Scotsman Obituaries: Alison Robinson, ceramicist who founded Bridge Pottery Collective

Alison Robinson, ceramicist. Born: 24 February 1938 in Suez, Egypt. Died: 10 October 2022, aged 84

Alison was born to Irene and Jim Chaplin, when they were living in Suez, Egypt, but the family soon moved back to England, finally settled in Dartington, Devon.

Alison had a vivid childhood memory of finding clay by the local river – and remained fascinated by the material throughout her life. Both she and her older sister Leila were inspired by their Totnes High school teacher to go to study at Corsham, Bath Academy of Art.

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Among her tutors were the painter Howard Hodgkin and the ceramicist James Tower. Alison, Leila and Leila’s husband Donald Locke (parents of the artist Hew Locke) all moved to Edinburgh in the 1960s, where Alison first lived in a caravan in a wood on the edge of the Pentlands.

Alison Robinson at work in her studio (Picture: Mark Jackson)
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She retrained at Moray House and taught at Edinburgh Academy while also giving evening classes for Edinburgh Council in a basement studio below the castle.

Despite the tragic loss of her first daughter Chloe in a car crash, Alison somehow remained an optimist. She married David Robinson, a French lecturer at Edinburgh University, with whom she had two children, Hannah and Tom.

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The family lived in Stockbridge until the late 1970s, when they moved to Gifford, East Lothian.

With a 100 per cent grant from Historic Scotland, they renovated Greenfoot Cottage, then a derelict Georgian house next to the town hall.

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Alison's Poldrate Pottery curled goose was popular all over the world

In Gifford, Alison received an unusual commission to make Tandoori ovens for Edinburgh Indian restaurants – giant coil pots which she created in a small studio in the back garden of the Goblin Ha’ Hotel. In the 1980s the family moved to Haddington, where Alison became potter in residence at the Lamp of Lothian, and kiln packer to the renowned lustre ceramicist Margery Clinton.

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Inspired by an ancient Celtic drawing of a goose, Alison created a blue and white goose-shaped jug, which started to sell well. In 1986 she founded the Poldrate Pottery in Poldrate Mill, Haddington, training up a team of local women – Freda Crosbie, Fiona Sampson, Alison Watt and Robbie Weddell – to cast and decorate geese jugs, Edinburgh townhouse cookie jars and Tam O’Shanters leaping across bridges.

Despite being a cottage industry with no formal business plan, their pots sold all over the world, from her stalls at local craft fairs to Jenner’s in Edinburgh, Macy’s in New York and Aoyama Square, Tokyo.

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In the late 1990s, Alison moved to Portobello, renting a basement in Bridge Street for her pottery, where she figured out Eleanor Coade’s lithodipyra (twice fired) recipe to help restore the Coade stone pillars on Portobello Promenade. When Margery Clinton died in 2005, she bequeathed Alison her specialist kilns and her complex lustre glaze recipes.

The Coade stone pillars on Portobello Promenade were restored with Alison's help
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With these Alison founded the Bridge Pottery Collective in St Margaret’s House in 2009, gently encouraging a whole new generation of potters to share her passion and knowledge. She refused to charge much for membership, insisting on the collective being a support for those who those who were still developing into viable businesses.

In 2014 she set up the landmark Celebrating Ceramics exhibition at St Margaret's House with a section in Margery’s memory, Keeping the flame alive, Scotland’s largest exhibition of lustreware.

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Alison continued her ceramic experiments right to the end, showing her lustre creations in her back garden for Artwalk Porty, creating the Coade stone mile markers for Portobello Promenade and shining ceramic medals for the Porty village show.

Despite the intense time and effort that went into her creations, Alison would never charge a lot for her work, believing strongly in community and the idea of people paying what they could afford.

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When Alison died, hundreds of folk posted on the Porty People Facebook page to share picture of her pots that they owned and loved, or to say what an amazing and inspiring person she had been.

Dubbed the Bridge Pottery Collective’s “Claymatriarch”, Alison was a modest and gentle artist who left an enormous legacy which will contribute to the Scottish ceramic community for many years.

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Obituaries

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