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★★★★☆

“History and art for all ages at the Potteries Museum.”

Written on: 26/04/2018 by AWC71 (4 reviews written)

I first visited the Potteries Museum at the age of nine or thereabouts, as part of a school party tumbling noisily out of a mini-bus on an end of term treat. The building is resolutely seventies in its architecture, all sharp angles and odd shaped windows. It may have been pretty cutting edge back then, now it looks pleasingly retro.

Turning right from the foyer I had an unsettling feeling of slipping back in time as I entered the natural history gallery. All those slightly startled looking birds in glass cases reminded me of wet holiday afternoons trudging unwillingly behind one parent or another whining that 'animals are boring'.

Now they were a welcome reminder that Stoke-on-Trent is a city with some of the best, but least celebrated countryside in the Midlands on its doorstep. Countryside that is home, as one display showed to a thriving colony of wallabies descended from escapees from a private zoo in the forties.

The social history gallery also reminded me of childhood visits, principally of finding the moustaches of the men in the sepia photographs inexplicably hilarious. Looking at the reconstructions of local shops, pubs, homes and the like with adult eyes I was more moved to think about the hard and usually short lives out near ancestors lived and the effort they put into making the best of a bad lot.

Nostalgia, of course, isn't enough to make a place hold a place in your affections in the way this museum does in mine, there needs to be something to engage the adult. For me that is the fine art collection on display upstairs, several of the pictures in which are like old friends I visit whenever I'm passing.

These include 'Short Back and Sides' (1958) by William Bowyer, which reminds me of the old school barbers complete with straight razor and strop to sharpen it on my late father used to take me to as a child. 'Maritime Incident' (undated) by Geoffrey Wheeler is a pleasingly ambiguous abstract and 'Steel Town' (1967), another abstract, by TG Abbots this time, is a reminder of the areas industrial past.

The museum also plays host to regular touring exhibitions by contemporary artists, some of which are more comprehensible than others. That they visit at all is testament to the city's ongoing efforts to market itself as a creative destination.

The museum is also home to the nationally important collection of artefacts known as the Staffordshire Hoard and, unsurprisingly given the area's long association with the pottery industry, an equally important ceramics collection.

The building is a little dowdy, Avant Garde design seldom ages well, but the management make a determined effort to position the museum and gallery at the centre of the community, running regular outreach events.

Nostalgia can bring you back to a place once, it must be worth visiting on its own terms to bring you back again, a test this pleasantly welcoming venue passes easily. If you haven’t been before The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery is well worth a visit.

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