Early on Saturday morning, I drove up to Herefordshire to see the firing of a salt kiln at Wobage Farm Workshops. I meant to take photos of the day, but as always with these kinds of things, I was too absorbed in the experience to remember. I did manage to take a photo of some sheep in the late afternoon as I was wandering round the site.
It’s not a photo of the lovely Pheonix kiln but it does give a little taste of the place. The firing was for work by the people who attended the evening classes. There were about 18 people around over the course of the day, and we fired the kiln in 1.5 hour shifts, with two of us at the kiln at a time. The whole day was a community event, people brought food and drink to share, and although the shifts were for 2 people to be at the kiln, there were often at least 5 people around, chatting and drinking tea. It was a surprise for me how relaxed and happy everyone was about firing the wood kiln. My previous impressions have been that wood firing is labour intensive, stressful, and unreliable, so it was nice to be shown that this isn’t true.
The kiln itself is a Phoenix design wood kiln, and below I have stolen a photo from a past students blog who also helped fire this kiln.
We fired steadily with smaller bits of wood to reach 1000c at about midday, before going into reduction, using larger, flat planks of wood. Then the salted wood was used, and after that, salted wood with salt packs placed on the end. I have never been a part of a salt or soda firing before, so this was a big learning curve for me. Before Saturday, I felt like wood kilns were a looming problem of my future. I love the results and ideas behind wood firing, but had been told that it is difficult and costly. The Phoenix kiln at Wobage costs less than £10 of wood per firing, which is very low. And although it is labour intensive (compared to gas or electric kilns), that’s all part of the process. Over the day I had so many interesting conversations, so much interesting food, and felt so welcome. I really enjoyed the whole experience. I did put a bowl in the top of the kiln with some of Jeremy’s slips and a shino glaze, so I am excited to see how that comes out. Maybe I will be a salt-glaze convert.
To help me develop my exhibition module, I visited John and Jude Jelfs pottery in Bourton-on-the-Water. The Shop/gallery is in front of and attached to their studio, which allows the viewer to see the making process and the finished pieces. As a potter, I was particularly interested in John Jelfs work, and how it was displayed.
Displaying work in a pottery is often a combination of gallery aesthetic, and shop layout. The pieces need to look clean and tidy, and need to have space around them in which to be seen properly. However, things also need to look like they are going to be bought, and used. Presenting one soup bowl on a white plinth may look really nice, but people won’t think about buying a set of them for their kitchens. However, for my exhibition, I do not need people to want to buy them, I just need it to be realised that these pieces are made for domestic use.
The Jelfs shop was full of pots. A central island in the middle of the room held vases, mugs, salt pigs, spoon rests, and jugs. Then around the walls were various shelves of glass and wood.
The different spaces for the different sizes of pot makes the viewing much easier. For example, the smaller jars and mugs are on shorter shelves, are closer together, and are often lower down; whereas the larger pots and jugs are on taller shelves, in larger spaces, and are higher up. Somehow this helps to balance the weight of what you are looking at. The white background helps the pots colours and form stands out, and keeps the light in the room. The glass shelving allows the lovely shadows of the pots above to fall on the pieces bellow, allowing light through to the lower shelves, and also linking pieces together, overlapping the boxes with their shadows. I think would put fewer pieces in, as I think this is a little crowded.
Over the past few years I have swayed between art and craft; finding my home on the wheel, making for things to be used and worn, but also feeling the need to express the cause, and the social and historical context of my work. Using traditional skills, I aim to express the simple beauty of making, and how it’s place has changed throughout the past century. With modern technologies, we drift further and further away from making with our hands. The simple pleasures which come from crafting tableware from lumps of earth is what I want people to feel when looking and holding my work.
Use of self-sourced materials such as wood ashes and clays has always been and will continue to be an essential part of my work. There is a quote by Phil Rogers which has always resonated with me as a potter:
“Wood ash remains probably the single most versatile material available to potters. At a time in history when all pottery requirements can be purchased off a shelf – a situation non-existent in the past, and I suspect, in the future – wood ash provides potters with the opportunity to explore material that, in the truest sense, belongs to the earth and to the individual. Perhaps, more importantly, it provides us with a direct link to the potters of the past and a means, not just of being able to recreate quiet, subtle and beautiful glazes or even that we are in charge of our own scheme of work, but of feeling that we are truly part of the ceramic order of things.” – Phil Rogers
Once I have developed some staple forms, bowls and beakers, I use them as a palette on which to express the landscape from which my materials originate. Focusing on slips and glazes, the materials are gas fired to really bring out the earthy colours and textures. Glazes that cause an orange/red blush at the edge of the glaze line or on the belly of a pot often appeal to me. I think this is because of the organic nature of a small flash of colour. It appears warm and natural, like an autumn tree or the changing colour of a field. A reduction firing enhances this, bringing a warm patch where the flames have licked the pot.
My work’s position in the world is something I am very conscious of. I am mindful of how my work could affect a broader scope of people, and sit in the Art world. I am conscious of the cost of my work, producing things in an affordable way is important to me, for example, using self-sourced materials and efficient making techniques. I produce pots which reflect a world view. Like Michael Cardew, my ideal situation would be produce everyday use pottery that would be affordable and attainable by local, ordinary people. I am keen to keep a visual link between my work and the traditions of British country pottery, with my methods of making and also the shapes and colours of my work.
This platter was part of the Anthony Shaw collection within the Centre for Ceramic Art, York. The Anthony Shaw collection comprises of over 1000 pieces of art and craft, collected over the past 40 years. Shaw decided that the collection would best suit a domestic environment, and so the ceramics of the collection (which make up a lot of the collection) are displayed in a space which allows you to walk among them in a comfortable, domestic environment.
The dish shown above caught my eye immediately when exploring this part of the gallery. I think this may be because the squareness and angles contrasts so nicely with the rest of the thrown wares. The openness of the dish is something I feel can really draw you in. The whole feeling of a piece of tableware can come from the slight adjustment of angles, whether it is a gentle curve inwards or a straight edge which opens out an otherwise enclosed dish. The shape of this particular dish, although simple, makes me want to serve up food in it. The perfect depth for bread or salads, an open serving platter. This dish promotes the sharing of some food, it’s length could run along a table between a party of people.
Although I don’t know how this piece was made, I would guess this is press moulded. This involves rolling a chunky slab from the clay body, and gently pressing it into a plaster shape. The outside of the dish is then formed by the plaster, and the inside by the pressing of fingers. This process, although not completely involving the hands such as throwing does, still allows for a certain amount of organic fluidity in the shape, for example the slight curve of the left edge, and the soft line where the glaze ends.
I also don’t know how this was fired, but as a guess, I would say it looks like wood-fired with an ash glaze. The soft organic green of the glaze varies with the shape, showing a movement of the glaze in the kiln. This forms a glassy build up in the corners and leaves a more light, sage green on the sides. This gives the dish a lot of depth in colour, and really gives the viewer the sense that this has been made from natural materials, and belongs truly to the earth. The reduction firing has brought out the iron in the clay, giving it a beautiful reddish brown hue. The texture and colour of the bare clay sits beautifully next to the glassy green glaze. It just begs for a hand to be run over the join from glaze to clay body.
From Arbeid’s obituary in the Guardian:
“Dan Arbeid, who has died at the age of 82, was one of the pioneers of unconventional vessel-based handbuilt forms that celebrated the earthy plastic of clay. Like many potters, he discovered the medium almost by accident, but knew that this was what he wanted to do. With no formal training, he approached clay without inhibition, making use of any technique that seemed appropriate. Arbeid’s free-thinking approach paved the way for a new generation of potters, such as Alison Britton and Richard Slee, and was crucial to the renaissance of postwar ceramics in Britain.”
-(https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/nov/22/dan-arbeid-obituary [accessed 16 Oct 2016])
Made in 1965 by Dan Arbeid, this platter is very much representative of it’s time. Made using traditional country pottery methods, but with an eastern edge in its aesthetic, the 60s pottery style was earthy yet graceful. The earthiness of the style speaks of the alternative lifestyles that became popular in this time, the ideas that there was a life outside the system which could be lived.
In 1957, Arbeid took on the position of Pottery Technician at Central School of Arts and Crafts, London. This was in a time when Bernard Leach’s eastern inspired stoneware was the holy grail, the revival of studio pottery was beginning, and there were not enough student potters to go around.
“Now a lecturer at the Central, Arbeid successfully combined making and teaching. Students were encouraged to visit at weekends and experiment with raku and salt-fired flame-burning kilns, projects that were impossible at the Central’s London site.”
-(https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/nov/22/dan-arbeid-obituary [accessed 16 Oct 2016])
Press moulded dishes is something I want to explore. They can be very simple, and yet so elegant in their shape. With or without pattern, the subtle angles make them beautiful to hold and fill. Below is a selection of press moulded dishes, including work by Michael Cardew, Shoji Hamada, Andrew McGarva and Bernard Leach.
Over the past two years I have swayed between art and craft; finding my home on the wheel, making for things to be used and worn, but also feeling the need to express the cause, and the social and historical context of my work. Using traditional skills, I aim to express the simple beauty of making, and how it’s place has changed throughout history. With modern technologies, we drift further and further away from simply making with our hands, and enjoying the process that this takes us through. Use of self-sourced materials such as wood ashes and clays will continue to be an essential part of my work. There is a quote by Phil Rogers which has always resonated with me as a potter:
“Wood ash remains probably the single most versatile material available to potters. At a time in history when all pottery requirements can be purchased off a shelf – a situation non-existent in the past, and I suspect, in the future – wood ash provides potters with the opportunity to explore material that, in the truest sense, belongs to the earth and to the individual. Perhaps, more importantly, it provides us with a direct link to the potters of the past and a means, not just of being able to recreate quiet, subtle and beautiful glazes or even that we are in charge of our own scheme of work, but of feeling that we are truly part of the ceramic order of things.”
I am unsure of where I sit as an artist, or a crafts-person. I feel that with the work I make, I am aiming to make an artistic statement, especially with the work I exhibited at the end of last year. The many small bowls, each containing materials from the surrounding area, were an expression of my experience of landscape, material, and making. This work, although functional, is both fine art and craft. I need to continue exploring this area of functional craft, defining my position more over the course of this year. With an aim to work in a production pottery, working on my practical skills remains a priority.
My work’s position in the world is something I am very conscious of. How my work could affect a broader scope of people, and sit in the Art world. I am conscious of the cost of my work, producing things in an affordable way is important to me, for example, using self-sourced materials and efficient making techniques. Like Michael Cardew, my ideal situation would be produce everyday use pottery that would be affordable and attainable by local, ordinary people. I am keen to keep a visual link between my work and the traditions of British country pottery, with my methods of making and also the shapes and colours of my work.
I will be putting an emphasis on the Arts & Crafts aesthetics, researching work by Ernest Gimson, August Pugin and reading about Art & Crafts principles. This is to produce my own take on a neo-Arts and Crafts movement, the realisation in the 21st century that we are losing certain traditional skills. My throwing and turning is something that I am constantly aiming to improve, refining shapes and curves of bowls to make them functional and balanced.
As defined in the dictionary, a manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government.
I was asked to create a manifesto for myself, to better define my idea of who I am as a maker. I’m sure this manifesto will change slightly, if not completely, but for now, this is what I’m working towards.
- Make work that is functional within the home, and is for everyday use.
- Make work which encompasses local materials, or materials which are self-sourced from the UK.
- If the materials are not self-sourced, be aware of where they come from or how they are produced.
- To use a style which is to both comfortable to look at and to hold/use.
- Make pieces which promote a personal connection to be formed between the object and the holder.