During my twenties I attended pottery evening classes as an antidote to the stress of the day job. For three or four years Bonnie Kemske disarmed the paralysed feeling and I made things with slabs of clay. The things were monstrously chunky and wonky but the making of them was joyous. She encouraged hand-building, the use of small everyday objects such as keys or seeds to make surface texture and the mixing of our own glazes. Eventually I bypassed the glaze room altogether and broke up old bottles and marbles, allowed the kiln to melt them on tiles I’d made and bingo – clay coated with a layer of glass:
Clay is one of my first loves. The cool, smooth, squidgy feel of it and the bafflingly huge number of possibilities in each lump of clay used to leave me paralysed during school art classes. If I was given some clay it was like being faced with the penny sweet counter aged 6 – too much goodness, too many choices. What to make? I would freeze.
Eventually hand-modelling clay, the silver sort, became the day job:
There were potters’ wheels in Bonnie’s class. I used to watch the wheel-throwers with awe. They were literally spinning plates out of clay. I longed to be able to do this. It seemed as mystical and wondrous as particle physics.
Ten years ago I signed up to a weekend course with Deborah Baynes. I read the website: two whole days of throwing, interspersed with large helpings of food and wine. I’d never been on a making holiday before. It sounded thrilling and almost too indulgent. After several Generation Game-style comedy clay disasters my fingers started to learn what to do thanks to Deborah’s patience. I came away with a small bowl, a jug and a pencil pot. I also gained a bit of an apple crumble baby.
When I returned to Suffolk in mid-March for another of Deborah’s weekends I worried that the fledgling skills I’d learned in 2004 would have disappeared. In the meantime I’d had children and I’m fairly certain my vocabulary has diminished or at least gone to fallow. Would the neurons responsible for the clay-wrangling remain?
A Vine of Deborah teaching us how to add a ‘belly’ to a pot.
Thrillingly my concerns were unfounded. My brain and fingers remembered. What’s more I could build on them thanks to Deborah’s ace tuition. I made the things in the top image. They’re useable!
As I’ve said before, I like eating and drinking vessels, not just looking vessels.
I’ve drunk tea from most of them. One of them is good for pasta or cereal.
One of them looks good with flowers in it.
Thankyou thankyou Deborah. You helped me to spin some pots into existence from several lumps of clay. I’m beyond thrilled.