Monthly Archives: September 2013
Coverage of the Bideford Pottery Festival from Tony Gussin of The North Devon Gazette:
A CARGO OF POT HEADS:
DEMONSTRATORS AND SPEAKERS
AT THE ARTS CENTRE BIDEFORD
19TH & 20TH SEPTEMBER 2013
The story began it seems like ages ago. Following the initial inspirational idea of Philip Leach to hold an event celebrating the early years of the pottery industry of North Devon, through focusing in particular on pots found at Jamestown in the 1930s, the idea has lately seemed to grow like topsy. However, at the start, we needed to flesh out the concept to structure a project likely to appeal to funders like Arts Council England with their particular focus on the contemporary rather than just heritage.
Historic Harvest Jugs of North Devon
Philip had made me aware of initial friendship contacts made in Virginia by Sadie Green [ www.sadie-green.blogspot.co.uk ], with generous funding from the Winston Churchill fund. Whilst I did initially speak to my existing museum contacts in Williamsburg, for comparison I decided to approach Merry Outlaw, a curator based at Preservation Virginia, Historic Jamestown [ www.preservationvirginia.org ] . Ruth Spires, formerly at Barnstaple Museum, had done a lot of spade work on Anglo-American trade links back in 2006-2007, with a view to holding a centenary celebration for Jamestown in Barnstaple (1607-2007), which sadly never happened, and had been in touch with Merry’s department at the time.
It’s not always easy to cold call complete strangers, particularly on the other side of the pond, but Merry had written an excellent piece on the 17th century sgraffito wares found at Jamestown for the leading US pottery journal, Ceramics in America [ www.chipstone.org/publications/CIA/2002/Outlaw/OutlawText ]. CiA as it tends to be called is highly regarded over here, both by academics, specialist dealers and collectors, so I was already sort of aware of her. She was an absolute delight and so helpful when I rang: I wanted to invite her over to speak about the Jamestown pots, but also to get her recommendations for potters working in the slipware/redware medium to come over and demonstrate.
In a weird twist of fate that almost makes you believe an idea is timely, she said that I just had to consider her friend Michelle Erickson – and gosh, she was currently over here in London. Spooky or what? Within two days back in September last year, I was on the doorstep of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and then met by arrangement with Michelle who was coming to the end of a summer residency. It also turned out that the previous day, her partner Rob Hunter who is editor of CiA [ www.ceramicsinamerica.com ] had arrived back from his travels. So here was the flesh on the bone of a good idea.
Michelle [ www.michelleericksonceramics.com ], whilst possibly best known for her amazing and thought provoking contemporary work, has also a tremendous command of pottery skills and an endlessly enquiring mind as to the techniques and skills behind the making of historic pots. Being based in Virginia, a poetic idea of ‘bringing coals to Newcastle’ sprung to mind, to invite Michelle over to make and demonstrate slipware in Bideford using the very same local materials that went into the early Jamestown examples of 1650. However, and with a conscious nod to the contemporary remit of Arts Council England, I hoped that she would take the opportunity to freely reinvent things in her own inimitable fashion. I wasn’t to be disappointed, as you can see from the photos of her current New England Cargo project work.
To bring things alive from a more academic standpoint, we have also put together a group of top speakers and experts on historic ceramics of the West Country, with representatives drawn from the Bristol, Taunton and Exeter areas. With Merry additionally talking about both plain and decorated wares in a Jamestown context, and an old contact Niek Hoogland [ www.niekhoogland.nl ] from the Netherlands, who has a great resource of knowledge about early pottery of his region – the Symposium on 21st September will represent a unique opportunity for those interested to have an overview of the 17th and 18th century pottery scene in our area and Northern Europe.
Winding things right back to the 1960s, it was an American academic, Malcolm Watkins then at the Smithsonian Institute, who was an early influence and mentor of Devon’s own Harry Juniper, 80 years young this year. Watkins was acting as a bit of a pot detective, in trying to track down the source of the Jamestown pots which were then under-researched, and he and Harry couldn’t help but see similarities with sgraffito wares in local Bideford collections. The rest is history, as they say, but Harry’s own story is recounted in a new book and DVD sponsored by Arts Council England that we are launching over the main Festival weekend.
So it’s entirely logical for Harry and his son Nick, who now does most of the throwing at Bideford Pottery, to be lead demonstrators on Saturday 21st September, complemented by representatives from the Studio pottery movement, Joe Finch [see earlier blog on the Petroc kiln] and from Harry’s days at Beaford in the person of Maggie Curtis [ www.maggiecurtis.co.uk ]. They follow on from masterclasses by Michelle and Niek on Friday 20th, and in a more contemporary West Country twist, we are delighted that Sandy Brown [ www.sandybrownarts.com ] has offered to talk about her approach to mark making and the use of local materials. Enjoy !
Harry Juniper harvest jug . Sandy Brown. Harry Juniper harvest jug.
A rare post from The Man Who Ran a Pottery Festival.
During my tenure as Artist in Residence at the V&A in 2012 I developed a concept I call Potter’s Field; exploring ceramic life cycles of form -function -fashion and design as the perishable body that leaves behind the bones of world ceramics- that is- the history of us.
Clay used in all cultures in every conceivable manner, fulfilling our basic needs and demonstrating our highest aspirations, is a truly democratic material. It is the unique inheritance of the ceramic medium that records our most ancient past, and is simultaneously indispensable to advancements of space travel, weapons manufacture, ballistic armor and even what is yet to be conceived.
I have used the iconographic element of the skull to suggest the circumstance of our shared past and a contemplation of the future. In the 18th century cognoscenti’s cabinets of curiosity, objects including fossils were displayed in combination with memento mori incorporating the human skull. These juxtapositions served as means of both scientific study and philosophical contemplation of mankind’s place in the universe.
My work in experimental archeology has exposed me to fragments of bone and sherd alike imbedded in an earth whose natural resources, and specifically fossil fuel, are being voraciously consumed in the 21st century- ultimately our dependence on this resource may present the circumstance of our demise.
FOSSIL TEAPOT L 24″
Collection of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts VMFA
PHOTO: Gavin Ashworth NY
WEAPON OF CHOICE H 18″
Collection Cincinnati Art Museum
PHOTO: Robert Hunter
V&A RESIDENCY. studio shot skulls made indigenous clays i foraged off a construction site in East London.
PHOTO: Robert Hunter
THE STORY BEHIND
THE FIRING OF THE BURTON ART GALLERY BOTTLE KILN BIDEFORD
18TH TO 22ND SEPTEMBER 2013
A little more than 100 years ago, a casual visitor to Bideford would have been struck by the landmark forms of round bottle shaped ovens rising either side of the town bridge and in both directions along the River Torridge to Fremington and as far away as Barnstaple, by then as much a centre of government, education and learning as of the ages-old local industry of pottery. The last such Bideford kilns fell into disuse and ultimate demolition by the 1st World War, casualties of changing tastes and the industrialisation of pottery production which meant that local people looked much further afield even for everyday forms for the table and larder. To commemorate this great ceramic heritage of North Devon, an oven of the same shape was built as a Millennium project in Victoria Park, beside the Burton Art Gallery – both as a monument to the past but also a focus for its practical expression through firing.
A number of firing events have subsequently been held there, both based around the work of professional potters as well as the product of school classes – notably A Harvest of Jugs in 2008 (see photos alongside) and Tales on Tiles the following year. This year’s event takes as its inspiration, the form and decoration of the sort of pots made in the 17th century for local use and for export by sea to the eastern seaboard of the United States, notably to Jamestown. Images of such North Devon jugs and bowls, jars and platters, have been sent all around the country to present day makers working in the same slipware tradition, to remind them of a forgotten heritage of form and their particular decoration, and to invite them to make anew for a combined firing of slipware of great variety and interest.
So pots are currently being gathered together representing a historic harvest of creativity from as far afield as Cornwall and Scotland, and from the Continent and Virginia, in acknowledgment of the equally historic nature of the indigenous and transplanted history of slipware making there. The kiln master Philip Leach (www.springfield-pottery.com) together with a team drawn from local enthusiasts as well as potters from further afield like Nigel Lambert (www.nigellambertpotter.co.uk) and Sean Casserley (www.taenapottery.co.uk), will be setting the kiln from Wednesday 18th September with prepared pots contributed by 20 – 30 different hands, with its wood firing taking place all day on Friday 20th and the kiln opening scheduled to take place from 2pm on Sunday 20th September.
All of these activities will be on view to visitors to Bideford and to its townspeople, and over the weekend commencing Friday 27th September, there will be an opportunity to purchase a rare slice of Devon history at a kiln sale held at the Glove Factory workshop and gallery, Appledore (www.sandybrownarts.com). In commemoration of past glories, each pot will bear this year’s firing logo and date, marking them in time and association with what we hope will prove a successful and enjoyable event for locals and pot lovers alike. The proceeds will go towards the costs of holding a follow-on historically themed transatlantically inspired exhibition Pots Fish ‘n Ships due to be held at the Burton Art Gallery and Museum in Spring 2014.