Keith Murray (ceramic artist)

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Vase for Josiah Wedgwood and Co Ltd
Murray's signature on a Wedgwood vase

Keith Day Pearce Murray (5 July 1892 – 1981) was a New Zealand-born architect and designer who worked as a ceramics, glass and metalware designer for Wedgwood in the Staffordshire Potteries area of England, in the 1930s and 1940s. He is considered one of the most influential designers of the Art deco style.

Murray was born in the Auckland suburb of Mount Eden. His father, Charles Henry Murray was from Scotland and his mother Lilian Day (née George) was from Nelson, New Zealand. Murray was first educated at King's College in Remuera. The family emigrated to England when he was 14, and from 1906 to 1907 attended Mill Hill School, London. He served as an officer with the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force during the First World War, and was awarded the Military Cross for "conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on numerous occasions" in 1918, and the Belgian Croix de Guerre in 1919.

Following the war, Murray graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in 1921 and that year was elected an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. However a lack of work forced him to make a living as an illustrator for magazines. In 1928 he held his own show at the Lefevre Gallery in London but this was not to prove his passion.

His visits to exhibitions such as the 1925 Paris Exposition and the 1931 Exhibition of Swedish Industrial Art in London inspired Murray to seek out opportunities to design vases and tablewares for factory production, and as the depression of the early 1930s further reduced the demand for architecture he became a full-time designer.[1]

Murray first approached Arthur Marriott Powell about the possibility of working in Whitefriars Glass in London. Though his ideas proved unsuitable for their style of glass, he worked as a freelance designer at Stevens & Williams of Brierley Hill in the West Midlands in 1932. The trial pieces were shown in London that year and the 'Keith Murray range' was produced. Between 1932 and 1939 he produced over 1200 designs though many were only issued in quantities of six or twelve.

In 1932 he also began working 2–3 months a year for Wedgwood. Josiah Wedgwood invited him to visit the Wedgwood Factory. He was then employed to produce designs for dinner and teaware. It is here that Murray’s famous ribbing designs began to form. His first range was entitled ‘Annular’.[2]

In 1934 the royal silversmiths Mappin & Webb approached him and asked if he could produce bowls and vases in silver working to the same designs as his Wedgwood pieces.[3]

Most of his work was with vases, bowls and similar cylindrical ware, executed in a clean and restrained style with decoration often limited to deeply incised lines or smooth steps in the shape. The whole piece is usually one colour without applied decoration. From the beginning Murray's stature as a designer was recognised as every piece bore his signature above the Wedgwood mark.

In 1936 Keith Murray was appointed architect in charge of designing the new Wedgwood factory at Barlaston, Staffordshire. Following the war he returned to architecture and left the field of industrial design.

Murray's work sold well at the time and has become increasingly sought after.

List of works[edit]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Helen Cunningham, Clarice Cliff and Her Contemporaries: Susie Cooper, Keith Murray, Charlotte Rhead, and the Carlton Ware Designers, Schiffer (1999), ISBN 0-7643-0706-1
  • Murray, Keith Day Pearce (1892–1981). In: H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Vol.12, pp. 76–77 & vol.39, pp. 968–970. ISBN 0-19-861411-X