thelonius monk

elephant on the keyboard

thelonius monk

the great Thelonius Monk

With an Open Summer Weekend (Sat 2nd and Sun 3rd July) just around the corner, something happened at the Bankside Studio recently. The ghost of Thelonius Monk made itself known and whispered strange and wonderful things into the ears of belatrova as we were making a batch of three legged bowls. Perhaps “Ruby my Dear” was playing on the cd player, whatever it was it made our hands dance and the unintended clay shapes seemed to be spot on. “What about the three legged bowls?” we hear concerned belatrovians ask. Well, we did make them, though a few days later, after we had returned from Monkland.

ceramic pot
ceramic pot
ceramic pot

belatrova team

Thelonius Pugmill and two friends

Taking a brief trip to Monkland is highly recommended: you will come back refreshed and brimming with more ideas than usual. It is liberating to make pieces without worrying about the end result, and if one piece turns out to be a failure then the next one will be stronger for it. In this we were aided and abetted by our hard working pug mill who, as some of you may remember, is called “Thelonius” and who is by far the hardest working member of the team.

For a ceramicist, going to Monkland means that you accept one condition only – that there is no wrong way to make ceramics. This is how you have to approach the lump of clay, just as Thelonius Monk approached his piano. As he saw it, “The piano ain’t got no wrong notes!” and this explains his unique jazz style, which includes percussive playing, unusual repetitions and dissonant sounds, and a surprising use of silences and hesitations. Click here to listen to “Don’t blame me” where there is a fine example of his style.
ceramic potceramic pot
He also had the habit during performances that while the other musicians in the band continued playing he would stop, stand up from the keyboard, and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano. It was in this spirit that one of our team tried to show his fellow potters how to dance a jig while violently flattening clay with a rolling pin and, at the same time, sipping tea from a mug.
blue ceramic piece
ceramic piece by belatrova
large ceramic pot

A debate followed as to whether this performance was a fine example of syncopation made flesh, since in music, syncopation involves a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected, thus making a tune or piece of music off-beat – “a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm”. We agreed this was the case, and that it would be incorporated into a piece, which in turn would be entitled: “Thelonius made me do it“, subsequently the title for the whole series.

ceramic blue jug
ceramic piece by belatrova
blue ceramic jug

Many of you will want to see this growing collection of freewheeling pottery, and we would like to show it to you, so make an entry in your diaries for Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd of July (10 – 5pm) when we will be opening the workshop for our Summer Weekend.

Philip Larkin

Philip

elephant on the keyboard

Nellie

And we will also be showing our bowls, lamps, tables and birdbaths, as well as our new range of wave bowls and scoop bowls, because not everybody loves Thelonius as much as we do. Philip Larkin, a much better poet than jazz critic, considered Thelonius Monk nothing more than “the elephant on the keyboard”, but Monk is the second most recorded Jazz composer of all time, right after Duke Ellington. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Philip – and just to rub it in, here is a link to a short video of the Thelonius pots spinning to “‘Round Midnight” arranged for saxophone quartet by Quartetto di Sassofoni Accademia, with no piano or elephant.
Thelonius Monk

PS  belatrova will be under the Ledbury Market House this Saturday and every Saturday in June – if you are in the area drop by and say hello.

PPS. We would like to thank “Botloes” for giving us such a great review on Houzz – we wonder if this mystery personality might reveal herself or himself?

Hasta luego.

close-up of ceramic planter surface

Slabby McSlabface

close-up of ceramic planter surface

Spring ceramic

At belatrova we make things because we like them, and think that you might too. We even make things before we know exactly what to call them. We have been slab rolling and glazing pieces for the outdoors and indoors, and though, strictly speaking, they are “slab pots” we think there is a better name for these ceramic containers, or planters, or plant pot holders, or umbrella stands, or whatever.

They are so flexible, you see, that they can be used in many ways.

However, belatrova will not fall into the mistake made by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council who asked people on the internet to name its newest research ship. The internet returned with the magnificent, if inappropriate, RRS Boaty McBoatface. So we are not guaranteeing that we will adopt any name suggested by majority response.

 

It is May, and many will be turning their thoughts to the garden. If you are dreaming of salvia, foxgloves, Sweet William, wallflowers, poppies, nasturtium and scabious, now is the time to sow. You can grow your favourite flowers and vegetables anywhere by planting them in beautiful containers that enhance the setting. “Container gardening” in planters or plant pot-holders allows your imagination to wander all over your garden.

Unlike many planters and holders belatrova’s are colourful and bold, and when placed strategically in the garden or patio, they can brighten the space around them as well as complement the plants inside. They work well in small to medium spaces, or in clusters and groups.

ceramic sweet display

a bonboniere, but you can call it “Fred”

On the other hand, you can use them in entirely different ways indoors – as slab pots, ceramic umbrella stands, bonbonieres (great word) or just plant holders. With indoors in mind, these do not drain because they have no holes at the base, but we can easily make them with drainage holes if commissioned to do so. If you are looking for a bold statement then imagine it as a centrepiece of a side table or counter, or on the floor next to the fireplace, filled with dried sunflowers. The colours really stand out and brighten any space.

We are very aware that most of you do not live in stately homes or manor houses, but just in case one or two of you do, a fine umbrella, whip, or walking stick stand for any hallway or lobby is surely a “must”.

ceramic planter

brushstroke blues for buddha

Try serving a punch or mulled wine out of one. We have previously given you the recipe for deliciously dark and cool Black Velvet (November 2014 blog) – imagine serving that out to your guests with a ladle from this unique tureen (do you see our problem? What can we call this adaptable ceramic?).

We hand make our planters out of four large, rolled ‘slabs’ of clay and it takes two of us to put the larger pieces together. They are glaze fired at 1275 degrees – this is when vitrification takes place, making the ceramic tough and resistant to weather extremes of heat and cold. They will not crack in a frost.

On occasions at the workshop we are overcome by the strange combined influence of our pugmill, Thelonius, and of our favourite jazz pianist, Thelonius Monk. This often happens on a Friday afternoon. We are slowly building a small collection of these inexplicable Thelopots, and we thought you would like a glimpse of one.

three ceramic planters

Thelonius made me do it” series

We are opening our workshop to the public for a Summer Weekend on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd July – please drop in, but if you’d like to come at any other time, just give us a ring – all details on our website: www.peterarscott.co.uk/dev

You can also visit us on Home of Artisans

curved ceramic bowl with fruit

banana

ceramic bowl

banana blue

You will not be surprised to know that we take our research very seriously at belatrova, so that when we talked about a name for a new range of bowls and decided it was to be “banana bowl“, we discovered the revealing fact that the inside of a banana skin can be used to polish shoes.

pair of shoes

banana rub

What else? Well, it can also be used to calm an itchy mosquito bite, and did you know that on average each person in the UK eats about 100 bananas a year?

mosquito

banana scratch

We could go on. And we will.

Bananas are the most popular fruit in the world, and the banana is, in fact, not a tree but a high herb that grows up to 15 metres. It is believed that there are almost 1000 varieties of bananas, the most commonly known banana being the Cavendish variety, which is the one produced for export markets.

 

Enough. The fact is that our bowls are banana shaped, and thus their name.

We really enjoyed making these bowls. The shape is a whimsical and it truly stands out in any setting, whether it has anything in it or nothing at all. It has enough personality to speak for itself: notice the herring bone motifs in some, all contained by the rich cobalt brush marks.

A unique hand made bowl, unusual but really elegant, and ideal as a way to serve fruit, or snacks, though it really comes into its own when used simply as a table centrepiece. The three legs give it a steady balance and a charming retro look, say we.

banan bowl drying

banana bowl drying

Each piece takes days to make, from flattening the clay and passing it through the slab roller, shaping and cutting and letting it dry for over a week, then biscuit firing it to 1000 degrees. We shape them over a large round cement garden ornament, as you can see in the image above.

If you want to see more images of our banana bowls do visit a new online outlet that belatrova has teamed up with: Home of Artisans, where you will also see some more examples of our wave bowls, which we mentioned in our January blog.

And did you know that the derivation of the word banana is from the Arabic banan, which means finger?

ba

ba

ban

ban

banan

banan

banana

banana

 

 

Over the moon, on the crest of a wave.

 

close-up of table top by belatrova

moon power

Gazing at the Full Moon last night belatrova was filled by the wonder of the night sky. Somebody told us it was a Wolf Moon, and it turns out that full moon names reflect the goings on of that time of year, and this one is so called by American Indians because it is the animal’s hungry month, so February’s is the Snow Moon because it is the month most snow falls, Harvest Moon in August, Hunters’ Moon, and so on. And to top it all, five planets in the solar system are visible in a line this month: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – a fabulous quirk of the Universe.

image of 5 aligned planets

planetary alignment

Possibly as a result of this magical alignment belatrova has won ‘Best of Customer Service’ on Houzz®, the leading platform for home renovation and design (www.houzz.co.uk). The ‘Best of Houzz’ is awarded annually in three categories – Design, Customer Service, and Photography. Houzz ‘Best of Customer Service’ honours are based on several factors, including the number and quality of client reviews received in 2015. A ‘Best of Houzz 2016’ badge will appear on belatrova’s Houzz profile as a sign of its commitment to excellence and these badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals.

Houzz Customer Award 2016 badge

So, a huge thank you is due to our customers who reviewed us on Houzz. We were chosen by the Houzz* community from among more than one million active home building, renovating, and design industry professionals.

Andrew Small, Managing Director of Houzz UK commented, “anyone building, renovating, or decorating looks to Houzz for the most talented and service-oriented professionals, and we are very pleased to recognise belatrova with our ‘Best of Customer Service’ award.

close-up of wave bowl edge

ceramic wave

Aware that all sorts of things happen during a Full Moon (arson attacks increase by 100% at the time of the Full Moon, murders treble around that time and passengers on flights are more difficult to handle, say harassed air hostesses) we at belatrova would rather let our minds float in all the apparently miraculous stuff associated with it. For example, the link between the Lunar Cycle and the tides is well established but still mysterious, but may well explain why we have started making large wave bowls this new year. We think you will like them: they are a perfect centrepiece for any dining table, and practical as fruit bowls or tureens.

belatrova ceramic wave bowl

blue undulations

ceramic bowl with blue brushstrokes

more blue waviness

We have used the oxides of the Brushstroke Blues range to hand paint the wavy brushstrokes onto the undulating surface, which in turn has wave-like marks scratched in with a peineta or Spanish Flamenco comb. This last element, as you belatrovians instinctively know, is essential.

Spanish comb

peineta

 

close-up of ceramic scratchwork

porcelain comb-over

 

5 wave bowls out of the kiln

straight out of the kiln

These wave bowls measure about 40cms x 30 cms, and weigh 6 lbs (2.7 kls), so they are robust as well as beautiful. Don’t let February’s Full Moon be a Blue one, cheer yourself up with a belatrova bowl and wave goodbye to the blues.

*About Houzz (www.houzz.co.uk)

Houzz is the leading platform for home renovation and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a small room to building a custom home and everything in between, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world.

 

With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community empowered by technology, Houzz is the easiest way for people to find inspiration, get advice, buy products and hire the professionals they need to help turn their ideas into reality.

 

Peter Arscott, Director of belatrova said, “we are delighted to receive this accolade from such a prestigious enterprise as Houzz. We work hard to ensure that everyone inquiring about our products enjoys dealing with us, and that those who buy a belatrova product are completely satisfied with it and enjoy having it in their home or commercial environment.”

 

glass of Orange Blossom

all fingers and thumbs

glass of Orange Blossom

Orange Blossom cheer

It was Sir Isaac Newton who stated that, in the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone convinced him of God’s existence. And belatrova, stoically recovering from an injured left thumb after an unfortunate encounter with a kiln door, could not help but think of the usefulness of those five appendages that grow out of each hand – our fingers, or, strictly, our digits, if we include the thumb.

It turns out that our fingertips possess a high concentration of receptors, which means that they are highly sensitive to moisture, pressure, texture and temperature. Fingers are capable of feeling the tiniest, almost invisible, wrinkles on what appears to be a smooth surface, an extraordinary level of sensitivity. Thus we use our fingers as sensory probes to find out about the objects we bump into or are puzzled by, and so they are prone to getting hurt – they get burnt, cut, scratched, squashed and scraped. In belatrova’s case it was an injury due not to sensory probing but to simply forgetting where his thumb was as the kiln lid was being closed.

When not getting them injured, we at belatrova tend to use our fingers to poke clay to see how moist it is, or to smooth down the surface of a bowl before biscuiting, or to trim and cut around a shape, or to test how hot a piece is in the kiln (even if the meter indicates 90 degrees), or to brush on an oxide colour or to sandpaper the oak plinth of a birdbath.

mandarins in bowl

mandarins look better on ceramic

What would we do without our fingers. Think of all the finger gestures we rely on: thumbs up, the OK sign, the V for victory sign, the middle finger sign. And pointing is so useful, and counting, and playing the piano. What about the index to your mouth for “silence”, and snapping your fingers, or just picking your nose? The list is endless.

“…Even now that sweet memory lingers
I was playing my guitar
Lying underneath the stars
Just thanking the Lord
For my fingers
For my fingers” Paul Simon

And you need your fingers to make cocktails. As is customary at Christmas, we like to offer our supporters and friends a new cocktail that has been tried and tested on volunteers at the belatrova workshop. We have shown you how to make the perfect Dry Martini, and a delicious Black Velvet, now we would like you to try an Orange Blossom.

Use a large snifter or brandy glass, or balloon glass.

Fill it with ice – perhaps three generous cubes

shake two drops of Orange Bitters into it (this you can buy online or at some shops now). Do not allow more than two drops – these things really matter.

A small splash of Elderflower Cordial

Fill two thirds of the way up with cold Prosecco (it must be cold)

Curl a thin sliver of orange peel onto the rim

Stir

Drink

ceramic costers

star coasters

We at belatrova wish you all the very best for 2016, and we hope you have a Happy Christmas. As some of you know, we are always in and out of our workshop at No 9, so if any of you want to pay us a visit it is a good idea to give us a call first on 01531 634082, otherwise you can always contact us via our website: www.peterarscott.co.uk/dev or you can have a look at our ETSY site, or even our Pinterest boards.

Cheers! Salut! Salud! Santé! Prost! Salute!

pug mill

Thelonius says “Happy Christmas”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ceramic mural

weekend openings, many visitors

A big thank you to all our visitors who dropped by these last two weekends – it is always good to see new faces as well as the regular ones. Many of you took part in our “mini mural” competition which used an assortment of glazed ceramic pieces to very individual effect. And do they say something about the individual, we wonder?  And here are the best ones (as judged by Thelonius):

Hmmm. Very difficult to choose a winner. Turquoise (or anything with blues and greens) is a favourite of the judge’s (who is given to pondering about life), and he says it denotes  an ability to create emotional balance in your life, to express your hopes and dreams no matter how idealistic they may be and to make your own way in the world under your own terms, so he is awarding  a prize each to Alicia and to Lily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

another close-up of mural

Muralista

complete head-on view of mural

Adaptable as ever, belatrova, as well as designing and making handmade ceramic birdbaths, lamps, bowls and tables, has developed another skill that uses clay to great effect – we also make ceramic murals. A mural, from the Latin murus meaning wall, is any piece of artwork applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface.
view of ceramic mural lo<a href=

This particular mural uses the idea of “juggling” as its departure point; the house in Spain for which it was commissioned is named after an area of southern India, and it is a word that in Spanish is associated with jugglers and juggling. A happy convergence of imagery to get the ball rolling, and which can be seen in the final design with the still central figure at the bottom from which two circular movements flow, one counter clockwise, the other clockwise, co
ntaining the various elements and shapes which are being “juggled” – all presided over by the sun at the very top. Some of the shapes are purely abstract to accentuate the flowing lines, other more recognizable things are there because they are right (even if ultimately inexplicable to most people- cacti, skulls, vases and jugs, ashtrays?).

another close-up of mural

 

ceramic cactus

The rectangle of space within which the piece was designed measures 2300mm x 3126mm, and each piece is made from grogged stoneware, a clay that contains tiny fragments of molochite to strengthen the material when it has to be shaped and cut, slab rolled and then biscuited to 1000°, after which, as a lot of you may remember from previous blogs, the surfaces are painted with oxides and stains, dipped in a transparent glaze and then fired to 1275° in the belatrova kiln.

view of ceramic mural from ground floor
The challenge was always to produce shapes that stayed flat and did not crack, and there were five “skulls” made before the sixth and final one that you see in the images. Here is a picture of skull No 4, already biscuited, with a fine crack going from eye to jaw. It makes quite a good cheese board, specially when you need to hurry guests away from the table.

close-up of cracked ceramic piece

ceramic skull as cheese board

We were very pleased with the way the two flying legs turned out, considering their awkward shape and length. The belatrova team member who modeled for them wishes to remain anonymous, but we think he has a future with Tommy Hilfiger or Adidas.

ceramic legs in mural

The other challenge facing belatrova was the height of the scaffolding, about three metres off the ground, but, thankfully, any vertigo was kept at bay by our perfect hosts who supplied belatrova with a steady source of cold Spanish beer sothat in the end any lingering acrophobia was gently dispelled.

scaffolding

The first step upon arrival was to measure out the rectangle above the doorway in the hall and then to stick templates of the ceramic pieces (which had previously been cut out in card) onto the wall. When, after a great deal of tweaking, the templates were all blue-tacked in their place, a pencil mark was drawn around the contours and the card templates removed to allow the actual ceramic shapes to be bonded to the wall in their correct positions.

carboard templates of ceramic shapes for mural

Murals do vary from simple tiled works to huge installations by contemporary ceramic artists; depending on context, they can enhance large or small spaces, but belatrova thinks ceramic murals are the perfect solution for those who enjoy sculpture but have no space, or for those who have a large space that needs to resonate more with its surroundings. Murals fulfill the same function as a picture while often being much more dynamic and three-dimensional.

stylized ceramic skull

The technique of slab-rolling and shaping, which was used for this mural, is one also applied to most of belatrova’s production, and if any of you have not already seen our video showing how it is done, please click here.

Lastly, please remember that we have two pre-Christmas Open Weekends: 28 and 29 November, and 6 and 7 December, when we will be open from 10am to 5pm. Do drop in.

Michaelmas daisies

vulcanology

horse's tail

winter rushes in

There is a saying that “winter comes in on the tail of the last horse home in the St Leger”, one of the oldest classic horse races and held at Doncaster every September.

horse head in stone Parthenon

exhausted horse at the British Museum

On the other hand, we at belatrova would like to banish any winter blues by pointing out that the Romans believed the month of September was looked after by the god Vulcan, so they associated it with fires and volcanic eruptions.

Much as belatrova does, except that we associate the whole year with fire because of our kilns, and with volcanic eruptions because of certain people’s reactions on opening the kilns. Yes, Vulcan presides over No 9 Bankside, reminding us so only a few weeks ago when a large coiled bowl in the Brushstroke Blues style, destined for a BBC programme, exploded in kiln 2.

Michaelmas daisies

September’s flower

Oh, the rage! And then the stoical acceptance. And then the need to soothe the fevered brow. Where better than in a quiet garden at this time of year: cyclamen, daisies, apples and pears, and that flower of the month of September – the Aster, whose name means “star” in ancient Greek and includes the Michaelmas daisy which grows all over the county of Herefordshire. We thought you would like to see them, so here is a snap.

Calm is essential at the workshop, specially at this time of the year because September also means hArt – the Herefordshire Art Week from 12th to 20th, to which you are most welcome. Do come and see us, we are open from 10 to 5 everyday throughout. All three kilns are busy pumping out heat like small volcanoes in readiness for the first day (Saturday), and we shall be exhibiting new birdbaths, lamps and tables.

lounge of Feathers Hotel , Ledbury

inside the Feathers with belatrova

We suggest you make a day of it by visiting other venues open for the week; there are twelve in Ledbury alone, and a total of over ninety countywide. Among the places you could stop at for lunch or supper is the Feathers Hotel, where you could rest in one of their comfortable sofas by the light of a belatrova table lamp, commissioned by the hotel only recently.
ceramic scoop bowl

Come and see us.

 

belatrova’s Tales of the Alhambra

view of Granada from Sacromonte hill

Granada and the Alhambra from the Sacromonte

belatrova has often been drawn to Granada (blog August 2014) in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and specially to the Alhambra, the great sprawling hilltop fortress encompassing royal palaces from the Nasrid dynasty, as well as the fountains and orchards of the Generalife gardens.

looking down from the Alcazar

view of the city from the fortress

It first became a palace in the 14th century under Yusuf 1, Sultan of Granada, in the years when southern Spain was in the hands of various Moorish dynasties. It is a spellbinding place, all ceramic tiles, wood and plaster – Islamic art at its peak.

view of Granada through Alhambra Palace window

cool inside, hot out

It stands on its hill overlooking the city and from the cool darkened interiors you can see Granada below, through ornate lattice windows, sweltering in the white light of day. It is an indoor coolness reinforced by the tile work along its walls, the lightness of the intricate plaster ceilings, the presence of water in the courtyards and the calm the architecture seems to bestow on its surroundings.

slender pillars of Alhambra

tree-like

Part of its magic is the way you are constantly made aware of nature, specifically of light and water, no matter where you are standing within the palace; either because you are catching glimpses of the exterior, the patios, the views, the distant trees, the reflecting pools, or because your eyes are absorbing the gentle reflections from the chest-high ceramic surround and the extraordinary organic plasterwork of the domed ceilings and the tree-like colonnades of random columns (they are not, of course, they artfully appear to be scattered).

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plasterwork of dome ceiling at the Alhambra

intricate and sublime

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more plasterwork in the Alhambra

delicate and voluptious

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The adjacent Generalife gardens also manage to maintain this fine balance of nature and architecture; no matter that you are outdoors, trees and hedges enclose you, lines of slender pillars appear and lead you into the welcoming shade of a domed space filled with mosaics. Birdsong and the sound of trickling water are all around you, and from certain vantage points, distant views of the Sierra Nevada, still snow capped, remind you of Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra and the story of how muleteers used to bring ice down to the city in great blocks.

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view of Sierra Nevada

distant snow-capped Sierra Nevada

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pool in Generalife gardens

toe-dipping allure of the Generalife

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Water is an essential ingredient in this manmade landscape, an important factor in the life of a culture shaped in the desserts of North Africa and so its presence is everywhere, even flowing in the stone balustrade that leads down a flight of steps to the gardens, and which allows a descending courtier or Sultan to dip his fingers in it.

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stone balustrade with water running down the middle

finger-dipping stone balustrade

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ceramic toiles and plasterwork on wall of the Alhambra

ceramic and plaster

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intricate plasterwork

laberynthine plasterwork

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tiles on wall at the Alhambra

tiled wall

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Granada itself is a wonderful blend of medieval streets winding up to the Albaicín, gothic and baroque churches, a commanding cathedral, noisy squares filled with cafes and restaurants, fabulous ice cream parlours, incredibly helpful taxi drivers, shops brimming with blue and white ceramics, and one bar in particular that serves ice cold beer in freezing earthenware vessels (an idea germinating in belatrova’s collective mind – could this be applied to a Dry Martini?).

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cold beer in earthenware mug

ice cold in Granada

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close-up of magnolia flower in Generalife

magnolia

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sandalled foot resting on table

belatrova resting

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The visit coincided with Granada’s Corpus Christi festival – a five day period of celebrations and religious processions. In the Plaza Bib Rambla families roamed around the square sipping drinks and watching a puppet show with their children, their young daughters dressed head to toe in their flamenco outfits.

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fountain of the courtyard of the lions

the courtyard of the lions

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passion flower

passion flower in the Albaicín

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It was an inspirational visit, and made us want to get back to our ceramics, our birdbaths, but mostly to our tiled tables which we will be launching as part of the Bankside Studios Summer Open Weekend on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th July. Please pay us a visit, and you will also get to see the work of six other makers. Hasta la vista.

open studio

Resilience (ελαστικότητα)

belatrova, art for living, and “a good half of the art of living is resilience” (Alain de Botton).

children playing around coffee table

coffee table resilience

With austerity uppermost on European minds our thoughts turned to contemporary Greece and the hard times its citizens are going through. And because our minds often drift in the workshop, we started thinking about ancient Greeks, and not just about their pottery and sculpture, nor about them going around in togas eating grapes, but about their influence on our thinking.

statue of Laocoon and sons

Greek struggle (Laocoon & sons)

Resilience – that chief weapon of the Stoic and Cynic philosophers who stated that much emotional suffering is caused by mistakenly assuming external things are directly under our control. However, if you remember that only your own actions are truly under your control and external things are not, then you will become emotionally resilient and achieve a kind of happiness. Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger.

Resilience, that is what everyone needs as we face the year 2015.

painting by Waterhouse of Diogenes

Diogenes by Waterhouse (detail)

Which brings us to Diogenes of Sinope (c.400-c.325 BC) who denied pleasure and physical wealth for asceticism and had the nickname ‘the dog’ because of his shamelessness. He used to live in a wooden barrel with only possessions a robe to wear and a stick to walk.

It is unlikely Diogenes would ever have been a belatrova customer but we like to think that he might have approved of our use of that humble material, wood, a material that has evolved over millions of years to withstand the worst that weather can throw at it, with the possible exception of lightning. He would have spent time gazing at the beauty of our oak birdbath plinths as he undoubtedly did his own wooden home as it changed in appearance after years of exposure to all sorts of weather, because oak is extremely resilient and can be easily left outside both during strong sun and rain, and even snow and hail. See what a difference a year has already made to this belatrova “blackbird” bath:

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ceramic birdbath on oak plinth

new birdbath

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birdbath after a year's exposure

weathered by time

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On the other hand, when it comes to our tables, though we use robust beech legs, and though we know external factors are beyond our control, we do improve the odds by making decisions that minimize any unforeseen impact. We do not use oak or beech for the tabletops but rather medium-density fibreboard (MDF), an engineered wood product made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibres, combining it with wax and a resin binder, and forming panels by applying high temperature and pressure. MDF is isotropic; its properties are the same in all directions as a result of no grain, so no tendency to split. It is consistent in strength and size, flexible, it shapes well and has stable dimensions, so won’t expand or contract like wood.

All this makes it the ideal material to seal, prime, paint and varnish – and thus more resilient. Two tables left our workshop over the Open Christmas Weekends at No 9 and went to good homes:

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coffee table

Kleescape coffee table

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coffee table

Kleescape on rug

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coffee table

Roseburgh

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painted coffee table

Roseburgh on blue

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There are a few coffee tables still awaiting the right owner, each one a true original:

a row of tabletops

a row of coffee table tops

Come and see us in 2015. Happy New Year.

Best wishes:

Ziggy, Thelonius, Peter, Stuart, Roger, Wendy and Fleen