THE STORY BEHIND
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.