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.
There’s a lot more to follow on this, and another of my small books available to tell the story behind these beakers.. They’re made from the clay dug In my good friend Mick’s bit of woodland, and have become a bit of a talking point at my local pub, The Plough on Deansway, Worcester, where my prototype is used by yours truly several times a week……
Mick’s clay fresh from the ground.
The clay pit.
My gift to return the favour.
My friend Mick has been more than generous in letting me dig some of the clay from his woodland near Ockeridge in west Worcestershire. Mick and his brother Tim manage the woodland for timber and firewood, mostly cutting single / selected trees, one at a time and avoiding clear felling. The clay runs in bands through the woodland, close to the surface, making it easy to extract. It’s a beautiful material, mostly quite fine and free of stones or grit, although the decades of organic material (leaf mould) on the surface seem to give the clay a strong smell once it has been left to sour.
I have made Mick a pancheon from this clay, but I am connecting this new work to my making of beer beakers. More on these in posts to follow.