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The History of Wemyss Ware
Wemyss (pronounced Weems) Ware®, probably the most attractive and sought-after Scottish pottery, was first produced in Kirkcaldy, Fife in 1882 by the Fife Pottery. It was the brainchild of Robert Heron, the pottery owner, and Karel Nekola, a gifted decorator whom he had brought over from Bohemia. Karel Nekola had trained in hand decoration on the Continent and brought with him a wealth of knowledge and design skills.
The name Wemyss® was given to the new style of pottery in honour of the Wemyss family of the nearby Wemyss castle, who were early and enthusiastic patrons of the ware. The most outstanding feature of the ware is the free-flowing and naturalistic hand painting. The pottery was immediately successful and found its way into such diverse places as local cottages and stately homes all over Scotland and beyond.
Wemyss Ware® was popular for four decades, spanning the turn of the twentieth century, but in the twenties it became less fashionable as other styles emerged. In 1932 the Kirkcaldy Pottery closed, and Joseph Nekola, Karel's son, moved down to the Bovey Pottery in Devon where he carried on producing Wemyss Ware® on a small scale. He taught his apprentice Esther Weeks (pictured below with Griselda) the secret techniques of painting Wemyss Ware®. After his death in 1952 Esther became Head Decorator until the Bovey Pottery closed in 1957. No Wemyss Ware® was produced throughout the 1970's or 80's.
Griselda Hill Pottery Ltd® and the Revival of Wemyss Ware®
In 1985 Griselda Hill started producing Wemyss Ware® back in its birthplace in the heart of Fife. Griselda was inspired by the memory of her grandmother’s Wemyss® pig, which she discovered to have been made locally when she moved to Fife in 1984. The first product was a cat modelled on an example in Kirkcaldy Museum, and over the years since then the Pottery has developed a range of Wemyss Ware® which can easily stand alongside the originals.
As with the original Wemyss Ware®, the success of the Pottery is based on the quality of the hand painting and the beauty of the designs and colours. All the artists have been working at the Pottery for over fifteen years, and have become very skilled at their work. While some new technology has been introduced to minimise production problems and environmental pollution, the techniques of hand decoration remain the same as ever. Being hand painted, each piece is unique.
Esther Weeks, the last Head Painter at the Bovey Pottery, has been linked with the Griselda Hill Pottery Ltd® since 1993. She has visited Fife regularly in order to pass on her wonderful painting skills to Griselda and the painters. She has recently stopped painting, but as a last gift has donated the Pottery over 100 brushes, some of which once belonged to Karel Nekola and his son Joseph.
The Griselda Hill Pottery Ltd® acquired the Wemyss Ware® Trade Mark in 1994. 2015 is the Pottery's thirtieth year in business.