History of the Martin Brothers and Martinware Pottery
The four Martin brothers, Wallace, Walter, Edwin and Charles, were pioneers in the production of studio pottery. They became famous for their eccentric, grotesquely modeled ‘Wally Birds’, wheel-thrown and sculpted face jugs, vases and other items reminiscent of art and architecture of the Middle Ages. Some beautifully formed and expertly decorated and some eccentric. They produced a distinctive type of stoneware and specialized in salt-glazed stoneware, a strong, non-porous pottery with a distinctive 'orange-peel' texture.
Robert Wallace Martin (1843-1923), the eldest brother, had worked for a while for the architectural sculptor J. B. Phillips of Vauxhall Bridge Road, and later took drawing classes at the nearby Lambeth School of Art. By the late 1860s he had set up his first workshop, making terracotta sculpture. Walter and Edwin Martin also studied there, and both worked for a time at Doulton's Pottery, also in Lambeth. Having trained as a sculptor, Robert Wallace Martin started producing pottery in Fulham in 1873.
In 1877, the brothers moved to a disused soapworks on Havelock Road on the canal in Southall, London. Walter Martin became the firm's specialist on the wheel, Edwin Martin's work included most of the fish and flower designs, and Charles Martin ran the shop. They worked mainly with a saltglaze stoneware, a high-temperature firing method where salt was thrown into the kiln, in order to fuse to the clay and give a rough surface. The colours included browns, greens, greys and blues, and this subdued palette is distinctive of Martinware Pottery. They were best known for their bird sculptures and bowls, vessels decorated with sea creatures, and tiles.
The brothers regarded themselves as artists and each piece of their work is unique. It was popular with collectors and the brothers had a number of wealthy patrons and the family continued making pottery until various difficulties, including a fire in 1910 and family deaths. The company closed in 1915 and Robert Wallace Martin died in 1923. Today, pieces made by the Martin Brothers are extremely collectable and valuable.