Behind Closed Doors: Ceramics by Verity Howard at Manchester Craft & Design Centre

Polly Checkland Harding

What do empty Danish streets, Mr Smith’s Dream and darkness have to do with the 10th anniversary of Manchester Craft Centre’s MMU Graduate Award? We found out.

Manchester Craft & Design Centre’s exhibition space may be small, but it is mighty. For the last 10 years, it has launched the careers of up-and-coming graduates from Manchester Metropolitan University, offering them extensive promotion through a solo exhibition, alongside professional development support; over the last decade, the building where the term ‘the Northern Quarterwas first coined has become a major player in the promotion of craft. So, what sets the latest winner of the Manchester Craft & Design Centre’s MMU Graduate Award (whose exhibition Behind Closed Doors will run from 25 February – 29 May) apart?

Ceramicist Verity Howard specialises in slab-built ceramic forms that are ‘contemplative rather than functional’; each piece is monoprinted or stamped with window frames, so that the beautifully organic blocks come to seem like dwellings. In a serendipitous echo of Mr Smith’s Dream by Liz Scrine – a tiny, recessed staircase in the outer wall of the Craft Centre that leads out of sight – Howard’s pieces foster the curious sensation of being an outsider looking in.

The building where the term ‘the Northern Quarter’ was first coined has become a major player in the promotion of craft

Behind Closed Doors features pieces made for Howard’s final project at university, alongside new work made during her residency at Guldagergaard: The International Ceramic Research Centre in Denmark. Here, she worked with 11 other international artists from countries including Korea, Canada and Switzerland; the pieces she created were in response to her observations on the domestic buildings in the town of Skælskør, the richly-coloured Danish roofs, empty streets and ‘shadowy dwellings’.

Howard rather poetically describes her work as ‘ceramic forms which convey the volume and depth of darkness’. The launch of Behind Closed Doors (25 February, 6pm-8pm, free) will, however, be a lighthearted occasion, with music from DJ Ailsa McLaggan of Living Room Dance Club and rum cocktails from The Duppy Share. It’s also an opportunity to visit some of the 18 independent studio shops at the Craft Centre (here are our top five picks to whittle down the list) and, if you rock up early, grab a bite to eat in the excellent Oak Street Cafe.

It’s worth putting some of the special events and commissions that are being arranged around the 10th anniversary of the MMU Graduate Award in your diary, too. Our highlights have to be Future Makers, a showcase of the future stars of craft and design in selected studios, as well as a free, drop-in ceramics workshop (2 April, more details coming soon) and free artist talk (27 April, 1.30pm), both with Howard herself. There will also be a limited edition newspaper, featuring Howard and the previous nine winners, and a blog on the graduate awards season to look out for – as well as a special commissioned piece by Howard and studio ten’s Ella McIntosh. All to look forward to.

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