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Charles Noke
Charles Noke was a pioneer and highly influential artist for Royal Doulton in the early days of their figurine production. Responsible for launching their renowned HN collection of figurines, Noke's designs are still some of the most collectible in the range.

He was born in 1858 in Worcester, England as Charles John Noke. His father was a respected antique dealer with contacts at the Royal Worcester Porcelain Company. It is probably little surprise then that Noke showed an early interest in ceramic art and modeling. His interest was supported by R W Binns, the Art Director at Royal Worcester, who would allow the young Noke to visit the factory during school holidays to talk with the employees and watch the artists work. One particular artist who Noke used to enjoy spending time with was modeler James Hadley. Hadley was happy to describe to his young admirer what he was doing as he worked and allowed him to take home some of the modeling clay. Noke is said to have impressed Hadley by bringing back models of a jester and an elephant; far from perfect sculptures, but demonstrating strong potential in the young boy.

In 1873, Noke joined Royal Worcester as an apprentice modeler under Hadley. He also enrolled at Worcester College of Design on a part-time basis. Hadley left Royal Worcester midway through Noke's apprenticeship but retained close relationships with the company and Noke, as an independent designer. Noke stayed with Royal Worcester for a total 16 years, eventually becoming responsible for much of the design work that Hadley had previously performed.

Noke's work at Royal Worcester caught the eye of John Slater, Art Director at Doulton's Burslem studio. In 1889 Slater offered Noke the position of Chief Designer. Noke was impressed with what Henry Doulton had done and was attracted by the additional artistic freedom the Doulton company encouraged, so he began his career with Royal Doulton.

Initially, Noke spent his time at Doulton modeling prestige pieces for exhibitions, with his earliest Doulton pieces being displayed at the 1893 Chicago World Fair. Much of his early work here was incorporated into ornate vases, but some free-standing figurines were also displayed. Doulton and Noke earned praise for their centerpieces in Chicago, but the figurines made little impact at the time. He went on to add to his figurine range, known as the Vellum collection, over the following years, producing more than 20 in all. He also experimented with a range of different products and glaze effects during this period. He is credited with creating Doulton's series-ware, the Kingsware collection and a variety of different flambe wares.

Noke had always had an interest in the human form and modeling figurines was clearly his preference. The Potteries had lost much of its earlier reputation for figurine production, but Noke believed it could regain its place as the premier center for ceramic figurine production. At the time, the commercial viability of figurine production was seen as questionable, but Noke managed to convince then Doulton owner, Henry Doulton, that he could design figurines that would sell.

In 1909, Noke began assembling a team of freelance designers/sculptors to create what would become the HN range of figurines. The range was officially launched in 1913, with the first production run, in 1912, coinciding with a royal visit by King George and Queen Mary. Queen Mary is said to have commented on the first of the figurines (designed by Charles Vyse) 'Isn't he a little darling?'. This figurine (HN1) was immediately renamed from 'Bedtime' to ‘Darling'. Her patronage was certainly a boost for the range.

Noke replaced Slater as Art Director in 1914 and he spent the rest of his career at Doulton, until his death, in 1941, at the age of 83. His son, Cecil Jack Noke succeeded him as Art Director.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Noke's role in the growth and success of Royal Doulton. He was an incredibly talented modeler and an equally talented innovator. Let's look at some of his most successful creations for Doulton:

Flambe Ware

Flambe is the name given to the fiery red finish that adorns many of Doulton's finest pieces. It was pioneered over 500 years ago in China, where they used copper oxide to glaze their ceramics. Noke experimented with these effects, along with Slater, Bernard Moore and Cuthbert Bailey, to create Doulton's first flambe finished products for the 1904 St. Louis Exhibition. Continued experimentation, by Noke and collaborators, to better control the various mottled effects, led to the Sung and Chang wares, which debuted in 1920, and Crystalline, Titanian and Chinese Jade.

Kingsware

Another glaze effect developed by Noke, is Kingsware, a unique rich brown finish. This effect was created by painting the design in colored slip on the inside of the plaster mold with the dark slip added to the body. The range includes whisky flasks, jugs, pitchers, bowls and similar utilitarian items. Many were produced as advertising items for clients like Dewar's distillery. Kingsware was produced by Doulton from 1901 to 1939.

Series Ware

Series ware is a relatively simple idea. It is the idea of decorating a range of different utilitarian items, like plates, dishes, vases, hat pin holders, etc. with the same theme or pattern, effectively making them part of the series. Noke is credited with being the inspiration behind this concept. One example is his popular Dickens ware, featuring scenes and characters from the books of Charles Dickens. Series ware was produced from the start of the 20th century until the 1960s.

Character Jugs

Character jugs are variations on the traditional Toby Jugs. Featuring just a head and shoulders, as opposed to a full body, the Character jugs are also more detailed and brightly colored than the earlier Toby Jugs. This is another example of Noke creating a modern spin on a traditional theme. He introduced the range of character jugs in 1934, modeling the first few himself; John Barleycorn, Old Charley and an impressive double-sided Mephistopheles. More traditional-looking Toby jugs were added into the range in 1939.

HN Figurine Range

Arguably Noke's most significant contribution was the HN range of figurines. Incidentally, the HN comes from the initials of Harry Nixon, the head of Doulton's painting department at the time. Produced since 1913 until the present day, the HN figurines have been immensely popular. They have won awards and critical acclaim, and solidified Doulton's reputation as a world-class leader in quality decorative figurines. Some of the most beloved of this range were designed by Noke himself, including reissues of some of his earlier Vellum figurines.

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