Born at Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1928, Colin Melbourne was the sculptor whose work captured the spirit of the Potteries and its people. Educated at Burslem Art School, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London where he studied ceramics. He returned to North Staffordshire and worked for Wade and Beswick before embarking on a teaching career at Stoke-on-Trent College of Art in 1960. He became Head of the Fine Art Department and was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Art and Design at the North Staffordshire Polytechnic when it was created in 1970.
A man with a forceful personality and strong political convictions, Colin was popular with students. He cared about their welfare and was always willing to help them when they had academic or personal problems.
He supported the unsuccessful campaign by workers to save Shelton Bar, the last steel works in North Staffordshire, and in 1974 he created the “Fighting Steelman” a statute symbolising their struggle. During 1986, he sculpted a statute of Henry Doulton. The statute was exhibited at the National Garden Festival at Etruria before being taken to Burslem where it was erected in the Market Square. Colin’s best known statute is in the City Centre. It depicts Stanley Matthews the charismatic footballer who was born in Hanley on February 1st, 1929. The “Fighting Steelman” stands outside the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, next to Colin’s statue of Reginald Mitchell, the 20th century’s leading aircraft designer. In 1990 he created the statue of civil engineer James Brindley, whose Harecastle Tunnel, on the Trent & Mersey Canal, merits World Heritage Site status in its own right. The statue was erected where the Caldon Canal joins the Trent & Mersey at Etruria and is admired by visitors to Etruria Industrial Museum and by families enjoying a boating holiday.
Health problems forced Colin to leave the Polytechnic in 1980 although he retained his interest in art education.
During the 1980s, the Pottery industry faced a shortage of artists with the skills needed to model sculpted figures.
Art schools were teaching abstract art and encouraging free expression. Many had ceased to teach drawing, draftsmanship and sculpture. The art schools’ failure to give their graduates basic skills in decorative arts worried Royal Doulton’s design director, Joseph Ledger. In 1985, the company faced a crisis when it failed to find artists with the skill and ability to design and produce a new range of ceramic sculptures.
Joseph asked Colin and England’s leading sculptress, Dame Elisabeth Frink, for help. With their support, he was able to persuade Royal Doulton’s managing director, Stuart Lyons, to create the Sir Henry Doulton School of Sculpture. Colin became head of the school which was housed in a disused factory at Longton. Students followed a two year course and acquired basic skills in life drawing and modelling before proceeding to more creative work. Two students from the first intake joined the design team at Royal Doulton when they graduated. Two went to Norwich School of Art to continue their studies. One won a touring scholarship which enabled him to study in Italy while another went to work for Madam Tussaud’s who provided the school with an annual bursary.
Elisabeth Frink held workshops at the school. She ensured that the first exhibition of its students’ work, which was held at Keele University, was a commercial success by holding an exhibition of her own work alongside it.
Colin spent the latter years of his life painting. His work was exhibited throughout North Staffordshire. He died aged 80 at his home in Clayton on August 5th, 2009.
(Copyright Betty Cooper and David Martin – The Phoenix Trust 2010)