It’s amazing how a terracotta pot can survive outside in the garden for decades. Season after season it is resilient against the very worst the British Winter can hurl at it. And then, all of a sudden, it quite literally falls to pieces.
Frost damage occurs when water, absorbed into the ceramic wall freezes and expands. The force is strong enough to ‘spit out’ little chunks leaving the surface pot marked. Sometimes the force is strong enough to crack the vessel in two!
This button planter made by myself in the 1990’s with all it’s applied half spheres, lived happily and in tact, in the garden here at Eastnor pottery. Then out of the blue, quite recently, after a particularly wet and cold period, the planter shed all it’s buttons.
I can only deduce that the days of persistent rain had penetrated and saturated the pot. Under normal circumstances the pot would dry naturally, minimising the effect of the freezing water. On this occasion the sudden, plunging temperatures shortly after the deluge was sufficient to reek havoc. The conditions were spot on – a perfect storm!
I like the effect though – The area beneath the buttons resisted the lichen patina. When the buttons popped off, they left a satisfying terracotta polka dot pattern. Nature is the best artist!
Sensational Clay was my solo show and a culmination of many months of work, exploring ideas of invention, interaction and participation with clay.
All the works in the exhibition were inspired by the five senses: touch, taste, sound, smell and sight. Every item encouraged visitors to interact and explore, inviting them to experience the objects in a very different way than in a typical gallery setting.
A short film accompanied the exhibition which gave further insight into my practice and the processes used:
Included in the exhibition were:
Giant bowls of sand that visitors can delve into to discover hidden treasures
Tables filled with food inspired ceramics, such as giant teacups and biscuits
Interactive musical pots and rattle pots
Scented ceramic forms, reminiscent of pineapples, coconuts and bananas
Textured ‘clay doodle’ plates
The exhibition toured a further four UK art galleries and was experienced by approximately 12000 visitors. The other venues were:
Whilst experimenting with smoke fired pottery on the BBQ last Spring, I found a lot of my pots developed hair-line cracks and fissures due to the thermal shock of the flames licking the ware. There was only one course of action – make myself some saggers!
Those of you who might not be familiar with the word, a sagger is a protective fire-clay box enclosing ceramic ware while it is being fired.
Traditionally, they were used in the pottery industry to protect the pottery whilst it was fired in huge bottle kilns.
Above are some fine examples of antique saggers, piled high at Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke. They’ve obviously seen some action and been in and out of the kiln many many times, protecting their precious contents from the ferocity of the fire. The pitted and roasted surfaces really tell a story – I love the effect!
I used brick clay to make my saggers – x3 crude and rather brutal looking cylinders with lids made on the potter’s wheel and fired to 960 degrees.
Not only do the saggers prevent cracking, but I have produced some really intense blacks by packing combustible materials around the work inside the sagger. The twigs and sawdust inside the sagger smolder in the oxygen deprived atmosphere rather than burst into flame. This produces a lot of smoke which permeates the ceramic surface with great effect.
I’ve had so much fun experimenting with the saggers over the Autumn and Winter, firing them on the BBQ, bonfires and inside the house in the fireplace during the colder months.
They were produced at a time when I was busy experimenting with process and materials, using all sorts of clay bodies and firing temperatures.
I worked intuitively and quickly, blow torching freshly thrown vessels on the potter’s wheel so they’d take a layer or two of coloured slip. I’d then stretch, cut and distort the forms, pushing the wet clay to its limit.
I had so much fun and although I was excited by the results, I didn’t ever get to a point of turning all I’d discovered into a coherent body of work…. until now!
Over the coming weeks and months I’m aiming to revisit some of the techniques and produce some finished ware. Next year I’m booked to exhibit at Contemporary Ceramics Centre in London. You never know, some of the output might make an appearance there!?
Having been inspired by the success of my solo exhibition Sensational Clay, I was keen to explore in more detail some of the threads I’d been developing for the show – particularly the sonic possibilities. I was interested in adding a digital aspect to my work and contacted the digital sound artist Ashley Brown to see if he was interested in a collaboration. He was! and our work together culminated in three installations in three cultural venues in the city of Hereford. A promotional map and leaflet was also produced by Reeves Design.
HEREFORDSHIRE based potter Jon Williams from Eastnor Pottery has combined the core elements of his practice; ceramics, sound and public engagement, to produce three, site specific, interactive works of art in Hereford.
Musical Apples (10 green bottles) at The Cider Museum is a series of oversized ceramic apples with bronze leaves and stalks, displayed on eight magnificent Kilderkin barrels. Visitors are encouraged to gently caress the leaves to produce musical notes recorded from tinkling cider bottles.
Visitors to the Waterworks Museum on Broomy Hill will encounter a potter’s bench full of rustic jugs of various sizes and hand-thrown in a selection of different clays. Musical Jugs (Jack and Jill) can be tuned by filling the vessels with water and gently tapping the pots with beaters.
Musical Hotpots (Oranges and Lemons) at Old House Museum is inspired by the historic use of the magnificent timber-framed building. It’s been both a bank and a butchers shop. Museum visitors can play the terracotta and ceramic bone xylophone.
“Although clay is the primary material, I’ve collaborated with other artists and craftspeople to realise the work,” said Jon. “Artist blacksmith, Andrew Findlay and wooden furniture maker Timothy Hawkins, both based in Herefordshire but with national and international reputations, contributed to the making.”
Two of the installations rely on digital and electronic wizardry to fantastic effect. This has been enabled by Creative Technologist, Ashley Brown, who Jon worked with throughout the design and production.
The project was funded by Arts Council England and has taken Jon and his collaborators 12 months to develop and install, and all the elements are now permanent features at the museums.