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Potfest in the Pens 2017

Some birdbath competition entries

So, this is another pottery first: a visit up the M6 to the Skirsgill Auction Mart just outside of Penrith. It is a total contrast to Potfest in the Park, which I visited last weekend even though a few of the 140 exhibitors in the Pens had also been in the Park. Potfest in the Pens is a much more local, easy going and low key event staged in the pens of the the local cattle market. The pottery on display was very varied and not as high profile as the works shown in the Park event. However, all the potters seem to be really enjoying themselves and appreciating the more low key approach.

As soon as you enter there is a display of this year's competition themed this year 'Bird Bath, flight and fancy'.

The Northern Potters Association, which I've been a member for some years, had a real presence as they are celebrating their 40th anniversary. As expected, many of the potters showing their works are fairly local and had signs up showing their affiliation to the NPA. Thus I bumped into quite a few of potters, who I've known via the NPA or UCLan ex-students such as Janet Nuttall, Eryl Fryer, Graham Hough, Jo Pipkin (sorry forgot to take photo) and others.

It was interesting how many potters had put out boxes in which they sold their 'seconds', which apparently get raided within hours of opening of the first day knowledgeable locals.

Eryl, who has exhibited here numerous times, has perfected the way to show off her pottery by having made a bespoke dark background to contrast with her white pottery. Her prices all range from 20p for little pottery fragments to triple digits. She too had a seconds box.

As said, the work was variable but it was made up by the sheer friendliness and willingness of the exhibitors to chat and share their knowledge. Here are some conversations that stood out for me:

I had seen and admired the finish of Ricardo Campos & Rosa Rosell's ceramics at Potfest in the Park but hadn't had the opportunity to ask them about their work. This time I managed to get a bit of information from Ricardo Campos despite the language problems. The way they get their finish is by applying a refractory slip and then smoke firing them in strong reduction. If I understood him correctly, this means that the slip acts as a sort of mask during the firing and either gets burnt off or removed after firing leaving just variations in colour but not in texture.

In order to reduce the amount of smoke they have invested in a special burner that is attached to the flue of the kiln and burns off the harmful particles within the flue before they are released into the atmosphere. This means they can fire their kiln in a town without having too much trouble with their neighbours.

Fumi Fuyushiba work is strongly anchored in a Japanese tradition as that is where he trained, lives and works. His pottery is not necessarily to my taste but some of his plates caught my attention of how he used texture in combination with celadon glazes. His is a traditional celadon glaze with iron oxide fired in a gas kiln in reduction.

Top: He has used a textured mould into which he has pressed the clay.

Bottom: The rim is stamped with a repeat pattern. He uses black ink and a large paint brush to create the calligraphy. Then he carefully carves back the background leaving the brushstrokes standing prone. It is impressive how they retain the vitality of movement and how you cannot detect any carving marks in the background.

On a previous visit to the Pyramid Gallery in York I bought a little dish by Richard Baxter. So it was nice to be able to see more of his work and have a chat with him in person. He mostly works in porcelain and experiments with glazes. All his pots are fired in oxidation and he had a very nice fake celadon that worked on his pots. The appeal of this pots are their colours, the contrast between shiny and matt surfaces and the controlled bleeding of glazes. They are very nice to handle as they have thin and delicate edges.

I was intrigued by the display of little pots all sitting on individual stacks of paper. Richard Baxter explained that he wanted to adjust their heights so that all their rims were at equal heights. His bit of social commentary. I liked this very much on many levels - haha.

I had a very nice long chat with Helen Pugh-Cook, who works in Scotland. Her stand was the second when entering the pen area. Initially I thought that she had used englobes the get the bright colours. However, she explained that the raised textured areas on the outside were coloured with slips. The bright insides and the colour sitting within the cracks on outside were stoneware glazes. It was nice to see such colourful but not garish pots.

Her other range were raku fired pots which I initially didn't pick up as being raku ware. Even though I generally really like raku pots (and the process is so much fun to do) one sees a lot of them about. These I liked because I thought they had a subtle beauty.

Here is a photo of the three pots we bought at this show - all very reasonably priced as most of the pottery here was very inexpensive. It only shows that if you take the time to talk to people as an exhibitor you are much more likely to sell to them.

On the way out I had another look at the digital clay printing that was being demonstrated by Joan and Jack Hardie of Printed Pots.

I'm still in two minds of how much I appreciate pots being made this way. But I guess they certainly have a quality of their own which would be difficult to replicate by hand in their delicacy. So, why not? I don't think the process is that much different from making slip cast pottery. It is just a different skill set that is needed to produce these and there will always be an appreciation for handmade pottery as it has a different 'soul'.

I am very pleased that we came and visited Potfest in the Pens. The question to myself is whether I would exhibit here myself in the future. Well, this needs some serious thought. It certainly would be a good experience and an opportunity to meet some other friendly potters. The question is whether my work sit well in such an environment which is a bit more 'crafty' and less high-end 'gallery-ish'. For example, Rob Sollis sophisticated black and orange ceramics looked out of place here. As for price points I assume that most pots sold had fairly low ticket prices.

But I really enjoyed coming here!


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