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)
Grey chun bowl
Triaxial glaze experiment and blue chun pancheon…
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
Titterstone incline, Clee Hill
Foam on Newport beach.
Clee Hil: flooded quarry
The quarry North West of Clee Hill village
Stormy beaches – exposing clay….
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.
Prototype Plough beaker
What makes a pint? It’s what is inside that counts.
Ockeridge earthenware clay beaker with chun type glaze.
Pint beaker with Plough green glaze.
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.
John’s mixing tub
Aaron’s baking bowl – Handmade Bakery, 2015
Smila’s mixing bowl
Pancheon. October 2015. Valentines clay with china clay slip and lead sesquisilicate glaze.