The Peter Dormer Lecture

The Peter Dormer Lecture is the UK’s major annual applied arts lecture, held in memory of Peter Dormer, the writer and critic who died in 1996. Organised by a committee of his friends and colleagues and hosted by the Royal College of Art, the lecture aims to continue the debate about applied art and society that was central to Dormer’s concerns.

Peter Dormer’s writings embraced art, architecture, design, technology and education; and his critical and curatorial work helped to promote the crafts into the freeflowing currents of postmodern visual culture. This connectivity is something these lectures celebrate and promote – previous speakers have embraced architecture, ceramics and modernism, the implications of digital technology, craft history and criticism, and design innovation. 

About Peter Dormer

Peter Dormer (1949–96) trained in art at Bath Academy of Art and in philosophy at Bristol University. After a short career in education he joined the staff of Crafts magazine under the editorship of Martina Margetts. By that time he had already started writing about the applied arts. He later left Crafts to become a full time writer and exhibition curator and developed his thinking in applied art, design, and architecture, the connections between them and their role in society. Among his exhibitions were Fast Forward (ICA, 1985) and Beyond the Dovetail (Crafts Council, 1991), both polemical exhibitions on the nature of the new and the traditional in crafts and the search for critical criteria. For Thames and Hudson he wrote the New series – starting with The New Jewelry (with Ralph Turner) and including The New Furniture and The New Ceramics. One of his last books was also on jewellery — Jewelry of our Time: Art, Ornament, and Obsession — written with Helen W Drutt-English, the Philadelphia collector. He also wrote about and curated exhibitions on design and architecture, writing The Meanings of Modern Design in 1990 and Design since 1945 in 1993. Peter Dormer was notable among critics for being appreciated by makers, and one of his persistent interests was in understanding the nature of skill and how it is learnt, used, and judged. This is the theme of The Art of the Maker (1994), one of his most important books, based on a PhD he did at the RCA.

Organisation and Funding

The Peter Dormer Lecture Committee organises the annual lecture and raises funds and current members are: Dr Tanya Harrod (Chair), Jane Smith (Secretary), Helen Drutt English, Grant Gibson, Dr Stephen Knott, Nicholas Rena, Professor Hans Stofer, Dr Claire Pajaczkowska, Dr Catharine Rossi, Clare Twomey and Ellis Woodman.

The Committee is grateful to the Royal College of Art for its support in hosting the annual lecture, to private donors, and occasional financial support from the Crafts Council.

The Peter Dormer Lecture 2016: Thinking on Your Feet

The Peter Dormer Lecture 2016 will be given by Alison Britton.

Thinking on Your Feet - The Peter Dormer Lecture 2016
Thinking on Your Feet - The Peter Dormer Lecture 2016

Alison Britton’s practice over the past few decades has explored both visual and verbal language, more or less in tandem. Making with clay and making with words have become interdependent. Reading and looking, it need hardly be said, have always been part of the process. Form and Fiction was the title of a solo exhibition she had in Germany in 1995, and the idea of fiction and literature, as much as objective or analytical writing, is still close to her inclination to make.

Her lecture will follow particular connections that have fed into her understanding and her work, and she sees uncertainty – ‘not knowing’ entirely what you are going to make or write – as the real beginning of invention, even in the familiar territories of ceramics and writing. 

Previous Peter Dormer Lectures given by: 

Cecil Balmond, 2015 (click here to download a summary of this lecture) | Daniel Charny, 2014 | Martina Margetts, 2013 (click here to download a summary of the lecture) | Grayson Perry, 2012 (click here to download a summary of the lecture) | Dr Jorunn Veiteberg, 2011 | Dr Julia Bryan-Wilson, 2010 | Professor Edward S. Cooke, Jr, 2009 | Saul Griffith, 2008 | Dr Glenn Adamson, 2007 | Richard Wentworth, 2006 | Alan Powers, 2005 | Jeremy Myerson, 2004 | Malcolm McCullough, 2003 | Edmund de Waal, 2002 | Rosemary Hill, 2001 | Marjan Unger, 2000 | Ellen Dissanayake, 1999 | Tanya Harrod, 1998 | Charles Jencks, 1997

"Radical rethinks are vital to the Peter Dormer Lecture’s purpose. "
Peter Dormer
Peter Dormer
Photographer: Edward Barber