Monday, 13 April 2009

traditional pottery in the UK

I am a huge fan of traditional pottery and draw a lot of inspiration from potters, their work, their pots and in many cases their writing too. Pottery seems to have a connection with the earth and with it's historical routes in a way that I like to think my work does but much of woodworking in the UK has lost. As I start to write this I don't know if I can say anything meaningful in just one blog post, we will see.

Let's start in the medieval period when virtually no plates and bowls were made from pot (people ate and drank from wooden bowls) but there were a great many potteries making earthenware cooking pots, storage jars and beautiful jugs. English medieval jugs have been praised, are revered around the world and have evolved and been rediscovered by many potters working today.

In the 17th and 18th centuries pottery changed, for the first time many open forms were produced. Dishes became a common form many of which were decorated with slip, that is a thin clay of a different colour to the main body of the pot often applied by pouring in a decorative pattern. Thomas Toft is the maker everybody knows but this grand work does little for me, I love the simple slip trailed dishes that were made in vast numbers for everyday use.

There are some dishes at Haddon Hall that I adore, they are made with such a free hand and also have the patina of many years use. I would love one of these dishes to bake lasagna.

In the early twentieth century there were still a few country potteries turning out traditional slipware, saltglazed stoneware and such but then largely through the influence of Bernard Leach (author of "a potters book" and translator of a personal favourite "the unknown craftsman") there was a revival of small scale potteries producing domestic ware. Some of these worked in old British traditions many blended in Japanese techniques and high fired stoneware became much more popular becoming very much part of our modern traditional heritage. Bernard Leach's grandson John still makes a range of domestic stoneware at Muchelney Pottery

Leach's greatest pupil was Micheal Cardew who made some of the most glorious slipware pots ever, his greatest pupil in turn was Svend Bayer, a favourite potter of mine who I shall do another post on later. For now though lets stay with slipware, to many Clive Bowen is the greatest name in slipware working today, I love his work but I would like to look instead at Doug Fitch a slipware potter who has an excellent blog here Doug works in Devon, there is a tremendous group of potters in Devon I don't know why, presumably the clay is good, perhaps when they all moved there housing was cheap but it is interesting that the Devon tradition should be so vibrant today when so many of the other areas the did support good pottery traditions have died out.

Doug makes a range of pots but the ones that stand out for me are his slipware jugs, full of vitality and very much part of a living tradition goin back to those medieval potters 600 years ago, never static, each generation reniventing the tradition and adapting old techniques to meet the needs and tastes of the day.

Most exciting for me is that Doug recently acquired by wonderful good fortune Micheal Cardew's original moulds for making the moulded dishes and having seen what he does with jugs I am really looking forward to seeing how the dishes turn out, perhaps I will get my lasagna dish after all.

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