Decorators of Portobello: In their own words


Edinburgh, Scotland: NT 30435 74255

The distinctive bottle kilns in Portobello, Edinburgh, are now the only physical remnant of a once thriving ceramics industry. But the voices of the women, who painted the distinctive thistle design on pots at the celebrated Buchan pottery, have remained largely unrecorded until now. This book celebrates five of Buchan’s former decorators, through their own words, personal photographs and other memorabilia.

Spanning 1953 to 1972, before the pottery relocated to Crieff, the interviews are unique contributions in which photographs show the Decorators at work and at play as well as evidence the dramatic changes to the area where they once worked. The Decorators of Portobello: In their own words makes visible a hidden social history of women that is still within living memory, where themes of life-long friendships, working responsibilities and conditions, are remembered alongside vivid memories of their craft. About an earlier Buchan design before the arrival of the famous Buchan Thistle tableware, Head Decorator Irene Forbes (third from the right above) explains, “You had wee strokes and it was important you got these right.”

The Decorators of Portobello: In their own words aims to provide a lasting record that draws attention to a group of women’s working lives at a point in time when we have an increased sense of the important of place and industrial heritage.

The book is a culmination from a two year residency (2019-21) which was part of Art Walk Projects LandMark residencies. These centred on the role of place and the shaping of community, to consider local sites of value, in particular relating to Portobello’s working land and industrial past.

The Decorators of Portobello: In Their Own Words
by Nicky Bird, with Mairi Fortuna, Irene Mcintosh, Barbara Naughton, Irene Forbes, Pat Banyard

A 64 page publication
61 illustrations, 52 full colour, 9 B&W
300mm x 220mm (landscape)
Art Walk Press, 2021
Two editions of 100
ISBN: 978-1-7399400-0-3

Edited by Nicky Bird & Margaret Munro
Designed by Rosy Naylor

BUY THE BOOK: The Portobello Bookshop

TOP IMAGE: The Decorators of Portobello: In their own words by Nicky Bird. Book and Buchan pottery decorated by Pat Banyard, Irene Forbes and Elizabeth Prior. Cover Image, Courtesy Irene Forbes, circa 1950s