I recently received a new challenge; a commission to make two friends a pair of breakfast bowls using my Clee Hill clay that would fit with their beautiful kitchen in their home in West Yorkshire. I was delighted to be able to respond as they had been particularly supportive during my MA work.
Here are the two versions I made for them to choose between. They both use Clee Hill hand-dug clay, with my Clee Hill glaze (a mix of dhustone rock dust from the hill-top quarry, wood ash, local clay and a small quantity of quartz) inside and out – the rims being wiped clean and then dipped in two different blue / grey glazes, giving very different effects. These blue glazes both had a tendency to run on this clay body (pretty disastrously), and I found that by using the Clee Hill glaze below, I could achieve a successful transition and colour banding, rather than dribbles or rolling folds of blue glaze.
The third picture shows two of the bowls with some of the test pieces in the background. This small test bowls are vital in ensuring that I get the right glaze effects – even beyond using test tiles, as the glaze behaves differently on different curved surfaces of a bowl.
I’m down to the last few bags of my hand-dug Clee Hill clay…. although I’m still hoping I’ll find someone else in the village who’ll let me did some more, or perhaps someone will decide to dig a new set foundations for an extension, or a septic tank and I’ll be able to get a small lorry load….. fingers crossed.
In 2016 I carried out glaze experiments with the dhustone rock dust from the quarry on the hill, wood ash and the clay, working through a very simplified triaxial approach to glaze testing – with some beautiful results. I also have a few bags of samples taken from the soil heaps from the coal workings and some lime rich deposits from the limestone outcropping further down the hill, and so I want to push the experiments a little further over the next few weeks.
Here is a small test bowl with a 75% / 25% mix of wood ash and clay, and the picture I now use as my logo, which has the full set of test bowls and a pancheon with the rare blue chun glaze outcome that I achieved for a few firings…… I find it almost impossible to recreate that effect (the more recent chunning has been more grey than blue). I’m guessing it must have been something to do with the type of timber that I burned in my stove – because nothing else changed? Or did it?
More posts will follow.
Clee Hill clay and glaze – 75% wood ash / 25% clay
Glaze ingredients drying (dhustone, wood ash and local clay)
A central theme in my work is the focus on place; on the landscape, the environment, the economy and culture and from this – the connections between people, locally available materials and function (for example, tools / buildings / fuel etc.). All human activity has an impact, and yet over the centuries, it seems as if there were occasionally systems that established some kind of balance between the natural world and our actions. Take the countryside of the British Isles for example, where until the development of more industrial approaches to farming following the second world war, the fields were characterised by species diversity – of plants, invertebrates, birds etc. I’m not suggesting this was a panacea – something usually has to give. Some kind of balance also seems to have been established in the management of woodlands for coppicing, creating fuel for firewood and early industrial activity. The coppiced woods created opportunities for a wide range of flowering plants such as bluebells and wood anemones and particular butterfly and bird species – whilst also creating a carbon neutral source of fuel.
Whilst it may seem almost impossible to re-create these systems to serve a world with a growing population of 7 billion people, it does inspire me – and the whole concept of sustainability deeply underlies my work. How could these more balanced systems inform our future actions and innovation? It also means that as I explore landscapes, with ceramic materials in mind, I know that I need to think carefully about the relationships that I will have with both people and place, if I am to stay true to my own values and commitments.
Looking south-east over the “dhustone” quarry
The site of Isaac Button’s workshop, just after the flattening of his old kiln
Palimpsest Landscape – Soil Hill, 2015
Cross section through clay from Shay quarry, Soil Hill, August 2015
Last Friday I revisited Clee Hill, for a quick walk with Dougie, and to drop off a couple of mugs that I had made from Neil and Karen’s clay (over in Oreton). It was good to see them and to discuss what future possibilities there may be for some clay sourcing linked to ditch digging, excavation of foundations etc. It would be great to help someone out with the removal of some extracted material – but the quantities available will be critical, as if I can get over a tonne or 2 – then it may be worth hiring a vehicle for transportation of the clay to a clay manufacturer up in Stoke for processing….. It’ll all need checking out again if the opportunity arrises – but fingers crossed…..
Titterston Clee Hill plateau
Looking south-east over the “dhustone” quarry
Clee Hill clay pulverised with a hammer
After slaking – I blunge the clay – mostly with a wooden paddle – but also, towards the end, by hand….
Dougie – perplexed as to what on earth is going on….