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.

Blackpool Tea Party

Wabi Char with Young Carers

It is pouring with rain this August evening in Blackpool. It feels like November and yet inside tea is stewing, weaving its spell. Tea is more than a drink. It is a brew, a potion that slips its way into our memories and imaginations, the things that make us who we are.

At the head of our tea table sits Caroline Jupp, a self-professed afternoon tea drinker. She?s making and drinking tea with people all over Blackpool and Wyre, collecting stories of people?s tea drinking habits for her blog

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She has made two brews. A mojito inspired Moroccan mint tea, shaken with ice and served with cocktail umbrellas. And a Masala Chai which conjures Christmas (from its cinnamon sticks), childhood toothache (drawn out by the cloves) and fireball sweets (rolled and swallowed with the aniseed).

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It is raining. We are drinking magic around a table filled with mugs, cups, shot glasses, black tea, green tea, white tea, a mint plant, dried strawberries, chamomile flowers and a shiny mass of more packets, straws, glass pots, ceramic pots, metal pots and spoons.

We have different attitudes to tea. Some of us don?t drink any tea; some drink one or two cups a day; one needs five in the morning simply to wake up; and another swings from some days having one to eight on another. A quiet voice, almost lost behind the shimmer and shine of packaging, says tea gives them headaches. Not the tea they?re brewing tonight, though.

Imagine?each one of us as an ingredient to an enormous pot of tea being watered by the rain outside and infused by the chatter and activity within. The tea we mash this evening is stirred with our tea memories, new experiments, an old aroma, an improvisation or careful blends. From the ingredients on the table, the young people are invited to experiment for the infusion

What is made and what is spoken imbue this one-night-only concoction with the precision and freshness of a raindrop.

First in is a memory? Turkish Apple tea. As a powder it?s a bad thing to bring back from holiday, as customs get suspicious, but worth it, by all accounts. Just two teaspoons in a tulip shaped glass, no milk, gives a beautiful flavour. No tea flavour just apple. It?s supplied in the steam rooms so people don?t overheat and, despite the heat, everyone drinks it in the caf?s, to keep them cool.

More locally, Fresh and Fruity is whorled up on the spot, with enthusiasm and delight at the possibility of taking the majority of it home to share with a grandmother.

Slower, more considered is the making of a green tea, lime and mint infusion, as careful as the description of how green tea good for losing weight, has more anti oxidants in it than black tea, while white tea is less fermented, and how this drinker drinks a lot of white tea, likes it black, first started drinking white tea a year ago, moving on from green tea. This tea has no name but what?s in it.

All Hale Tealicious rides on the back of laughter, inspiration and friendship, coming from white tea, strawberries and mint. Mint is the crucial ingredient as this one is mint crazy. Mint candles aren?t enough for her, she needs to melt Vicks in the microwave, put it in hot water and leaves it to fragrant her room. How delicate is mint? She is testing the difference between tearing up a mint leaf and leaving it whole in the drink. Either way it is a delicate stream in the evening?s spice. Everyone agrees: tealicious.

Mint is also a memory of childhood, bringing happiness and relaxation. The perfect thing after a hard day: just a few leaves in a cup. Breathe it in.

Carer?s Cuppa is a cooperative essence, all following their noses, to replicate the Spring Garden Tea sitting dry in a wee glass jug. Spoonfuls of Japanese tea, rose buds, chamomile and strawberries are mixed, then bagged by another pair of steady hands, and labelled by another. This is an assembly line of concentration, a corner of industry, all because carers need calming down and a boost.

These eddies eventually, unavoidably, whirl into cocktail hour. It is decided a cocktail representing Blackpool needs to be rude, historic, busy. And is set to.

We have a cook who turns their hand to making anything, who takes to the pestle and mortar even though he?s never used one before, and before we know it, he?s pulverised the rock to resemble the sand on Blackpool?s beach. A peppermint sugar ready to lap the icy waters of the north.

Two variations. For every cocktail worth its salt has two beaches.

The Historic Blackpool Cocktail bouquets flowers: roses and chamomiles from the Victorian gardens, a pinch of Blackpool rock, strawberries because they?re always at the market. And black tea, like builders tea, because there are builders everywhere.

The Contemporary Blackpool Cocktail whisks up black Assam tea with equal mixes of Blackpool rock and dried strawberries. Tea pink.

Chin chin.

Caroline will be serving teas at the Banquet event in October in the style of some of the rituals she recorded through her tea ritual survey. She will select three or four, and be using the young carer?s cocktail recipes and serving those.

LeftCoast is a programme of arts?and creative activity happening?across Blackpool and Wyre. We?re all?about creating amazing art on your?doorstep.?From jaw-dropping spectacle to?intimate experiences in your?neighbourhood, we want to make art?happen. In the process we hope to?inspire and support creatives who?live, work and study here.

 

In Search of the Lost Orchards

Everyone has a story about apples. Adam and Eve. Snow White. Isaac Newton. William Tell?Philip Parr. Philip, a theatre maker running Lost Orchards of the Left Coast for Banquet, has plenty. The one he told me is quieter, with many branches that curve and bend towards the light, each carrying another story that had its own seeds that will grow into another story.

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Philip grew up in Sydney, Australia, next to an empty plot of land. It was left empty because the row of houses had been built from either end of the street, and where they were due to meet, the last plot, it was six inches too narrow for the final house. This vacant lot was attached to the neighbouring house. The one his parents bought. There were apricot and peach trees along with a grape vine on the lot, but completely overgrown. So they cleared the overgrowth and added lemons, mulberries, red grapes, more. Everything was transformed it into pies, jam, chutney, preserved and relished. So much so, fruit equals food in Philip?s head, real food that is as much an art as anything made.

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When he was looking for a house to buy, many years later, he found one in East London with a huge apple tree spreading across the width of the twelve foot garden, in fact beyond, as it overhung the neighbouring gardens. Whether this was the sole reason Philip wanted the house I don?t know, but I suspect it played a key role in his falling for it?

All the houses in this street had had apple trees planted in the back gardens when they were built, making a community orchard for the inhabitants of the street. When Philip found the house, there was still one other apple tree two gardens down and a crab apple further along the street, not as old as the one in Philip?s garden-to be, but a wonderfully ancient pollinator all the same.

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The house had been owned by just one family since it?d been built, and was for sale because its owner had died in an accident. Nobody else in the family wanted it. They just wanted it sold, and offered Philip a quick sale if he took it with all its contents. Philip agreed and moved in. Nobody had been in it since the day the previous owner had stepped out into his fate. So in view of this enormous apple tree that had grown alongside the family?s home, Philip read through the history that was stacked, shelved and boxed away in the house, learning of the rich life of his predecessor who had left school at 14, travelled the world, been a boxing promoter in Rhodesia, worked on cattle farms in Australia before returning to London to work as a motorcycle courier.

There are 600-700 apples on the tree this year. Philip?s already begun stewing them. They?re cookers which turn into eaters later in the season, soon they?ll be ripe for eating straight from the branches. Each one will form part of a new meal, a new story, a point at which to savour what life offers, a reminder to be open to the world around us.

Meanwhile he wants to pick apples from the trees he?s found in Blackpool and the Wyre. He wants to pick and cook these apples together with others, to share recipes and stories, to celebrate the ritual of people coming together to prepare food, to acknowledge the pleasure in the one thing we need to do: eat.

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*If you have an apple story you’d like to share, or want to know more about the project, get in touch

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    Introduction to Apples, Pinch Pots and Tea

    Phillips Apples Banquet (3)

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    Phillips Apples Banquet (1)Wyre Salters at Mereside. Banquet Aug 2015 (6)

    … hidden?within our reach
    are seeds of stories
    of lost orchards
    overgrown by brambles and walls
    waiting to be transformed…

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    … clay forgives, grows
    from the shape of your hand
    a spoon from?your finger
    this pot holds?who made it
    passing a piece of you to someone new …

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    Wyre Salters at Mereside. Banquet Aug 2015 (2) Holiday Banquet Whipper Snapper Dress up Mereside 987 Holiday Banquet Whipper Snapper Dress up Mereside 795 Holiday Banquet Whipper Snapper Dress up Mereside 439 Wabi Char  (23) Holiday Banquet Whipper Snapper Dress up Mereside 501 Holiday Banquet Whipper Snapper Dress up Mereside 610

    … a favourite cup
    a special place to go
    time to stop
    to think, unwind, defuse
    the ritual brew …