Earth and Fire, The Harley Gallery, Welbeck

A lovely day of sunshine and ceramics, set in the pleasant Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire countryside. After a 3 to 4 hour train journey we – Micaela, Celia, Sara and I – needed tea:

Celia, Micaela and Sara

Then down to the serious business of Earth and Fire.  The UCLanners were at the far end of the display area, so began with a swift scoot round all the stands en route.  We met Dave first, and, from what he said, it seems a good time had been had by all at the Potters’ Camp Site the evening before. His new, more organic work looks really good. Wendy next.  Her stand was adjacent to a patch of grass that made a fabulous display area for her larger work. Meri Wells also had a couple of larger pieces displayed there. Really showed off what they would look like in a customer’s garden.

Further on, Anna’s stand looked fresh and lovely, as ever.  She had Dave with her for company, so it was nice to meet him. Lanty and Rob had the stand next door.  Their look favoured a minimalist black and white:

The student and trade mag stands were at the far end.  Thankfully, our second years were having a good day.  Pam had had great feedback on her work, Rebecca had attracted gallery interest, and Katie’s bird’s egg bowls were selling like hot cakes.  Their stand looked great, with diverse work of a high standard – a real advert for the course:

Well done, second years!

I note that Cheryl is behind Rebecca.  We didn’t bump into her at all for the first few hours. We lost Micaela too. How is that possible?

The next stand was Wrexham School of Art, where Wendy also teaches. I liked the colourful slipped disks (ouch!) and the stacking pillowy bowl sculptures:

School of Art, Wrexham

Katie Plumb, I took a piccy of Nigel Edmundson’s stand for you.  His work is very distinctive, very descriptive of a picture-postcard Cumbrian landscape. Well made, too. He remembers you very well. Once seen………

Nigel Edmundson

There was so much to see it was mind-boggling.  Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you spot some stands you’ve missed.  And you start by assiduously noting the names of the potters, but after the first dozen or so,  names go out the window. By the end, ceramic overload sets in. Can’t remember who made what! Photos would have been helpful, but I didn’t take as many as I’d have liked.  It was generally too busy to wait to ask permission. A few were immediately memorable:

Matthew Blakely, like Nigel Edmundson, is inspired by landscape, but in a very different way.  Blakely collects the rocks and minerals and prepares the raw materials himself, so each of his works represents a specific location, giving him a special relationship with the landscape and geology of the location. Interestingly, his display was categorised by geological eras rather than place. I believe James Hake is also using local minerals and wood ashes, at least in his glazes.  Jane went to see James in his studio.  She’ll find both displays interesting as she is also making her own wood ash glazes.

Matthew Blakely and James Hake

I love the boldness of colour of Rob Sollis’s thrown raku work:


Rob Sollis

Also some of his forms – they look machine made they are so precise. They certainly don’t scream ‘ceramic’.  Amazing.

I rather liked James Faulkner’s eroded slip decorated forms (not sure about the moulded corrugated bottoms, though); Eric Ross’s wave forms and constructed pieces (do you think the bolts go through or do they just look like they do?); Akiko Hirai’s erupting moon pots and textured plates (the moon pots might go a bit OTT); Colin Jowitt’s inlaid squiggly slip decoration (a bit like some of Lanty’s surfaces); and Craig Underhill’s improved depth of surface texture and colour.

Eric Ross’s stand was interesting, because it really didn’t show his work to best advantage.  I can imagine his work in a gallery, looking amazing. And that seemed to be a trend.  Comparing those we saw at CAL with their E&F displays, it seemed CAL is nearer to gallery display while E&F is closer to craft market. The flat tables offer less scope, of course, and promote the market feel. Ashraf Hanna prowled panther-like at CAL, but here said a cheery hello (I hope he didn’t remember the rim fingering incident at CAL!) while he lolled and chatted to his wife. A lesson learned – don’t let your display cloth overpower your ceramics!

There were talks and demonstrations in the Pottery Studio.  I’d planned to go to Roger Lewis’s ‘Developing Ideas with Clay – how one idea can lead to another’, but missed it for some reason.  Maybe the draw of the sticky flapjacks was just too strong. Micaela happened upon it looking for us, and said it was good. Disappointed to have missed it.

Roger Lewis

Celia said he did a demo/talk at UCLan for her BA group, and he uses car mats for texture and inflates his forms.

We happened upon a demo by Fleen Doran, who slab builds wood fired, salt glazed functional ware:

Fleen Doran Demo and butter dish

She made a butter dish, as above, first cutting the bowl from a template and folding to join.  The clay was surprisingly soft and about .75 cm thick. She made the lid from a solid soft-edged rectangle, using her finger to stretch and shape the apex.  The internal stay is then added. She then adds four blobs for feet, one for a knob, and finishes with a stamped design. I admired her skill. Stretching and shaping the clay from inside is something for me to consider.  As enthusiastic as she was, I also know that I have no interest in wood firing or salt glazing – give me a nice leccy kiln any day.

Jo Pipkin told me Annie Peaker was her hero, and she’d learned a lot from her demo at Potfest, so Annie’s frog prince demo was a must.  She constructs her forms from soft slabs, which she has already textured.  She prefers colours on procelain, but doesn’t want to model with porcelain, so she adds a layer of porcelain over grey clay, aiming for a 1:10 ratio. She then dries the porcelain layer with a blow torch, and rolls it out to produce a cracked/crackle texture, and bends it to create linear cracks, as can be seen in the polar bears below.  The texture shows through the transparent glaze. She also uses net etc rolled into the surface.

Annie Peaker, frogs and polar bears

Like Fleen Doran, she cuts her templated shapes from flat slabs, then alters the form from the inside. The limbs are hollow coils of slabs.  She has organised her construction so she can attach all parts from the inside before closing the form. The exact opposite of the James Oughtibridge method.  Interesting.

Annie clearly has keen observational skills, but, for her, what we know is more important than what we see.  What we conceive to be a frog based on cultural experience of cartoons, fairy tales etc is what she makes. Also interesting.

Whether using clear or opaque glazes, she uses stains from CTM, which I think is the suppliers Cheryl visited recently. I’d have to say that I prefer Annie’s polar bears in the uncoloured state, but that’s just my taste.

She has good business skills, too, plugging her courses at every opportunity.  I imagine she’ll get a a few inquiries from this, as she explains her process well with humour and a relaxed style.

Given my inability to remember who and what I saw, I’ve spent ages preparing a slideshow of the rest of the exhibitors:

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All too soon it was time for taxi driver Peter to take us to Creswell for the journey home. For next year, he’s To ‘N Fro taxis, 01623 748459 – excellent service. Here we are on Creswell Station, discussing the prospect of it being ‘us’ next time!


NB next year we must make time to visit the Harley Gallery and nearby Creswell Crags


4 thoughts on “Earth and Fire, The Harley Gallery, Welbeck

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