Life and career
Dora Billington was born into a family of potters in Stoke-on-Trent, specifically Tunstall. From 1905 to 1910 she attended Tunstall School of Art and later Hanley School of Art, becoming a teacher assistant in her final year. She worked as a decorator for Bernard Moore, 1910-1912 and then studied at the Royal College of Art (RCA) 1912-1916 and the Slade School of Art. At the RCA she studied in the design department under W. R. Lethaby and was taught calligraphy by Edward Johnston, embroidery by Grace Christie and pottery by Richard Lunn. Billington remained an amateur embroiderer and an occasional writer on textiles. Lunn died in 1915 at the age of about 75 and Billington was asked to take over his class with John Adams (who later ran the Poole Pottery). She taught pottery at the Central School of Arts and Crafts from 1919 and left the RCA in 1925 when William Rothenstein appointed William Staite Murray as pottery instructor. The circumstances of her leaving remain somewhat unclear. By that date Rothenstein had been in place for five years, and although he supported Billington's work he criticised the teaching of pottery and other crafts as "too unexperimental and derivative. No consistent attempt appears to have been made to deal with the interpretation of the contemporary world in design and execution... the research work towards the discovery of new subject matter and new treatment, so noticeable on the Continent, seem to have been wanting."
In 1938 she became head of department at the Central School, assisted by Gilbert Harding Green. Her teaching emphasised the importance of hand building as the first stage of working with clay but all students were expected to learn to throw on the wheel. She had an extensive knowledge of glaze technology and the history of ceramics. Among her students were Quentin Bell, William Newland, Gordon Baldwin, Ruth Duckworth, Alan Caiger-Smith, Margaret Hine, Kenneth Clark, Ann Wynn-Reeves, Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, Stella Crofts, Ursula Mommens, Ray Finch and Valentinos Charalambous. She retired from her post at the Central in 1955 when Gilbert Harding Green became Head of Department.
At the Paris Expo (the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts) in 1925 Billington was awarded Bronze for her stained glass ‘St Joan’. She also exhibited mosaic. The ceramics courses at the RCA and Central School also received awards.
She was President of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society from 1949 and was involved with the Crafts Centre of Great Britain in London, which was chaired by her colleague John Farleigh, and she selected the ceramics shown there. She was also involved with the Smithsonian touring Exhibition of British Artist Craftsmen in the 1950s.
Her book The Art of the Potter (1937), was the first to relate contemporary craft practice to its historical context and in The Technique of Pottery (1962) she gave a comprehensive account of different methods of working.
- The Art of the Potter, Oxford, OUP, 1937
- The Technique of Pottery, London, Batsford, 1962 ISBN 9780713457674, revised edition 1972
- Colman, Marshall (2015). "Interpreting Ceramics : issue 16 - Dora Billington: From Arts and Crafts to Studio Pottery". interpretingceramics.com. Retrieved 10 July 2015.
- John Farleigh, The Creative Craftsman, London: G.Bell & Sons, 1950
- Colman, including Rothenstein quote
- Bell, Quentin, "My Day". Ceramic Review, London, No. 158, March/April 1996
- Dora Billington: time for re-assessment, Marshall Colman
- Tanya Harrod, "The Forgotten '50s", Crafts, no.98, May/June 1989, pp.30-33.
- Julian Stair, "Dora Billington" Crafts no. 154, September/October 1998, pp.24–25
- Jones, Jeffrey, In Search of the Picassoettes
- Colman, Marshall, "Dora Billington, Time for Reassessment" (and request for information for a biography), December 2012, Fired Up blog
- Colman, Marshall, "Legacy", Ceramic Review, Sept/Oct 2013