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A cool American collection of British pots acquired by CoCA York 1

an abstract ceramic teapot with folded fabric like appearance

Corrugated Teapot, 1992, Carol McNicoll © the artist, image courtesy of York Museums Trust. A gift from the private collection of Patricia Nichol Barnes, presented by the Contemporary Art Society, 2020.

More than 40 internationally significant ceramic works from an American collector have been acquired by the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA)

In common with many women in the early twentieth century, art collector Patricia Barnes found there were very few career possibilities in the male-dominated world of academia.

The daughter of a prominent heart doctor, she was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1928 and grew up in Miami. She attended Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, which helped spark a lifelong interest in literature and the arts.

After marriage and raising a family of four children, she rekindled her passion for the arts at Northwestern University where she gained a masters degree in English Literature followed by teaching composition at Malcolm X College in Chicago. But the arts career still evaded her and she reinvented herself as a real estate developer and property manager.

But her love for artistic creativity never diminished and together with her second husband, a noted book dealer, she began travelling the world buying books whilst developing a singular eye for contemporary ceramics.

a cup with a large, solid, elliptical handle and light blue abstract decoration

Cup, 1992, Alison Britton.© the artist, image courtesy of York Museums Trust. A gift from the private collection of Patricia Nichol Barnes, presented by the Contemporary Art Society, 2020.

a curved flat ceramic dish with golden handles

Fruit Bowl, 1980-99, Carol McNicoll. © the artist, image courtesy of York Museums Trust. A gift from the private collection of Patricia Nichol Barnes, presented by the Contemporary Art Society, 2020.

In later years she lived part-time in London where her inspiration became Vanessa Bell and the Bloomsbury group. In the capital she became a noted collector of British ceramics, with one artist friend noting, “she had an exquisite eye for the best stuff.”

She even opened The London Gallery in Winnetka, Illinois to showcase many of the artists she avidly collected.

Now some of the works she acquired, by a range of leading ceramic artists including Carol McNicoll, Jacqueline Poncelet, Alison Britton, and Quentin Bell, have found a new home in CoCA in York, which boasts the largest and one of the most important collections of its kind in the UK, covering the entire British studio ceramics movement.

Significant works from Barnes’ collection, which as a whole has been placed into appropriate collections in the UK by the Contemporary Art Society working with the Barnes Family, include strange bowls, curious tea pots, soft coffee pots and speculative vases.

The new CoCA collection, numbering over 40 pots, also includes works by artists Janice Tchalenko, Jill Crowley, Elda Griffiths, Angus Suttie, Henry Pim, Ken Eastman, David Garland, Hilton Nel and Bryan Illsley, many of which were previously not represented in the collection.

a strange teapot with a baroque design supplanted over a modernist pot on a single stand

Coffee Pot, 2005, Carol McNicoll. © the artist, image courtesy of York Museums Trust. A gift from the private collection of Patricia Nichol Barnes, presented by the Contemporary Art Society, 2020.

a large coffee pot in yellow with blue handle

Part of a four piece “soft” coffee set, 1993-95, Carol McNicoll, courtesy of York Museums Trust

“This group of remarkable objects offers the opportunity to showcase an important female American collector, who was sending her acquisitions back to the USA as well as displaying them in her London home,” says Dr Helen Walsh, curator of ceramics.

“All of the works are of a superior quality and are unique with many featuring in important contemporary exhibitions and publications. The majority of the works coming to York are also by female artists whose importance and impact has typically been overlooked.”

A remarkable woman, whose years of friendship with a close circle of artists reflect a lifetime of commitment to new and challenging work in ceramics, Barnes’ collection signifies an important moment in the history of British ceramics, which is now preserved in one of our most distinguished public collections.

Patricia Barnes died peacefully of natural causes aged 91 at home in Evanston, Illinois. Other parts of her collections were donated in her honour to two other museums in the UK and the Art Institute of Chicago.

abstract flat vase with tulip shape and light blue with with black and white motifs

Vase, 1980-99, Carol McNicoll. © the artist, image courtesy of York Museums Trust. A gift from the private collection of Patricia Nichol Barnes, presented by the Contemporary Art Society, 2020.

Tea Pot by Edla Griffiths, 1988-2002. © the artist, image courtesy of York Museums Trust. A gift from the private collection of Patricia Nichol Barnes, presented by the Contemporary Art Society, 2020.

The works will go on show in CoCA’s galleries early 2022.

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York Art Gallery

York, North Yorkshire

New commissions, Old Masters and more than 2000 ceramic works can be found at the multi award-winning York Art Gallery. Spot the Picasso, David Hockney, L.S Lowry and Grayson Perry and see the largest collection of British Studio Ceramics in the world in the Centre of Ceramic Art. With a…

One comment on “A cool American collection of British pots acquired by CoCA York

  1. Kurt McGill on

    Take a look at Ron Nagle on the web. A wild provincial boy: San Francisco. (with Peter Voulkos) Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ceramics that are more like jewelry than pottery. Exquisite. Authentic. Low-fire. China paint. Luster glazes. Sculpture?

    But I guess that’s an American deal…

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