— biography

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Stella Crofts who came to prominence in the early 1920s was a ceramic sculptor whose works were unlike any other of the time. She specialised in animals and birds with a focus often on complex family or moving groups. Her pieces demonstrate an ability to capture the emotion, character and age of her subjects, often with a subtle element of humour.

Stella had been born in Nottingham in 1898 on the 9th of January, the third daughter in the family of Dora and Herbert Crofts. Stella had a difficult upbringing, her health being seriously blighted with TB, thought to have been contracted through drinking infected milk. This affected the bones in her hands and legs and she spent some time whilst young confined to her bed.

Stella had no formal education, being schooled at home by her mother formerly a teacher until she reached her early teens, when she was well enough to attend college. During her years of illness she acquired an ability to draw and sketch and decided to use this skill to become a poster artist, a common profession at the time for women interested in making a living from their art. Between 1916 and 1922 Stella studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London where she developed an interest in clay modelling. From there she went on to study at the Royal College of Art (RCA), taking pottery and sculpture (students at the time included Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Eric Ravilious). Stella’s love of wildlife took her art in a completely different direction from her more famous contemporaries, preferring subject realism over that of the abstract. Stella was greatly helped in her study and sketching of animal subjects by having privileged access to both the Natural History Museum and London Zoo. In executing her work she was greatly assisted by her father who had helped her set up a studio complete with kiln at their home in Ilford.

Stella was at her peak between 1925 and the early 1930s when most of the international exhibitions to which she contributed took place. These were usually organized by the British Institute of Industrial Art and took place most notably in Paris and Milan in 1925, Venice in 1926, Leipzig in 1927 and a tour of North American cities in 1928/9. In total her work was displayed at over 185 exhibitions both within the UK and abroad.

In 1931 Stella, together with a group of other noted artists of the time, produced a range of models for the Worcester Porcelain Company. Several of the seven pieces she designed were adaptations of figures she had already produced in her studio for which Worcester acquired copyright usage of the design. These pieces were comparatively expensive for the time, being in production at a time when Britain was in deep recession. Money for such luxury items was scarce and as such these models are now some of the rarest Worcester pieces produced.

In the early 1930s, following her mother's death, the family built a house adjacent to Norsey Wood in Billericay, Essex. This move marked the start of a different phase in her life where more of her time was spent looking after a succession of animals, most notably a number of dogs including her first much loved borzoi. ‘Brecq’ was modelled in more forms than any other of her subjects and several of these anticipated the changes that marked the last phase in her artistic life. During this time she undertook a number of commissions to model other’s favoured pets including one of four dogs for Dorothy Paget, the wealthy (and notorious) racehorse owner.

Following the death in 1948 after a couple of years of illness of Stella’s father, she returned to her ceramics with a renewed focus. Her new pieces were in a style markedly different to her earlier works often finished in with a matt glaze and showing greater attention to detail. Her interests in bird watching and local wildlife conservation leading her to focus more on native British species. Most of the pieces accepted for the Royal Academy exhibitions occurred during this period of the 1950s and early 1960s.

Stella died at the age of just 66 in 1964 after a very brief illness.