THE future of a historic Scottish pottery brand collected by Elton John and the Queen is hanging in the balance as the owner of the pottery which produces it has been forced to lay off her entire workforce amid a drop in sales.
Wemyss Ware, pieces of which have sold for tens of thousands of pounds, will also no longer be available at galleries UK-wide as production is cut to a bare minimum.
Griselda Hill, who took over the trademark to Wemyss Ware more than 30 years ago at her eponymous pottery in the village of Ceres, Fife, said she had been forced to make all five of her staff redundant and will from now on be the sole producer of the hand-painted items.
She also warned that she may have to put the brand up for sale if she is unable to make the business profitable over the coming year.
“It has been a struggle to keep it going,” she said. “I’m proposing to hobble along for the time being but will have to produce it all myself, painting pieces when the shop is quiet. I have had to make all of my staff redundant. They left at the end of the year, which was very sad.”
Hill said the production of Wemyss Ware, which is known for its brightly painted figurines of animals such as cats and pigs, would reduce by a third over the coming year.
“I have had to stop supplying to galleries such as the National Galleries of Scotland, where it was sold in the shop, and the Kirkcaldy Gallery,” she said. “I just won’t be able to keep up with production.
“It is certainly an iconic brand and is part of Scotland’s history and culture that is not tartan and Loch Ness Monsters. The problems have been a result of the economic situation – the prices are not low because each piece is hand-painted. We still have a strong following of people who love the pottery, but the shop has been so quiet I just couldn’t afford to keep going the way we were.”
John Mackie, a Wemyss Ware specialist at Edinburgh auction house Lyon & Turnbull, said the market for older versions of the pottery was currently strong, although his firm mainly sold pottery made there in the 19th century.
“The types of collector could be very different. There are people who buy new Wemyss Ware and those who collect an antique and that is where we are seeing a strong demand.”
He added: “It is very sad that this has happened. Wemyss has existed in various guises since the late 19th century and it would be nice to see it continue.”
The brainchild of Fife pottery-owner Robert Heron, Wemyss Ware was first fashioned in the latter’s factory in Gallatown, Kirkcaldy, between 1882 and 1928. Heron particularly admired hand decoration and recruited highly trained European painters for his family business, headed by the Czech decorator, Karel Nekola.
However, in 1930, the brand was sold off to the Bovey Pottery in Devon, where it was produced for almost 30 years. After a gap in production, Hill bought the trademark in 1985, returning it to its Fife home.
The Queen is said to have amassed one of the largest private collections of the pottery. In 2004, a pair of Wemyss sleeping piglets were sold for £34,800 each.