Island potter’s sons donate ‘significant’ collection of her work to the nation

·4-min read

A “significant” collection of work by an island potter has been donated to the nation by her sons.

National Museums Scotland (NMS) said it was delighted to acquire the collection of 24 pots made by Joan Faithfull along with eight maker’s stamps and her pottery wheel.

Mrs Faithfull (1923-2017) set up her pottery at Tormore near Fionnphort on Mull in 1950 to 1951 and worked there, while also spending time making pots in Edinburgh, for five decades.

Curators said her work gives an insight into life in post-war Scotland, from the growing tourist trade and thirst for souvenirs, to the relationship between craft production and the rural economy.

Joan Faithfull pots
Joan Faithfull used the colour blue in many of her pots (National Museums Scotland/PA)

Her pots, for some of which she used local clay, are also imbued with a sense of place and draw inspiration from the local landscape and wildlife.

Ailsa Hutton, assistant curator in modern and contemporary history in the Scottish history and archaeology department at NMS, said: “She was definitely a substantial figure in the Scottish post-war pottery world and she is not somebody that many people know about, but I think her life, her career and her works are really interesting, they tell us more about the history of craft, the history of tourism and the rural economy in post-war Scotland, so her work, while very beautiful, it’s so much more than that to us .

“It has the power to tell us a lot more about Scotland in the 20th century and the early 21st.

“I think they are very significant. I think the fact that they have the power to tell stories about so many different aspects of post-war Scotland such as the history of craft, tourism, rural economies, her pots, her life, her career, it intersects with all of these important themes, so I think it’s very significant.”

The collection of pots, donated by Mrs Faithfull’s sons David and John, spans decades of their mother’s career, with the earliest dating from the 1940s and the latest to the 1990s.

John Faithfull said he and his brother wanted to donate the items to NMS so more people could learn about their mother’s story, adding that she would have been “so happy” to know they had entered the museum’s collection.

He told the PA news agency: “She had been a potter at a time when it wasn’t really fashionable and started off after the war in Mull, and she had been a really interesting early example of craft pottery in Scotland, and particularly doing that somewhere like Mull, but she was very modest.”

He described his mother’s studio on Mull as an “extraordinary place” and told how she used to row her boat over to Iona with her pots to sell there.

Mr Faithfull added: “I would like her story to be remembered, and the fact that I think she was doing something other people weren’t doing at the time and she made beautiful pots.”

When Mrs Faithfull started the pottery there were no roads to Tormore and her supplies arrived by boat and then had to be pushed along a track to the studio in a wheelbarrow.

Over the following years her pottery supplies arrived by ferry, steamer and dinghy, and later by road.

Maker's stamps and plaque
Joan Faithfull’s maker’s stamps were also donated to the collection (National Museums Scotland/PA)

Her pots were popular with people who visited Mull as west coast tourism took off in the post-war years and were keen to take home an authentic souvenir.

Steamers such as the King George V and the Lochnevis sailed between Oban, Mull, Iona and Staffa ferrying passengers who were eager to experience the Scottish islands.

Experts said a sense of place is central to Mrs Faithfull’s work.

Ms Hutton said: “She references Mull throughout her work, not just in the motifs she uses such as birds, fish and sailing boats, but in her use of local clay.

“She was the first to use a local clay found in Mull, she was the first to use that to experiment with it for her pottery, so her pots really reflect Mull through and through, and she also experimented with colours in the glazes for her pots.

“There is a lot of blue and that was to do with her exploring the colour of the water, the particular colour in the sea between Iona and Mull, so there’s aspects of that sense of place, it’s just so heavily imbued in her pots.”

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