Dorothy Doughty

  • Dorothy Doughty

Dorothy Doughty was born in San Remo, Italy in 1892. Her father was the explorer and poet,
Charles Doughty. Dorothy studied at Eastbourne School of Art and became a keen naturalist
and ornithologist. In 1933 the American publisher, Alex Dickens, encouraged Royal
Worcester to make large, bone china models of birds to sell in limited numbers. Dorothy
Doughty designed a series of birds for the American market working from the studio in
Cornwall, which she shared with her sister, Freda. Dorothy had never worked in clay before,
but was determined to make the birds as life-like as possible.

She wrote:

My work with the birds has been a joyful thing. In this tortured world one of the happiest ways of spending a life is to work closely with nature. Although the miraculous perfection of birds and flowers, and indeed all wild things, is beyond the power of man to portray in any medium, he or she who strives towards it, learns to see even more deeply, to glimpse something of the Infinite, and to feel a privileged and very humble person.

In the 1930’s, china models of this complexity had never been made before. Technical
innovations and new skills were developed in mould-making, casting, propping and
decorating to reproduce the birds. Special matt colours were developed to give the birds a lifelike
appearance. Flower making was supervised by Antonio Vassalo and after 1938, by Mary
Leigh. Bob Bradley was in charge of casting and fitting up the first standard models, which
were painted by George Evans and Harry Davis. On her visits to the Worcester factory to
keep an eye on the production of her models, Dorothy made a deep impression on the staff.
She was very firm about what she wanted and highly critical of anything she didn’t like, but
she always insisted that the birds were the result of a team effort. Dorothy was ultimately
dependent on the many anonymous craftsmen and women who translated her models into
permanent ceramic form and she never tired of paying tribute to their skill and patience.

During the War years production of the Doughty Birds continued (alongside resistors and
spark plugs), as it was vital for Britain to earn dollars through the sale of luxury goods to the
American market. After the war Dorothy and her sister moved to Falmouth to a cliff-top
house with a garden studio, whose walls were lined with birdcages.

Dorothy made two visits to America, in 1953 and 1956, to study birds in their natural habitat,
making sketch models in paper, wire and twigs, to spontaneously capture their character. In
1957 the Queen presented a pair of Parula Warblers to President Eisenhower and Dorothy
was greatly honoured at this Royal seal of approval.

Thirty-six pairs and three individual models of American Birds were designed between
1933 and 1960. A full account of the production of the birds is given in the book by George
Savage, The American Birds of Dorothy Doughty, which was published by Royal Worcester
as a limited edition of 1500 copies in 1962.

Towards the end of her life Dorothy also designed a series of twenty-one British birds, which
were not put into production until after her death in 1962, and a set of twelve collector’s
plates that were modelled in relief.

American Birds

Each of the American Birds was sold with a polished wooden plinth and a numbered
certificate. All were made in full colour, unless otherwise stated.
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British Birds

+ Dorothy designed a series of twenty-one British birds, which were not put into production until after her death in 1962.

The birds of Dorothy Doughty dessert plates

Dorothy Doughty designed this series of plates illustrating her American Birds in 1959, and
her original hand painted plates were exhibited at the Royal Worcester showroom in Curzon
Street, Mayfair in 1961.

One bas-relief dessert plate was issued each year from 1972 with production limited to that
year only. The subjects illustrated were:

1972 Redstarts and beech
1973 Myrtle Warbler and cherry
1974 Blue-grey Gnatcatchers
1975 Blackburnian Warbler and Western Hemlock
1976 Blue-winged Sivas and bamboo
1977 Paradise Wydah
1978 Blue Tits and witch hazel
1979 Mountain Bluebird and pine
1980 Cerulean Warblers and beech
1981 Willow Warbler and cranes bill
1982 Ruby-crowned Kinglets and aubutilon
1983 Bewick’s Wren and yellow jasmine

In the mid 1980’s a set of eight relief plates based on Dorothy Doughty’s British Birds series were marketed through the mail order company, Compton & Woodhouse. The first four plates were made as a limited edition of 7,000 and included Chaffinches on May Blossom, Goldcrests on Larch, Kingfisher and Autumn Beech and Cock Robin in the Autumn Woods. The second set of four were never made.

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