Potty about Pottery
AFTER close on 20 years as a lapsed (amateur) potter, I'm back in harness at Penzance School of Art, where I practise this most satisfying of crafts under the critical gaze of the esteemed ceramic artist Jason Wason.
Every week, I drive 25 miles from my Cornish home to the far reaches of the western peninsula to spend two or three hours fashioning clay into (I hope) tolerably acceptable ceramic creations.
My first pot out of the Penzance kiln is pictured above - a 16-inch high coiled honey-glazed vase with narrow neck which my daughter describes as 'tribal looking', a great compliment given that African tribal pottery is so fantastic.
Pottery has been a lifelong on-and-off preoccupation of mine. Like football, it has the great virtue of being a thoroughly enjoyable pursuit, whatever one's level of competence. I see myself as strictly non-league in the ceramics field, but it's good to pick up techniques from the likes of Mr Wason, the equivalent of a Wayne Rooney or Luis Suarez.
At school, I was judged as having real potential in the field. When I told my pottery teacher that I wanted to be a journalist, she replied: 'What a wicked waste of talent. You should become a professional studio potter.'
I disregarded what she said and spent my life toiling happily away as a journalist, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. But I always carried her words in the back of my mind.
Though writing has always been my first love, I have indulged my modest talents as a potter from time to time and once enjoyed an extremely enlightening evening course run by an excellent potter called Colin Thorburn. It was only much later that I came to realise that Colin was, in fact, a pupil of those two great 20th century potters, Hans Coper and Lucie Rie. I was in fine company, as I always suspected, for Colin produced beautiful work.
On this page, I display some of my pots, ranging from wheel-thrown stoneware bottles and vases of the 1980s to hand-built air-dried items of more recent times.
While I like the symmetry of wheel-thrown ware, I also enjoy the quirkiness of hand-built pots, whether they be small 'pinch' or 'thumb' pots or bigger coiled forms.
Whatever my merits or otherwise as a potter - and I do not claim to be the second Bernard Leach - I can state without fear of contradiction that every pot I produce is unique.
From day one in journalism, we young reporters of the 1960s were taught to use the word 'unique' sparingly. 'Unique is unique, no qualification required,' a veteran sub-editor used to tell us, 'You can't say 'quite unique' or 'almost unique' - unique means the one and only example of whatever it is you are writing about.'
Bearing all this is mind, I confidently proclaim that every pot I produce is unique, partly because I'm insufficiently competent to replicate pots with total accuracy. Some will sigh with relief at this disclosure. Others might just see it as a virtue.
Small wheel-thrown dolomite-glazed pot from the 1980s. BELOW: Hand-built (coiled) vase made from grey air-dried clay circa 2013 and painted with acrylic and enamel.
FLUTED wheel-thrown stoneware vase decorated with mixed glaze.
Dolomite-glazed stoneware pot thrown on an electric wheel circa 1983. BELOW: Mixed glaze vase produced in the same way.
HAND-BUILT, air-dried pot decorated with acrylic paint and spray varnish. BELOW: Tall vase built from two thumb pots, one placed on top of the other, then spray-painted in a variety of colours.
CRUDE hand-built, air-dried pot (part-coiled) decorated with white acrylic.
CELADON-glazed stoneware vase, hand-thrown on an electric wheel circa 1983. This was produced at a Colin Thorburn workshop in North Bucks.