Updated: Nov 20, 2019
Early instincts....School days....Embers and Intentions...
PigElf begins.... ..........................................................................................................................................................................................
In one of my earliest, clear memories I am a small boy, on holiday with my parents in Ireland, we are on a beach and I am smashing stones. The beach was mostly sandstone pebbles mixed and softened by the sea, I had found a small outcrop of harder rock, which became my anvil, and a smaller, but still heavy lump to use as a smasher. I smashed all afternoon, not angrily, but full of purpose and determination, for I had a plan. I would sort the soft pebbles into piles by their colour, smash them, carefully keep the different coloured dusts separate and then find out what colours I could make.
I was full of curiosity, and imagined all sorts of wonderful outcomes, all afternoon I ignored the possibilities of rock pools or buried treasure in the dunes, took the quickest possible time to eat my sandwidges and smashed. I didn't tell anyone of my brilliant plan, I just smashed, occassionaly have a break to do some sorting. Come the end of the day I had indeed accumulated several, very different, piles of dust. As blankets were packed away, i hastily mixed the piles in my bucket, expecting the most spectacular alchemy to unfold, added water, and got........brown. Ugly brown.
Disappointed, I pondered my failure, tried to convince myself that my theory still had merit and promptly forgot all about it for a few decades.....
Single figures turned to double digits, I went off to a boarding school in the Yorkshire Dales. It was here that I met Matthew Ellwood. When not playing rugby or running up and down fells, inmates were encouraged to take advantage of the various facilities that the school had to offer and these included a ceramics department.
When time came to choose our GSCE's, no one was at all surprised that Matt, an unrepentant dyslexic and obviously talented young creative, opted for Art, Ceramics, Design and Technology, and only accepted the requirements to study silly things like Maths, Science and English under duress.
I, however, was a geeky academic and was expected to choose my subjects accordingly. Suffice it to say, there were a few raised eyebrows when I announced my intention to drop Ancient Greek in order to make space for a GCSE in Ceramics. The head of Classics became briefly apoplectic, told me I would regret this crass foolishness and, for the following four years, he invariably gave me out at cricket and never again called me by name. Instead he referred to me simply as 'potter', always pronounced to ryhme with 'scum'.
Matt and I proceeded to slab, coil and sprig our way through the GCSE course, sketchbooks full of 'source' material were hastily created from nothing the night before handing in dates and we came to understand that our school's kiln had been cursed, and could only produce various shades of, usually Ugly, brown.
After school, life happened, things transpired and times were had. I dropped out of Medical school and followed my feet, Matthew got a degree in product design and became a well known North East Artist. We remained good friends. Sometime around 2010 we came across an abandoned kick wheel, in a shed, at a house clearance. We rescued it and tucked it away, in another shed, against the possibility that one day we might find the space and time to make a few pots.
Around about the same time, I happened upon a few fantastic pots, displayed in a small gallery in Alston, Cumbria. They were simply stunning, vivid reds contrasting against black slip on porcelain, not a hint of Ugly brown! I marvelled at them for half an hour, slightly regretted my inability to afford one and filed away the fact that great colour on pots really could be achieved. The potter was the now eminent, County Durham based, Eddie Curtis.
In August 2015 my father, aged 88 at the time, broke his hip and needed care. I moved back to Cumbria to look after him, rather fortunately for me my parents had just erected a new garage and not yet started filling it. I reasoned that caring for a loved one in their last years would likely be highly challenging and that learning a new skill wouldn't be the worst way to balance that stress. Here was some suitable space and some suitable time, so we oiled up the kickwheel, bought a few bags of clay and a secondhand kiln on ebay. As you do.....
Over the next 2 years I learnt the by hook or by crook technique that a treadle style kickwheel demands. Anyone wanting to learn throwing in the you tube age is blessed with the opportunity to watch a wide variety of potters doing the same process in a range of different ways. However, the electric wheel has become the standard, and although the principle of moving clay to where you want it, is the same, the power source is significantly different. On an electric wheel you need to keep your body still and translate that stillness into the controlled movement of your hands. Working on a kickwheel you need to do the same thing, keeping your body still and controlling your hands whilst ALSO powering the wheel by moving your right leg up and down vigorously and continuously. It's a challenge and stressful on one's back, however i like a challenge and quickly found that the satisfaction of forming a pot, even if it was a small, slightly wonky plant pot, was really rather pleasantly addictive.
Once my rustic but hard won creations started to be fired and glazed, I knew the bug had bitten. The excitement of taking a bisque fired pot, grabbing a random glaze recipe from the internet, making up a bucket of mixed mineral slop, dipping said pot, loading the kiln and observing the resulting transformation was, and is, something something that makes my soul sing. Those moments of revelation and the pondering in between them sustained me through the challenges of caring for a parent as he lived his final couple of years.
There was plenty of time to think in those months, and to reflect on the fact that I had explored a good few different paths in life, and that although they all had had value and had taught me useful insights, i had not settled into anything resembling a career. Looking ahead, I didnt really fancy being a domicialary care worker or a restaurant supervisor again, and the prospect of ending up in a call centre was frankly unacceptable, I could sense a possibility and an opportunity in this shed. It might not be the most obviously lucrative way to keep bread on the table, however there were obviously a few people who made a living from turning mud into pounds and pence. The more i thought about it, the more i thought why not give it a go.....
the rest they could say, is history...in this case history still to be told...to be continued 09/11/2019