Barrett-Danes, Alan and Ruth

First name: 
Alan and Ruth
Year of birth: 
Rainham-Medway /
Country of birth: 
Great Brittain
Working period: 
Year of death: 

Alan Barrett-Danes (1935-2004) and Ruth Barrett-Danes (b.1940).

Alan Barrett-Danes is born in Rainham (Medway) 20 February 1935. He came from a family of potters from Upchurch Pottery in Kent. In his early career, he worked in the ceramic industry at Stoke-on-Trent, but in the mid 1960s was appointed to Cardiff College of Art, where he was an influential teacher for over 30 years. In the 1960s and 1970s, he worked together with his wife Ruth on joint pieces. Ruth Barrett-Danes modelled the figures while Alan specialised in the technical aspects of casting, glazing and firing. Alan Barrett-Danes died in London 12 October 2004.

For Alan Barrett-Danes, his move from industrial pottery to studio pottery was seen as a betrayal to his working class background. He had become disheartened with his work as a designer in the potteries in Stoke-on-Trent, and moved to Wales when he was offered a teaching position as a lecturer at Cardiff in the mid 1960s. Ruth who had trained in illustration, got a job as an arts and crafts tutor in a hospital, training students to become occupational therapists. When they moved to Wales, Alan particularly became enchanted with slugs and fungi in soil ecosystems encountered on their walks at The Wenalt in Cardiff, and initially made some work around this theme. Ruth also started to experiment with ceramics as she was enthused by the attitudes and ideas of the younger generation of students in Cardiff, with whom she came in to contact with through Alan. In the mid 1970s, they began to work together and made a series of work called Cabbage Kingdoms making sculptural pieces of figures modelled by Ruth, emerging from thrown pieces by Alan. The contrast of Ruth’s figures “dynamic, struggling, nightmarish” enveloped in Alan’s delicate lustred forms, invited comparisons of their work to Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), William Blake (1757-1827), Richard Dadd (1817-1876) and Mervyn Peake (1911-1978). Ruth eventually found it uncomfortable to impose on Alan’s shapes, and he equally found it hard to anticipate forms she could work with, therefore, it was a natural and mutual decision to make independent work. Alan made 'pelican' pots influenced by his Grandfather; these were small pots and jugs, decorated with luster, while Ruth made dancing animal figures which received international acclaim in the late 1980s. She rejoined Alan after his retirement, this time decorating his domestic ware with figurative illustrations (text: Aberystwyth University). 

  • Jones, Dr. Jeffrey and Prof. Moira Vincentelli, Noel Upford and Sarah Bradford, Alan and Ruth Barrett-Danes, A Continuing Tradition, 2009. 
Image source: 

Portrait Ruth (source The Bowie Gallery); sculpture with cabbage, ca. 1977 (source Aberystwyth University).