Marianne de Trey – a celebration

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Marianne de Trey, who died a few weeks ago on 18th October, would have been celebrating her 103rd birthday on the day the Harlequin Gallery exhibition opens on 3rd November 2016. I believe it would be disrespectful if I didn’t include examples of her work in the show not only to mark her passing but also to highlight the fact that she was highly influential in the development of functional pottery production in the UK from the late 1940s onwards.

Marianne de Trey was born in London of Swiss parents and trained as a textile designer at the Royal College of Art, where she met the painter turned potter, Sam Haile, who she married in 1938. The following year the couple moved to the United States where Haile took up a teaching post and Marianne began to pot with the help of her husband. Her husband was drafted into the US Army before transferring to the British Army in 1944 and, although Marianne remained in the States, upon his demobilization they moved to near Sudbury in Suffolk, where Haile made slip decorated earthenware.

Marianne de Trey slipware cream jug c1950.
Marianne de Trey slipware cream jug c1950.
In 1947 they moved to Shinner’s Bridge on the Dartington Estate in Devon to take over the pottery that Bernard Leach had used in the 1930s but a year later tragedy struck when Haile was killed in a motorcycle accident. Despite her limited experience, de Trey decided that she would try and make a go of the pottery and, initially with the help of her sisters, this she was able to do. At the beginning the production consisted of slipware produced using red earthenware like the small cream jug shown here. Soon this gave way to tin glazed earthenware and also earthenware with a manganese slip covered with white glaze that had either painted or sgraffito decoration.
Marianne de Trey mid 1950s earthenware dish.
Marianne de Trey mid 1950s earthenware dish.
In 1957 there was a serious fire at the pottery but with the help of the Elmhirsts, who owned the Dartington Estate, the pottery was re-built and production resumed using a more robust stoneware body. Over the next few years Marianne designed a number of ranges of functional wares that were produced with the help of assistants and became very popular, being sold at the Design Centre and Heal’s amongst other outlets. One such range was known as Pattern 1 and was produced from 1960 until the production of domestic wares ceased in 1980. Examples of this pattern are shown below and it basically consists of a whitish glaze containing tin and the dark brown/almost black glaze with manganese and where they overlap a flecked brown band appears. Quite simple but very effective.
Marianne de Trey Pattern 1 functional wares 1960 -1980.
Marianne de Trey Pattern 1 functional wares 1960 -1980.

When the production pottery closed in 1980 she moved to smaller premises and there worked alone making one-off, usually small, individual pieces in porcelain until she retired. Besides potting, Marianne was very involved in various organisations, being a founder member of the Craft Potters’ Association and the Devon Guild, and in 2006 was made a CBE.

Marianne de Trey post 1980 porcelain stemmed dish.
Marianne de Trey post 1980 porcelain stemmed dish.

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