A craft initiative, born during lockdown, is now coming to fruition in Neptune stores.
One positive to emerge from the tumultuous months of the pandemic was a renewed appreciation for our local areas. Exploring streets and footpaths that we oft ignored in our busy lives, and rediscovering neighbourhood stores and artisans. It was in this spirit that design curator and advocate Barbara Chandler approached Neptune with an idea to identify and champion fine craftspeople working near our London stores, commissioning exclusive pieces with a strong sense of place.
The Neptune makers collection was launched in 2022, and the commissioned pieces went on show in our Fulham, Chiswick and Wimbledon stores, with all proceeds going to the makers. So, please meet our first six makers and their locally-inspired designs.
Willow baskets by Eleanor Morgan
West London basket maker Eleanor Morgan has created two baskets for Neptune. Handles are in solid bent willow and the baskets are made in the traditional “stake-and-strand” style. “These baskets meld utility and function with a sculptural form,” says Eleanor, whose willow comes from the Somerset levels – the traditional area for willow growing.
Historically, she explains, willow would have been grown in most communities to make the essential baskets of daily life. Baskets used in the market gardens of Hounslow and Isleworth were made in Kew and Kingston from willow grown near the Thames. Nowadays, though, it’s a question of foraging. “Some of the handles for these baskets were foraged from North Ealing, some from Newmarket and I grew a small amount on my allotment in Isleworth.”
“For me, it’s all about provenance,” says Eleanor. “People are surprised to find not only that baskets are still made in this country, but that there is a maker just up the road.”
Iron Hooks by Neil Brown
Working from his forge at Brentford Museum of Water and Steam, artist-blacksmith Neil Brown has made a single and triple set of hand-beaten hooks for Neptune, riveted to a backing plate with holes for wall-mounting, all finished with a museum-quality wax.
“I love the way a smith can take a hard, unforgiving material, make it soft and malleable, and turn it into an object of beauty,” says Neil whose forge is the oldest in London in continuous use, dating back to the 1800s.
“Hand-forged metal work has a soul. You can see almost every strike the blacksmith has made, leaving a part of the smith in every piece.” The hooks will become more polished as you use them. “When you have locally-made iron in your home, you continue a long history, becoming part of the story. As you put things on and off, you’ll add your own story,” says Neil.
Pigment colour charts by Lucy Mayes
Pigment maker and artist Lucy Mayes has created an exclusive collection of colours for Neptune which she has made into hand-painted colour charts – “works of art that are a unique portrait of a place in time.” Trained in fine art, Lucy started making her own paint colours years ago. Some pigments come directly from the earth – “traditional” ochres. Others are the natural plant dyes, along with the “flotsam and jetsam of the street”: bricks, slate, and charcoal ash. “I love this close relationship with the places my pigments come from.”
In Fulham, Lucy explored the Thames foreshore, collecting fragments of Victorian clay pipes. Eel Brook Common produced a soft yellow brown and Hurlingham a darker shade. In Chiswick, Lucy found mussel shell and medieval clay tiles on the shoreline to grind and make into paint. Further inland, Gunnersbury Park yielded earth colours. “And I made a green-black paint from flakes off the railings at Turnham Green.” From Wimbledon Common came yellows from Hawthorn berries and Dyer’s Weed. While, to celebrate the area’s tennis history, she made “grass green” by mixing weld and verdigris. “And I extracted carbon black from a wooden antique racquet.”
Hand-painted tiles by Alexandra Browne
Alexandra Browne struggled to find tiles for clients when running her own interior design practice, so, “I decided to paint them myself!”, she explains. Her initial Pampelonne series – inspired by the French Riviera – was immediately successful. Alexandra has adapted her elegant style to reflect our Neptune London localities. The result is little squares of handmade and hand-painted ceramic art.
“Wimbledon was the easiest. How could I not do tennis?” Chiswick evokes the river and Fulham has a parade of strollers along the King's Road.
Today, tile-painting is Alexandra’s full-time job. Each motif is painted with the finest of brushes – she wears out around one a week. And you can feel the raised brushstrokes on the surface of every tile – a direct connection to the maker. “The homes I have lived in have always been more than just the bricks and mortar,” Alexandra observes. “When I look back, I think of them in the context of their area. So, it seems more than fitting that a home should have something of its surroundings grouted into its fabric.”
Pouring bowls by Linda Bloomfield
Chiswick potter Linda Bloomfield’s garden studio is where she has made a set of her signature pouring bowls for Neptune. At their base is a dark band of exclusive Thames Glaze, refined from mud collected on Chiswick Eyott. The glazed interiors are “river” shades of a rich blue-green Mallard, delicate pale Willow and ethereal Dawn pink. Linda is a “queen of glaze,” with a background in Engineering Science to underpin her ceramic expertise. “The Thames glaze is difficult to work with, as it has particles of clay mixed with iron oxide, silt, chalk, and phosphorus from decomposed plants. It shrinks in the firing and must be thinly applied, or it will peel off my porcelain clay ‘body’. But it melts in the kiln to a glossy red-brown.”
Linda's bowls for Neptune are quintessentially local and personal. She adds: "The dimples and throwing lines are a record of my hands touching the clay. Thus, pottery can form a powerful connection between the user and the maker – and pieces can last for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.”
Look out on our social sites for details of workshops and talks with the Neptune makers in our stores during 2023, and follow Barbara Chandler on @sunnygran
Photography by Barbara Chandler