Julia Carter Preston


Julia was born in Liverpool. The Prestons, originally stockbreeders in north Lancashire, had come to Liverpool in the late 18th century and founded a brewery; her great-grandfather became lord mayor of Liverpool. Julia's father designed the Next of Kin memorial plaque and other first world war medals, and carved many of the stone figures on the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool. As a girl, Julia modelled for her father: she once took me round the cathedral and pointed out her portrait with those of her three older sisters in the relief of Suffer the Little Children over the south door. Her mother, Marie (the model for the Good Housewife, flanking the south door), was a talented watercolourist, dressmaker and costumier, and the sister of another important Liverpool sculptor, Herbert Tyson Smith, carver of the Liverpool cenotaph.

Julia was educated at the Liverpool Institute high school for girls. After her first year at Liverpool College of Art, she became "enraptured" by clay and chose to specialise in pottery. Her tutor, Stanley English, was a woodcarver who knew little about ceramics, but was an effective mentor. She passed her pottery examination and obtained her national diploma in art in 1951. She then taught ceramics at various colleges in the area including evening classes at Liverpool College of Art. In 1960 she became head of ceramics there, a post she held until the mid-1970s: she was highly regarded as a teacher. Her assignments in the 1960s included a period as Wedgwood's official lecturer in the north-west, and a fortnight demonstrating pottery-making at the Ideal Home exhibition.

From the late 50s she had a studio in the Bluecoat Chambers, a unique Liverpool institution with which her father had been closely involved, combining a gallery with artists' studios and social and artistic activities. She frequently exhibited there and at other Liverpool venues, and occasionally further afield. In 1999 she was given a large exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, opened by Tim Wonnacott, an avid collector of her work. During the 1960s and 70s her production included tableware: one of her early orders was for a 100-piece dinner service, but latterly she concentrated on one-off ornamental pieces, especially large bowls and plates. She was much in demand for special commissions including ecclesiastical work such as baptismal bowls and ewers, and commemorative plaques. One was presented to Princess Margaret on the occasion of a visit to the Bluecoat. The princess was heard to say: "Put it in the car, not with the other stuff."

In 1960 she married Michael Pugh Thomas, a marine biologist and environmental scientist. At their home in Canning Street, surrounded by Edward's rainbow-hued watercolours, Julia's ceramics and an eclectic collection of oriental art, Michael and Julia welcomed their friends at legendary parties. They were also generous guests: where most people would arrive at a dinner party with a bottle, Julia would bring a tiny decorated bowl or candleholder. At social occasions and exhibition openings she cut an elegant yet bohemian figure with her flaming red hair, her lips painted scarlet, always wearing strikingly original and brightly coloured dresses in exotic fabrics, often decorated with boldly appliquéd shapes, and with silver buckles on her shoes.

She was made a fellow of Liverpool John Moores University in 2005. Her work is represented in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool University Art Gallery, York Art Gallery, the Ulster Museum in Belfast and the Smithsonian Institute, Washington.
  • Gender
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    Unknown or unrecorded
  • Born
  • Place of birth
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: Merseyside: Liverpool
  • Died
  • Place of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
  • Cause of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
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