Wednesday 30 June 2010

A Renewed Spirit in Clay

Here's a copy of an essay, written by David Whiting, that accompanies the on-line exhibition. I've had stuff written about me before, but never by somebody that I haven't met. I'm really very pleased with this essay, he's got it absolutely right.

Doug Fitch and Geoffrey Fuller
A Renewed Spirit in Clay

Doug Fitch and Geoffrey Fuller both live and pot in areas which have their own strong traditions of slipware, and their work is perhaps best understood in the context of its older vernacular history rather than its more recent studio revival – one that began with Leach and Cardew in the 1920’s and 30’s.

They are country-based craftsmen – Fitch in Devon and Fuller in Derbyshire – as immersed in their landscapes as they are in the most direct and expressive quantities of clay and slip. Modern studio slipware can be wonderfully vibrant but, more often than not, it woefully fails, as evidenced in some of the group surveys of this medium in recent years. There is a tendency to squeeze the life out of the clay through precision-control techniques of throwing, turning and decoration.

Not the case with Fitch and Fuller. They make work that preserves that almost 1ndescribable tremor of wheel and hand, of the soft subtleties of their materials, much in the spirit, despite each potter’s individuality, of their craftsmen forebears.

Geoffrey Fuller, the elder of the two, is Derbyshire-born and studied pottery at Chesterfield in the 1960’s(where my father Geoffrey was one of his teachers), followed by a spell at Farnham. His artistic roots are complex; starting out as a stoneware salt - firer, he looked to early European pottery and the earthy directness of traditional Japanese wares. These remained important influences, along with other country pottery traditions and folk art in Europe and beyond. Then there is a specific slipware heritage; Buckley, North Devon, Ewenny and the beautiful pieces made in North Staffordshire, not so distant from Fuller’s home.

Anonymous exemplar pots line the shelves of The Three Stags’ Heads, the atmospheric pub he and his wife have run since they moved to Wardlow Mires over twenty years ago. There is Portugese saltglaze, pieces of slip, large earthenware crocks, Staffordshire figures. And while he admires and possesses much studio work, he has strong views about a craft that can over-refine, that can try to compete with the natural voice of the material. He stresses the difficulty of maintaining that necessary balance and dynamic in his own work. It is not something you can force, it comes from a deep but often elusive empathy with the clay. What is so rewarding about Geoff’s pots and figures is their quiet renewal of tradition.

His tablewares have some of the feel of medieval vessels with their gently pulled and squeezed forms, their soft earthy coloration with thin washes of slip that soak into the clay. The way he applies decoration, the way he articulates a jug or indents the rim of a bowl gives the finished object a sense of freedom and preserved plasticity. His splendid figures may remind us superficially of Staffordshire flat-backs and pew groups, but there is also a broader language of art and imagery to which they are related, from Romanesque carvings on Norman churches and medieval wooden misericords to na├»ve 18th century pub wall paintings and popular broadsheet tailpieces. Fuller’s figures communicate with the same fresh directness and mystery, but they don’t lie in the past. They are modern objects that enliven and humanise our domestic spaces. They are wonderfully life affirming.

Fuller and Fitch employ a palette naturally reflective of their physical environment, the place from where their minerals derive. Whether it be the hills and crags of Derbyshire or the green valleys and varied coastline of Devon, the hues and texture of their locations are expressed in the quiet ochres, greens and earth-browns that distinguish these pieces.

With such a strong earthenware inheritance in Devon, it is not surprising that Fitch initially used the famous Fremington clay to make pots so redolent of that land, and now he digs the material from his own patch. But Fitch isn’t a Devonian by birth. He studied pottery at Derby in the early 1980’s before eventually moving here in 1990 to become a technician at what is now the University of Plymouth. He established his own pottery at idyllic Stockleigh English in 2004, where he built a large wood-fired kiln.

Much as Fitch admires Michael Cardew and has a special regard for his near-neighbours Clive Bowen, Nic Collins and Svend Bayer, he, like Fuller, particularly loves the countrypots made from medieval times onwards to serve local communities – jugs, dishes, brewing jars, spigot pots and so forth. His bold wares possess many of their qualities, generously potted with thick creamy glazes. Minimal decoration is often wiped through or turned to reveal rich underlying colour. Their quirks of form, a sturdy handle or flattened lip, recall 14th century detail. His jugs and big storage jars have a reassuring solidity and are full of engaging character and personality. They are pots that exude the magic of this particular maker’s ‘return to the land’ and the lasting values he finds there.

Fitch epitomises what might be described as a new ‘Devon School’ in his approach to pottery. Here in the West Country, are a small group of potters who, engaged by the extraction of local materials, by a particularly expansive attitude to making firmly rooted in locality, and by the high drama of kiln firing, have imprinted their work with a new elementalism. Doug Fitch and Geoffrey Fuller may be geographically more disparate, but both have, in similar ways, greatly freed up narrower modern definitions of craft to return to an essentially pre-industrial, pre-studio attitude to clay, one of considerable force and strength.

David Whiting, April 2010.

Back from Rufford

Just had a really good weekend at Rufford. Thank you to everybody who bought my pots. I met some lovely people, old friends and new and had some great conversations.

Nic and I travelled together, along with two students, who are over from Austria. They are staying with Nic and Sabine for few weeks, on college placements. They were a big help throughout the weekend, particularly when Nic and I skived off on Sunday to watch the dismal England match.

While we were away, we stayed with our old chum from college days, 'Brigsy' and his wife, Claire, who always welcome us into their home when we travel to Rufford - they live a couple of miles away from the show. Big thanks to them for their kindness.

Here I am with my recent summer haircut, infront of my stand. I was glad to be short in the locks, because the sun beamed down on us the whole weekend.

It was good to see Alex McErlain and John Mathieson. The dishes they're holding were made on the Michael Cardew moulds I acquired some time ago. Some of you will remember that Alex made the film Hollyford Harvest at my place last year, for the Montpellier Film Festival. He called me yesterday to say that the film has now been selected as the opening film at the Reel to Reel International Film Festival in North Carolina. Thanks Ron for the nod on that one.

John Mathieson, on the right, wrote this fabulous book - and this one too.

Gnarly Nic....

and his beautiful pots - his stand looked brilliant, as always.

More of my chums, left to right, Paul Young, Tim Hurn and Arwyn Jones . Follow the links to see some fabulous pots.

Home again. We got up at 4 am on Monday morning and travelled back. Unloading at my workshop, the Austrian students, Matt in the van and Ramona on the right. My display unit was made from part of the old kitchen from the Village Hall, that I rescued from the bin - it was a bit tatty, but served the purpose.
The late nights, early mornings and hot weather took their toll on me however and yesterday I had a horrible migraine attack. My medication was packed in the box of important things that I'd taken away with me, which I'd left at the workshop, so it was a miserable day, followed by a migraine hangover today. I feel much better tonight thankfully.
I've just got home from the Village Hall, where we had the final, dressed rehearsal for the village play this evening. The play opens tomorrow night - eek. If it's anything like this evening's performance, I think the prompt is going to be playing most of the parts!

My on-line show with Geoff Fuller has gone live tonight and I see that already two of the pieces have been bought, how exciting. To view the pots, follow this

Well that's all for now, making pots and planting flowers tomorrow, nice :-)

Goodnight all

Thursday 24 June 2010

Off to Rufford

My word it's been a busy day today, starting with a beautiful walk to work through the lanes. It hasn't rained for ten days now, in fact it's been scorching every day.

I spent today trying to sort out my pots for Earth and Fire. I always struggle when it comes to setting up my stand, so in a fit of panic, I rang my friend Heather and asked her if she'd come and help me. She's really good at that sort of thing and sorted it right out brilliantly.I'm taking these shelves and some big lumps of wood that I've borrowed from my mate Cookie.

So Off to Rufford in the morning. Nic's coming to collect me first thing, with a van that we've hired between us. I'm looking forward to the journey and a chance fo a proper good natter with my old chum Nic. It's going to be great to see some of my other pottery buddies when we get there too.

These are a few snapshots of some of the pots I'll be taking.
I had to dash home this evening to go to rehearsals for the play that I'm in. It opens a week tomorrow, (slightly worrying that none of us know our lines yet). After that I had to go back to work and have spent the rest of the evening packing pots, not long home, so ready for bed, it's been a looooooong day.
So there we go. I'll be away now until Monday, but I'll post some pics next week from the show. Have a lovely weekend all, bye for now.

Monday 21 June 2010


My family on Father's Day, hiding in the shrubbery! Happy Father's Day Dad, love you, look forward to seeing you soon.
Here are some pictures from the walk home from work this evening. It was another beautiful day in Devon.

Valerian growing in the church wall. This stuff grows out of the walls everywhere round here.

A bird higher than the moon

Sweet smelling honeysuckle in the hedgerow provided an amazing fragrance all the way home.

These weren't so sweet smelling!

Foxgloves are common in the hedgerows at this time of year.

as are Bracken and ferns. Some of the hedgerows that line the lanes are about 12ft high at the moment.

Sunshine on the fields

The rose on the workshop wall in bloom. The garden is entering its summer phase now, lots of new growth on the plants I planted out over the past couple of years.

Well I'll try to post some pot pics tomorrow.

Happy Monday all.

Saturday 19 June 2010

The good are good and the bad are bad

Well I wasn't too pleased with this, it's not unlike the early Michael Cardew pots that Angie mentioned.
I wasn't pleased with this either, or some of the really dull brown pots, of which there were a fair few.
But I am very pleased with these, hurrah!

Barry Wilson from Earthmarque is coming on Monday to collect the pots for the show with Geoff Fuller. I haven't decided which pots to put in the show yet and as it's an on-line exhibition, I'd like the first pictures of those pots to be on the Earthmarque site. In the meantime, here are some (blurred)detail shots just to tease you!

I'll get some pictures up soon. Panic stations now, getting ready to leave for Rufford on Wednesday.

Back soon

Thursday 17 June 2010

Blimey that was hard work!

What an exhausting day yesterday was, nearly twenty hours spent chucking wood into a kiln, is it any wonder that I look like a mad man? I had great help from Adam and Ali, friends from Plymouth Museum. Unfortunately I couldn't find my camera amongst the chaos of the workshop while they were here, so didn't get a chance to get a shot of them in action.

But I found it later on to take this shot of Marky Mark and me.

MM came along after work and stayed stoking with me until the bitter end, which was about 3.30 this morning - we were(and still are) completely knackered. I couldn't do this without him, he's a gem - particularly if you consider he only has one small pot in the kiln.

So now the wait. I've learned not to have any particular expectations and have tried not to think about what might be hidden behind the brick door - I just hope it's going to be alright and that I'll have some pots for the forthcoming shows - if not, I'm in big trouble. But this is the risk of firing pots in naked flame, it could go either way.

I think we did everything right last night though, dry kiln, dry wood and some experiments with the pack, aimed at achieving a more even temperature between the top and the bottom of the chamber. I've sometimes overfired the pots at the top, in order to get the bottom ones hot enough. This time, the temperature was much more even throughout, so it would seem that the alterations to the kiln worked - I'll know tomorrow when I unbrick the door with excited trepidation.

Without wishing to sound too nerdy, my kiln is designed for the heavy reduction firing of stoneware. I'm trying to fire earthenware, with a small amount of reduction. It has to be stoked gently up to temperature, to avoid heavy reduction which causes earthenware pots to go dark brown and bubbly - ie, chuck too much wood on at once, you'll get lots of thick black smoke and brown pots. It's tempting sometimes though in the middle of the night to pile in loads of wood in desperation for a quick rise in temperature, but we managed to keep our patience in spite of being exhausted.

So after getting to bed(sofa)at some time after 4.30 am, today got off to a slow start - lots of cups of tea and a chat with Ron on Skype. I then walked to work along the beautiful Devon lanes, bathed in scorching sunshine.

The wild Dog Roses are in full bloom in the hedgerow - this picture's blurred, but you'll get the idea of the delicate beauty of these flowers and I think you'll understand why I'm often inspired to use their image on the surface of my pots.

The farmers have been busy making hay while the sun shines. The distant hills, Dartmoor.

The grasses are all flowering at the moment, I'm fortunate not to suffer from hay fever, but the pollen even made my nose a bit sniffy today.

This is a caterpillar 'tent'. When I was a kid I used to breed butterflies and moths in glass fronted cases. I'd even take them away on family holidays and we'd have to spend our time scouring the countryside, looking for the relevant foodstuff. I eventually got freaked out by looking at too many magnified photographs of these bugs and gave up!

Here's the end of the track that leads to my workshop. When I got to work, I felt too tired to do very much other than tidy up a bit and drink tea on the bench. It didn't help much that there was a big brick box of a kiln at 400C, sitting there like a giant storage heater.

Big day tomorrow then, very happy, or very sad, time will tell. For now, goodnight all

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Firing time

Well the kiln's packed tonight with a gas burner running overnight to drive off any moisture. It's been a really busy few weeks, with many long days, the last two nights I've been at work until 10.30 so I'm pretty tired - a mouth full of ulcers, nice.

I've made a lot of pots though- mostly jugs - that always seems to be the way. Now the kiln's packed, there are quite a few pots left over. They'll go into the next firing which will be precisely a month after this one, when I'll be sharing a kiln load with Alex. Here are some pictures, (in no particular order) of some of the pots in tomrrow's firing

Glazed pots
Some puzzle jugs I made earlier in the week
I'm hoping to have at least two good ones for my exhibition with Geoff Fuller and for Earth and Fire

Oak and ash leaf resist jug, the leaves taken from trees outside the workshop.

3lb jugs and 6lb jars

My mate Frank who came at the weekend and helped me get the back on the woodshed roof - cheers Frank.

The workshop garden looking pretty. I'll do a bit outside tomorrow during the slow part of the firing - cut the lawn, plant some more stuff, generally tidy up. I like to tinker in the garden on firing days.
Well a bit of a disjointed blog post - I'll try and keep this a bit more up to date once things calm down a bit. Crazy, when there's loads going on, there's never enough time to write about it.
Keep your fingers crossed for me tomorrow - by Friday I'll be either elated or despondent.
Shower, then bed time, another long day tomorrow. Goodnight all

Wednesday 9 June 2010

One week to firing day

Just a quick post to tell you that I'm still alive and well. I've been working flat out. I had a lot of losses that set me back a while, so I had to withdraw from The Contemporary Craft Fair. I hope the sun shines for them this weekend. I fire my kiln on Wednesday with pots for Earth and Fire and my Earthmarque exhibition with Geoff Fuller. I've lots of other stuff to talk about, but for now I'm going to sign out and get some sleep. Back soon.