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.
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.
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.
This experimental work and finished pieces will be on view on for my stall as part of the University of Bath Spa’s stand in the Learning Zone at the Contemporary Craft Festival at Bovey Tracey (10th-12th June).
Thanks to Matt, Aaron and the team at The Handmade Bakery Company in Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire, who helped me with my recent MA project, linking an exploration of Soil Hill (the site of Isaac Button’s pottery up until the late 1960s), with the pancheon, the form of baking bowl which became a key link object for the project. This was, in part because it is a form I have always been drawn to (as readers of several previous posts will know), but is also because many of the broken sherds of pottery that I found on the surface of the bridleway leading to the pottery at Soil Hill, were rim fragments from large 49-50 cm diameter pancheons. This association led to investigations into the potential local clay sources have for making these beautiful bowls, a series of photographs to try and capture the unique landscape of the hill and the area around it, and to my visits to the Handmade Bakery Co to discuss the contemporary choice of bowls for mixing, rising and proving dough.
I made two small c. 27 cm / 11 inch pancheons for the bakery as a way of saying thanks – photographed yesterday…… One was made of clay from the hill, the other from Valentine’s terracotta.
As part of my place and pancheons project, I have been photographing bakers and their favourite bowls for mixing and rising dough in their baking process. The hands you will see are of my neighbours, bakers from the locations of my clay hunting, relatives and friends… As you will see from a sample of the photographs shown here, the bowls are made of a wide variety of materials – ceramic, plastic, pyrex, bakelite….materials that come from a global reach – far from the direct association with local materials and makers. I don’t want to cast any value judgements here, I’m not trying to preach a local is best mantra, only perhaps to highlight the discontinuity – and the opportunity to reconnect.