Iris Wade Carryer - A Legend in Her Own Time  by Carole Murdock

     Iris Lenora Wade Carryer, daughter of Sir George Wade, the “son” in George Wade & Son Ltd. and granddaughter of Samuel “Teapot” Johnson, renowned teapot manufacturer has been a strong, creative and courageous woman throughout her life.

Iris was born after her father returned from World War I.  Her mother Florrie was a talented painter and, although not credited, was responsible for the painting of many of the lovely 1930’s Wade figurines. Her father, charismatic but strict, demanded much of Iris, her brother Tony and sister Cynthia.

    Her Grandpa Teapot encouraged Iris as a child, letting her slosh about in liquid clay till her “pale blue shoes turned white and her starchy frills went limp.”  While her mother protested, her grandpa only laughed.  “Clay’s in her veins; she’s as good as any lad!”  According to Iris, this was a double compliment, the very best he could offer.

     Iris continued to thrive in the life of the potteries, eventually marrying Major H. Straker Carryer.  Though Straker’s family was not involved in the potteries,  Sir George had plans for his daughter’s capable businessman-husband and persuaded (bullied) him to go to Portadown, Northern Ireland, in 1946 to head up a new company in Ulster that would manufacture electrical porcelain insulators.  Though Iris had no way of knowing, the insulators would turn her life into a whimsical wonderland.

But first came 1952 and “Long Live the Queen.”  All British potteries were expected to turn out Coronation ware.  Though the Ulster pottery was not suited for art pottery, the Irish potters were quite resourceful, and soon the equipment used for making insulators was turning out Coronation mugs, goblets, vases, jugs, and ashtrays.

According to Iris, Cecil, the glazing manager, excited to be glazing something other than a technical ceramic, wrongly mixed the glazing formula.  “I’ll quit before I’m fired,” he shouted to those gathered about him as he clutched two strange blue-green mugs instead of the requested cream.  “They’re beautiful,” Iris and the others said.  “Repeat!”  Cecil paled, “I don’t know what I did!”  Eventually, he found the formula.  No one in England was ever able to produce the strangely Irish mix of glazes even though the English factories tried from bottles of glaze Ireland sent them.  Irish porcelain it remained. “It’s leprechauns in the kiln!” Iris and the others exclaimed, believing it.

     At this time, Iris’ children were growing up, and Straker suggested that Iris set up an art department at the pottery.  She loved being part of the creative process and came to know “all her girls” as if they were family.

     Then came a slump in insulator sales, government contracts were canceled overnight and new, specialized equipment lay idle.  The threat of massive unemployment loomed.  Management of all the Wade potteries met in England.

    Iris remembers the meeting well.  “My stomach quivered at my father’s angry voice.  I had been gazing at the insulator samples lining the boardroom mantelshelf. They were complicated porcelains made in steely dies.  I was thinking of my childhood Noah’s Ark.  All the little animals, two by two.  I spoke up, ‘If we can PRESS small insulators, why can’t we PRESS small animals instead?  At least it would utilize all the new equipment we’ve bought for Northern Ireland and employ people a bit longer…’”

     “She’s got a point!” grinned Straker.  If we can press clay granules into one shape, why not into another?”

     “We could make them by the GROSS!  It’s a marvelous bit of whimsy!” her brother Tony said.

     Thus were the famous “Whimsies” born, and how they sold!  “Far from firing operatives,” Iris remembers, “we set on more, in England and in Ulster.”  Soon teams of girls were painting happily, singing as they worked.  They came from school, quite anxious, eager and scrubbed.  After the first week’s pay, they’d arrive at work with permed hair, bejeweled and lipsticked, to become skilled decorators, proud and joyful in their work.

   To Ulster’s annoyance, all of the Whimsies were stamped “Made in England,” even though the even numbered sets were always made in Ireland.   The rivalry and jealousy already in existence between the Ulster and Burslem potteries came to a head over the “Made in England” issue and became so fierce that the Ulster potters threatened to strike.  On the eve of the strike, which would have brought Whimsie production to a standstill, Straker was called in to settle the dispute.  Fortunately, Whimsie making continued, but unfortunately the markings were not changed.  When Wade Ulster began making the leprechaun figures, Iris was determined they would not be stamped “Made in England.”  The compromise was that the Wade was omitted, and the backstamp said only “Made in Ireland.”

     In the early sixties, Sir George decided that the Portadown pottery would be run from the UK.  Change was in the wind.  Straker and Iris would no longer run the pottery.  Thus, in 1964, Iris and Straker made a bold decision to move to Los Angeles with their son Tim.  Their daughter, Felicity, had just married and remained in Northern Ireland.

     In LA, Iris and Straker became involved with Hagen Renaker, the California pottery also famous for miniatures.  Straker and Iris formed Carryer Craft  of California and commissioned George Wade& Son Ltd. to make the San Francisco Painted Ladies in porcelain.  The set of 6 was made for export to the US from 1984-86.

   It was in LA that Straker died of cancer.  Not one to rest, Iris began to write her memoirs.  Titled “Searching for the Pony” and “Learning Curve,” both books are similar telling tales of growing up in the potteries with a stern, exacting father, calm but feisty mother, and lovingly crazy grandparents.  She gives an insight into the war years of her youth and struggles as a young bride and mother—all with amazing humor and grace.

Today, Iris still lives in California and still has her marvelous wacky view of life as the family “elder.”  Recently, Jenny Wright sent her a Club membership complete with Felix.  He is now the proud holder of Iris’ hearing aid, which is, in Iris’s words, “The ultimate Whimsie!”

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