Shards South Wales Potters Newsletter
Shards Summer 2021
A Tribute to Mike Organ
Exhibitions, Events and News...
Calon Lan - Rebecca Buck
Great Pottery Throwdown Winner 2021
15 Days in Clay - Janna Edwards
Book Review - Roger Bell
Susan O’Byrne Review
The Relationship Between Clay and Dementia
Building my Studios - Jason Braham
Who’s Mug it it?
Potters 25th, Bristol - John West, Jane Gibson
Something in the Air - Tim Thornton
Empty Bowls Event 2019 - Penny Campbell
The Art of Kintsugi Zoom demo
The Reynoldston Table Retrospective
Summer greetings, This issue is about community, specifically ceramic community projects. One of the things attractive to me is that like-minded spirit, where a few get together to accomplish a common goal. It’s quite moving when one reads what others have done, and accomplished, with community in mind. With a eye on tomorrow, the Autumn Shards theme is Abstract Sculpture. What does that mean? If I may quote a Merriam-Webster abstract: ‘insufficiently factual’, and possibly ‘difficult to understand’, or, as Wikipedia states: ‘…with a degree of independence from visual references in the world’ (Rudolph Arnheim, Visual Thinking, UCPress, ‘69). The Winter Shards theme is Teaching Pottery. Do you teach students, run classes or workshops? Quoting from thefreedictionary.com: Teaching ‘The act, process, or art of imparting knowledge and skill’. Are you a retired or practising teacher? What do you get out of the practice, ups and downs, hi-lights? Articles for the Autumn or Winter Shards, please write to Carole at email@example.com. Unfortunately, we’ve had to cancel a couple of the Zoom demos planned in June. But, Zoe Preece has agreed to do a demo, hopefully late summer or early autumn (tba). The Studio: nearly there, another ten minutes! Does that ring a bell? I’ve just the decorating to do, the loo and clay sink (with settling tank) to fit, and not forgetting a kiln and it’s extractor (see page 26, Something in the Air). Enjoy, Mark.
Editor: Mark Rose email: firstname.lastname@example.org Proof Reader: Writing for Shards: We welcome contributions from all readers. Subjects can be technical or experiential. Please email your articles and photographs to Carole Spackman (email@example.com). Photographs in .jpg or .png format with a resolution of 300dpi, best quality. If not, send what you have. Submission deadlines: 14 February (Spring Issue), 30 April (Summer Issue), 31 August (Autumn Issue), 31 October (Winter Issue).
South Wales Potters Officers Chair
Vacant (incl. local teams)
Social Media Officer
Jane Rees Parfitt
Daniel Boyle, Margo Schmidt
Front cover image: Rebecca Buck Rear cover image: Gill Pittman
Advertising With Us: To advertise in Shards and on our website, please contact the Editor. Members may advertise events and goods for sale free of charge. Printed by thePrintCo.com Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in Shards are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the Editor and SWP Committee. The contents of Shards may not be reproduced without permission. Contributors should be aware that all or part of their articles or photographs may be used on the SWP website and Facebook page.
Shards Summer 2021
…working with clay can be transformational… Margaret Brampton Pottery is a very special discipline largely because of the nature of clay itself. Clay is the most wonderful, pliable responsive material. People are often surprised and delighted at how the clay responds to their touch and will take on different shapes. Even making a simple thumb pot can be rewarding when we first handle clay. I taught in schools and adult education and it always amazed me how engrossed people became in the process of handling clay. In many ways working with clay can be transformational. In 2014 a special needs school asked me to work with each pupil to produce a poppy, which would be linked into the poppy project at the Tower of London. A very simple task. The one hundred poppies were fired and mounted and displayed in front of the school. The sense of pride and achievement was touching from such a simple task. Community projects are a valuable way of not only enhancing the local community but also of introducing people to the benefits of working with clay. Let us hope that as we come out of lockdowns we can support our ceramic community. Visiting galleries and museums featuring ceramics may be a fun place to start.
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A Tribute to Mike Organ, Founder Member of SWP
Therese Jones SWP began in the early 60's with head quarters at Pontypool Settlement. I was an evening class tutor, when Frank Hamer came to see the exhibition of the evening class work. Pat Culpin, then making slip-ware at Pontypool Pottery, and I had already determined to set up a ceramic society, but it was Frank from Caerleon College who had the vision for South Wales Potters. Frank was our first chairman with Pat as secretary and myself as treasurer. Very soon Frank persuaded two of his ex-students, Mike Organ to be Exhibitions Officer and Leighton Clark to take over as treasurer, with me becoming Events Officer. Janet Hamer followed soon after as editor of the magazine. Frank also persuaded Mick Casson to be our President. The Welsh Arts Council were always helpful with grants when we bought famous names to demonstrate or lecture or for show case exhibitions. Mike had creative vision and definite views, organising exhibitions in many and varied places, such as Newport Museum, Bristol Museum, Llanfrechfa Grange, Oriole Gallery and many others. The most outstanding exhibition to my mind as a teacher was the one organised by him in the National
Museum of Wales to showcase the work done in Secondary Schools. It was such a lot of work, but it opened on time with exhibits from all over Great Britain - Scotland, N. Ireland, England and Wales – whoa! I was happy to learn, but slightly jealous, that one of Mike's pupils gained best in show. This was a large piece with a motor bike crashing through a brick wall. Another piece from his school was the view of a football grand stand with all the different faces cheering on it. No wonder they sent difficult pupils to him and they became engaged. Another major triumph was our exhibition at The Potters Shop in Carnaby Street in the late 60's. We all set off by train for the evening. The exhibition was opened by Roy Jenkins MP, then Home Secretary, and accompanied by Leo Abse, our local Pontypool MP. I remember Janet cleaning clay from her glasses on the way. It was another triumph for Mike and the team. Mike handed on the Exhibition Officer post to Ned Heyward who continued to spread the fame of SWP and support striving potters. Meanwhile, Mike continued his teaching at Fairwater Comprehensive and has inspired many pupils to follow an art or pottery career.
In latter days he has still exhibited his work with the latest ending on June 1st this year in Pontypool Museum. These last years, he has been employed as Artist in Residence at ICI House. They bought many of his works, which are still on display there. I shall remember Mike for his vitality, forward thinking and Avant Guard work. I consider him a dear friend, even though I have seen very little of him and his wife Dorothy for some years. He leaves an only son, Robert.
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News, Events and ICF
Carole Spackman and Margo Schmidt SWP regrets that Richard Heeley's Zoom event on Sunday June 20th is unable to go ahead due to his internet problems as also is the Walter Keeler event. Sunday August 22nd - Russell Kingston (morning - tbc) Russell Kingston was featured in our Summer Shards making 'Pots to Use & Enjoy'. Working in Lynmouth, North Devon, Russell's work is influenced by 'proper country pottery'. Using terracotta clay he makes very usable pots that are decorated with slips that are applied in a variety of ways such as dipping, pouring, brushing, trailing or splashing with animated movements. This is fired to around 1100�C using a gas kiln.
International Ceramics Festival - ICF 2021 Usually by now we would all be planning our July trip to Aberystwyth, looking forwarding to catching up with old friends and getting excited about the many and varied demonstrations, firings and talks at ICF, but alas not this year. However, we will still celebrate ceramics during the ICF 2021 weekend, but in a very different way! Like everyone else, we will be on-line, so that fans of ICF, wherever they are in the world can tune in. We want to show something unique to ICF. Some of our most memorable events have involved performance (remember Punk Raku last time!!!). So, for the Friday evening, July 2nd, we have teamed up with COCA (Centre of Ceramic Art at York Art Gallery) who have been running outstanding symposia on ceramics over the past couple of years. 'Ceramics and Lockdown – Performance' will be an on-line symposium, featuring talks, presentations and some film of 'lockdown performance' made by ceramic artists during the past year. On Saturday July 3rd 're-wind: over 30 years of the International Ceramics Festival at Aberystwyth' will be a mixed programme of old favourites from our archives, live performance by Angela Tait. Steve Mattison will talk about the early years of ICF and his involvement with the International Ceramics Studio at Kecskemet, Hungary - all on-line. The Aberystwyth Arts Centre, which was flooded during some of the wild weather last year, will be opening its doors to the local community that weekend and ICF is bringing clay in the form of a community workshop run by Wendy Lawrence, which started in May. With the help of technical experts, we hope to be able to repeat the streaming of the films for 24 hours, so you can watch any time. This will be free, but donations will help fund ICF 2022.
Sunday October 17th - Kim Colebrook followed by AGM (tbc)
Check the ICF website:
Covid permitting, this will be held at Nantgarw China Works Museum, CF15 7TB or if we cannot meet in person, this will a Zoom event as it was in 2020.
https://www.internationalceramicsfestival.org/ for the link to the event and tune in, from the comfort of your sofa. See you all for ICF 2022!
Kim Colebrook has won many awards including the Emerging Maker Award at the 2019 ICF & has just become a selected member of the CPA. Kim works in porcelain, incorporating texture and narrative, often creating very simple forms that will carry the intended message. Her work is hand built or cast, integrating textures, colours and oxides. The narrative may be developed within a single vessel, or by combining numerous elements for wall displays or installations. Much of Kim's work is inspired by her passion for telling the stories of South Wales, the people that drove the Industrial Revolution and the natural assets that gave this area the opportunity to lead the world.
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Across a project I might have 100 volunteers.
Rebecca Buck - www.ospreystudios.org Describe the progress of your journey with Using Clay in the Community? What were the major influences in your choice of path to follow? At first, I began by teaching classes, then, because we needed a challenge progressed to running community studios and setting up a community studio to make a collaborative sculpture. I read Gwen Heeney’s fab book 'Brickworks' 3 times as well as researching adobe architecture. As circumstances dictated, we had to find many different ways of working. What part do volunteers play with your projects? Where and how do you find these helpers? Volunteers, especially local ones are crucial. Local people know things you will never find out and can reach other local people, although sometimes it is the other way around. The MOST important factor is having Reciprocity at the root of every step. Studies have proven beyond doubt that if a Community Project does not use reciprocity it will not be successful. So offer what you have - your own skills, teaching skills, new experiences, a chance to help the community, cake, etc. Ask for what you don’t have, such as fresh perspectives on ideas, local knowledge and contacts, finding local stories, learning about current use of the proposed site, fitness for the heavy work. This leaves you time to do all the art-work, etc. in exchange. Your first job is to show participants they really do have something to offer and that this matters. This forms a multiskilled team with a range of perspectives that can make something amazing that no one person would ever envisage. I never put our names on the sculpture for that reason. My role is as a facilitator of the group’s work. How much hands-on clay work volunteers can do is always down to the budget available. It is expensive to provide this opportunity, so one good, affordable solution was to use 30 cm tiles that could be incorporated at the leather hard stage into a sculptural form. It is best to have a local studio where you can build the whole
installation involving a range of people, from the ground up to the carved art work. How do you find participants for your projects? What sort of difficulties do they have? I tap into existing groups, inviting them to join in, with a genuine reason for asking them. People can spot a box-ticking exercise a mile off. With so many jobs that need doing, there is something for everyone. People will often be shy at coming forward, so work around this by asking for help with areas you think they might be good at, rather than acting like the benevolent specialist. You will meet some of the most inspiring, lovely, fascinating people of your life. Most of my amazing, generous-hearted volunteers have disabilities, are carers and/or between employment which is why they are available to get involved. I am not a therapist and what they have to offer is way more than their problems. People’s private lives are none of my business and irrelevant to the work of a sculpture. They kindly come forward, so in exchange I must ensure joining-in is affordable, flexible and hopefully rewarding and fun. I commit to the project and I do ask key volunteers for a commitment because their work is invaluable and irreplaceable. I take responsibility for ensuring the work succeeds so volunteers agree to follow my lead on what needs doing. How many participants in each session of making would you have? How many helpers would be useful during a pottery session – for example is it one-to-one? Across a project I might have 100 volunteers. The work is broken into stages and the numbers depend on the task. Individual attention is really important so that you can get the best from each person and have time to teach them something in return. Often volunteers will support each other which is great. Groups employ staff, so you are also training them which should leave a really positive legacy.
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Are there opportunities for members of South Wales Potters to contribute or take part in your present project? Yes please! I need stoneware tiles, up to 20cm, any shape with images relating to lockdown experiences to go on the swirling mosaic base of my current project. Details can be found on my website www.ospreystudios.org clicking on 'Making the Remember and Rebuild Sculpture for Saxon Hall, Hereford. Here you will also find an explanation of how this project has been done with numerous useful links for making your own sculpture. How do you sustain the financial viability of working in the community? How do you source funding if needed? I am usually invited by groups who deal with the funding. I assist by writing sections for the proposals including budgets and a Schedule of Work. This takes a lot of time, has to be done well and is often unpaid unless the project is successful in securing funds. Most of my projects have been rooted in Community Regeneration, not the Arts. Can you tell us more about your use of language to connect participants with the clay and how this helps participants? I never talk down to people. I ask a lot of questions and listen closely. I take notes all the time as these will be invaluable. Most people learn through doing, so I get their hands in the clay as quickly as possible. It is then the conversations really flow. In what other ways does working with clay help the participants? Many people really need an accessible, direct, wordless way to process their thinking through their hands. They need permission to play, encouragement, real skills and the preposterous myths of ‘Art’ and ‘Talent’ demystified and debunked. How important are the finished pieces or exhibitions to participants in your projects?
What surface treatments, such as textures, glaze, slip or colour do you use and why? I use carving and textures, avoiding anything where chips will look bad. I plan for weathering and cleaning with harsh chemicals. What kilns do you use and how complex is the firing schedule? How does the kiln firing enhance the work? I do a very slow single firing, nice and boring, in my Cromartie Workhorse electric kiln. What projects are you working on at present and where do you see your work leading you in the future? To the Chiropractor….! I’ve done over twenty of these projects and each time people say, ‘Wow. This will make your career!’ In reality it is just part of a studio’s practice, another skill to develop and share. Working on a large scale does not suit everyone but I do love being with a huge amount of clay, slowly developing one form over many months. Bringing together a team and sharing it all is a wonderful, very challenging experience. You have to believe in other people and their creativity, be trustworthy and extremely organised. Are you able to continue to make your own work as well as working in the community? Yes but rarely at the same time as the designing and the build. These projects are totally immersive, as a big part of what I do is giving a cohesiveness and unity to all the disparate ideas, most of which are not mine. Therefore, I have to live it. Often there can very long gaps, maybe years, between writing the original proposal and receiving the go ahead. Then after the making, there are months of drying and firing when the sections are everywhere and need tending! This is the time when I can do my own work. Some of the big installations have taken six weeks but I was not always involved. Other times it has been very hands on, crawling about in the mud in November….it is the glamour that makes it all worthwhile! All photos Rebecca Buck
Making even a very small contribution to something awesome feels great which is why the final sculpture must be fantastic. Not everyone will love it. Some people will always complain about anything new, so you have to help your volunteers to be ready for criticism. If the project is a large installation, how important is its longevity? Do you revisit these installations and try to remedy any deterioration? A lasting sculpture is very important. It is something you offer your group and your funders: ‘a lasting memorial’, ‘a landmark’ ‘the archaeology of the future’. That is the beauty of using ceramics. I do keep a check on some pieces for a year or two. Problems do come up that I attend to at no charge, otherwise the problem often would not be remedied. Sometimes there are issues with the installation. After that I require paying. It can be a problem because frequently ownership becomes confused as groups change staff or move on. This is why I do not seek out these remedial jobs. It is important to accept that the pay is very low and the responsibility is very high. What types of clay do you use for projects? I have used Coleford Brick clay, a stunning natural clay that is very challenging and Scarva ES 50 Crank which is outstanding. Shards Summer 2021
The Great Pottery Throw Down 2021 Winner ‘I kept the trophy in my parent’s attic…’
Shelagh Pymm and Jodie Neale Across ten episodes we saw 12 home potters turn lumps of clay into everything from a cheese set to 3D houses, native American pots, to animal water features and naked raku vases. After 20 pottery challenges, filmed at the Gladstone Museum of Pottery in Stoke on Trent, it was our South Wales Potter member, Jodie Neale, a NHS Scrub Nurse from Aberdare, South Wales, who emerged triumphant as the winner. Judges Keith Brymer Jones and Rich Miller had the toughest decision to make - who had shown their creativity and talents to be crowned Britain’s best home potter, with a final challenge that turned back the ceramic clock 100 years to celebrate art deco pottery to make a 1920s art deco themed party set of a punch bowl, ladle, cups and two decanters and in the second challenge to make a tiny doll’s house dinner set. Jodie said this when interviewed about the whole experience. ‘The biggest feeling I had was an overwhelming gratitude for getting there. Looking at the rest of the Potters and how
talented they are, I couldn’t believe I made it to the final and then actually to win it. I was shocked but elated at the same time. ‘I am so grateful for the opportunity of being there and learning more about pottery. All cheesy stuff to say but it’s the truth. My fellow finalists were Peter and Adam and it was great to get to the final with them, I really respect their work ethic, they are passionate and super hard working. Also it was great for Hannah to make it to the semi-final as we have become great friends, as I am with all the other potters. ‘At the very end of the series we didn’t know that one member of our family were going to be there. Siobhan said we have a surprise for you and my Dad came out. That was really a lovely moment for me. ‘At work it has helped to lift the mood in the hospital amongst the staff. They are all massive fans of the show. Every time I go in they want to talk about it and they are really happy for me. To be honest it has been a dark cloud for the whole of last year and this has given them a bit of joy. They laugh at me on screen but I don’t mind about that, as long as it makes them laugh. ‘To bring the trophy home to Wales and the valleys makes me really proud and I hope I have made them proud too. It’s quite rural where I live. There is a huge mountain in front of my house. We live in quite close terraced houses where everyone knows each other, so I have had huge support from all of them. ‘Over 10 weeks of living and filming with the potters and in the practice barn, we all supported each other. Every one of us would have a wobble at some stage and we all helped each other when we were struggling. I will stay in touch with all the potters. We talk every day on What’s App. Even though it was a competition - from the first challenge to the last challenge we all helped each other. Production put up shower curtains in the practice barn to make it more private for us, but within fifteen minutes they were down and it became a little pottery community for us. ‘I loved the challenge in Week Seven when I made a water fountain. I really enjoyed sculpting an animal as a water feature. I think that also appealed to kids. Then I got the surprise of Potter of the Week. My worst challenge was Terracotta in Week Six. It was a new clay to me, a new method of making something and it all fell apart for me, literally. We all struggled a bit and put the terror in terracotta that week! ‘The response from social media has been really positive, they will have a joke with you, but they aren’t ever mean as they all know we are under time restraints. They said my Shirley Bassey bust looked like Princess Fiona from Shrek - which I thought were really brilliant and funny comments. When I put
Shards Summer 2021
the feathers on my raku vases and looked back and they had all disappeared, I just thought game over, but I put more on and it worked. I got a very warm response for that and the reception for the whole show overall has been very supportive. ‘The production team spoilt us rotten, we had fantastic accommodation in a lodge with a log fire and a beautiful lake nearby. On set we were so well looked after and throughout the whole experience I felt very safe. At the time of filming Covid was still new and the nation were very nervous. I felt very lucky to be in a safe place, doing something I really love to do. I live on my own and it was great to be with 11 other people. We kept a social distance and wore masks off camera. ‘Triathlons have come to a standstill. The pools are closed, and my club has put everything on hold which makes sense in the current climate. They do online classes which run on a Sunday, but while the series was on they moved the class earlier so they can all watch the show, which is really cute. ‘I am in a bubble with my Mum and Dad, so on a Sunday I watch the show with them. My Dad really encourages me with my pottery as he is a DIY master, so he helps me out all the time. My Mother was a nurse in the hospital where I work in now, so she is a super proud Mum on both counts. We watched the final together of course. It was a lovely night as it was also Mother’s Day. Mum bought a fancy bottle of bubbles and we had a lovely night celebrating. ‘Best moment I will never forget is when I got voted potter of the week in episode two. I was convinced I was going home when I saw the other potter's work in the drying room. I felt that I had let myself down by not coming up with a better design and that I was going home before the journey had even began. The fact that the judges chose my building to honour with potter of the week was a turning point for me. It made me get out of my own head and think that I was worthy to be there. The confidence I gained that week made me work even harder. ‘Worst moment for me when it was a massive blow to the household every week when somebody was told they were going home, but when Shenyue was voted out it hit me hard.
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We shared a lift to the pottery every day so we often talked through what we were worried about. I would encourage Shenyue and she would encourage me. She helped me so much and I was just really sad to see her go home. ‘I kept the trophy in my parent’s attic while the show was airing but it will take pride of place on their mantelpiece from now. It’s a really beautiful trophy with all the crew writing a message on it. Keith threw it on the wheel and it’s very much in Rich’s style, it’s a treasure trove when you look inside it. The pedestal it stands on has all the potters names on. It’s really stunning. ‘I don’t know what is next for me in the pottery world, but my greatest ambition is to use every ounce of knowledge from the Throw Down and use it to inspire my future projects. It’s given me one hell of a confidence boost and I now know that I can create anything if I work hard enough. ‘I feel as though I am going to take away a wealth of knowledge about ceramics that I can take forward and help to improve my future work. I also have a sneaky suspicion that I am going to find out a bit about myself as a person too. Hopefully the memories that I make will be looked upon fondly in years to come. Lastly and by no means least, I feel as though I have made lifelong friends that I can call upon to reminisce about the good old days on the Pottery Throw Down.‘ Photos by Duncan Webb at C4 Pictures
15 Days in Clay
Clay creates a wonderful meditative feeling… Janna Edwards - www.15daysinclay.co.uk Describe the progress of your journey with using clay in the community? Were there major influences in your choice of path to follow? I am a practising Ceramic Artist and teacher of over 25 years. I had always known I wanted to work with clay when I founded '15 Days In Clay' 17 years ago. The idea initially was to work with adults with learning or additional needs, teaching them ceramics to enable them to become artists in their own right. I wanted everyone to be able to experience clay and for individuals to be taught all aspects of ceramics to make work that can be exhibited and sold. I now also work with people with dementia, in recovery from strokes, mental health, spinal injuries as well as their carers and any that have an interest in ceramics. Working with clay changes lives and brings well being through creativity to many, with positive therapeutic as well as physical benefits. Working with groups has shown me how important it is to work as a team, to be part of a community and to belong. When I see the positive difference this incredible material makes to peoples lives, there is nothing better in the world.
Feathered Friends by Brian Cox What part do volunteers play with your projects? Volunteers find me through word of mouth, adverts on our website and other volunteer sites and from seeing our exhibitions. It could not exist without the help and support of these selfless amazing volunteers. They support, teach, do whatever is needed to help the artists and assist in the smooth running of the studio. One, John, has been with me for 16 years. Many are now practising ceramicists, with several setting up their own ceramic businesses. They also have their own evening class at the studio to continue their practice. How do you find participants for your projects? What sort of difficulties do they have? Many participants have heard of us through other people or they have been referred through social services or other organisations. Some have seen our exhibitions. I advertise what we do on websites. Initially, I just worked with adults
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obviously having a knock-on effect on attendance. If I actually really worried about what could happen, I would have never set up '15 Days'. There are plenty of funds out there, but it is hard work to access them. I have done this in the past, but being a sole trader and not a charity makes this difficult. In your Zoom talk for the Leach Pottery, you mentioned use of tactile words such as 'tickle' and 'be gentle' when guiding participants in their making. Can you tell us more about your use of language to connect participants with the clay and how this helps participants? Using words that a person can associate with from a sense of remembered feeling, touch or something else, enables that person to relate that touch sensation or pressure to the clay. For example if someone is being heavy handed with the clay, I say imagine your stroking or holding a baby kitten. Instantly the person will be gentle with their touch or change how they are holding the clay.
with learning difficulties but now anyone interested in working with clay can attend. I specialise in working with people with learning and physical needs, such as mental health, dementia and spinal injury. I also offer birthday parties, well-being days and team building days. How many participants in each session would you have? Normally I have twelve artists and two volunteers a day, but with Covid restrictions, I have eight artists and one volunteer. If people need 1-to-1 support they bring a support worker.
Dean Rowlands - Jester In what other ways does working with clay help the participants?
Kirsty Masserrella - Oak Tree Gathering How do you sustain the financial viability of working in the community? '15 Days' works financially by having 4 days running a week, which can then buffered up with extra days if needed. I recycle all materials, buy in bulk and budget well. Things can get tricky if people's direct payments or benefits are cut or transport is lost. I always watch for cuts likely to affect people,
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There are so many benefits from working with clay, ranging from being creative to being able to switch your thoughts off to be consumed within what you are doing. Clay creates a wonderful meditative feeling, in which you can loose hours. There are cognitive and physical benefits, such as improving hand eye co-ordination, building upper body strength and muscle memory and building confidence. Clay is a vehicle for communication. Coming to '15 Days' gives the artists a community where they belong, a safe space where they can be themselves and shine. Anything is possible with clay. There is no wrong. It's the most responsive tactile material that can infuse calm and a connection with the earth literally in your hands.
extensive range of tools, cutters, textures and templates, giving an amazing palette to create a variety of surfaces and decoration. What kilns do you use and how complex is the firing schedule? How does the kiln firing enhance the work? We use a front loading electric kiln 6 cubic foot, bought second hand from a school for £250. It had been neglected, but now has new custom made elements, enabling us to fire to stoneware for outdoor work even if with our local Winter power drops, but most work is fired to earthenware. Current work is left unglazed with underglaze colours, to create a matt finish. What projects are you working on at present and where do you see your work leading you in the future?
Matthew Hawes - Giraffe How important are the finished pieces or exhibitions to participants in your projects?
We took part in a documentary about Dorset community groups to be shown at Dorchester Museum. We have also just won 2nd prize in the Artworks international competition with over 1000 entries. Artworks, an organisation based in Sheffield, aims to challenge people’s perceptions of learning disabilities and autism through celebrating the creativity and ambition of our artists. We entered 15 life size figures representing every year of our studio, to be shown at Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire in June. Some are working towards a new exhibition at Dorchester Museum to be displayed alongside Elizabeth Frink's work. Frink style heads will be created, depicting the artists' thoughts and feelings over the pandemic. We also make numerous unique eye catching planters, bird baths and large pebble heads for the garden market. In future we hope to make some more installation style works with a public commission.
Finished pieces and exhibitions are important to the artists. To complete a piece of work, sit back, look at it and feel proud is so good. We all know how great that can feel, giving a real pride and sense of achievement. When we have exhibitions, the faces of the artists standing by their work talking to people about what they have made and being photographed is truly wonderful. The excitement when I tell someone that they have sold a piece of work is incredible. The artists literally take off as they are so happy. For some people equally just being with us and dipping their toe in our studio is all that matters and playing with the clay without a finished outcome is equally beneficial and important. The emphasis ultimately is about the person being happy not the outcome. All artists decide if they want to exhibit or not. It is essential that this is their choice. What types of clay do you use for projects? How big a factor is your choice of clay in the end result? We use Potclays Buff with 10% sand, which is great for earthenware and stoneware and good for building sculptural works. Occasionally we may use Crank but to be honest Buff does exactly what we need it to do, being reliable and strong, doing everything we ask of it at a good price. What surface treatments, such as textures, glaze, slip or colour do you use and why? How do participants apply these? We have used many glazes, slips, oxides and underglazes, some bought some made. Currently, we mainly use underglaze, which is then dipped into a transparent glaze. The artists are all involved in mixing glazes, slips and underglazes. It is really important to learn how to make the colours with all aspects of application. Over the years we have built up an
Victoria Ellis Shards Summer 2021
Are you able to continue to make your own work as well as working in the community? It has been difficult at times to continue my own practice. Lockdown has made me realise that I had not touched clay in over 25 years. I am currently just enjoying making without having to think about what I am doing and where the work will be going. It's just been great to enjoy this journey of making without pressure. It's wonderful now to be back and engaged. What advice or tips would you give to an aspiring potter who wishes to pursue the path of ceramic community projects? Go for it. There is a real need to bring clay into the community. Make sure you have supportive people around you, don't be afraid to ask for help and don't take no for an answer. Tell everyone what you do, as you never know who may cross your path and be able to help you. Be clear on what you want to do, be realistic with your costings, do not undersell yourself and attend a free business course with your local business support agency. You will have ups and downs stay focused, believe in what you do and make time for you. The reward is incredible and well worth the hard work. Where we can view your work in the community or your own personal work? Wentworth Wood House Yorkshire from 29th May. www.artworkstogether.co.uk - Winners. The Frink Heads display at Dorchester Museum from Jan ‘22. Numerous works by '15 Days' at Livability Holton Lee, East Holton, Poole. My website www.jannaedwards.com to view my personal work. All photos Janna Edwards
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Caroline Wells Image from the Artworks Together 2021 International Arts Competition catalogue with permission
The last Potter of Burton by Lee Cartledge Publisher - The Choir House Roger Bell Lee is a potter working in partnership with his mother Kathy Cartledge at Bentham Pottery. Most of you will have met them at Potfest In The Pens. Richard Bateson, the ‘Last Potter of Black Burton’, taught Kathy new throwing techniques when in his 80’s, returning to the area of his birth. Lee has been in the Observer newspaper recently for producing Covid 19 vases, raising money to support charities helping people affected. The pottery industry of Burton-in-Lonsdale on the Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria borders operated for 300 years until the end of the 2nd World War. For many years household terracotta pots were produced for local use but when the railway came to High Bentham stoneware bottles and jars were added for distribution more widely. There were five potteries in 1900 with about 80 workers. Richard worked at Waterside Pottery from the age of 13 as had generations back to at least his great grandfather.
It was ‘Black’ Burton because the local terracotta clay was black when dug because of trapped oil, though it fired a pale terracotta colour. Stoneware clay and coal were also available locally. Lee describes the processes from digging the clay through to delivery to the railway at Bentham. The horse drawn carts brought back coal to fire the kilns. There are plenty of anecdotes about activities around the area, people and conditions making it a very interesting easy read. Potteries might employ over 20 people with a hierarchy of jobs from jam jar maker up to thrower and specialists such as kiln loader, fireman, carter and miner. An unexpected job to me was the ‘wand weaver’ who made woven cane baskets to protect bottles in transport. The potteries changed products, making methods and owners over the years. Some of the best throwers succeeded for many years but eventually failed when changes were needed. Skill was not always matched by business acumen.
being removed from grammar school by his father to produce jam jars at 13 to becoming an expert thrower, owning a pottery and then teaching the likes of Alan Caiger-Smith, David Frith and Gordon Baldwin. How your progress in life can depend on chance! Richard had left Burton to sign up to fight in the first world war, to get away from the limitations of a village and to see more of the world. He returned to be a thrower again but the work steadily declined with the Great Depression and by 1939 he ran the only pottery in the area employing just 2 others. In spite of backing from a local rich business man Stockbridge Pottery closed in 1944 – the last pottery in Burton. Chance had brought the Royal College of Art to the Lake District in the war and needing a kiln to fire ceramics Richard was approached for use of his kiln and once his throwing skills were seen he taught the students. In 1946 Helen Pinchcombe needed a throwing teacher at the RCA and called on Richard, who subsequently taught at the Central, Wimbledon and other art schools until the 1960’s when bureaucracy insisted that a teaching qualification was needed! An interesting and valuable book for anybody who makes, studies or collects ceramics. Review also appearing in the London Potters and NPA newsletters.
Bateson could have been just one of the many country potters who spent their lives making standard pots for use, at speed and in quantities that seem incredible. Yet his story went from
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Susan O’Byrne Review
Demonstration by Susan on 21st March Deb Parker Following the introduction to Susan’s work published in the Spring edition of Shards, over 50 members enjoyed a brilliant live demonstration via Zoom to learn directly from Susan about the inspiration behind her work and the unique process she has developed. Susan is based at the Glasgow Ceramics Studio. Background: Susan began by explaining the background to her practice of making animal figures which stems from her childhood collection of plastic animals. She would spend hours sorting the figures into categories. She sees the sorting process as a way that children make sense of a complicated world. She described how, as humans, we see animals as ‘other’ and that they are always present in our consciousness, helping us to explain things through our literature, our myths and children’s stories. We use them to convey human characteristics, embracing the aspects we share with animals of emotions, sensitivity and compassion. The idea of categories as a way of sorting out the world has come into Susan’s work. She related how, about ten years ago, she had the opportunity to make two bodies of work for a solo show in Germany. One was about medieval animal bestiaries for which she carried out research into the surface pattern of medieval encaustic tiles. She made twelve animals, each a distinct species, referencing the practice of categorising. The other was a series of one hundred bird figures, which she decorated with patterns sourced from Victorian wallpapers. During her creative studies, Susan became especially interested in European expressionism and some costumes made for a play which had the nerves on the outside, suggesting an almost painful sensitivity. She spent time drawing animals including the cadavers of animals at the vet school, animals which had been ‘outcast’ from society. The idea of nerves on the outside was translated into drawing the animals with wire, which would form the armature for her figures. This method gave the forms an awkward fragility, vulnerability and intense sensitivity. The concept of sensitivity on the surface would be seen in the detailed decoration of the figures. Susan’s work has been further influenced by time spent in Glasgow working with people suffering from mental illness and people with learning disabilities, who had a passion for making. Their drive to make resulted in work with an ‘honesty’ that she admired. Research and concept: Having grown up with her maternal grandmother and four great-aunts, Susan felt a strong connection to this side of her family, who had migrated from Germany to Ireland to open a clock-making business. The death of a great-aunt led her to spend time looking through the aunt’s scrapbooks of family photographs. They were a meticulous catalogue of her maternal family history and
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inspired Susan further to take up the mantel of careful categorising of materials and history. Susan wanted her work to reference the needlework of her childhood, the mending and sewing by her female relatives, and their stories. This led her to look at historical needlework at the V&A, including whitework and blackwork embroidery. She would use some of the patterns to decorate her work, along with designs from her aunts’ embroidery. ‘Five sisters and a family tree’: Susan’s research led her to develop a body of work, which was first exhibited five years ago at Ruthin Craft Centre. Susan made five life-size Black Forest deer sculptures to represent the five female relatives. These hand-built sculptures were decorated with collaged blankets like patchwork, inspired by embroidery patterns. One deer had alphabet in the design to reference the aunt who was a teacher; another had tulips to refer to her grandmother, a “domestic goddess” in the kitchen. The creatures each had a quiet posture, with just a turn of the head to convey character. Susan explained that the figures look a little awkward, which she likes and reflects that she had little knowledge of their anatomy. Their awkwardness
next layer is put on. A wash of slip is brushed over the top layer. The shrinkage rate for the clays differs a little, but not enough to cause a problem. Susan makes her own slips (see below for recipe). For the paper pulp to go into the slip, Susan uses Andrex toilet paper! The paper is blended with water with an electric mixer for 5 minutes. Banana fibres also work well. She hasn’t tried bamboo fibres but thinks that they would probably work well too! She has tried using recycled paper, but the fibres are not strong enough. Susan loves the ability of paper clay to be applied wet onto a bone-dry surface. Also, paper clay has a lower shrinkage rate. She explained how the clay has paper fibres in it, like little straws, which soak up moisture, that seeps through the clay body, allowing pieces to stick together. She can let the clay dry and then rehydrate it easily. If the clay gets smelly, she adds Miltons fluid to the mix. However, allowing the clay to dry out usually avoids bad odours. She doesn’t need to worry about trapping air between the layers, because the fibres make the clay porous. references the fact that they have taken time to make by hand, but also imbues them with human characteristics. She commented that her more recent figures look less awkward, as the wire armature inside them is less apparent, or not present at all, and may also reflect a change in her. Alongside the figures, Susan made wall-mounted animal heads to represent members of her family tree, each with the individual’s name on a label below. The names were altered slightly to protect identities. The animals were exotic species, unknown to Susan, to represent that she had not known these ancestors. In creating the work, she felt that she was in some way getting to know them. The work was a form of catalogue, making one of each species as a record of it. Their surfaces reference Victorian encaustic tiles and textiles. The process: Susan described the labour-intensive process of making the figures, which takes about 3 months. They are built onto an armature of nichrome wire. She draws the outline on paper, then lays wire (approx. 1.5mm thick) over the lines, bending it into shape. These 2D outlines are then combined with hoops of more wire to turn them into 3D forms. The joins are secured with masking tape and finer gauge wire (approx. 0.5mm thick). With the form supported by a scaffold of metal pipes fixed to a trolley, she then covers the whole armature with strips of torn newspaper, folded up into rods of paper to form a surface for the clay to shrink onto. She thinks that this process may have been inspired by enjoying papier mâché as a child and reminds Susan of her grandmother’s attention to detail when making puppets with her.
The decoration: Susan’s designs are inspired by patterns she sees all around: on the internet, on tiles, on a church floor. She alters the scale on her computer. She described the process she has developed to apply them to the surface of the forms. She uses a plaster batt (She makes a batch of ten about once a year) to apply coloured slips to build the layers of her design. She likes to use coloured slip because the colour goes through the body of the clay, which produces its own aesthetic, rather than only sitting on the surface. In addition, it means that she can safely sand over it afterwards without rubbing away the design. Susan mixes the coloured slips to a creamy consistency in pots using P2 porcelain casting slip, whisking them up with a mixer if they have been sitting a while. She uses Scarva Nano or Mason stains, though she sources reds from Walkers of Australia or Dovescreen. The amount of stain added varies: reds and yellows, usually 15 to 20%, Scarva black 12%, some stains only 1%. The slips are applied quite quickly so that they don’t have a chance to stick to the stencil. She added that you can brush slip onto the plaster and scratch back into it as an alternative. She describes her choice of colours is instinctive, “not too loud”. Having lightly dampened the surface of the batt, Susan works in reverse, applying with a sponge what will be the outermost layer of the design onto the batt first. She chooses to place lighter colours down first, ending with a dark colour last, which will act as a ground to the design. She creates her
The legs are made separately from sheets of clay rolled around a length of dowelling covered with paper. The dowelling is removed to leave a hollow tube of clay which Susan can bend to shape following the lines of her drawing; the joints are secured with tape. For the long ears of a hare, Susan poured slip onto a batt, then moulded it over rolls of cardboard. She doesn’t worry about cracks forming, as she can fill them with slip later. Susan works from the inside out, applying layers of clay, about 1mm thick, wrapping them around the wire and gradually building up until all the holes in the wire frame are filled in. She starts with stoneware clay for strength, moving to porcelain and finally to paper clay for the surface layers (see below for recipes). Each layer is left to dry overnight before the
Shards Summer 2021
designs on the computer and then uploads them as a vector file to a Cricut machine, which cuts out a stencil. Previously, she sent her designs away to be laser cut, or cut them out herself using a hot pen on Mylar (similar to acetate, but does not tear easily), laid over a sheet of glass. She moved to using the Cricut machine to be able to produce more detail. She also brushes slips freehand onto the plaster to create areas with more painterly effects (Susan suggests looking at the work of Elke Sade).
Finally, some slip is poured over the whole design and spread over evenly, about 1mm thick. For this stage, Susan uses reconstituted slip that is off white, so that it doesn’t stand out too brightly through gaps in the design when applied to the form. Susan places a layer of cling film over the wet slip and levels it with a rolling pin, moving the film around to roll over all parts of the batt. She also uses a credit card to spread the slip out. She keeps working at it until it is smooth and even and dried to just the right consistency to be able to peel the design off the slab of plaster. It needs to be removed before it dries out too much, otherwise it will stick to the batt. However, it needs to be quite dry, otherwise the design will break up too much.
Hyplas Ball Clay 1000g, China Clay 500g, Flint 140g, Pot Feldspar 90g, Molocite (120s) 550g, 3 handfuls Andrex TP paper pulp, 5 g glass fibre strands (fibre glass), 5g flax fibre
Susan tears sections off the batt and places them onto boards covered in plastic. She will select areas of pattern to cut up and collage onto the clay surface of a form in a patchwork-like design. She draws onto the form to guide her where she wants areas of pattern and uses a fine mist spray to dampen the surface for applying the pieces. She keeps an eye out for a telltale dark line around the edges which tells her that a piece is not sticking properly. She uses a brush over the top to push out excess slip. Susan keeps spare pieces of pattern dry in tubs, which she can use at a later date. She can rehydrate small pieces (about 1” square) by brushing the bone-dry surface of a form with wet slip until it stays wet, then applying the piece of pattern. While working on an area on the form, Susan will wrap latex around beneath it to stop drips from soaking in lower down.
Fine casting plaster from Travis Perkins, diamond pad for sanding and wax or mineral oil for sealing the surface and giving the colours a lift (Susan uses Renaissance microcrystalline wax polish) Recipes: Stoneware white paper clay for interior of large-scale animals:
Water to mix to cream slip consistency. Note Fibre glass strands are very hazardous. Gloves are needed when wedging and a fine particle respirator should be worn when working with any dry clay (but especially this one). This component can be omitted for only slightly less leather-hard/ green strength. Porcelain paper clay (used for top layer) and entirety of smaller works: 1000g dry P2 porcelain (Valentines Clay), 125g molocite (120s or 200s). one handful Andrex TP paper-clay pulp. “Shrinkage on porcelain and stoneware bodies are not the same but have been good enough for me. I use a mid-layer porcelain on larger-works that has a shrinkage somewhere between the stoneware body and top layer which is just the 1000g porcelain with 200g molocite and a little extra paper. If you wanted a better fit of stoneware to porcelain you could decrease the molocite in stoneware body, increase it in the porcelain, and run some shrinkage tests.”
Firing: Susan uses elaborate propping to hold up the work during construction and firing. She explains her tendency to ‘over-engineer’ to be sure of success. The figures are fired just once to 1260˚C and are unglazed. Susan told us that the legs could probably support the weight of the form, but she chooses to stick with what works for her and supports the forms with many props and a wire frame. The legs of the figures are painted after firing. Susan’s small bird sculptures have no armature in them. She models the forms, then casts each one, sometimes cutting into them to be able to twist the head to give them individual character. They are high fired, then Susan adds pencil marks and fires again. The legs are added afterwards and are made by brazing steel with brass, then painting. Susan usually has several pieces of work on the go at one time, but not so many as to be distracting! She works a few months ahead, because of the amount of drying time needed. The smaller works are made in batches. Her failure rate has improved over time. Her key advice to us: “Be open to new ways of working!” Susan is very happy to answer any questions that members may have (www.susanobyrne.com). She has an upcoming exhibition at Suzy Atkins’ gallery, Le Don du Fel, France (https://ledondufel.com).
Shards Summer 2021
The relationship between Clay and Dementia …a creative walking, nature and ceramics project…
Helen Lee - www.helenleeceramics.co.uk In April 2020, I was due to speak at a Leach Pottery Symposium entitled ‘Sustaining the Studio – Sustaining Self’, a two-day event in St Ives, Cornwall looking at pottery and well-being as part of the Leach 100 centenary celebrations. As the date came nearer so did the impact of Covid and the Symposium eventually became a Zoom event in February this year. Carole Spackman, Publicity Officer for South Wales Potters, saw the talk and asked if I would write this follow-up feature for Shards. The talk, entitled ‘Why Making Pots Helps if you have Dementia‘, was based on my time volunteering with the 'Wednesday Wanderers', “a creative walking, nature and ceramics project for people with dementia and their carers in the St Ives area”. It also drew on my viewpoint as a retired psychotherapist with an interest in neuroscience and my experience of caring for someone with young-onset dementia. The irony of talking about the value of a group project during lockdown provided a particularly poignant context for the talk. The Leach Pottery, in collaboration with The Sensory Trust, runs the 'Wednesday Wanderers'. Before the lockdown, the group met once a week with the support of volunteers for a walk and a coffee, then once a month went to the Leach Pottery to make pots under the creative direction of Jackie Clark. The walks were themed around finding inspiration in nature for the studio projects and the depth of the projects was enhanced by incorporating such themes as the history of the area or the inspiring context of the Leach Pottery itself. Examples of the projects included decorated tiles, reductionfired teabowls, smoke-fired pinch pots, and vessels glazed with local materials such as tin and copper.
The finished piece on The King George V Memorial Walk in Hayle with some of its makers. The group was formed to help with the profound challenges people with dementia and their carers face. Dementia is not a disease in itself but an umbrella term to describe symptoms of progressive brain damage, the two most common causes being Alzheimers and Vascular Dementia. The progressive damage can include memory loss, difficulty planning and making decisions, changes in behaviour and ever-increasing problems with daily tasks causing confusion, frustration, anxiety and stress, grief and trauma together with a loss of self-worth. Carers face daunting and ever-increasing challenges too and particularly during lockdown, a high risk of isolation and burnout. So how does something as simple as making pots help with these profound challenges? To answer that question with the insight of some neuroscience, it can help to understand the brain as both deeply interconnected and at the same time profoundly split. The interconnection can be seen in the billions of neurons and trillions of connections which give us our infinite imagination. We now know that the brain has the ability to build new neurons and connections throughout life as we learn new things, an ability termed ‘plasticity’. We also know that we use all of our brain and that the more novel an experience, the more brain capacity is engaged.
In the studio: The early stages of a project to celebrate Hayle’s history, with decorated ceramic tiles put together in a plaque which is now installed on The King George Memorial Walk.
The interconnection can also be seen in the staggering complexity of the human nervous system which connects up the brain with the body; neuroscience is now able to illustrate the brain-like/receptor cells and nerve endings which make up our sensory intelligence. My favourite example of this as a potter is the sensitivity in our hands, with over 10,000 nerve endings on each fingertip being fed by an almost infinite
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number of receptor cells, giving each finger brain-like memory and intelligence to work with. And finally, and of particular interest in relation to working with the hands, the interconnection between the brain and the body is further illustrated by research that reveals how helpful movement is for the brain, particularly repetitive and rhythmic movement; it both gets the brain going with sophisticated brain hungry tasks like decision making, and stimulates natural selfregulation systems (creating soothing feelings that help our natural capacity to reset and heal). I mentioned above that the brain is also profoundly split; it is made up of lots of distinct structures with different functions. Most of us are familiar with the left and right hemispheres, but there is also the triune structure made up of ‘reptilian’ (fight, flight, freeze intelligence) at its base, ‘mammalian’ (emotional intelligence) in the middle and large ‘primate/ human’ (sophisticated relationship intelligence) over the top. Each structure has separate functions and the ability to dominate our experience, the lower two areas more concerned with movement, the senses and emotion, the large, higher human area giving us the unique ability to live in a very abstract, conceptual world, ignoring our senses and seeking to ‘control’ our instincts and feelings. The vulnerability in this disconnection can be profound; if we limit connection across structures we limit our intelligence and resourcefulness, and in relation to the profound challenges life can throw at us we limit our ability to self sooth and reset after distress and trauma. What the neuroscience is telling us, somewhat paradoxically, is that our brain and nervous system are at their best when we make repetitive and rhythmic movements and pay attention to our senses, and at their most vulnerable when we pay attention only to what’s in our heads. We also know anxiety and depression limit brain function to small areas and reduce connectivity, whilst calm, relaxation and stimulation increase it.
Celebrating our finished work with a 'Wednesday Wanderers'’ version of the Japanese tea ceremony. So I think it’s now possible to see why making pots helps if you have dementia and some of this applies to all making with the hands. It involves both new and repetitive/rhythmic movements, building neurons and connections which can offset some of the progressive brain damage, as well as promote relaxation and our natural ability to reset after trauma. It stimulates large areas of the brain as well as connectivity between brain structures, particularly when the left and right hands are engaged. Using and building memory in the body’s receptor cell networks can stimulate lower areas of the brain that are less likely to have suffered damage, and this can promote feelings of reassurance. Working with the
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hands also focuses on a tangible, grounded, shared reality in a world where abstract concepts are increasingly difficult to ‘grasp’. Interestingly, clay stands out as a particularly good intervention for dementia in light of the neuroscience. First, people with dementia can be overwhelmed with and anxious about new things but learning to make pots can be calibrated across abilities without being patronising; it is a forgiving, malleable material which is easy to work with and has the capacity for both simple and sophisticated forms and decoration. Clay is also solid and three-dimensional, which makes it much easier to start working with than a blank
canvas – as potters we know that a lump of clay already has a very tangible relationship to form. Second, it translates easily from observations in nature to inspiration in making, adding to the sensory stimulation involved in the making process. Third, clay is highly sensory to the touch, a soft and comforting material for most people as well as one that changes state from plastic to leather hard to dry. Fourth, it creates something solid and timeless to keep, share and enjoy and, as an ancient craft, it can create a sense of continuity with the past; both potentially very comforting metaphors in the context of dementia. And last but not least, clay has the potential to stimulate childhood memories – most of us have played with mud or plasticine at some point in our childhoods – which encourages brain plasticity. To conclude, I think neuroscience gives us a very clear window onto why making pots helps if you have dementia, and I would add that it is making pots in a supportive, focused group, walking in nature and finding a shared sense of purpose which makes the 'Wednesday Wanderers' a particularly powerful intervention. And what goes for the 'Wednesday Wanderers' goes for all of us – making pots isn’t trivial, it really helps and proves it is possible to find joy, love and healing even in immense challenge, skilfully maximising our resilience and minimising our vulnerabilities. With thanks to Jackie Clark, the Leach Pottery and the Wednesday Wanderers for their help and for allowing me to use their images. Some useful references: The Alzheimer’s Society; Contented Dementia by Oliver James; The Divided Brain by Iain McGilchrist, Ted Talks; Fidget on Four by Dr Kat Arney, BBC Radio 4; The Neuroscience of Human Relationships by Louis Cozolino; The Restaurant that Makes Mistakes, Channel 4. Photos: Jackie Clark, Leach Pottery, The Wednesday Wanderers
Building my Studios
…fireboxes that I hoped, this time, might fire all the way on wood. No.
Jason Braham - www.jasonbraham.com Having graduated in sculpture, I began potting in 1972, after being appointed to teach pottery alongside sculpture at Wellington College, Berkshire. The only other applicant for the post failed to turn up for the interview. Although I had never thrown pots until then, I was familiar with good pots, as country-ware was used, particularly French, at home with my parents. Even more significant for the direction my own pottery would take, were pieces by Richard Batterham, who had established his pottery a few miles away around 1956, when we moved to Dorset. To prepare myself for my first term of teaching, I became an assistant and pupil to West Marshall in Norfolk. I doubt I could have had a better grounding in such a short time. West had recently graduated from the Harrow Studio Pottery course, benefiting from the inspirational, yet systematic teaching of Mick Casson. This was in the heyday of the “kitchen and table” period for studio pottery, when the handful of largely self-taught postwar potters dotted around the countryside were being joined by a mass of idealistic and optimistic graduates from Harrow, Farnham and other colleges. The Craftsman Potters’ Shop in Marshall Street was flourishing and ideas on kilns and glazes were being freely exchanged in Ceramic Review. An independent boarding school turned out to be a good place in which to develop one’s own practice while working alongside and teaching enthusiastic young people. The studio, whose size I was fairly soon able to increase fourfold, was in the heart of the school. It was kept open seven days a week all day. A willingness to work long hours went with the job. In the grounds were the buildings of the former school farm, where I revived a little cross-draft, drip feed kiln built by a predecessor. It worked, but it was tiny, so I resolved to build a bigger one. At that time there were just a couple of books on kilns: Daniel Rhodes’ “Kilns: Design, Construction and Operation” and Ian Gregory’s “Kiln Building”. I settled on the catenary “wood-fired” design in the Gregory book, which was itself based on a design in Rhodes (p.223). I spotted an advertisement for a large quantity of reclaimed HTI bricks. At 10p a brick it was a good buy, but they took a helluva long time to clean. I sawed the arch bricks by hand. Though the kiln in the book had been described as “Alan Wallwork’s wood-fired kiln”, I couldn’t get it above 1000°C using all the broken cricket bats, hockey sticks and school furniture I could muster. Fortunately, I had hedged my bets by building oil burners from plumbing parts, brake tube and old cylinder vacuum cleaners, to a design by Wally Keeler, so those two burners carried the firing on up to 1280°C. Later that year, when mounting an exhibition of contemporary ceramics at the school, I went to collect some pieces from Alan Wallwork. When I told him of my wood-firing difficulties, he said “It didn’t work for me either”. Later I learned that Phil Rogers and
others had the same experience. The revised edition of Ian’s book describes the kiln as “oil-fired”. Having the use of the school studio throughout the holidays meant I was able to push on with my own work, but the urge to set up a workshop somewhere was growing every year. In 1982 I was accepted on the Wobage Farm Summer School. This was a great experience. Mick Casson and Andrew (McGarva) corrected some of my throwing errors, confirmed me in the direction I was moving, generally leaving me and everyone else on the course itching to make more pots. So, is that what happened? Not immediately. Shortly before Wobage, I had been offered, the post of Director of Art at Harrow School. Common sense told me this was the course to follow, but I was seriously pained at the thought of abandoning something which was giving me such satisfaction and in which I was making progress. The answer was, of course, to build a studio away from the school. After all, the concentrated terms of a public school meant that the holidays were proportionately longer. I wouldn’t be teaching much if any ceramics, but once I was in the country, I could pot every day. I stuck the point of a compass on Harrow and drew a circle to embrace everything within three hours journey time. Affordable rural areas included Norfolk and Herefordshire. We settled on the latter. We found a three bedroomed cottage at the edge of a village. It had a two-storey outbuilding. The ground floor had been first a cart shed and the forerunner of the village garage. The upper floor had, as recently as 1965, housed a single mother and her child in 18th century conditions. It was effectively a rubble construction of broken bricks stuck together with lime mortar. The ground floor was solid enough as it incorporated an older stone wall and the upper floor had to be “remodelled” sufficiently to support a new roof. There was a tiny wash house in the yard below, just big enough to contain a replica of my original kiln but this time built of hard brick with HTI bricks for insulation. I had explored salt firing with a small cross draft kiln, backing onto the Wellington flue and at that time Wobage was pretty much all salt firing. This time I would be salting and once firing.
As I was finishing off this work, I got a letter from the council asking if I was aware that the building had been condemned in 1965 as “unfit for human habitation” with a demolition order in place. I wasn’t. Fortunately, they seem to have been satisfied that I had no intention of living in the pottery and although the order has never been rescinded, the building is still standing. At this point, it might be worth making a few technical observations about the kilns so far. Although the models on which I had based the kilns were catenary arches from the ground up, I opted to build a rectangular base to incorporate
Whatever, it was time to move the pottery. We had been at the edge of the village, but it was growing around us. Neighbours had been interested in the firings. Now they complained about the whining noise of the two vacuum cleaners and the clouds of white smoke. Someone said that after a firing her house was full of dust (cobblers!). South Herefordshire had become desirable enabling us to get a good price for our place, but larger properties in that area, where we had thought to make our next move, were outside our range. The next house would need to have room for a studio for my wife, Julienne, too and space for the anticipated grandchildren and so on. Lucy, our younger daughter, went on her computer and typed in “Farmhouses for sale in Wales”. She came down with a posting for Far Hall, in the adjacent Welsh county, Powys. It’s a big place, built but more likely extended by a Bishop of Hereford in the 1560s. I don’t suppose he ever actually lived on the farm, just making a lot of money from all that wool. Abandoned as a home in the 1970s, it had served as a farm store until rescued by our predecessor as owner. He did a lot of work with his own hands, but that work didn’t run to doing anything about heating or draughts.
the fire boxes, in both cases of hard brick, springing the arch from there. The fire bars in the first kiln were of angle iron. Although I was not salting in this kiln, they disintegrated in a few firings and had to be replaced with tubular props. I continued with the practice of starting the kiln with wood fires in both boxes. In the second kiln I built brick arches across the boxes as fire bars. In the first kiln, in “belt and braces” style, I built angle iron bracing around the springing point of the arch. I didn’t on the second kiln. This was a mistake. The arch began to spread and the whole base had to be buttressed. I also failed to consider that the expansion of the gases in the salt kiln would push out the end walls, which cannot be keyed into the sides as in a conventional “box-kiln”. The first kiln was built tight to the flue – good for bracing but I couldn’t see how things are going at the back of the kiln. In the second kiln, I built in a length of horizontal flue and put spy holes in the back wall. I couldn’t safely squeeze my head in the space to look through the spyholes of course, but I’d thought of that – a mirror! Naturally it broke the moment I opened a spy hole, but I could at least tell from the nature of the flame whether or not the kiln was reducing.
While the house was in wraps, a pole barn had been built, according to some, replacing an Elizabethan parterre garden, but it is best to take such stories with a pinch of salt! Eyesore or not, it is an ideal kiln shed. I built a new salt kiln, opting for a traditional box form to allow more space for the expansion of gases in the kiln on salting. It was a lovely looking thing, but sixteen years on it really needs rebuilding. It has taken more of a hammering than its predecessors and I made mistakes in its construction that I cover below. It is, however, fired with a proper set of burners. I bought a “Swirlamiser” set up and a load of first-class bricks from a retiring potter in Cheshire. Stubbornly, I still built fireboxes that I hoped, this time, might fire all the way on wood. No.
The work made progress, although, looking back at the old kiln logs, I can see that I rarely managed more than two firings in a year and sometimes not even that. Both Simon Hulbert's Brook Street Gallery, Hay and the Kemble Gallery, Hereford took my work and I showed in various mixed exhibitions. I should probably have visited more potters and picked their brains, as I had done in the first ten years. I was getting a bit remote from what was happening. Mick had commented at Wobage in 1983 that that things were tougher for the “domestic ware” potter than they had been ten or fifteen years earlier. Grants had virtually vanished, galleries were closing and fashions had changed. Twenty years on, the extent to which the one-off pot often in the “Anglo-Oriental” manner had replaced the kitchen/tableware range had almost passed me by.
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The flashing became separated from the roof and the salt kiln was getting rain saturated. Drying it out adds hours to a firing, so I took down the top of the flue and sealed the opening. As I get better with the sun coming out and friends convince me that it’s not that big a problem to fix, I look forward to firing up again. Postscript
One great benefit from moving to this remote place has been the proximity of other potters. Steve Harrison, the English one, does all his salt firings at his lovely little cottage just a couple of fields away. Fifteen miles further on in Rhayader was Phil Rogers. Phil was a great sounding board for some of my ambitious schemes for building a two-chamber kiln – “Don’t do it” (though he did a little later!). Both these guys were wonderfully supportive It was Phil who eventually persuaded me that once-firing was not essential for salt glaze. The time I’d save on not having to run through the biscuit stage could be spent at the other end, with more thoughtful salting and a proper soak. So, putting aside plans for a woodfired Bourry Box kiln, I dusted off my old catenary plans, unearthed my length of chain and built another kiln of HTI bricks, buying the arch bricks pre-cut this time. I braced the springing of the arch and the end walls. I incorporated holes where I could observe the flame at the back of the kiln. I built the entrance in the outer layer of the end wall wider than in the inner layer so that the wicket can be more tightly sealed. The wicket also extends above the arch in a way I had seen on “Sèvres” kilns at La Borne. I will, belatedly, be incorporating industrial spring washers into the bracing to allow for the expansion of the bricks being greater than the expansion of the steel, although this is probably less of a problem than it has been on the hard brick salt kiln. That was another Phil Rogers' tip.
My school teaching career ended on a tragic note. While we were out at a private view in September 2006, the drugaddicted son of a colleague forced his way into our home and murdered our younger daughter. I think we knew then that we would have to leave and rebuild our lives. It was November before we could return to our house and I to a reduced teaching timetable. The trial was at the end of May 2007 and the killer was committed to Broadmoor. Within a few days I was at the wheel of a removal van. As I remember it, Phil Rogers, John Thies, an American potter and their partners were at Far Hall to help us unload. Time has largely obliterated exactly how we felt as we started that journey under the weight of our grief. I know we felt we owed it to Lucy to make a success of the home she had found for us. I know too that it was helpful having an immediate target for our work. Dan Llewellyn-Hall, painter and a former member of my Harrow team, arranged for us to show at the Washington Gallery in Penarth. Thirty-five years of teaching meant I qualified for a reduced, but still adequate, pension, so a disastrous firing of which there have been plenty, has not caused us to go hungry; I have huge admiration for those potters who set out to live by their work alone. I know in my heart that financial reward is not the reason I go on doing this thing, but I try to make as many pots as I can, as well as I can and to sell them at “proper prices”. As I have begun taking part in the big national (once international) fairs it has been great to feel part of a “ceramic community”. All photos Jason Braham
That new kiln has been great. Although I originally built for bisque firing, it is of course capable of 1300°C. I have been able to return to the ash glazes that I began experimenting with back in the 1970s. Until I get my full strength back, following surgery in March, it is likely that this is where I will be concentrating my efforts. I’m going to be calling on a mate to help cope with a problem I have on top of the barn. It appeared that the flue was growing taller, but, in reality, the roof has got lower.
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Whose Mug? Part Five Answers in Autumn Shards.
1. …explores unconventional firing processes.
2. …digging it from the garden?
3. Mudstone Pottery.
4. …wood-fired salt-glaze.
5. …humble origins of the everyday medieval pot.
6. 'Lets live life with style and enthusiasm!’
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Potters , Bristol, celebrates its 25th Anniversary John West and Jane Gibson It has been a very difficult time for us all in one way or another. Our outlets of shops, galleries and shows have all closed. It has been impossible to plan a future due to uncertainty. We have had to isolate and ‘stay at home’; we have become isolated. At times we have lacked motivation. There has been little joy. I am writing this piece the day before shops and galleries are allowed to open again and one place that is especially excited is 'Potters', Bristol. This year they are celebrating their 25th anniversary. In October 1995, Margaret Crump found a long empty shop in Clifton Down Shopping Centre With the help of the Marketing Team of SWP, the shop was fitted out, stocked and manned as a pop-up shop for the Christmas period. It was a huge success, closing on Christmas Eve. This was so successful that SWP decided this venture should continue as a separate enterprise. The shop opened again in May the following year, but now with a formal business structure as a cooperative and as a company. 25 years ago there were still many craft shops and galleries, but 'Potters' was something quite unique. Firstly, it specialised in pots. Secondly, Margaret’s vision was that
quality work could be bought at affordable prices and in unpretentious surroundings. Thirdly, it was manned by the makers themselves. Handmade pottery available on the High Street, made by a community of potters. At one point in the early 2000s there were 48 members on show. Even today this is still a rare formula. Margaret writes; ‘We traded prosperously at Clifton Down Shopping Centre until 2006 when we left the hustle and bustle of the shopping centre to the Christmas Steps Arts Quarter. Again, the wonderful members threw themselves into fitting out the new shop and filling it with wonderful work, staffing it on a rota basis’ 'Potters' moved to its present premises at the top of Christmas Steps on Perry Road, between Park Street and Bristol Royal Infirmary. It was smaller and unable to involve so many members but each year trade gradually built up. There were many changes in the way people shopped and the Christmas Steps area grew in reputation. But the format remained the same with Margaret managing the shop and the company, supported by a small committee, with the members of the cooperative taking it in terms to staff the shop. Nearly six years ago Margaret stepped back from the day-today running of the shop and Cat MacKenzie was recruited as overall manager. The image of 'Potters' changed from being a shop to a stronger gallery influence, in keeping with the other independent traders in the area. Regular guests were given window displays; social media became a means to advertise, promote and inform. In 2019 Margaret retired from her other activities including Secretary of the company with the committee taking on full responsibility. Although in safe hands this was a major step. The committee met a couple of times before the unimaginable happened… Covid.
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Covid. On my occasional days of work during the Covid period, having interesting and fun conversations with customers has been a great highlight of lock-down life.” Ann Sohn-Rethel, Cheltenham “I’m a fellow member of Potters, but still a relative newbie, as I joined a couple of years ago. It has been so wonderful connecting with other ceramicists, and spending time in the shop drooling over the beautiful things there. I usually end up caving and treating myself, but if you’ve visited 'Potters', you’ll understand I’m sure!” - Lucy Baxendale, Hereford “I live and make in Bristol, and have been a member since the very start. Being a part of 'Potters' has given me great opportunities to talk with customers, as well as fellow makers, about ceramics and share enthusiasm for techniques and ideas. There is so much you can do with clay” - Katie Murton, Bristol
What a way to begin our anniversary year… but we are still here with every intention of coming out of this crisis stronger than when we went in. The shop is slowly being revamped; activities and special events will be announced on our website as things become clearer.
“I’ve been a member of 'Potters' for 20 years. I love seeing what the other potters have been making. There is always something new to see. It’s good to be part of a community that you can tap into for advice and support” - Bridget Williams, Stroud.
'Potters' Day by Day - Jane Gibson “Can you wrap that up secretly so that she doesn’t see it please?” This request is one I quite commonly get while working at 'Potters'. Couples, friends, partners all watch the other person to see what they are drawn to and then quickly buy it for them. The shop is an Aladdin’s cave of amazing and beautiful work made by 25 individual potters. Some useful and functional, some decorative. Work to go in a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room and especially a dining room. There are pieces to go in the garden or even on the front door - a cornucopia of thrown, cast and hand-built work. The potters themselves come from a wide area surrounding Bristol. As a cooperative we take it in turns to “man the shop”. We have a conscientious and very able manager, Cat MacKenzie, who keeps us on our toes, contemporary and takes care of the running of the shop and longer aims of the group. Being not far from the hospital, generates a great number of visitors, some with arms or legs in plaster with funny stories of bizarre accidents others with sadder stories or worries “My son is in hospital with leukaemia.'' “My husband is having an operation” “My mother has cancer”. All these generate stories and conversations. Some buy pots to cheer up themselves or their loved ones. Some just want to look or talk clay.
'Potters' is an amazing place to visit, browse, chat and invest in beautiful work. Come to see for yourselves whenever you are near. We are always interested in having new members join the Cooperative, so if you would like to hear more please write initially by email, details are on our website. With thanks to Margaret Crump, Ned Heywood, Jane Gibson and Brigitte Williams and many others for help with this feature. Here’s to the next 25 years!!!!
We have tourists from many countries and locals who come regularly. A great many students both of pottery and other subjects come in and also parents who have never been to Bristol before but now have a child at the university just up the road. The shop is usually quite busy and the antique till and modern card machine both hum away happily. Members views “I am a new member, barely 2 years, but being approved by the collective and then beginning to work there was a joy. I feel extremely proud to be part of this enterprise. A long period of my membership has of course been affected by
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All photos: Cat MacKenzie
Something in the Air
…it still takes a long time to settle… Tim Thornton - firstname.lastname@example.org
No ventilation No vent ilat ion 200
180 160 140 120 100 80 60 40 20
Looking at this, the general dust level for inhalable dust is higher than you would want to work in and the levels for other substances are quite low considering the quantities we use, except possibly if you use black clay containing a lot of manganese. The real challenge is the amount of respirable crystalline silica, particularly when you remember that ball clay, for example, can be up to 50% crystalline silica. Again, manganese can be a concern if you use a lot of high manganese
What can we do about this? Ventilating the room makes a big difference, either by having a couple of windows open so air can flow through your studio or by having a fan push air through a suitable filter to trap the dust particles. Ideally we want 5 or 6 air changes per hour. The graph below shows this, using a fan with a dust extracting filter attached. You can see how much more quickly the dust level comes down in the room.
So how much dust is going to cause you harm? Scientists study these things and set safe levels, which are then set into law or regulated, but often politicians and industry water down the levels in the interests of profit. So the numbers here are taken from a number of sources, erring on the side of caution by taking the lowest levels. Levels are measured in mg/m3 and averaged out over an 8 hour day, 5 day week, so if you just do pottery one day a week your dust levels can safely be 5 times higher.
However once the dust has dispersed, it still takes a long time to settle – especially the most harmful small particles that can stay in the air for many hours. The first graph shows this, with it taking about 45 minutes for the dust levels to halve. So don’t take your respirator off as soon as you’ve finished that dusty job!
The smaller particles, respirable dust or PM2.5 gets into the alveoli or air sacs in the lungs, and can take many months to be cleared, if at all, so the concentration builds up with time. This is what causes a lot of the damage. Your lungs become clogged up and a few substances like crystalline silica have sharp edges that also cut away at the lungs. So you get scarring, your lungs lose elasticity, breathing gets harder and some cause lung cancer. These are long term effects, which build up slowly over the years with low to moderate levels of exposure.
But how much dust might there be floating round your studio? Using a dust meter in my studio, I had a background reading of up to 0.04 mg/m3 PM10, 0.03 mg/m3 PM2.5. This could double or triple if just doing general things. Activities that pushed the dust meter over its maximum reading of 1 were things like mixing large quantities of glaze, sanding or grinding fired work or cleaning with a broom or a non-HEPA vacuum cleaner (a HEPA one doesn’t affect dust levels) – and these readings came down after a few minutes as the particles dispersed round the studio.
Your body is quite good at protecting your lungs from dust. Your nasal hairs filter out the biggest particles and then as the air goes down your windpipe into the bronchi any dust that hits the sides is pushed back up into your mouth by cilia (or hairs), where you generally swallow it. This dust doesn’t harm the lungs, and is cleared out between coming in from your studio in the evening and going out in the morning, all nice and clean and ready to be re-contaminated. These large particles are called inhalable dust by the medics, or PM10 by the environmental monitors (for our purposes we can ignore a slight difference in definitions). The 10 refers to the particle size – 10 microns.
clay. But, for most people, if you crack the silica problem, everything else falls into place.
We all hear about the perils of dust, particularly silica dust, in the studio. But how much dust is safe? And how much is in your studio? And is it the wrong type of dust?
Respirable dust, mg/m3 TWA 1.3 1
6 5 2 1 0.5
100 80 60 40 20 57 60
Withair air filter With f ilter 200
General dust Aluminium oxide, talc Silica, amorphous Zinc, zirconium Tin Bone ash, copper Antimony, barium, chromium Manganese Vanadium Silica, crystalline Cobalt Nickel
Inhalable dust, mg/m3 TWA 10
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Empty Bowls Event
Craft at the Centre, Stroud, 29th June 2019 Penny Campbell - www.pennycampbellpottery.co.uk How did the idea to run an Empty Bowls fundraising event originate? The plan was hatched a few years ago at the ICF, Aberystwyth after seeing an inspiring presentation of Empty Bowls Fundraising events, which have been running in the United States for over 25 years. The basic idea is to create a community event that brings people together and raises money for charity, usually local foodbanks, with the symbolism of the empty bowls being self-evident. Potters, both professional and amateur, donate bowls which are then filled with homecooked food and served up to local people who make a donation, eat in a communal setting and then take their empty bowl back home. What is the charity you chose and why did you choose this one? Two members of our small team have worked extensively with refugees and asylum seekers, with one volunteering at the Refugee Community Kitchen in Calais for six months, so this cause was close to our hearts. The RCK serves hot, nourishing meals to displaced people in the UK and France. Since 2015, they have ‘served nutritious food without judgement to those fleeing war, poverty, persecution and climate change and living in Northern France and the UK’. (RCK website) Where did you run the event? Craft at the Centre, Stroud. It’s a community pottery set in the Centre for Science and Art. There has been a pottery in this a beautiful Victorian building for 50 years. Here we run both throwing and hand building classes for adults and children, drop-in sessions, and occasional events such as pottery and prosecco evenings and masterclasses with guest potters. How did you manage the preparations for the event? We’d read that it would be hard work, and it was! But ultimately it was well worth all the effort, not to mention great fun. The response was incredible, both from the community and from potters who made generous bowl donations. The work started a few months before the event. We scheduled fortnightly ‘dinner meetings’ at each others’
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houses where the focus was as much on the lovely food as on planning the event. We emailed potteries and potters around the country as well as encouraging our own students to make bowls for the event. As contributions started to pour in, a subsequent highlight for the team was opening boxes of carefully packed bowls.
One of the team created tickets and posters which found their way onto all notice boards around town. Others were responsible for distributing posters and raising awareness locally. A local bakery, Velo Bakehouse, donated three sacks of the most delicious sour-dough bread, even including in the mix some gluten and wheat-free loaves. While we bought a lot of the ingredients, we also received donations of veggies, pulses, apple juice and raffle prizes from local shops, allotments and stalls. In the lead up to the event we undertook a major clean of the pottery and tidied the garden. The day before the event, our chopping, peeling, measuring and stirring abilities were put to the test as we all prepared huge vats of vegan soups and enormous bowls of salads. The damp room came into its own, providing the perfect environment to keep food fresh throughout the day. What happened on the day? Were there any glitches? We’d calculated that with a little bit of creativity, we would have capacity for around 100 diners over two sittings in the pottery itself and, if the weather allowed, we could spread out more comfortably into the garden. As it transpired, the 29th June reached a sweltering 32�C, so the shady garden was in high demand. The first meal was served at 1pm and the second at 7pm. What had been planned as a simple bowl meal actually developed into a much more elaborate feast, with wine or juice on arrival, salads, breads, cakes and coffee and teas. So while the £25 full ticket price may have felt rather steep initially, we felt that the quality and quantity of food lived up to the reputation laid down by potters’ events over the years.
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The bowls we considered to be the most special we held back for a raffle. This paid dividends, with the generosity of the public being quite extraordinary. Once they were seated and happily enjoying the variety of food on offer, we descended upon each table with the raffle tickets. It was very touching that in spite of having already paid to be at the event, most people further contributed to the kitty by buying several raffle tickets. It’s fair to say that the lunchtime sitting taught us a valuable lesson: some people are a lot quicker than others to spot the best bowls! For the evening sitting we changed the approach from “first come first served” to a hopefully fairer system where everyone picked a number out of a hat with this number corresponding to a sticky label on a bowl, which they could then look for. This created a more fun atmosphere and also allowed everyone to view all the beautiful bowls before they found their own. Are you planning to run another Empty Bowls Event? The response from potters, locals and the RCK was overwhelming and £2,600 was raised from the event! Several people even asked to contribute knowing they wouldn’t be able to come. So yes, we definitely hope to run another one this year, though possibly foregoing the elaborate soup preparations and reheating in favour of simpler salads. Photos by Adam Lewis and Emily Seffar
Empty bowl ideas
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The Art of Kintsugi Zoom demo With Bonnie Kemske and Iku Nishikawa
Maggie Kingston This was a fascinating talk with Bonnie discussing the background and philosophy that lies behind and underpins the art of Kintsugi as well as Iku demonstrating and explaining the technique . Kintsugi is about the story that surrounds a piece that has been repaired, a technique, not only used for ceramics but also for damaged wood, stone or metal. The Japanese experience of earthquake adds to the philosophy of honouring the fact that objects and lives may be broken in many ways, yet, if objects are repaired or lives are healed, that break or wound becomes a place of extra strength. To sum up it could be said: After a break, reclaim the irreplaceable, affirm the scar, just as the piece and person gain beauty, strength and value from being broken and reformed. As an example of the story contained in a piece, war lords would give a tea bowl to someone who had won an important battle for them. The tea ceremony at which the tea bowl would be used would have been a complex ritual lasting several hours, with high class merchants and people from the ruling class taking part. Each time the tea bowl was used again, it would bring with it the memory and story of the giver and the recipient, along with the reason for which it was given and the previous times and occasions that it had been used. This tea bowl would not be casually discarded, but if it broke it would be mended so that it could retain its function. It’s story would then enlarge to include the occasion on which it was broken, how it was broken, who mended it and when it was able to be next used. All these memories and incidences add depth, meaning and value to the piece in the same way in which our life experiences develop us as an individual. Prior to the 15th century, repairs were usually made by gluing and riveting the ceramic pieces together. Then, using tree sap glue called urushi, which is also a lacquer, the pieces were reassembled and gaps filled with adding grit to build up the ceramic. This developed into maki-e, the lacquer art of adding gold powder or other powdered metallic substances such as brass or silver to overlay the fresh lacquer and provide decorative joints and designs. The more elaborate pictorial decorations, makiengoshi, were often developed to appeal to western taste, the Japanese preferring more simplicity. In modern times this has developed into reconstructive art of deliberate breakage and re-assemblage perhaps using different glazes and designs on the pieces before re-forming the piece or using fabric wrap and stitching the object together. A piece of modern ceramics that had been accidentally broken which was then repaired using Kintgusi then sold in auction for a third more than it would have as a new intact piece. Iku’s demonstration showed the need for meticulous preparation of the glue, mixing the tree sap with two grades of rice flour to achieve the correct consistency. For this initial mix
gloves are worn, as the tree sap is a powerful irritant raising painful skin blisters. Once the mixture has been cured by slow drying in a plastic box, to retain humidity during the curing, there is no longer an irritant factor to contend with. The sap and mix should not have an ‘off’ smell - if it has, this denotes poor quality ingredients and will not give a satisfactory result.
The pieces are put together in pairs, applying a thin spread of the mix on the cleaned edges. A wriggle fix is then made that needs holding for 5-10 minutes until the bond is firm, before placing to cure in the box. This then needs to be left for several days before the next piece is affixed. The glue (which may be an epoxy 2 part glue, such as milliput, as an faux alternative) needs to be cleaned off the joints. For this the Japanese tool is a fish bone polisher. When the piece has been fully assembled and joints cleaned then the decoration can start, the lacquer being applied with a fine brush exactly along the joint then dusted with the gold or other metallic powder. Gold is inert and safe for food use, whereas brass should only be used on purely decorative, non food use items. Silver may also be used if you wish to take advantage of the change in colour as it tarnishes.
Large gaps in the piece can be filled with a contrasting ceramic or close match from same firing, shaped to size and infilled, either using the glue fix with grit to form the surround or even milliput to bed the piece in. Again this can be used to add contrast or match the piece. The elements of a steady hand, Shards Summer 2021
patience and attention to detail are very necessary to achieve high standards. The final finish is achieved by burnishing joints with charcoal on a soft cloth. Drawing quality charcoal should produce good results.
There are many artists today using kintsugi. Some in the traditional way to restore a broken piece to functional use, others in a fine art style. These include Guy Keulemans, who adds photoluminescent glue to the kintsugi piece, Paige Bradley using electric light to highlight the fractures and Zoe Hillyard using fabric wrap and stitching. Finally thanks to Bonnie and Iku for giving us insight into the fascinating and painstaking process of kintsugi, Kim Colebrook for hosting the event and the rest of the SWP team who put this together for us to enjoy live and/or watch later in the members area on www.southwalespotters.org.uk. SWP members can obtain: 20% discount on Bonnie Kemske's book,'The Art of Kintsugi', from www.bloomsbury.com/kintsugi using discount code SWP20 (expires 30th June 2021, UK only) 10% discount on all kintsugi items in Iku's online shop including an online workshop from https:// www.kintsugioxford.com/tool-shop.html using discount code SWP0516 (expires 17th June 2021).
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The Reynoldston Table Retrospective …‘there’s my seagull' ….'there’s my rabbit' ….'my boat'…
Gill Pittman - www.gillpittmanceramics.com In November 2011, I was commissioned by Reynoldston Community Council to help make a four foot diameter circular ceramic mosaic tabletop with the our local primary school children in Knelston, Gower. This would be sited on our Upper Village Green in Reynoldston to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The design would incorporate a large oak tree, set against Gower landscape features with an inset of local wildlife. I helped the children design and cut out their animals and birds and, after biscuit firing, to glaze them. The children were all very excited about the project. It was lovely to be involved.
Reynoldston village had a big all day Jubilee party, starting with the unveiling of the Table. There were a great many families gathered round, and as the tarpaulin was taken off the children rushed forward with cries of ‘there’s my seagull' …. 'there’s my rabbit' …. 'my boat'. It was a lovely moment. How has the Table lasted over the past ten years? Really very well. There has been no frost damage, loosening or cracking of the tiles. A curved stone bench was built a couple of years
I made the remaining pieces including several hundred 2cm square tessera for the sky and grass and flame-shaped pieces for the grass and organised working parties with some of the village ladies to glaze them.
Three weeks before the Jubilee day, the four-foot diameter reinforced concrete disc was delivered by a team of local firemen and farmers to my husband John’s workshop, where we started to assemble the mosaic. Then we hit a snag: I had made only about half the number of tessera needed for the sky. There was no time for two firings, so I quickly made another 750 little tiles, reconvening the working party to raw glaze them. Fortunately, they turned out quite well (the tiles!), though with a slightly pitted surface where escaping gas had disturbed the glaze.
later, so people can sit there with a picnic. It is lovely to see it being used. The mosaic gets a bit grubby in the winter, especially the raw glazed tiles where the little pits tend to collect the dirt. It has just now had its spring clean and come up as good as new. We were always a bit concerned about vandalism. Indeed, on one occasion it was attacked with blue spray paint, but fortunately paint stripper sorted it out.
Finally, after quite a lot of trimming with a tile saw everything was assembled, fixed down with a flexible tile cement down and grouted with waterproof grout. There must be about three thousand pieces in all, although we never managed to count them. The firemen and farmers returned with a tractor to convey the tabletop to the top corner of the Green where a lovely stone plinth had been built.
Shards Summer 2021
Unfortunately, it had been made on plywood with a wooden frame which had rotted extensively, leading to many tiles falling off. Nevertheless, after a lot of work remaking missing pieces and repairing, it eventually looked as good as new. However, about a year later I noticed that the school walls had been re-clad and there was no sign of the mural. I enquired and learned that it had been damaged during the work and the caretaker had decided it was irreparable and thrown it out. Perhaps he was right – but I wish they had asked me! Suggestions: Use a durable base, such as cement board. Make it demountable so that it can be removed and put back if building work is necessary. These projects can be tremendously important for the people making them at the time but are often less valued by subsequent generations. I am hoping that our table, as it is central in the village and valued by the community, will fare better. All photos Gill Pittman
The Table project was a big excitement for all the young makers and a great thing to have been involved with. Eightyfour children made pieces for it and about another fifteen people were involved altogether. The Table has become quite a village landmark, and we hope that in years to come the young makers can bring their children back to see what they made and how they helped create something lasting and memorable. Post Script: Some thoughts on projects with schools. From talking with other ceramicists, I get the impression that too often the work has a short life, which can seem to devalue the efforts of the children and teachers. About three years ago I was asked to renovate a large ceramic mosaic mural on the outer wall of a school which had been made about ten years previously. It was a very nice map of Gower about eight feet wide, with local features and landmarks shown pictorially.
So who made the mugs featured in the Spring Shards? 1. Laeti Boulet - https://laeti-ceramique.com/ 2. Pauline Paterson 3. Rachel Padley - https://www.rachelpadleyceramics.co.uk/ 4. Mary Cousins - http://www.marycousinspotter.co.uk/ 5. Walter Keeler 6. Still unknown
STOP PRESS Tim Thornton Zoom event Sunday June 27th at 9:30am. Tim takes a scientific and analytical approach to his own ceramic work, having had previous technical and scientific careers. He noticed there was much interest in product safety and studio health and safety, with many opinions and answers of variable quality. He now has two online courses on these topics. For the SWP 2 hour Zoom event, Tim will be discussing glaze leaching, making glazes stable, “food safe” glazes – how to make them and test them yourself.
Shards Summer 2021
New Members Helen Jones
647 Nicki Shanklin. Nicki lives in Pembroke. She is at present a full time student in Carmathen College. She is is really enjoying the course, she has a kiln at home as well as a wheel, but the shed where they are stored is leaking, so her first job is to get this studio water tight, so as she may work inside it. At present she is making all her items by hand, she is concentrating on making birds and leaves. 648 Gwladys Evans. Gwladys lives in Aberystwyth. Gwladys‘s daughter joined her Mother to SWP’s and Gwladys is really pleased. She makes Raku pottery. And she is looking forward to receiving the SWP’s Shards Magazine. 649 Valerie O’Donnell. Valarie lives in Penarth, she has not been potting for very long but when she was helping her mother decorate tiles for her kitchen in Ireland, she became interested in decoration. She would like to learn more about pottery so is joining us in SWP’s With a little bit of luck we might be able to have some ‘hands on‘ events later this year. 650 Mena Williams. Mena works and lives in Pembroke Town. She is inspired by the coastal area around her home. She uses the natural textures found in nature, to add to the items she makes. 651 Anna Cooley. Anna lives in Erwood, Builth Wells. 652 Janie Pridham. Janie is a part time student in the Art Department in Carmarthen College. She lives in the town of Whitland. She is enjoying College life and is at present working on improving her coiling and throwing skills. She is looking forward to meeting other potters, 653 Julia Parry. Julia who lives in Bridgend is looking forward to meeting SWP’s members. Most of her work is hand built and she is attending classes run by Jane Malvissi. She is looking forward to meeting other potters. 654 Maria Kate Betts. Maria lives in Yate in South Gloucestershire. She draws illustrations and paintings of women and she makes head and shoulder models in clay. She particularly likes making these female forms rather quirky! She is looking forward to meeting members of SWP’s.
Did you watch the recent Kintsugi demo with Bonnie and Iku? If not, you can watch it on the SWP Members web site. If you are going to have a go at Kintsugi, would you like to send in your results with photos? Maybe even write about your experience? Wikipedia states: Kintsugi (金継ぎ, "golden joinery"), also known as kintsukuroi (金繕い, "golden repair"), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.
Anna Cooley: "Having relatively recently discovered a love of hand-building, I am very lucky to have all the materials and a big kiln on site, since my husband, who is a teaching and working sculptor, also works in ceramics. I am currently making functional and decorative pieces in grey stoneware, partially glazed and single-fired. For some of these pieces, I draw from life directly into leatherhard clay and then carve the design in relief before glazing. I also like to experiment with more 3D sculptural pieces. Most of this work is inspired by my houseplants and the plants that grow in my garden, or in the wild. We live in rural mid-Wales and are currently renovating an old pigsty to become my pottery studio, since I am finding it hard to keep up with commissions and I need a little more space to spread out! I have a website www.annacooley.com and an instagram account @annacooley.art, as well as a Facebook page with the same name."
Did you watch Larrisa’s Nerikomi demo? If not, you can watch it on the SWP Members web site. If you are going to have a go at Nerikomi, would you like to send in your results with photos? Maybe even write about your experience? Wikipedia states: Nerikomi (練り込み , lit. "kneading") is an artistic technique for creating Japanese pottery agateware. The name derives from the traditional technique of creating patterns with colored clay. The technique is also called neriage (練上げ).
Shards Summer 2021
Shards Summer 2021
Shards Summer 2021