PROJECTS : the willow pattern project 2006–2012

This project began when I started mudlarking on the Thames foreshore at Deptford. Rather than coins and pipes, my treasured finds were shards of blue and white ceramic that were mostly Willow Pattern.

I grew up with the Willow Pattern plate and my mother used to tell the romantic but tragic 'story' that is depicted in the design. Research on how these fragments had been turning up on the foreshore for over 200 years fuelled a six-year fascination. Some of this journey is recorded in a blog called The Willow Pattern Project which has over 170 posts up till 2014. Text and notes provide further clues.


The Old Blue & White. Photo: Sue Lawes
old blue 9
old blue 4
old blue 11
old blue 7
old blue 12
old blue 5
old blue 2
old blue 3
old blue 10
old blue 6
old blue 8

The Old Blue + White

Installation at Creekside Discovery Centre, 2012

Found ceramic shards, copper rods
Deptford X 2012 Fringe 

Hyacintho sinensisCamelia shardiensis and Salix crockiana have become established and naturalised at Creekside Discovery Centre, where they grow happily amongst an exotic mix of native plants and other wildflowers that have made their way here from all over the world.

This installation of ceramic 'flowers' marked a return to Creekside Discovery Centre from which another project about wild flowers had emerged in 2009 (see Tagworts). It also responded to the brief from Deptford X 2012 lead artists-curators Hew Locke & Indra Khanna:

"Surrender to the pleasure of the decorative. Revel in the excessive, embrace it and be dazzled. 

"A stall stacked with lurid artificial flowers, rhythmic serpentine graffiti, baroque mermen carved over the old town hall door: all are equally a joy to the eye. Indulge yourself.

"But there is more than just the surface. Layers of decoration contain levels of meaning, messages and codes. Symbols of power, conspicuous consumption, signals of elitist knowledge, patterns of control and signs of social belonging."

The piece was installed again in 2013, in the garden of the historic The Master Shipwrights' House, Deptford, during Open House London.

Photos: Sue Lawes


Apple Tree 2012

Eight Studios From Here group show, 2013

London Plane seeds, paint, glue and ink on watercolour paper, 58cm x 77cm 

Deptford X 2013 Fringe

White Pearl Tea Pot 2012

White Pearl tea, papier mache. glue, 16cm x 28cm x 15cm 



Creekery #2 170mm

Creekery #2

Installation at Harold Wharf, Deptford Creek, 2011

Modern Willow Pattern plates in mud
Creekside Open 2011, selected by Dexter Dalwood for APT Gallery 

Photography: Charles Shearer

Creekery #2 followed on from Creekery #1 (2010), which was accompanied by the following text:

"An English interpretation of the Chinese handpainted porcelain brought to British shores by tea traders and privateers, The East India Company...A pattern developed in 1790 at the start of the Industrial Revolution...A design that traversed the world with the English colonialists and is still in production today...

The Creek – home to Deptford’s industrial past, and a habitat for invasive species like the Chinese mitten crab (brought back in ships’ ballast from the far east) and the Buddleia (from the mountains of China)...

The viewer surveys the spectacle from an elevated position, echoing the unusual perspective in the pattern...

The Ravensbourne, a wild river flowing into The Thames, full of flotsam and jetsam…a predominance of broken decorated blue and white ceramic washed up on the Thames foreshore, abundant due to its popularity at a time when everyone discarded their rubbish into the river...This new Willow might eventually become battered fragments to be discovered by future beachcombers...

Like the invasive species in the Creek, the artist’s intervention is a form of colonisation. The movement of the tides reflects the economic ebb and flow of trade as businesses return to China for cheaper manufacturing, as they did with the first porcelain plate. And like China herself, much is hidden, to occasionally surface."

Sue Lawes, September 2010

“The Thames...can be considered to be a museum, containing a collection of material finding its way into the river, where it is sorted and classified according to the river’s own internal physical dynamics, those of transport and deposition, tide, current and flow.”

Extract from Disjecta Reliquiae: The Tate Thames Dig by Robert Williams, writing about artist Mark Dion’s Tate Thames Dig in Archaeology, pp75-76 (Black Dog Publishing)

Shards 2011

Oil on canvas, 100cm x 100cm

Photo: Sue Lawes

Two Tides 2011

Twentieth, APT Gallery, 2015

Time lapse video, 5.32mins

Two Tides was filmed over two days at Harold Wharf during Creekside Open, and shown at Twentieth, a group show of past and present APT studio members at APT Gallery, Sept/Oct 2015.   


Creekery #1 (Photo: Charles Shearer)
Creekery #1 (Photo: Charles Shearer)
Creekery-Sue Lawes-(credit Charles Shearer)100
Creekery-Sue Lawes-(credit Charles Shearer)126
Creekery-SueLawes-(credit Charles Shearer)076
Creekery-Sue Lawes-(credit Charles Shearer)135

Creekery #1

Installation at Ha'Penny Hatch, Deptford Creek, 2010

Modern Willow Pattern plates in mud
Part of Deptford X 2010 Fringe

Photography: Charles Shearer

The first installation of Creekery was viewed from the Ha'Penny Hatch footbridge. Over 200 pieces of modern Willow-ware (microwave and dishwasher safe) were deposited in the Creek, with access gained from Creekside Discovery Centre. 


little boat
wooden bridge
three men passing by
maybe four
a little house
tree with apples
a crooked fence
to end my song
Two birds COMP

Two Birds

Installation at Ha'Penny Hatch, Deptford Creek, 2010

White vinyl text on Ha'Penny Hatch bridge railings
Part of Deptford X 2010

Creekery #1 was accompanied by a text piece installed on the railings of the central 'look out' area of the Ha'Penny Hatch footbridge.

The text is a nursery rhyme invented by English pottery manufacturers to sell their wares and marks one of the first ever advertising jingles in the time of industrial 'revolution'. 

Two birds flying high,

Little boat passing by,

Wooden bridge with Willow o'er,

Three men passing, maybe four,

A little house with open door,

Apple tree with apples on,

A crooked fence to end my song.

For more, see Notes here.

Postcard from Stoke-1_
Postcard from China-1
Postcard from Stoke-4
Postcard from China-2_
Postcard from Stoke-3
Postcard from China-3
Postcard from Stoke-2

Postcards from China and Stoke 2010

Elsewhere, Made In Greenwich Gallery 2013

Oil on canvas, each canvas 18cmx13cm

Empire 2010

Salvaged pottery fragments, White Pearl tea on canvas, grout, glue, 35cmx35cm

Creekside Willow with Vultures 2010

Glicee print, edition of 10.
Print size 43cm x 45cm unframed. Image size 30cmx30cm

creekside willow

Creekside Willow with Vultures 2009

Alchemy, group show by Deptford Artists Network, Cor Blimey Arts SE8, 2009

Acrylic paint on plastic plate, 43cm x 45cm

(Private collection)

Broken China 2 2008

Tea, transfer, acrylic and oil on canvas, 41cmx51cm

China Blues

Installation at Deptford Discovery Centre, 2008

Blue & white pottery fragments, chalk and stones
Deptford X 2008 Fringe


China Blues
China Blues 2

Shards of 18th and 19th century blue and white ceramic, found on the beach at Deptford, Greenwich, the South Bank and Kent, are assembled in the shape of the Eastern hemisphere on a 10ft circle of gravel.

This ‘world in pieces’ recalls the historical roots of blue and white earthenware, the passion for all things oriental, and the trade in tea and porcelain that led to England becoming the stronghold of one of the first mass-marketed products of the Industrial Revolution — blue and white transfer printed pottery.

Manufactured in its millions, it was intrinsically interwoven with the growth and popularity of tea — a once sacred Chinese beverage reduced to a mere commodity in a traumatic encounter between East and West.

Patna Black

Installation at Deptford Discovery Centre, 2008

Silver sprayed shopping trolley, black gloss sprayed plastic footballs, ceramic, Gunpowder loose tea, modern Willow Pattern plates, silver coin dress edging

Deptford X 2008 Fringe


P1040075 cropped

Tea, porcelain, opium, silver and consumerism...

A partly buried upturned shopping trolley disgorges its cargo like a shipwreck. The East India Company, who repaired its ships at Deptford, had free rein to use military force to establish monopolies in the trading of tea, silk and porcelain, wielding more power than any other commercial organisation in history. The Company's strategy for trade in China involved smuggling opium to pay for tea, a policy of state sanctioned drug running that created millions of Chinese addicts.

Broken China 3 2008

Tea, transfer, acrylic and oil on canvas, Dyptich, 50cmx25cm


Willow Pattern Story 2 2006

Salvaged pottery fragments, glue, printed text on paper, 30cmx30cm, dyptich

Private collection

Initial research revealed there were as many differing and embellished versions of the 'story' as there are different designs of the plate manufactured by the various English potteries.

The story briefly: a mandarin's daughter flees an arranged marriage to a wealthy suitor with her father's young accountant. They are chased by the mandarin's henchmen, who eventually catch up and kill them. The gods take pity and turn them into doves.

I found these fragmentary and different narratives complemented the broken ceramic I collected from the Thames foreshore, which led to cutting up the words and narrative from different sources.

Willow Pattern Story 1 2006

Salvaged pottery fragments, glue, printed text on paper, 14cmx14cm, dyptich

Private collection

Broken China 2007

Tea, transfer, acrylic and oil on canvas, 61cmx61cm

Redstone Analysis 2007

Digital print, collage of photographed reports by ceramics specialists