Meet the Creator of Grove

Hall China Designer Mick Bowdler Spent Formative Years Near Pottery Center of His Native England

It’s possible Mick Bowdler was born to be a ceramic designer. The designer of Grove line of serveware and many other Hall classics is originally from Bedfordshire, England. He was raised in the shadow of Stoke-on-Trent, a nearby city internationally renowned as the center of his native land’s pottery industry. He earned a master’s degree in industrial ceramics at North Staffordshire Polytechnic, in the very same county as Stoke. So maybe it’s not such a surprise that his path took him thousands of miles to the west to the Hall China Company, where he’s a longtime serveware designer.

Fresh out of college in 1981, Mick accepted a job with Hall and moved across the Atlantic with his wife. “My university had developed a relationship with the company, and some of my schoolmates had already taken jobs there, so I knew coming to America was a career possibility.”

In the nearly four decades since, Mick has become a stalwart in the Hall design department. “I have never been a drawer or a cartoonist. My creativity is expressed in a unique sense of shape design,” explained Mick. “It comes from analyzing what is current, listening to customers’ needs, and striking a balance with something that is new. Designing shapes is different from drawing an elephant; it just seems to fit me.” 

How does he come up with those unique shapes? Modestly, he gives credit to the ability to experiment afforded by his 3-D modeling computer program. “It allows me to start with a basic concept, create a sketch, and use different tools to refine it. Once the shape is where I want it, I use another program to create textures on the surface of the piece. I can then import those textures into my 3-D modeling program. That is how we got the woodgrain-inspired grooves onto the new Grove pieces. Then I send it to the 3-D printer, and I have a sample to look at the next morning.”

Once shape and texture have been locked in, color becomes an equally important step in the design process. Once again using Grove as an example, Mick noted how the sepia and gray give two completely different feels with just a change of hue. Sepia feels warmer and more rustic, while gray feels cooler and more urban. “We can’t introduce six colors right out of the gate; it would require too much stock, so we have to carefully weigh the colors we choose. Sepia and gray are glazes that flow very well, settling into the grooves and burning off at the edges to highlight the texture.”

Mick stresses the collaborative nature of his job. “I take my cues from the sales staff and from customers. Will it be used for desserts, appetizers, or vegetables? What size should it be? Then all of us in the design department work together to create something that will fill a need. Once we have a working sample, we take it to the craftsmen and ask them what they think and what ways they see that we can improve the design so production will go more smoothly. That spirit of working together is what’s kept it fresh through the 36 years I’ve been here.”

It’s not all work for Mick. In his spare time, he coaches youth soccer, bringing his love of the world’s most popular sport to American kids. True to his roots in English pottery, his creative pursuits outside of work include tile murals. A hand-painted scene of the English countryside is above the fireplace in his home. He was also once commissioned to design decorative tiles for the swimming pool of prolific romance novelist Janet Dailey, each design based on one of her books.

What does Mick see for the future? “I don’t see myself stopping. New technology has expanded so many horizons. We are able to do more things, faster than ever before. The most exciting time to be a designer is right now.”

November 2017


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