New exhibition at Keele shines a spotlight on creativity and culture in Stoke-on-Trent

Posted on 11 November 2016

A new exhibition has opened at Keele University celebrating the remarkable creative lives of Pat Albeck and Peter Rice.

The ‘Back to the Drawing Board’ exhibition opened this week and runs until 26th January 2017, in the Chancellor’s Building, Keele University. The exhibition celebrates the six prolific decades of innovative and inventive art and design from the remarkable creative lives of Pat Albeck and Peter Rice. Pat Albeck is one of the leading designers in modern Britain, having worked in the textile, pottery and paper industries and for John Lewis and the National Trust. Peter Rice was one of the pre-eminent stage and costume designers in modern British opera and theatre.

The exhibition explores a fascinating family dynamic, for Pat and Peter are the parents of Matthew Rice, husband and business partner of Emma Bridgewater. Matthew is a gifted writer, designer and artist with a passion for architectural history; Emma Bridgewater is famously leading a ceramics revival in Stoke-on-Trent.

Speaking at the official opening of the exhibition, Matthew Rice expressed his delight at the display of his parents’ work, commenting:

“I think this exhibition is simply brilliant, I’m so pleased with the way it’s gone. From its incubation 2 years ago, with a brilliant team from Keele, particularly the indomitable Kerry Jones, we’ve put together, in quite difficult circumstances, an exhibition that does seem to represent their long and varied careers - whether it’s the dresses on the walls, or framed drawings, or the splendid film which is going to be shown in January - I couldn’t be more delighted with what’s happened.”

matthew rice

Pictured, Matthew Rice

The exhibition journeys from Pat and Peter’s early work in the 1950s right up to the present day, through designs and memorabilia made uniquely available by the family. Exhibits range from original drawings, prints, paper cuttings, wallpaper and ceramic and textile designs by Pat - including 30 tea towels, hung above the exhibition, enclosing the space with Pat’s distinctive use of colour - along with some eye-catching dresses from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.

 Tea Towels

Pictured, a collection of Pat Albeck's tea towels hang over the exhibition.

Many guests expressed their surprise and delight at the variety of pieces on display, covering such a diverse range of media. Emma Bridgewater summed up the emotion of the exhibition launch, commenting:

“It’s incredibly moving. I love seeing so much of their work in one place, and I’m particularly pleased that our kids get the chance to see it. For them to see just a small taste of the enormous amount of work they [their grandparents] both did is so exciting.”

Further inside the exhibition are some of Peter’s iconic costumes, designed for Tosca, along with models and drawings of set designs from throughout his career. Concluding the exhibition are some recent pieces - Pat’s large ‘Kitchen Dresser for Emma Bridgewater,’ and Peter’s iconic mural art, ‘A Bright Past for Stoke-on-Trent.’ (pictured below) Both pieces reflect the intergenerational creative bonds within the family and their links with the local area; there is a clear dialogue between some of Pat’s later work and Emma’s ceramics, but also a relationship between Peter and Matthew’s work on Stoke-on-Trent.

Peter Rice Mural

Pictured, 'A Bright Past for Stoke-on-Trent' by Peter Rice, 2013.

Professor David Amigoni, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at Keele University explained:

“Peter’s mural, A Bright Past for Stoke-on-Trent, is a wonderful vista of Stoke-on-Trent’s architectural heritage, right through from buildings which are still part of the landscape, such as the Emma Bridgewater factory, to buildings which have disappeared. If you look carefully, you’ll see that even Keele Hall is in there. It’s very important to have this piece - the mural is in a kind of dialogue with Matthew Rice’s book on the lost city of Stoke-on-Trent, and speaks of the interest that both Matthew and Emma Bridgewater have in the heritage of Stoke-on-Trent. In that sense, it also feeds into our interest in and support of Stoke-on-Trent’s bid to be the City of Culture 2021. In many ways, the mural is expressing what might be the past of Stoke-on-Trent, but also what might be the future.”

Backing the Bid 2021

Pictured: Dr Rebecca Leach, Professor Trevor McMillan, Arts Officer Kerry Jones, Professor David Amigoni and Professor Fiona Cownie, backing the bid for Stoke-on-Trent for City of Culture 2021

The exhibition ties into Keele University’s research into many themes, helping to develop understanding of the inter-generational links and creative bonds between pieces, the cultural heritage of the local area, community engagement and creativity in later life.

Professor Amigoni added: “There’s another reason that this links into some of the research themes in the university; this mural was one of the last works that Peter Rice completed - we could say that it’s an example of later life creativity - and that’s something we’re particularly interested to explore in our research at Keele, how art and design and creativity can enrich the lives of older people.”

The exhibition opened on Tuesday night, with a reception for invited guests, including Pat Albeck, Matthew Rice, Emma Bridgewater and many from the arts community. The evening was introduced by Professor Trevor McMillan, Vice Chancellor of Keele University, who expressed his gratitude to those involved:

“We’re very grateful to Pat and Peter and their family for lending many of the artefacts in the exhibition. We’re also grateful to the many public museum and private collectors who have also contributed to the exhibition. We try very hard to play an important role in the cultural life of our surrounding geographic region, and this exhibition is a fine example of that.”

Professor McMillan continued:

“If we get it right, culture and arts can cut across many boundaries, be they geographical, social or political boundaries, national borders and international cultures. And this is exactly what universities should be all about. We’re very proud to provide a very vibrant programme of art, music and poetry, performances, lectures and other cultural events. Importantly, we recognise that the impact of what we do at the university is best achieved in partnership with others; for example we’ve recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the New Vic Theatre, building on our existing partnership, for the benefit of first time theatre goers in the area.”

Pat Albeck

Pictured above, Pat Albeck

The exhibition was officially opened by Director General and Master of the Armouries Dr Edward Impey, a distinguished historian, archaeologist, and museum curator, and longtime friend of the Albeck/Rice family.

Dr Impey commented:

“I think the exhibition is wonderful, it’s very exciting to see lots of the things I remember, because I knew Pat Albeck in the 1970s. It’s good to see them in the flesh after all these years, with Peter’s drawings and sets too - putting the two together reminds me of being in their house.”

The exhibition is the culmination of a two-year project, coordinated by the Arts Keele team and led by Professor Fiona Cownie, Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience at Keele University, who commented:

“It's a great privilege for us to be hosting this event at Keele, and I’ve very much enjoyed managing this fantastic project. There is so much colour, so much excitement, and for me, to see it all come together now is just amazing. It’s been a huge team effort, and I’m thrilled that it’s all come together.”

The exhibition, which is free to attend, runs until 26th January, and is open to the public from 10am-5pm Monday-Friday and 10am-4pm on Saturdays.