The Teachings of Clay

Terracotta is the most abundant clay in the earth. It starts off in rock, then, as it?s carried through waterways, it travels. As it travels more and more it picks up impurities before being deposited back into those waterways. It?s the impurities that give terracotta its beautiful rich colour.

Working with clay teaches you about yourself, according to potters Emilie Taylor?and Victoria Dawes. Clay contains and honours impurities. Making pots offers us the chance to shed our obsession with perfection and the belief there is only one way of doing things.

Handmade pots celebrate difference.

Difference is what makes a community: the variety of people living together. Pottery sits with that variety and holds it.

Each pot, plate or bowl, functions as a container. Emilie is interested in exploring the trust that is formed as people prepare the tableware, the stories told and how they might be sealed into the clay. Pottery has always told the history of people: what is found in fragments is how archaeologists understand a society, perhaps more so that what is written?

Victoria?s approach to making comes from her early transient life. When she started making pots she meditated on what home meant to her. She was making functional pieces for people to take home, for them to become a part of people?s life. At her wheel, she thinks of the furniture that have been passed down through the generations of her family that have moved from house to house, crystal glasses and candlesticks and dinner services collected by different members of her family. All these elements of her familial home feed into her pottery.

Both potters believe craft making is where conversations start, where meaning slips out sideways, through our fingers, through that connection with the earth. These conversations are then drawn into the white slip covering.

Over the summer they?ve run weekly workshops at Groundwork?s community gardens: Cherry Trees and Chepstow Gardens. Groundwork have developed these spaces as inclusive, safe and gentle spaces for people to grow plants and meet people. Homeless people, users of nearby artist studios and young families have all enjoyed these places where Emilie and Victoria explored the thoughtfulness and patience of pottery.

One participant found his own rhythm over the months, drawing everything on the allotment, then translating these drawings onto the plates. He made three plates, three bowls, his own service.

In another workshop two sisters began to draw their recipes and favourite meals (Jamaican lamb, rice and peas & chicken korma) on a piece paper, nervous, uncertain how to distinguish a kidney bean from sweet potato. Mistakes were made, but there was no rubber. They were told, clay is forgiving. And at this stage, on paper, anything could be reshaped or relocated in the final design. With some ideas sketched down they took the pencil to the slipware with a tentative confidence, a bolder leading of the line, scoring ridges into the plate. By the end of the workshop they each had recipes of their favourite meals designed into the plates, ready for firing.

Forgiving at the making stage, perhaps, but clay turns merciless at this point. Anything can happen when the pot goes into the kiln. Some embrace the unexpected, others are unsure at developments.

There?ll be a harvest lunch for everyone who has taken part in the project so far, where the fates of the plates will be revealed, alongside some of the stories and faces behind the pottery. Come back in a couple of weeks to read and see these stories.

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