Frances Priest’s recently completed ceramic art installation at Edinburgh Hospital is engaging patients, residents, staff and visitors alike with its visual warmth and texture. Completed in December 2018, the work is locally referred to as The Tiled Corridor. Fusing studio ceramics with factory tile-making, Priest tapped into local, Victorian architecture for her inspiration and collaborated with specialist ceramic manufacturer Craven Dunnill Jackfield, an experience she refers to as “like gold dust”.
At the hospital, the installation adorns both sides of a light-infused corridor, stretching 14m by 2.5m high. The glaze palette mutates from ochre-yellow to teal, providing a sense of movement, whilst the relief tiles interlock to create vast patterns, but with no pattern repeats and few straight edges.
Whilst the original tender specification from Edinburgh Lothian Health Foundation focussed on signage artwork in vinyl for the new hospital, Priest’s previous ceramic work entitled Patterns of Flora and her initial pitch featuring ceramic tiles proved convincing. She was ultimately given the go-ahead to work on a large-scale art installation, along one of the corridors. Specialising in mental health, the hospital has both long term residents and day patients and the project was identified by the health authority as a way to soften the clinical environment and provide some interior beauty.
Tim Montgomery, hospital director reports: “The tiles have been so well received by patients and staff alike, they have brought colour and interest to the entrance of the hospital, which is no longer a blank canvass.”
And Susan Grant, Arts Manager at Edinburgh & Lothian Health Foundation: “It has been a real delight to engage Frances on this project, from engagement with staff and patients, through research and design, to the detailing of final install. We’re delighted to have been able to commission this striking piece, which couples the rich tradition of decorative ceramics in hospital buildings of old with a stunning contemporary craft practice.”
Echoes of Victorian architecture
The Tiled Corridor has echoes of local Victorian tenements and the glazed stairwells of Craig House, now privately owned but once part of the old hospital. Frances Priest’s research also took her to the Jackfield Tile Museum, Shropshire, where she was given access to a wealth of archives, including relief and embossed tile designs from the 19th century.
A collaboration with artisan tile maker Craven Dunnill Jackfield
On her first visit to the Museum, she was introduced to Adrian Blundell, production director at the adjoining specialist tile-makers, Craven Dunnill Jackfield. The company is acclaimed for its original tile production and ceramic expertise. It proved to be a pivotal moment for Frances Priest, leading to her decision to collaborate with the company on the project. She explains: “To properly collaborate with a manufacturer like this – it’s gold dust. Craven Dunnill Jackfield is a rare species and we need to safeguard it – there aren’t any others like it!”
Whilst Adrian Blundell comments: “Frances’s empathy with ceramics and her creativity meant she was able to push the normal boundaries of design, arriving at something new and contemporary.”
A team of around 20 ceramists worked on the project, ensuring its smooth progress. Production started in August 2018 and the tiles were installed at the hospital in December 2018.
The completed piece features more than 2500 tiles, slip cast by hand at CD Jackfield. These are interspersed by some 300 of Frances Priest’s studio-made tiles, featuring a flower style reminiscent of her Pattern and Flora work. A bespoke palette of coloured crackle glazes was developed for the project, including ochre-yellows, teals and dramatic accents of deep blue and pink.
A lasting impression on the senses
During the two weeks it took to install her artwork, Frances received comments from those passing along the corridor, including how the tiles sparkle in the sunlight and how the colour-drenched space creates a sense of warmth and of somewhere hot, like Morocco or India. She was also surprised and touched by the members of staff who told her they love the sense of opulence in their working environment, created by the glazes and colours, and that this contributes to making them feel valued in their jobs.
Since completing the installation, Francis Priest has been approached by Design Exhibition Scotland to present a panel of tiles from The Tiled Corridor at its forthcoming Edinburgh exhibition, in June. Meanwhile, having now completed her first ceramic collaboration with CD Jackfield, Frances Priest is eager to do more public pieces and to further explore the extensive archives held at the Jackfield Museum.
Frances Priest: www.francespriest.co.uk T: +44(0)787 9636358
Craven Dunnill Jackfield: www.cdjackfield.com T: +44 (0)1952 884124
Peter Navratil at Recraft (installation): www.recrafts.co.uk
Becky Brazil (project manager)