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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 2017: You Gotta Make it Happen! Curating Clay’s Expanded Field

The Peter Dormer Lecture 2017 will be given by Alun Graves.

Alun Graves
Alun Graves

Alun Graves is a Senior Curator at the V&A, with responsibility for the collections of twentieth- and twenty-first-century ceramics. He was a key member of the project team in the redevelopment of the V&A’s Ceramics Galleries, which opened in 2009/10, and an instigator and supporter of the museum’s ceramics residency programme. He is particularly interested in interdisciplinary approaches, ephemeral practice, and the relationship between ceramics and sculpture, and has been a vigorous champion of artists working in the expanded field of ceramics. He has curated many V&A displays and events including Clay Rocks! (2006), Barnaby Barford: The Tower of Babel (2015) and Alison Britton: Content and Form (2016). With Sarah Griffin, he was co-curator of Material Language: New Work in Clay (2016) at the New Art Centre, Salisbury.

Reflecting on a series of works and projects with artists including Clare Twomey, Keith Harrison, Phoebe Cummings, Barnaby Barford and Neil Brownsword, his lecture will consider the complexities and opportunities associated with curating clay’s expanded field. In particular, he will explore how work that is activated or ‘live’ poses challenges to conventional curatorial practice while offering enhanced forms of access, engagement and participation. He will also reflect upon the role of museums in the development of ceramic practice.


Previous Peter Dormer Lectures given by: 

Alison Britton, 2016 (click here to view) | 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