Landscapes and clay:

Over the last year, my exploration of landscape – specifically linked to places of extraction (of clay, rocks and minerals linked to ceramic manufacture) and / or  production (i.e. the sites of potteries / workshops etc.), has led me back to the concept of palimpsest. The essence of this idea, can be summarized as a surface scraped clean – to be used again, originally relating to the historic re-use of vellum (an ancient material for the production of books), which in the Medieval period was in short supply.

The concept has been translated to a way of viewing landscape by W.G. Hoskins, in his seminal work The Making of the English Landscape (1970) in which he illustrated how palimpsest could be used to describe the landscape itself, as a series of cumulative layers, holding evidence of human activity and a patchwork of clues that could be used to understand changes in human society and economy, and our relationship with the natural environment. My intention was to place this concept centrally in the last creative part of the MA.

Photographs for the MA will go on show for assessment on the 26th January in the basement gallery at Corsham Court. It is not a public show – as our MA Show is booked in to tie in with other MA shows at the School of Art and Design at Sion Hill on the 23rd September. They will also go on show as part of my first public exhibition in the Autumn at Dean Clough, Halifax, which has just been confirmed….(more to follow). The photograph of Titterstone Clee Hill, shown below follows the line of enquiry introduced above. Layers and features are highlighted, but the exact nature, background, detail of these – is another story….

Ref: W, G. Hoskins (1970) The Making of the English Landscape. Penguin.

Version 2
Towards the summit plateau of Titterstone Clee Hill, Shropshire – 2015

Thanks to The Handmade Bakery Co.

Thanks to Matt, Aaron and the team at The Handmade Bakery Company in Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire, who helped me with my recent MA project, linking an exploration of Soil Hill (the site of Isaac Button’s pottery up until the late 1960s), with the pancheon, the form of baking bowl which became a key link object for the project. This was, in part because it is a form I have always been drawn to (as readers of several previous posts will know), but is also because many of the broken sherds of pottery that I found on the surface of the bridleway leading to the pottery at Soil Hill, were rim fragments from large 49-50 cm diameter pancheons.  This association led to investigations into the potential local clay sources have for making these beautiful bowls, a series of photographs to try and capture the  unique landscape of the hill and the area around it, and to my visits to the Handmade Bakery Co to discuss the contemporary choice of bowls for mixing, rising and proving dough.

I made two small c. 27 cm / 11 inch pancheons for the bakery as a way of saying thanks – photographed yesterday…… One was made of clay from the hill, the other from Valentine’s terracotta.

Pancheons at Swifts Bakery…

I am delighted that John and Jayne at Swifts Bakery, Clee Hill, have decided to include the small pancheon (25 cm / 10 inch inch diameter featured in an earlier post) that I gave them in their photo shoot this week. I’m also grateful to Jayne and John for including me in an interview for the Ludlow Advertiser – the article from which was published today. I’m really enjoying watching John in the BBC Victorian Bakers series – the last episode of which featured a beautiful, original, large pancheon with a clear glaze being used for mixing the dough for the buns! I will be making a large 35cm pancheon for Swifts soon – the size is limited at the moment by the size of my kiln.


Baker’s bowls

As part of my place and pancheons project, I have been photographing bakers and their favourite bowls for mixing and rising dough in their baking process. The hands you will see are of my neighbours, bakers from the locations of my clay hunting, relatives and friends… As you will see from a sample of the photographs shown here, the bowls are made of a wide variety of materials – ceramic, plastic, pyrex, bakelite….materials that come from a global reach – far from the direct association with local materials and makers. I don’t want to cast any value judgements here, I’m not trying to preach a local is best mantra, only perhaps to highlight the discontinuity – and the opportunity to reconnect.





Place and pancheons project phase 1 approaches conclusion:

The past year gave me a chance to explore a form that I have long been obsessed by….fascinated with for over thirty years. The form, as you might know from previous posts is that of the pancheon (a bowl for mixing and rising dough or separating cream from milk) that has been used for centuries in the British Isles, and is one loved by many potters and bakers. However, bakers have moved on from these beautiful, practical but heavy and ultimately breakable pots over the past fifty years. More on this in later posts.

The past year has been busy, but a crucial part of it has been the exploration of old / abandoned potteries (such as Isaac Button’s “works” at Soil Hill), searching out natural clay outcrops (and permission to dig samples), and increasingly – visits to the bakeries nearby as I seek to explore the connections between place, material, form and function.

This might make sense of many of the photographs and notes you can see in the blog below. In future posts over the coming weeks, I will expanding on the overall aim and purpose of this project, as I prepare for my final MA assessment and MA show.

The piece below is a pancheon I made for my mother – it was during the experimental phase and is made with Valentine’s earthenware rather than with clay from one of my exploratory trips.

Pancheon. October 2015. Valentine’s clay with china clay slip and lead sesquisilicate glaze.