Today’s kiln opening revealed another Clee Hill pancheon (31cm this time) with a beautiful, almost “hare’s fur” / chun effect. The bubble in the glaze is not only creating a blue blush through the glaze, there is also a streaking that is reminiscent of hare’s fur glazes I have seen in Song dynasty (1127-1279 AD) Chinese ceramics. It is pure luck / chance that I have stumbled across this glaze effect using three readily available local ingredients with the addition of quartz (which I justify as being one of the most ubiquitous and commonly occurring minerals on the planet and certainly present around Clee Hill). The crucial application factor seems to be the combination of the exact mix of ingredients plus the thick application of the glaze. It has to be thick to the point where it actually leaves drying cracks after application to the biscuit fired bowl.
The last two years of investigating Clee Hill have led me to a number of clay sources. The fireclay from near the village of Clee Hill has provided the richest material; firing to deep dark reds and purples at stoneware temperatures. The sources recently sampled from the other side of the hill are proving to be full of opportunity too, firing well to stoneware temperatures, but being pale, “brick” clays. One fires to an ochrous range of tones, with an iron speckle, the other to more of a buff, grey tinged with apricot range. All of these clays shrink pretty dramatically (around 10%), and are also somewhat erratic – firing to subtly different shades in the same kiln, set for the same firing cycle / temperature etc.
A fortnight or so ago now, the inspirational Alf Jenkins took me to meet the wonderful Neil and Karen, who farm over on the far north-west side of Clee Hill from Clee Hill village. Neil’s grand-father made bricks from clay on their farm and the beautiful Victorian era brick kiln, lovingly restored, still stands and is a wonder to behold – the last of its type in the West Midlands. Neil showed me some steens (pancheons) that he has – one stored inside the kiln, with it’s eye on the sky above – letting in shafts of morning light, and a couple in the basement of his farmhouse amongst the cider jars. These are steeper sided than Mr Button’s or the Buckley pancheon that I have – perhaps more for cream settling than baking? Neil very kindly gave me a bucket of his farm clay and we went to a ditch in a neighbouring field to collect some clay where recent digger excavations had exposed some beautiful blue material. I took both away and am in the process of firing these and glazing the results as a further project linked to this unique and evocative place (see upcoming post).
In making a new range of pancheons – or “steens” as they are called in the Shropshire and across the West Midlands, I mixed ingredients from the Clee Hill for glaze tests as I did with my first explorations in 2014 (a mix of local wood ash, the clay I use from Cleehill village & dolerite or “dhustone” dust from the quarry on the hill – see below), experimenting with different percentages again just to check what results were possible. This time I also added small quantities of quartz and I noticed a slight chun effect forming with one of the mixes. I have been absolutely delighted with the results that this mix can achieve – an exquisite speckled blue / silver, on a background of deep, dark brown flecked with green. It is exactly what I have been looking for. That combination of mixing local ingredients with local forms (see next post) to create something useful and beautiful.