‘I felt like well-being fulfilled’: Rediscovering a passion at 60 after selling to John Lewis and Harrods years earlier

Marice Cumber’s ceramic mugs are huge. Measuring 35cm tall – bigger than a sheet of A4 paper – it takes both hands to grip them. They are colorful and uneven in shape, often bulging or leaning to one side.

Even more striking are the messages that are painted there, sometimes in large capitals, and others in more timid cursives, as if coming from different voices: “LIFE GOT IN THE WAY”, “IT COULD HAVE BEEN so much better”, ” I wear a necklace of stones.” The language is visceral: outpourings of emotion that feel intensely personal.

Watching the ships together, whether in person or on Marice’s Instagram, is like a cacophony of voices from different moments in time, such is the variation in tone. There is a reason for this. “It’s like a visual diary,” says Marice. “It’s an extremely personal work, which concerns the age that I have [60]thinking back to my life, the experiences I have had, the path I have traveled.

“How I’ve handled my life, really — sometimes well, sometimes not so well. It’s verbalizing it all.” She laughs, “It’s very, very personal. It doesn’t really fit the cups and plates market.”

READ MORE: ‘I sold the rare collection of Monopoly boards in my mum’s guest room for £9,000’

Marice, who lives in Crouch End, north London, started producing her oversized vessels in 2018 after a 30-year hiatus from ceramics manufacturing. They were well received: after being exhibited at the London Art Fair in 2021, every piece in the fair sold out, and Marice’s work was selected as one of the five highlights of the event.

As we speak, she is preparing for this year’s exhibition in April, where her work will be exhibited in person (last year was virtual). For Marice, reviving an old passion and rediscovering her creativity has been, to put it bluntly, life changing. Now, at last, she knew the success she dreamed of in her twenties.

At 23, a graduate of Fine Arts, Marice had started a business making and selling pottery at Camden Market. Moving to a studio near Old Street and transferring her designs to bone china, it became a successful business, with Marice selling to Liberty, Harrods, John Lewis and department stores around the world.

In the early 90s, the market was changing. “But we have also changed,” says Marice. “I had set up a business with my husband, we had [two] kids – we just decided it was a really tough transplant. Marice turned to education, teaching creative entrepreneurship at universities in London. At the age of 30, she no longer made ceramics.

Marice’s cups measure approximately 35cm

In 2010, at age 49, Marice began to feel that something was missing. “I had a great career – it meant nothing to me because I wasn’t really fulfilled.” Feeling the effects of hard work, she had begun to detect some signs of burnout. “I literally drove to work one day and couldn’t get out of my car,” says Marice. “I was so exhausted and so stressed and just couldn’t go on, basically.”

Marice decided to take a year off to repair and realign. “I kept these kind of journals – journals of my emotions. Writing was where I tried to get rid of all the turbulent thoughts in my head. If I got them out while writing, then I could do facing what I was going through. … I still do that now.”

She adds: “I really rethought my life. That year, I rethought what was important to me, who I was and what I wanted to do.” Marice likens time to what many people have experienced during lockdown: having space to thoroughly re-evaluate your priorities in life. For Marice, the overriding conclusion was that she wanted to focus on teaching. As she says, “I wanted to cut back and start doing things that had meaning and purpose and fulfilled me.”

I'm super proud of my career, my family - everything else I've done in my life.  But it was the first time I felt this absolute completion,
I’m super proud of my career, my family – everything else I’ve done in my life. But it was the first time I felt this absolute completion,” says Marice

Marice launched Accumulate, an art school for people affected by homelessness, in 2013. Working with 26 hostels around London, she runs creative workshops with industry professionals to empower homeless people to access the many benefits of creative participation. Currently, it enrolls around 150 students a year and has funded 24 scholarships for 0-level art courses (the equivalent of three A-levels of art), as well as 12 university places for students.

“It’s amazing – it’s real grassroots social change. You’re really making an impact… I’m really proud of that,” says Marice, mentioning that they’ve seen students progress, find permanent housing and come back to support the work of Accumulate.

She adds: “We enjoy living [creativity], and we take pleasure and satisfaction in doing so. It’s incredibly good for mental health, your well-being, for communication, for making sense of yourself… I don’t think it’s nice to have – I think it’s essential to have. “

“The shape suits my work – I couldn’t imagine it on a teapot, for example,” says Marice

Yet that nagging feeling that something was missing persisted. After one of Accumulate’s exhibitions in 2018, a friend asked a question that touched a nerve: what about your ceramics? “It was like a stab in my heart,” says Marice. “Because that’s what I really wanted to do. It was something that was missing, so obviously, in my life.”

The next day she rented a part-time studio, immediately returning to her beloved ceramics. “Going back to doing work was amazing…I was like a barren well filled with water – there was this real physical feeling of complete fulfillment.”

Revisiting the seven notebooks she had filled during her gap year in 2010, Marice began extracting the lines, emotions and experiences she had mapped out, painting them on her mugs. “These words are very egregious and say exactly how we could all feel. We are all trying to navigate this journey of life.”

Certainly, others have approached the art of Marice. Her “Cup of Longing”, in memory of her father, resonated with her buyer, who said she brought them to tears. This is not the only time this has happened: when Marice’s work was exhibited, it brought many people to tears. On Instagram, she regularly receives messages from viewers who feel a connection to her art.

“I think it kind of allows them to recognize their own emotions and approaches to life,” she says. “If I had done purely aesthetic work, would people have connected in the same way? I don’t think… It’s extremely rewarding to know that my work has meaning for others.”

Speaking of Louisa Warfield, Marice says:
Speaking of Louisa Warfield, Marice says, “She really believed in my work – I didn’t have that confidence. I didn’t consider myself an artist. I was just making my work something for myself.”

Initially, Marice had no intention of exhibiting her ceramics: “I didn’t consider myself an artist. I was just making my work something for me. The huge ceramic mugs, however, were spotted by art consultant Louisa Warfield at a Christmas shop sale. To Marice’s surprise, Louisa suggested they bring them to the London Art Fair in 2021. Every piece was sold there.

“I had this amazing response at work that was so overwhelmingly personal – I just couldn’t believe it. Sometimes I walk down the street and think, ‘You did well in the end, Marice. ,’” she says. “I had a career, I had a family — and then at 60, I had what I probably would have wanted at 25.”

As if digesting her own success, Marice has a mug that says, in those confident all-caps, “I AM NOW AN ARTIST.” The back, this time in this candid cursive, reads: “The rest was just a substitute.”

Do you have a story you think we should cover? If so, please email [email protected]

Want more MyLondon? Sign up to our daily newsletters for all the latest and greatest from London here.