Beyond Preservation: Re-evaluating Intangible Cultural Heritage in the UK Ceramic Industry

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The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Bethesda St
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  • Monday-Tuesday Closed
    Wednesday-Saturday 10am – 5pm
    Sunday 10am-4pm

About Beyond Preservation: Re-evaluating Intangible Cultural Heritage in the UK Ceramic Industry

Global economics and advances in automation technology have radically transformed the landscape of the UK’s ceramic industry in recent decades. Whilst these transitions have facilitated greater productivity, once commonplace skills associated with ceramic manufacture have now been displaced, threatening the continuation of much traditional knowledge. Should such practices, deemed outmoded or economically unviable for contemporary ceramic production be simply relegated to history or the trails of heritage tourism? What value is there in safeguarding this knowledge for the future? How can traditional practices be revived through new modes of thinking and creativity in a digital age?

This symposium builds upon these questions, and highlights specialist skills at significant risk of being lost from the industry, surveyed through recent research for the Heritage Craft Association’s Red List of Endangered Crafts. Making particular reference to North Staffordshire’s intangible cultural heritage*, scholars together with former employees and current representatives from the ceramics industry, will explore a variety of perspectives concerning a re-evaluation of the industrial crafts and their revitalisation through contemporary exchange and adaptation.

Although the symposium will be taking place within a cultural event, it will discuss ways to connect with the local community beyond cultural institutions, so that they can develop, engage and participate in ‘their’ intangible heritage. It is hoped that this event will introduce new ways of valuing industrial ceramics skills that are not influenced by the immutable heritage discourse of experts, by facilitating those that were and are still involved in the industry to articulate the value of their own heritage.


*UNESCO define intangible cultural heritage as practices, representations, expressions, knowledge or skills that remain integral to a place’s cultural heritage. In 2003, UNESCO adopted a Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, including ‘traditional craftsmanship’. It stated: “Any efforts to safeguard traditional craftsmanship must focus not on preserving craft objects – no matter how beautiful, precious, rare or important they might be – but on creating conditions that will encourage artisans to continue to produce crafts of all kinds, and to transmit their skills and knowledge to others.” 178 countries have signed up to the convention, effectively making Intangible Cultural Heritage part of their cultural policy. Unfortunately, the UK is not one of them.

The Heritage Crafts Association supports the 2003 UNESCO Convention and its goal of safeguarding traditional craftsmanship by supporting the continuing transmission of knowledge and skills associated with traditional artisanry – to help ensure that crafts continue to be practiced within their communities, providing livelihoods to their makers and reflecting creativity and adaptation. The Heritage Crafts Association is one of only three UK-wide NGOs recognised by the UNESCO Convention for Intangible Heritage (accredited as an NGO under the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention 2003). This symposium aims to capture more in-depth data to inform the Red List of Endangered Crafts, and develop a course of action to preserve and protect knowledge and skills. A report published from the symposium will be used subsequently to create an action plan to address the potential loss of high-level ceramics skills.



This symposium is for academics, students and interested parties.


Delivered By

Dr Ezra Shales, Key Note, Professor of Art History, Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Dr Ezra Shales website link.

Dr Neil Brownsword, Professor of Ceramics, Staffordshire University.

Professor Xiaoping Yu, Professor, Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute.

Dr Geoffrey Gowlland, Research Fellow at the Section of Educational Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland.
Dr Geoffrey Gowlland website link.

Dr Laura Breen, Independent Arts & Museums Researcher, Manchester Metropolitan University.

Vicki McGarvey, Doctoral Research Student at Staffordshire University.

Emily Johnson, Founder and Director of 1882.

Mary Lewis, Endangered Crafts Manager.

Daniel Carpenter, Operations Director, Heritage Crafts Association.

A panel of representatives from the ceramics industry and former employees will contribute to the afternoon discussion.



The event is free to attend. Register your place via Eventbrite.



Please contact Ben Miller via to discuss the accessibility of this event.


Supported By

This symposium is organised by the Ceramic Cultures, Practices and Debates Research Group at Staffordshire University in partnership with the Heritage Crafts Association. It has been funded by the Pilgrims Trust and supported by Staffordshire University, Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, and British Ceramics Biennial.