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Insights into Museum & Gallery Collaborations: Melody Rose

In our latest insight into a specific area of maker practice we talk to designer Melanie Roseveare of Melody Rose about collaborating with museum retailers and her recent award winning projects for the Sir John Soane Museum and the Hepworth Wakefield.

Design-Nation: Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.

Melanie Roseware: I design and make fine bone china, upcycled ceramics and printed textiles, sold under my brand name Melody Rose.

I have partnered with a pottery in Stoke-on-Trent to produce a range of fine bone china. We also create bespoke pieces for museums, galleries, private customers and even a castle. Each piece is handmade and of exquisite quality.  My work is designed to be used every day and to last a lifetime: sustainability and quality is at the forefront of my design ethos. The pieces are durable enough for everyday use and the hand-burnished gilding and glorious detail of each piece make them perfect for the grandest occasions.

I’m originally from Toronto, Canada. I moved to London and fell in love with the bright lights, big city and ‘anything goes’ outlook in music, art and fashion. First I had a successful career in marketing and project management, but I continued to pursue my childhood dream of being a ‘working artist’. I have a real love of ceramics and kept it alive by continuing to study sculpture, drawing and pottery.

In 2003, at Grayson Perry’s Turner Prize winning show, I was captivated by his use of photographic transfers on pottery and irreverent mix of art and craft. I started to explore both digital and screen printing techniques and eventually began experimenting on my own collection of vintage china.

These early upcycling experiments led me to firing surreal and quirky designs onto antique and vintage cups, saucers and teapots and plates.  I love transforming conservative pieces into something far edgier, the results a combination of elegance and eccentricity.  I started selling the upcycled tableware around 2010 and these pieces were such a hit that their popularity led me to launch Melody Rose.

DN: What inspires you?

MR: I take inspiration from urban culture, vintage eccentricity and nature.  I love to present surprising motifs and include an element of surrealism, romance and humour.

DN: You won the Tableware International Award of Excellence 2020 for ‘A Rake’s Progress’ collaboration with the Sir John Soane’s Museum. When did the collaboration start and how did it come about?

MR: I was originally approached by the Sir John Soane’s Musuem to create a range of fine bone china for the museum shop to coincide with their exhibition “Hogarth: Place and Progress” which opened in October 2019.

I took inspiration from William Hogarth’s “The Rake’s Progress”, the series of eight paintings created in 1734 which tell the story of Tom Rakewell, a young man who follows a path of vice and self destruction after inheriting a fortune from his miserly father. Rakewell finally ends up deranged and penniless in Bedlam, after his failure to establish himself in society. The paintings are not only a renowned body of art and social commentary but their cautionary tale still holds the same fascination, importance and relevance today.

For the project I was given access to the imagery and selected four of the paintings from my series, where the story is played out across four plates, and a teacup and saucer.

Winning the Tableware International Award was a wonderful surprise.  It’s a real honour to win such a prestigious award and to have the recognition amongst the tableware industry internationally.

DN: Have you collaborated with other artists/museum before?

MR: I have worked on a series of collaborations with The Wallace Collection, one of Europe’s leading art museums. Commissions include ranges of fine bone china tableware and my sumptuous velvet cushions are inspired by some of the museum’s superb old masters paintings including the famous Rococo masterpiece “The Swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard,  neo-Greek artist Dominique Papety’s 19th century painting “The Temptation of St. Hilarion” and also a collection based on a series of paintings in the museum by Francois Boucher.  There are also a range of plates based on a medieval saddle from the museum’s armoury.

Another exciting project was working with the Hepworth Wakefield on the awarding winning “Lee Miller” range, launched in suummer 2018. The Melody Rose Lee Miller Tea Set designed for the museum won two awards at the 2019 conference of the Association of Cultural Enterprises: Best Product Range and Best Overall Range.

DN: If you could collaborate with someone exciting who would that be?

MR: I’d love to work with an iconic London fashion designer on a project. Favourites are Vivienne Westwood, Lulu Guiness or fashion house Alexander McQueen.

DN: Any advice for other designer/makers on starting collaborations?

MR: Don’t be afraid to approach a museum or gallery that you are interested in working on a collaboration with an idea.

DN: What do you think are the main challenges for the design and craft sector?

MR: At the moment, during the corona virus pandemic, we are faced with so many challenges. Having access to materials to work with are a huge concern for me at the moment. Finding ways to make sales will be a real challenge. We are going to have to be strong to fight our way through the economic downturn that is now with us.

Interview by Laura Jacometti.

You may also be interested in this interview from June 2019 with the commercial director of the Sir John Soane Museum, talking  about their forthcoming work with Melody Rose.

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Liz Cooper


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