Potfest in the Park 2017: part 1

After years wanting to go to this pottery event but never being at home at the beginning of the summer holidays I've finally made it! Long overdue especially considering that it takes place not that far away from home. Pam was our trusted chauffeur (yet again) and co-students Sara and Celia completed our set. Luckily the weather cleared up during the day and we only had to put up with rain first and last thing of the day. So, the grounds which accommodated the Potfest at the stately home Hutton-in-the-Forest just north of Penrith, weren't too muddy or slippery underfoot.

It was great to be able to mill about and see the work of about 140 different ceramic artists and potters displayed in a variety of marquees. Some of the exhibitors I remember from Earth and Fire earlier this year and some were totally new to me.

It was nice to bump into some familiar people such as Wendy Lawrence and Meri Wells, who were sharing a rather extravagant tent. Wendy's textured ceramics in particular sit very well in an outdoor environment. It was nice to see that she'd had some sales by the time we left on the first day of this event.

I thought Meri's figures may have benefitted from a backdrop to 'shield' them from other visual distractions. Her figures are much quieter and intimate.

Another familiar face was Sally Streuli, who is fairly recent graduate from the UCLan ceramics MA. It was her first time showing here but I would not have been able to tell as her stand looked very good.

Having a chat with her about her work was also quite helpful to me and my work as I found out what clay she uses and how she achieves the black look - not by using black clay even though she had tried. Interesting!

As usual, there were far too many good stands to recount all of them. Also, I will probably have overlooked some interesting work but one can only process so much on the day. Thus, I am picking out the work of three stands that caught my eye this time:

Chiu-i Wu is a Taiwanese potter living and working in York, UK. Her ceramics inhabit for me the borderlines between art and kitsch. I am less keen on her human figurines but really like come of her animals. I guess the bird-like vessels strike a particular chord with me as they remind me of some of the Scandinavian mid 20th-century ceramics that I grew up with. I was really tempted to but a piece of hers.

Hans & Birgitte Borjeson from Denmark produce salt glazed ceramics under their studio name Fulby. There were a few other potters with salt glaze wares by I thought theirs stood out. Some of their pots such as their jugs and dishes are much more traditional even though I think the checkerboard pattern is pretty special.

But what really caught my eye were their large decorated bowls with their matt finish. These too are salt glazed. The matt surfaces are created by using coloured engobes. I forgot to ask whether they mask the outside surfaces to avoid the typical salt glaze look on those surfaces. Only on the rims of the pots can one detect the typical salt glaze quality.

I remember the stand of Charlotte & Sigi Boehme from Eath & Fire but didn't pay it much attention. Maybe this time they had less stuff on their stands or it made a difference that they were positioned at the end of a marquee but I found their pottery very inviting. Even though there were many different patterns and colours was the overall look harmonious. I wouldn't mind owning one of their large platters or break crocks.

An event as this is not just a good way to look at or buy pots but also an opportunity to talk to potters. I managed to speak to some potters when they weren't engaged in sales.

My attention was caught very early on by the work of Amberlea McNaught, whose pots are obviously based on Islamic geometric patterns. She studied in Cardiff and spends time travelling to learn from other master potters. She is now working in Sheffield. During her studies she really got into carving plaster but now carves directly into clay. She could totally empathise with my frustration of trying to put geometric Islamic patterns onto amorphous three-dimensional figures.

In the next stall along from her Eric Moss, who also had a stand at Earth and Fire, was showing his sculptures. What I hadn't realised that his constructed sculptures are kinetic sculptures, i.e. they are made with the intention of being moved. In case of his Waveforms or Geometrics the intention is that the viewer can rearrange them according to their own taste. The Kinetics have actually movable parts which can spin or be adjusted. I think this is really interesting as my intention is to create sculptures that have no fixed position but can be turned the way the viewer likes and gravity allows.

Having decided recently, on encouragement from David Binns, to have a look at honey glazed pottery I spent quite some time talking to Doug Fitch. He and his partner Hannah McAndrew had a very impressive stand with pots using traditional slipware techniques. Most of their pots are fired in a wood fired kiln but a few were also fired in an electric kiln. Doug was terribly accommodating and encouraging and encouraged me to get in touch with them should I need any help or glaze and slip recipes. So, so friendly and helpful!

In the end after having spent a whole day looking at huge variety of different pots and potter I noticed yet again that there wasn't any work on show that looked like mine. I guess that is a good sign as I'm on the way of creating a unique and recognisable look (so I'm hoping at least).

The closest examples that had the most in common with my sculptural work was a group of bulls made Spanish pottery duo Ricardo Campos and Rosa Rosell. Their figures also had lots of surface decorations. However, they are all slip cast and depict definite recognisable animals.

Campos and Rosell's work was also interesting from another point of view. I was really interested on how they managed to get the variations in their black decorations. Some of them were textures but most were totally smooth. As far as I can tell, their Ceramica Negra, is produced in a similar way to the Pueblo Indians black-on-black wares by using a 'lost' engobe and firing it in a strong reduction atmosphere where the smoke turns the pots black. I would have liked to ask Ricardo Campos, who was at the stand when I looked at the pots, but he was either not able to communicate sufficiently in English or didn't want to.

Well, many mysteries remain.

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