Pint beakers:

My latest project has been a further investigation of clay collected from my home county, specifically around the villages of Ockeridge and Sinton Green in Worcestershire. The line of investigation has been facilitated by my friends in this area, who have given me access to gardens and woodland, and permission to dig some clay.

I wanted to explore a different aspect of local function, moving beyond the pancheon work of the last few years. This project began after a discussion of the history of the pint glass one day in my local pub, The Plough on Deansway, Worcester. The pub is frequented by regulars, some of whom are either archaeologists, or who have a passion for this subject, and the conversation drifted to the fact that beer would have been drunk originally from, amongst other things, ceramic beakers – such as those found associated with the early Bronze Age Beaker Culture of c. 1000BC.

This led to a lengthy set of experiments with the Ockeridge (and other) clays, to arrive at the most satisfactory shape, size (to hold an exact pint), glaze, distinguishing features (makers marks / throwing rings) etc.

Hands and bowls

These photographs catalogue my fascination with the connections between people and place, materials and function – a vital area of focus for me.. For me ceramics can be functional and beautiful – and so often have a really deeply personal connection to the people that use them everyday. However – as this growing series of photographs shows, the materials available to people are so varied, and there are so many considerations – size, price, availability, durability, weight etc…. that whilst some people do have a strong sense of attachment – many don’t – the emphasis being more simply and directly about utility.

Photography

My photographs fall into two main categories: landscape and human. I attempt to capture the sense of curiosity and fascination I have for the landscapes I am exploring as I search for clay and glaze materials. I want to convey the beauty a place has; it’s form, the light, the natural habitats and living things there, the layers there are – historic activity now only hinted at by a bank, ditch, soil heap…. and also the materials present that I may be able use to make small batches of ceramics. As I explore these places, I also wish to record the people who help me, either with the offer of access to materials, or in allowing me to capture their specific connection to the work I am pursuing – recently that has been through baking….. The photographs set the context for my work, setting the scene that the pots alone cannot achieve.

Pancheons

My connection with pancheons starts with a visit to the Piece Hall in Halifax, in 1985. There was a stall selling these beautiful, functional bowls for a few quid a piece, and I came away with two – one for my parents and one for me. I have treasured this bowl ever since. During my meanderings and exploration of Isaac Button’s old workshop site north of Halifax, I found rim shards from broken pancheons identical to mine, scattered around the area and along the bridleway that led down from the site (which was then being converted into apartments – or so I was told). The classic still photograph taken from John Anderson’s 1966 film, Isaac Button Country Potter, shows Isaac carrying a ware board with five medium pancheons – again identical to the one I bought all those years ago. Given that these forms were not stamped with a makers mark – I can only guess – or hope that, mine is one from this iconic workshop.

My pancheons are made primary from locally sourced, hand-dug clay (earthenware and stoneware), and echo the traditional forms associated with bread making, dairying and general home use (washing etc.) that were made in the centuries before plastics, pressed steel and other cheaper, more durable alternatives became widely available. They come in a variety of sizes, most commonly with a diameter of 35 cm and a height of around 15 cm.

Special screening of Isaac Button Country Potter

We are showing the beautiful, evocative film Isaac Button Country Potter at a special film night at Dean Clough, Halifax on Wednesday 23rd November 2016 – starting at 7.30 PM (gathering around 7 PM)….. Filmed between 1964 and 1965 by John Anderson and Robert Fournier, we will be showing the full film in best digital format, on loan from the Yorkshire Film Archive. It should be a great evening, with John Hudson a potter from Mirfield (with huge knowledge and experience of the local ceramic traditions in the area – and beyond), coming along to say a few words and a chance for those gathered to share their own stories / connections. We have invited artists, potters, farmers, teachers / headteachers, lecturers, bakers, archaeologists….. hoping they will come along to explore the links between them all on the night.

RSVP please to let us know how many might be coming along – rbrakspear@phonecoop.coop

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Button brick (from Soil Hill) with details of film night……