By David Chown
As with many other great people, Jessie van Hallen only really achieved fame after her death in 1983 when Wade collecting was in its prime. Since then her name, along with those of her
contemporaries Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper have, like theirs become synonymous with ceramics.
Born Jessie Elaine Brooke in Wolstanton, Stoke -on-Trent in 1902, she attended the Burslem School of Art and later the West Ham Polytechnic in East London, later returning to the Burslem Art School to study pottery.
Jessie married Harry Hallen in 1924 whilst working as a freelance modeller for various companies including Moorcroft Pottery, Coalport China, Crown Staffordshire Porcelain and Kents In 1930 she was employed by George Wade who set up a small department for her. initially designing garden gnomes for Carter Seeds which she later expanded into flowers, animals and ladies. It is not known when or why the Van in her name began (it has been suggested that the Hallen name had Dutch origins but a direct link has never been established), Jessie may have felt it sounded more distinguished, if that is the reason it was not necessary, her talent did that in abundance.
During a recent visit to Sir George Wade’s daughter Iris Carryer, she told me that her father’s factory often shadowed Doulton at the lower end of the market. If Doulton produced a figure for £20, Wade made one, usually a Jessie Van Hallen design, for 10/6 (52p). Her first,thought to be Pavlova, was followed by Helga, Cherry, Carole, Pompadour and many others. More than seventy figures were modelled during the period 1930 to 1940 by Jessie Van Hallen for Wade. The majority carry the Leaping Red Dear over a red ‘Made in England’ stamp on the base, most also carry the ‘Wade Figures’ logo, stamped or hand-painted on the base.There are also some which carry an owl sitting over a circle made up of the words British scintillate . Later figures such as Joy, Carmen, Argentina, Rhythm, Springtime and many more had a wonderfully distinctive Art Deco flavour. These figures capture perfectly a feeling of movement and delicacy which was the Van Hallen hallmark, which was also much in evidence in her 1938 Disney Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs set of characters, some of which she modelled under Disney supervision in Wardour Street, London. These, like the ‘ladies’ were produced in earthenware with a cellulose glaze Most of the Wade figures at this time were finished with the cellulose spray finish which sadly has not stood the test of time. Iris Carryer told me of her father’s fury as they inspected some three year old figures which had been exposed to the sunlight. They had faded, turned a garish yellow and the cellulose had started to peel. He had flown into a rage exclaiming ‘We’re all finished!’ But they were not; however the cellulose spray was replaced immediately by the more traditional underglaze and the porcelain substituted the earthenware and production continued, albeit in small numbers as times were changing and the demand for the ‘ ladies’ was coming to an end. As Iris Carryer confessed, ‘We had missed the market.’ Who knows now what prices may have been like had the Jessie Van Hallen ladies been in porcelain with a high gloss glaze – throughout the thirties? Staggering probably! And Jessie’s fame that much greater.
Jessie’s career at Wade was cut short after ten years when, in 1940 the company was obliged to produce industrial ceramics for the war effort and there was, alas no place for her. However she did stay on friendly terms with Sir George Wade until the end of her life.
She went on to freelance for a number of local potteries and held the position of art director for Coalport and continued take private commissions. It was during this period that she produced such interesting pieces as Mow Cop Castle, a folly overlooking Scholar Green which she first produced in 1957 and little Moreton Hall, a Staffordshire Elizabethan Manor which was commissioned by The National Trust in 1958 and sold through them for £150 each. She died in July 1983 at the age of 80 and was burried in the churchyard of St Luke’s at Mount Pleasant, Mow Cop. After her death her husband agreed that Dilford Pottery could use her moulds and so bears, lovebirds, koala bears and fish were produced with her name in the backstamp even after she had died.
And to come full circle, recently Wade Ceramics were offered the opportunity to produce some of the moulds and so in 1999 a pair of penguins and a pair of seals were made. This year, some 70 years after the first Jessie Van Hallen masterpieces where produced in the Manchester Pottery factory, the same factory is once again producing a pair of Jessie Van Hallen clowns and the ‘Arundel’ cat for the August 6th Swap Meet in Arundel, West Sussex. A small tribute to Jessie Van Hallen, one of the all time ‘greats’ in the world of ceramics.For further reading : The Wade Dynasty by Dave Lee : Jessie Van Hallen picture thanks to Mianco
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