Over the Easter break, I had the opportunity to visit a couple of potteries. The first was Winchcombe pottery in Gloucestershire, where I worked for a few days. The team there had altered slightly since I had last visited, and the production of wares for The Potteries Museum in Stoke on Trent seemed to be going well. It is always when I visit a pottery like this that I am hit with the reminder of what I want to spend my time doing.
Production pottery functions differently to studio pottery. There is very much a team atmosphere going on, with each person completing their own tasks, which tie into everyone else’s. The wares aren’t those designed by the makers, but ones which have been made at Winchcombe for decades. The learn about and be a part of a history like that is an incredible thing. Measurements and weights of clay for specific pots are written on pieces of paper by potters of the past, and shapes of cups and pots are often referred to by looking at those made by the old potters of Winchcombe. Each potter has their own subtle style leached into the pot, whether it is the curve of a handle or the weight of a rim. A pottery like Winchcombe is the feeling of being a part of something greater than yourself.
The second pottery I visited was unintentional. I was camping in exmoor, and when I got into conversation with the old lady who worked in the icecream shop, she told me to visit the pottery that happened to be just around the corner. The pottery is called Ruffen Common, and houses two makers, the first is Brian Andrews, who makes animal sculptures, and the second is Russel Kingston, an earthenware potter who had been there for two years. He was very welcoming and happily chatted to my boyfriend and I about his work and how he came to be an earthenware potter. The history of earthenware pottery in Britain is rich, especially in north Devon, and the shapes and patterns that can be drawn from this tradition are distinctive. I think it is again about being a part of something greater than yourself – living and continuing a tradition in a conetemporary way. Of course a real country pottery is something that will not exist again, (because of many reasons including changing customer demands and technologies) but taking ideas and learning or teaching the skills that they used is a way of connecting ourselves to the potteries that were once an essential part of rural life.
I also bought a lovely mug from Russel’s seconds box: