Interpreting Cultural Sources Stage 1 Research – KITSON – 02.01.15

So, there has been a time between starting on the research and writing on the blog due to the death of my laptop. Santa has seen e obviously be good last year and today I am in possession of new technology. Where am I up to with the research? well, to start with I must note my thoughts on first reading the introduction to the course which were wonderful and where on earth should I start? I was interested in the aspect of identity being embroidered or incorporated in garments and began to wonder what my own items of clothing would have sewn into them to tell of my tribe, and in fact who are my tribe?

I am a Mother to four, 3 boys and one girl,Grand Mother to 3, a wife, a daughter, a woman and a student but how did I get here and what part did my ancestors play in who I am? I decided to ask my own Mother who her parents were and what they did. Mum is 88 years old now and whilst she isn’t mobile her mind is quite sharp and she puts this down to managing at home on her own. I also subscribe to the ‘Don’t use it you lose it’ mode of thought obviously from her. She had little knowledge of her Mother and told of a very disappointing relationship filed with jealousy and ill feelings. The relationship with her father was very different. She still talks of her Father with great and moving affection. I through her words have witnessed the child she once was and the utter devotion to her Father. A unique privilege that she is completely unaware of.  From our initial conversation which was a considerable time in Mums world I had some bare bones of which I could begin some research in order to find my roots. I enlisted the help of With names, dates and rough ideas of geographical places I began to search out any information I could glean. I was amazed at the speed in which I could conjure up census forms with names, approximate birth dates and even family members long forgotten. I cannot tell the number of hours I have spent researching so far but, to say I have been working at least 5 hours a day since the middle of December 2014 would be a very conservative calculation.

Mum spoke of her paternal grandfather also with great affection and it was natural that in finding out about her Father I should then seek out information about him also. I found my man. I am amazed that looking at words on a computer screen about people you have never met, they do actually come to life as you begin slowly  learning small aspects of them. Great Grand Father, William Kitson was a potter. A fellow creative was found and I was overjoyed. My own father was a keen photographer and though I was estranged from him from 8 years old he was the only one I knew until now who had the need to create. He didn’t work in any other medium except photography, but he would play with exposures and do all manner of odd things to make some fascinating creations. With William I was eager to know more about him. His life must have been tough but to me one hundred years later it was a fairy-tale and I began too to fall in love with him.

William was born in 1855 in Castleford, Yorkshire. England. He moved to Knottingley at 14 where he lived as a boarder whilst working as a potter according to the census form of 1871. In the 1881 census William was married and now living in Whitwood, Leeds, still a potter. What I came to know from many recent conversations with Mum is that he traveled around with his family in a traditional wooden gypsy varda, a gypsy caravan. He in fact made the varda, carving and painting it ornately. He made all his children’s vardas when they married and he lived in his with his wife Mary until he died in 1935. Mary my great Grand Mother then went to live in turn with all her children, Mum says she couldn’t settle after William died.

I began to look at traditional art which would be found on the gypsy vardas as well as designs on pots at the potteries William worked at. I found similarities in some flower designs on the vardas and jugs produced, they had similar brush strokes and interpretations.

William Kitson

William Kitson 1855-1935

I have managed to find out so much about this man over the past few weeks but all so far has been created in my mind by stories from my mother, facts and dates from the internet research and even making contact via email to along distant cousin who shares William as a Great Grandfather. I need to feel is life and need to see what the inside of a varda was like. I have come across a museum in Lincoln who specialises in Romany history, I was excited when I found this and planned a visit after the Christmas/New year holidays, only to be dashed when i read it opens only from March to October each year. Thwarted. I have since spent a week locating gypsy vardas that I may get to visit. I have found one in York museum but also I have come across a chap who apparently owns a varda and does advocacy work for the Romany, Traveler and Gypsy communities. I have emailed him (on New years day) to ask if I can meet him for a chat and to take pictures and paint his varda. My fingers and toes are crossed I get a reply.

Being intrigued in what was involved in producing  a plate, I had an ill-fated encounter at a pottery class in the 80’s which left both myself and my tutor scarred by my efforts so I wasn’t keen to attempt any throwing of clay but applying a design to some pottery I did fancy attempting. In Sheffield we are fortunate to have 3 ‘Paint a pot’ Cafes, I chose one to visit which was quite near me. I had decided I could paint a plate as a Christmas gift for my friend who is a quilter. I prepared a sketch of items I knew she used and then knowing that she also collected the blue and white delftware, I thought I’d stick to using blue and began to build the design using watercolor paints.

the original watercolour sketch

the original watercolour sketch

I did just one watercolour sketch for the design as I wasn’t sure just what I could achieve, also I did like the first attempt. I also sketched a possible edge design if I should need it.

edge design

edge design

I went early one Monday morning to avoid any other budding painters, especially school age  as I was feeling rather shy about my plan. Only me in the shop was fabulous yet it wouldn’t have mattered if the cafe was full as the act of painting the pot was all-consuming and absolutely fabulous. Not only did I want to test my ability to paint onto a new medium I hoped I could find somewhere a hint of what my great Grandfather would have experienced no matter how tentative the connection. I had a dialogue going in my head with him whilst I was concentrating on how the paint felt on my brush, and how the brush dragged across the bisque plate. I encouraged any insight on what to do and any inspiration that could travel the distance of time.What I did find was the immense sense of peace and tranquility that enveloped me. Sounds dramatic I’m sure but it was noticeable to me. I entered nervous and unsure of myself but in the process of doing I engaged in an activity someone of my bloodline worked at daily over 100 years ago. His life must have been difficult due to his station as an outcast – a gypsy raising 9 children in a small wooden traditional gypsy caravan travelling to where the work is. My Mother’s enduring memory tells of how loving and supportive they all were towards one another. I like to think that at the moments when he was at work and producing a piece of pottery, that he experienced the peace and tranquility where time is suspended when you are in the flow of creativity, which is exactly the  place I went to when producing my plate for my friend.  Writing this now I am able to recall  that feeling of connection with William, I am getting to know him more with each step of my research.

the finished fired plate fresh out of the kiln

the finished fired plate fresh out of the kiln



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