This history of Diane Lewis as an artist ‘officially’ began when she joined the Royal Worcester porcelain studio in 1953 at the age of sixteen. She was hired as an apprentice flower maker and joined an exclusive small group of artists who had a very special purpose: To create the wonderfully realistic floral elements that were such an important part of one of the studio’s most popular series – the Dorothy Doughty American Birds.
When the Doughty birds were first proposed in the 1930s, it became apparent that Royal Worcester’s method of slipcasting was unsuited to the high level of botanical accuracy that the series was intended to portray. Luckily the studio had an artist in residence who was skilled at creating amazingly delicate flowers entirely by hand from the porcelain ‘clay.’ A specialized group was established for the sole purpose of hand-making the Doughty floral elements; it expanded to what became known as the “team of 12”, typically composed of eight experienced artists plus four trainees/apprentices. All were women. It was this group that young Diane Chance entered in 1953.
Although the Doughty series had begun 18 years previously, there was a six-year hiatus in retail releases after 1941 due to the intensification of World War II. Retail introductions resumed in 1947 with a floral study (Orange Blossom Sprays) but the next birds did not appear until 1950. There was typically a gap of one to three years between the designing of a given Doughty sculpture and its first release as a retail limited edition. When Diane first joined Royal Worcester as a trainee, they had recently released the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and Spiderwort as an edition of 350 in 1952.
In 1953 Dorothy Doughty was in the process of designing the Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and Dogwood which was then released as the next issue in 1955. It is likely that Diane assisted in the production of the dogwood flowers on many pieces of this edition of 500 pair.
Also released in 1955 was Myrtle Warblers and Weeping Cherry. The clusters of delicate flowers were extremely painstaking to produce, with each petal and fragile stamen shaped entirely by hand.
I do not own any Doughty birds but if I were to choose just one design from the series, the Yellowthroats with Water Hyacinth might well be it. This sculpture is a tour de force of design, creation, and painting.
This photo shows Diane (at far right) with two colleagues in the flowermaking room. The sculpture being worked on is Phoebes with Flame Vine which was designed in 1955 and released in 1958. This can approximately date the photo to between 1956 and 1960 (depending on when production of this design actually ceased.)
The completed handmade floral elements would then become the province of the Assemblers; this was the department in which Diane’s future husband, Terry Lewis, plied his craft. The assembler must properly and exactly put together the many different molds and handmade elements before the sculpture’s first firing. (An overview of the entire process, from design to completion, can be found here.)
The finished sculpture.
By the end of the 1950s, Diane Lewis had advanced to the position of Senior Flowermaker at Royal Worcester and worked closely with Dorothy Doughty on the botanical portion of the American and British bird series.
Consider for a moment that every single one of the inner and outer petals, and every pin-sharp cactus spine, in the Elf Owl and Giant Saguaro (1959) had to be created and assembled by hand! This was one of the few single-bird (not paired) studies in the series but still, 500 of them were created.
Cactus Wrens and Prickly Pear was issued the following year. This was an issue of 500 pair… thus 1000 individual sculptures in total.
I am always amazed that pussywillow catkins can be so realistically portrayed in porcelain. This is Vermilion Flycatchers and Pussy Willow, from 1962. This study took four years to go from design to introduction; it was issued in the same year that Ms. Doughty passed away.
Lazuli Buntings and Choke Cherry, one of the few Doughty editions that were offered in either plain white bisque or in full color. Five hundred pair were made in total but the white/color edition breakdown is unknown. This is another piece that was designed in 1958 but not released until 1962.
The Audubon Warblers and Palo Verde were among the final five studies issued before Diane Lewis left the Royal Worcester studio in 1965. This pair was an issue of 500 in 1963.
Photographs of the entire Doughty American Birds series can be seen within this post on my personal blog site. The 17 studies that were released during Diane Lewis’ years at Royal Worcester are:
Blue Gray Gnatcatchers and Dogwood (1955); Myrtle Warblers and Weeping Cherry (1955); Bewicks Wrens and Yellow Jasmine (1956); Scarlet Tanagers and White Oak (1956); Ovenbird with Crested Iris/Ovenbird with Lady Slipper (1957); Parula Warblers and Sweet Bay (1957); Yellowthroats and Water Hyacinth (1957); Phoebes and Flame Vine (1958); Elf Owl and Giant Saguaro (1958); Cactus Wren and Prickly Pear (1959); Canyon Wrens and Wild Lupin (1961); Hooded Warblers and Cherokee Rose (1961); Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (1962); Vermilion Flycatchers and Pussy Willow (1962); Lazuli Bunting and Choke Cherry (1962); Audubon Warblers and Palo Verde (1963); Mountain Bluebird and Spleenwort Niger (1964).
In 1964 Royal Worcester introduced a series of British Birds that Dorothy Doughty had designed during the previous decades. At least six were introduced in 1964 and at least three in 1965. Sixteen of those designs can also be seen in my Doughty blog post. Most of the British Birds were editions of 500 although one (Long Tailed Tits on Flowering Larch) was ended after less than 100 were produced.
Diane Lewis and Ronald van Ruyckevelt
As shown in my review of their collaboration on the ormolu and porcelain studies by van Ruyckevelt, Diane and “Rookie” also worked on several all-porcelain floral pieces as well. According to the Museum of Royal Worcester’s list, Ronald van Ruyckevelt is credit with designing such florals during his formal association with the studio. All of the petals, stamens, leaves, etc. would have been handmade by the “team of twelve” flowermakers although by the 1960s their numbers occasionally rose to as many as 18. Diane Lewis was the Senior Flowermaker for four of those five editions.
The backstamp of the Passion Flower shows a copyright year of 1960 although the Museum of Royal Worcester list shows it with an issue year of 1958, as an edition of 500. It is 4.5″ high and 10″ wide.
Next up was the Hibiscus in 1961; dimensions are approximately the same as the Passion Flower.
The next two issues appeared in 1964. The lovely Bougainvillea was produced in full color and and also a plain white bisque version which will appear in a future Van Ruyckevelt retrospective on my personal blog site. The other 1964 issue was Cherry Blossom on Rock, of which I have found no photo as yet.
The final van Ruyckevelt floral study was Oleander, issued in 1966; no photo of that one at the moment either. It is unlikely that Diane Lewis oversaw the physical production of this piece. Edition size for this is unknown.
Diane officially left Royal Worcester in 1965 to await the birth of her first child; Terry Lewis remained there as an assembler until the couple launched their first studio, Cranleigh Art Ceramics, in 1969.
A series of alpine flowers designed by Diane Lewis during her time at Royal Worcester was displayed at the Thomas Goode store in London. Unfortunately I have been unable to find any photos or other particulars about these studies, but would love to include them in this Archive if possible. Should anyone know particulars or have photos of these rare pieces, there is a direct-contact form on the About the Archive page.