This was a project that I initiated over 2018, a venture to explore a new place, with a unique and diverse set of materials, a range of new people to meet, and with a very clear functional set of outcomes. The idea sprang from discussions with my son and his friends, following on from the beer beakers project (see Pints and Local) and from a decade or more of conversations with my father-in-law up in Glasgow about the qualities of various whiskies – he had worked for Chivas in Dalmuir up until retirement. It struck me that it would be fascinating to focus on one iconic location, the Isle of Islay, and that this would dove-tail firmly with the core aim of my work, of giving people the opportunities to make connections between place, function and sustainability, through something they will enjoy using day to day (or maybe week to week…).
The project started with a series of internet searches, to see if I could find evidence of previous ceramic industry on the island. Fortunately, this was easily found, through the amazing Scottish Brick and Tile website, which brought me to a brick and tile works that operated, briefly near Foreland in the middle of the nineteenth century ( seemingly as a desperate attempt to repair the finances of a failing estate – which didn’t succeed). I telephoned the estate and gained permission to take a few samples from the site of the old works, and made a lot of investigative phone calls…. However, I didn’t realise how much gold I would strike until I actually arrived on the island in April of that year, and met some wonderful people who really opened up doors of possibility that allowed the project to flourish.
After that initial visit, collecting various clay and rock dust samples, which saw me visiting farms, cliff faces, distilleries…. I headed home for a few months of experimentation in the workshop, finding that some of the ‘wild’ boulder clays did indeed match up with my hopes and would fire to stoneware temperatures, and that some of the clays, ashes and rock dusts made beautiful glazes. Bruichladdich distillery responded enthusiastically to a letter and sample I sent them and a return visit was planned for the autumn of that year…… That visit cemented my link with Bruichladdich (see Pots of Terroir), but sadly, Foreland estate declined my enquiries as to whether I could dig a couple of bags of clay. To the rescue came Octomore Farm – where James the farmer there was happy for me to dig a couple of wheelbarrow loads, and the project could continue!
I am hoping that the project can continue into 2021…. I was due to attend the whisky festival on the island in May 2020, throwing the whisky numbers and water jugs that I sell now through Bruichladdich, but the pandemic put paid to that. Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to attend either this year – or next. HUGE thanks to Ailsa, Danny, James and so many others who have helped make this project possible.