Wednesday, 27 May 2015

A Life Changing Conversation

You entirely changed our lives you know.” The words of my customer took me by surprise. She went on to explain that over a year ago she and her husband had bought a copy of my print “Waiting for the Next Leaf to Fall”. At the time I'd explained that the scene I had painted was of autumnal trees behind Harbottle Castle, near a kink in the River Coquet, known as “The Devil's Elbow”. So after leaving the gallery, they had immediately gone to see the place for themselves and enjoyed a wonderful walk.

Waiting for the Next Leaf to Fall

Once home, my print was hung in their sitting room and often when they looked at it, they said to one another “What are we doing living and working here, when really we want to be back home in Northumberland?” This year they decided to do something about making their dream a reality. The wife has already taken early retirement and the husband is in the process of doing the same. They are currently up here on a house hunting trip... looking at houses for sale in Harbottle, Hepple and Rothbury.

It's funny how a whole chain of events can take place on the strength of a few words........ And  that you might never know that you had provided the catalyst to change someone else's life.  

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Only One Way to Throw Pots?

I enjoyed watching this BBC programme last night.....  It involves 6 celebrities working for the day  as Victorian pottery workers at Gladstone Pottery (Museum). While we were ceramics students in the 1970s we visited there, as well as Pearsons of Chesterfield.  The manufacturing techniques still in use at Pearsons at that time were almost identical to Victorian ones. I can still recall one of the master potters telling us in his blunt accent that, "There's only one way to throw pots....... and that's the way we do it here." With that, he slammed a lump of very wet clay onto the wheelhead, opened it out,  pulled it up to the right height, then rammed a wooden template against the entire side of the revolving clay to create the desired profile. All in a matter of seconds, the pot was formed. Impressively fast, definitely efficient, but totally soulless-  he worked like a human machine.   It was plain that he had no time for students and their fancy, newfangled ideas! 

When I think of the beautiful, joyful studio pots I've seen, handled, used, sold and coveted over the years I know that he was entirely wrong to assume that there was one one way to throw. But perhaps one HAS to have that mindset to be able to churn out hundreds of identical pieces hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year? 
Replica Wassail Cup by Graham Taylor

Replica Greek Douris Cooler By Graham Taylor, decorated by me

Planter by Graham Taylor, remodelled by me.

Handled bowls by Hugh Mactavish of Argyll Pottery 

Do watch this programme if you have any interest in crafts, manufacturing or social history! Perhaps it will also give you a little more appreciation for the work of craft potters, who still work in a similar way- using mind and muscle in harmony to create their wares.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Past, Present and Pots.

After my husband Graham and I finished our Ceramics degrees in 1977 we went to work at Appin Pottery in Argyll, in the West Highlands of Scotland. Our new boss Joe Finch, was from a highly respected potting family, and his lovely wife Trudi was an accomplished pottery decorator and watercolourist. We knew ourselves to be very fortunate to land such a great position, with such good mentors. 

Glen Creran 

Life in the glen was happy but strenuous. There was always wood to be stacked to dry, ready to feed the ravenous wood fired kiln. There were an infinite number of jobs to be done every day, from throwing pots to clearing out drains and mixing glazes. We stayed there for three years, during which time our eldest daughter, Alison, was born. It soon became obvious that her favourite part of the day was when the Mactavish children came to call on their boisterous way home from school. The outer door would bang open, and with much laughter and a scurry of feet, they would ricochet up the stairs and burst into our flat. They would proceed to play games with "wee Alison", read her stories, do some drawing, mess about with clay or just generally chatter. Then, just as suddenly as they arrived, like a flock of little sparrows, they would suddenly disappear again- leaving the place instantly quieter, but just a little sad.

One of those children was Hugh Mactavish. And it's clear that those childhood hours spent around the pottery left their mark, as he is now the owner of  his own workshop, Argyll Pottery. So it's with great pleasure that I've just bought a consignment of his delectable wood-fired domestic stoneware pots for sale here at Crown Studio Gallery. 

Large Jug

I've selected pieces that are what we call in the trade "potters' pots". These are the pottery equivalent of a fine single malt whisky- created for the connoisseur, the nuances and subtleties clear to the expert, but perhaps lost on anyone looking for industrial uniformity. Firing a kiln using wood is an elemental, labour intensive process. The kiln needs to be constantly fed with dry wood for an entire day.  The ash formed during the course of the firing, swirls through the atmosphere of the kiln, where it melts to produce a warm “toasted” appearance on the unglazed areas of the pots and imparts an unpredictable speckle to the glaze.  The glazes develop a rich depth of colour, hinting at the minerals from which they were formed. It's the nearest thing to alchemy that exists. 

Assorted sizes of  jugs in various glazes

Faceted vases

Dish with handles

Deep Noodle Bowl

Large Bowl with Blue "Chun" style glaze

It's going to be very difficult for me to part with a single piece.