacture was a multi-stage process:

  • Plain white earthenware pieces in a wide array of shapes were first cast in plaster of Paris moulds, which included the shape number ranging from 200 to 400 impressed into the base. Sometimes there was also S, M or L to denote small, medium or large.
     
  • After being released from the mould the piece was placed in a drying machine.
     
  • It was then “biscuit” fired. This was a skilled process done in a coal-fired bottle oven. Firing took two days, with the temperature built up to its highest point after about 48 hours, and then held there for two to three hours before the fire was put out and the oven left to cool. The temperature would vary in different places in the oven, so there was an art in stacking the oven to place the different pieces in the best locations for each.
     
  • If the temperature was too hot the piece would feel smooth and not take paint well. Correctly fired pieces felt rough and the paint would sink in.
     
  • After cooling, pieces had the outline pattern drawn on by an experienced paintress, using a fine black pencil. They would mark the base with the pattern number and background colour in the format XX / YYY, where XX is the pattern number and YYY is the colour code. Sometimes the base was also marked with their first initial, in the same fine black pencil.
     
  • The pattern was then painted on, often by a different paintress, who may have also marked the base with a coloured initial or number to identify their work.
     
  • The piece was then passed to a mottler who coloured in the background area using a small rubber sponge.
     
  • Next the piece was hand dipped in a glaze. There were three different pots of glaze as a soft fired piece would be more absorbent than a hard fired piece and so require a different consistency of glaze to produce the same end result.
     
  • Finally pieces had another firing to harden the paint and glaze. They had to be placed on three stilts so the base was also fired, and arranged carefully so they did not touch. Again it was a skilled job to fire at the correct temperature. For example, too little heat at this stage would result in the pattern looking slightly soft, rather than crisp and sharp.

One fascinating aspect of Chameleon ware is how the same pattern was adapted to fit different shaped pieces, often creating a completely different effect. Here is an example:

  

Here is another example where it is much more obviously the same pattern. Note how it has been adapted to perfectly suit the different shapes, and to create different but equally beautiful and striking examples:

  

No records or pattern books have survived, so information can only be pieced together from examples of completed pieces. There are no official pattern names, and the initials of the paintresses can rarely be identified.

The hand painted pieces produced from the early 1920’s have printed marks on the base, with the words “Chameleon Ware, Clews & Co Ltd, Tunstall, Made in England” and sometimes also with the words “Hand Painted.”

Without records it is impossible to know for sure, but it is believed that the earliest examples have a rectangular border with inset triangle containing a chameleon.

An example is shown below:

The pattern number 247 was formed as part of the initial moulding process. The pattern number is 53 and the background colour is powder blue, number 113.

The rectangular border was later changed to a circle, as shown in this example:

Shape number 235, pattern number 11 and background colour 116 (cobalt blue). Also visible is the initial “C” in black pencil of the paintress who outlined the pattern (believed to be Cissie Hand), and the initial “A” in brown of the paintress who coloured in the pattern (believed to be Emily Firmstone).

Later examples have the wording enclosed in circular border but without the triangle or chameleon logo, as shown below:

Pattern number 53 and background colour brown, number 125. Also visible is the initial “X” of the paintress who outlined the pattern.
 

Reference – much of the material in the above article has been taken from the excellent reference book “Chameleon Ware Art Pottery” by Hilary Calvert, which is a highly recommended resource for collectors.