Want to know what Nasocarpia is?

November view

Sometimes, when having to make a great physical effort, it helps to have a mantra echoing in your head. Rutile is a good word to pronounce, like, say, elbow or helicopter. The sort of word that comes into your head for no apparent reason when you’re trudging up Bradlow Hill. Anything to take your mind off the increasingly challenging gradient and the pain in your lungs.

Shallow roots

When I finally made it into Frith Wood I saw a fallen tree. I was surprised at how shallow its roots seemed. I suspected that this is due to the trees being tightly packed in a small area and thus competing for light by concentrating on shooting up as high as possible and not wasting time with root depth. But a little research showed that when life gets tough, the roots take the easy option, staying close to the surface and spreading out a long way from the tree. A common misconception is that the root system is a mirror image of the trunk and branches. It turns out a tree’s root system is surprisingly shallow, dominated by long, lateral roots spreading out close to the soil surface and outwards and beyond the branch spread. So, trees are much like us – given to taking the easy option.

Oyster mushroom

The trunks of older trees were hosts to all sorts of fungi, and here’s an image of an oyster mushroom. Mushrooms do not have roots; they have mycelium— a root system that is a mass of filaments called hyphae. I expect you know that. These web-like structures spread into the substrate the fungus is growing on – wood, soil, dead squirrels or compost, and the purpose of the mycelium is to find food sources and collect nutrients for the final creation of its bloom or flower: the mushroom.

Large rutile serving dish (50 cms diam)

There was a reason for the word rutile popping into my head during the hill climb. Rutile (its name is derived from the Latin rutilus meaning “shining, golden-red”) is an oxide mineral composed of titanium dioxide which produces many surprising effects in glazes during cooling in the kiln and is used to enhance the surface character of ceramics.

Rutile spot vase

In other words, you do not know exactly what you’re going to get when you open the kiln, specially if you pour an iron oxide glaze over a bisque surface that has been painted with rutile – it’s all in the lap of the God of Pottery, Khnum, who was depicted by the ancient Egyptians with a ram’s head. He was the creator of the bodies of human children which he made at a potter’s wheel, from clay, and placed in their mothers’ womb. His title was the “Divine Potter”.

Small rutile signal vase

Back to the subject of roots and uprooting, it’s sad saying goodbye to an old friend, specially one that has worked hard in the studio over the years, but the advantages of the new style of pugmill outweigh Thelonious’s steady workhorse qualities and he is shortly going to make way for his replacement.

Thelonious – uprooted

Needless to say, it was difficult breaking the news to him and he is refusing to speak to me (as are Ziggy and Spiro) and goes around the studio with a deeply hurt look. “You’re certainly no Divine Potter”, I heard him mutter under his breath. The indignity of being sold on Ebay was also mentioned. Even the promise of a farewell party has been shrugged off with a sigh, despite the complexities involved in finding exactly the right delicacies for my strange little team: goat yoghurt, spiders and engine oil. I suspect Shimpo, the new pugmill, will be just as fastidious and will only contemplate cheeseburgers (he was born in the USA).

Shimpo – the Jimmy Cagney of pugmills

And cheeseburgers were part of the reason I drove all the way to Stoke-on-Trent, cradle of pottery in the UK. I was there to inspect and then buy Shimpo and bring him back, with the reward of a cheeseburger at one of the motorway service stations on the way back. Somehow, they taste better in a car park when you’re sitting in the car listening to the radio – there’s something vaguely illicit about it if you are not a regular burger eater.

Large rutile planter

I shall miss Thelonious and his whimsical nature. Shimpo, I can tell, is more the James Cagney of pugmills – robust, stocky, slightly aggressive, and “no nonsense”.  He just wants to get down to work, with no pussy-footing – I just hope he gets along with the others.

And finally, a plea to you all. Just as a burger is nothing unless it is eaten, a ceramic cup meaningless unless drunk from, or a song unless heard, so a story unless somebody reads it. If you have ten minutes to spare (and the inclination) please read my short story published online.

Illustrator: Evgenia Barsheva

 It is called A Summary of A Brief History of Nasocarpia, the links with Grietta Ingar and the epidemic of 2049. It is published by Lazuli Literary Group who promote otherworld realism: a genre that represents the known, often mundane world in an elevated or defamiliarizing way through the use of linguistic craft, innovative language, or experimental structure. CLICK HERE.

Marmite explained

The view from CJ’s bench on Bradlow Knoll was appropriate for the day, after all it was St Leger’s, the day of the famous horse race (Saturday 16th September) established by Colonel Barry Saint Leger in 1776 and named for him in 1778. An event for three-year-old colts and fillies, it is run annually at Doncaster, Yorkshire. The winner this year was Continuous, the last horse was Alexandroupolis. They say that Winter comes in on the tail of the last St. Leger horse, but global warming may have done for this old adage.

the last horse at the St Leger

The view was grey, misty and damp, and the leaves on the trees have yet to start turning, but the faint mulchy whiff of tired greenery was hinting at Autumn. Somebody had obviously felt the cold recently as they had left traces of a firepit in front of CJ’s bench. Or perhaps it was an impromptu BBQ. Whoever it was had also forgotten his or her disposable vape – I wonder if CJ would’ve approved of the cherry flavour.


Given the weather, I don’t believe that a bonfire would have spread and caused a conflagration in Frith Wood. Apart from a few hot days earlier in the week, it’s been mild. Unhappily that’s not been the story in Greece or Libya, or even Canada, and tramping through the cool damp wood seemed so far removed from those weather extremes. However, even in this neck of the woods, manmade calamity lurks in the shape of the River Wye and its slow poisoning by nutrients leaching from livestock manure (about 70%) and sewage treatment works (20%). Most of the agricultural phosphate pollution is from intensive poultry production (from “What’s polluting the Wye?” – Herefordshire Wildlife Trust blog).

Wye pooper

In order to counter any black outlook that may be developing here, may we urge you to join the fight to save the river by subscribing or following Save the Wye on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Here is the link: https://savethewye.org/what-can-you-do-to-help/

Large black and white scrawl vase

Spiro is shouting in my ear that this blog is about marketing ceramics. I have pointed out to him that having unwittingly introduced the word “black” in the context of global warming, I will now exploit its presence in the blog in as measured and respectful a way possible, and with none of the in-your-face cynicism that he always advocates.

Black and white juggler vase at there Palais des Vaches

It is hard to believe Spiro is a 3rd century Bishop of Trimythous, as well as the patron saint of potters, and frankly I am not entirely convinced by his marketing skills. Last month he joined the Ledbury Bank Holiday Carnival Parade saying it was an opportunity to sell pots to the hundreds of Ledburians lining the High Street and was deeply insulted by the pennies people were throwing into the pots he held out, unaware that this the traditional way the parade gathers income for local charities. I had to drag him away when he started berating them in his local Archaic Greek dialect, much to everyone’s amusement who thought this was part of a comedy act.

Poseur vase (Vulcan clay)

Ahem, there is an exhibition at the Palais des Vaches Gallery in Exbury from 29th September, and the theme is “Black & White”. In response to this challenge, Peter Arscott Ceramics (PAC) have made a number of pieces for the show, some are black and white glazed stoneware, and some are made from a dark clay called Vulcan stoneware which comes out of the kiln in a rich dark chocolaty black if left unglazed.

My oh my vase (Palais des caches)

One piece in particular cannot be explained, and for some reason is called Buffoon Vase and wears a top in the shape of Napoleon’s hat. It looks even more inexplicable if you remove the top and insert a flower in it (it can only take one flower, and no water, as it has a leaky bottom). It’s a “marmite” piece – some people will simply like it without having to understand its impractical character, others will just think it’s strange.

Buffoon vase

For those of you unfamiliar with marmite, it is a dark brown yeast extract spread, much liked by half the UK population, and much disliked by the other half. It is used as a metaphor for something that is an acquired taste, or something that divides opinion, like, say, Elon Musk or Nigel Farage or morris dancing.

Buffoon vase with flower

In a neat bringing-together of various themes in this blog (fish, ceramics, rivers), a recent visit to Wales included a fly-fishing lesson with Mr Jones on the banks of the beautiful Dyfi river (unpolluted and very clean, thus salmon and sea trout are happy to swim in it).

Fly-fishing lessons on the Dyfi

The result was a brown trout fished from a smaller river nearby, which was cooked and served to fourteen people on a PAC dish. Thank you Mr J.


A man walks into a fish and chip shop with a happy trout under his arm.
“Excuse me, do you sell fish cakes?” he asks.
The owner replies, “Yes, of course we do”
“Great” the man responds, smiling at his trout, “It’s his birthday.”

With apologies for that old chestnut, farewell and goodbye.

Unhappy trout

Swimming, eating, drinking.

Cala Aigua Xellida

Apologies to those of you expecting the usual image of Ledbury from Bradlow Hill. We’ve been away, you see. A gathering of the clan took place this month in the small town of Tamariu on the Costa Brava. The nearest anyone got to trudging up Bradlow Hill was getting down to Cala Xellida and back, which was done by car anyway – it was a holiday after all. It consisted of swimming early in the morning in this beautiful little bay, consorting with octopuses and watching cormorants diving alongside, or simply floating on your back (like a pale plump starfish on an azure sea) mindful of not brushing up against a sea urchin – one of their sharp needles in a vulnerable spot would spoil the day. I thought the sea urchin was a friend, but it was anemone.

Paracentrotus livides profil. Photo Frédéric Ducarme

The name Tamariu derives from the tamarisk trees along the promenade, which separates the beach from the narrow streets and whitewashed buildings of the town. It was, like most settlements along the Costa Brava, a small fishing village, and fishing boats are still to be seen up on the beach. Nowadays there are a few hotels, along with seafood restaurants, cafes and bars. It is set amongst rugged pine-covered cliffs flanking the sea.

View from the coastal path flanking Tamariu.

A few days beforehand, we had stayed with friends in a small village outside Vic, the ancient capital of the region of Osona. Set among lush green hills, from here you can see in the distance the highest peaks of the Pyrenees that border with France. The main square, where most of the town’s social and cultural life takes place, is a large square area surrounded on all sides by beautiful old buildings, some dating from the late 14th century.

Plaza Mayor, Vic.

Whilst there, a trip uphill to the hermitage of Sant Sebastiá, long abandoned. It stands as a reminder of Albion’s perfidy and of the ongoing struggle for Catalan independence because it was here that the decision was taken to send an emissary to the British, which led to an agreement of support in 1705 during the war of Spanish Succession. Alas, Britain let them down by signing the Treaty of Utrech in 1713. Long story, with little obvious link to ceramics, but complex and interesting. Great views of the valley below.

View of Vic valley from Sant Sebastiá.

Catalans and ceramics? Yes. The best-known source of pottery is La Bisbal which has been producing pots for centuries, and uses the typical blue, red and yellow tones associated with it in the numerous artisan studios along the town’s main drag. But pottery here is also associated with the great names of Catalan art: Gaudí, Miró, Dalí and, though born in Malaga, Picasso.

Ceramic seating in Parc Guell – Antoni Gaudí

Of the four, Gaudí did not actually make any ceramics, rather he smashed them up and incorporated it into his facades and rounded architecture, as can be seen on the benches in Parc Guell where one can sit and look down on the city of Barcelona.

Suite Catalan – Salvador Dalí

In 1976 Dali was seeking a buyer for a collection of tiles known as the Suite Catalan that he had produced in Spain two decades previously. From the original run of 100,000 tiles 60,000 remained. A German lawyer bought them all. The remaining tiles from the original run have sold in private sales and auctions over the years, fetching as much as $2,300 for a set of six, and over €500 for just one.

Earthenware dish with bird – Picasso

Picasso and Miró are better known than the other two for their ceramic work and made extraordinary pieces which nowadays are seen in museums around the world. Picasso moved to Barcelona with his family at 13, in 1895, when the city was full of political and artistic ferment. It was politics that turned his visits to Paris into permanent French exile, but before that, his artistic early artistic formation developed in Barcelona. His Blue Period is Catalan.

Oiseau (Solar) bird – Fundació Joan Miró

Peter Arscott Ceramics would like to emulate them one day and, in a fit of creativity, inspiration has nudged this piece out of the studio.

Doodle vase by PAC

These few days on the Mediterranean were not only about swimming, eating, and drinking. Oh no. There was a quick cultural visit to Gerona.  We wanted to see the cathedral’s interior, which includes the widest Gothic nave in the world, with a width of 23 metres (75 ft), and the second widest of any church after that of St Peter’s Basilica. When we finally made it, the huge West door was being shut to visitors by a stern-faced porter.

Closing time at Gerona cathedral

Defeated in our cultural pursuits, we could only drown our sorrows with more food and drink. Here is a picture of tapas: anchovies and olives.


In deference to the octopus we met daily at Aigua Xellida (there may have been two, but if so, they were hard to tell apart; they were i-tentacle), we tried not to eat any cephalopods. But we did eat fish, and many sausages along with barbecued red peppers and aubergines, and a lot of cheese and ham eaten on local bread rubbed with tomato. And more sausages. They know their food, those Catalans.

Salchichón de Vic

Back home, and the call of the clay was loud and enticing, tempting hands into making new shapes and forms, and perhaps influenced by the happy use of colour in the pots and dishes seen in La Bisbal, an orange-red tone crept into one of the more devilish vases that popped out of the kiln today.

Imp vase

Enjoy the rest of Summer.

Someone to watch over me


Do you ever get that feeling that someone is behind you, staring? A sort of ghostly or alien presence nearby, that you slowly become aware of and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and your spine tingle? This happens at the studio very now and then, and probably as a result of the loneliness of the long-distance potter (see blog May), but more likely the result of having a ceramic custodian placed in the workshop high on a shelf, and then forgetting that it is there.


Our custodian is called Norma. She is imperiously “above it all”, dispassionate and detached, somewhat poker-faced, but commanding and reassuring as she protects the studio from any malevolent spirits. She is not a conversationalist. St Spyridon, or Spiro as we call him, the patron saint of potters, is no good at warding off the malignant because he is too busy with the marketing, and in any case considers such practices as beneath his dignity. However, unlike Norma, he does like to chat.


It’s natural to assume someone behind us is staring, but I think that feeling we get is a self-fulfilling because when we turn around, our action makes the other person look at us, and when they meet our eyes, they give us the impression that they’ve been staring the whole time. Norma – she is inscrutably mute and thus easily forgotten, until, for no particular reason, you become aware of her presence.


In the garden, once Spring arrives and everything starts growing and covering every inch of space with leaves, blossom, buds, stalks, and branches, you forget what was standing visibly throughout the bare Winter months. Indulging in a bit of pruning, you uncover a patch that reveals an old garden sentinel that stares back at you – something familiar that takes you by surprise. In this case Hugo and Frank, who are stylised skulls made as part of a mural commissioned years ago and who were rejected on account of flaws detected – cracks, I think. They still look at one forlornly, even accusingly.


In fact, the garden is full of forsaken ceramics. They peek out at me or make sarcastic comments as I go by: “Call yourself a potter? Didn’t you know that stoneware contains (among other silicates) feldspar, and that this majestic mineral is by far the most abundant in the Earth’s crust, making up about 50% of all rocks? I contain eternity, I’m as old as the planet, and yet…and yet…you cast me out and abandon me in this squalor, surrounded by weeds, mud and (ugh) ants that crawl over me. Have you no respect?


Tables, on the other hand, being made of wood, suffer from no illusions and stand squarely on the earth’s surface, four-legged and robust, and in the case of these two that are now at the Palais des Vaches, looking quite elegant. Their hand-painted tops are varnished with a heat-resistant resin, so that hot cups of tea or coffee can be placed on them directly without the need for a coaster. Their tapering “sputnik” legs give them a fifties look.

Fifties vibe – handmade table at the Palais des Vaches

These tables are not for the outdoors, but for the house. And in the house, we have another sentinel that watches over us. He is tucked up in a corner of the kitchen ceiling and has been there uncomplaining for over thirty years, though he has been with the family for forty.  Three-fingered and four-toed, he is made of plaster and is named Garrel because the kids could not pronounce the word “gargoyle”, though strictly speaking gargoyles are meant to stand on roofs and act as waterspouts, as well as warding off evil spirits.


Derivation of the word “gargoyle”? From Middle English: from Old French gargouille ‘throat’, also ‘gargoyle’ (because of the water passing through the throat and mouth of the figure); related to Greek gargarizein ‘to gargle’ (imitating the sounds made in the throat).

Jug vase

Spiro says that’s enough wittering on my part and reminds me that this is a ceramics blog, not some etymology lesson, and that I should at least show something recently made. So here it is – above is a large stoneware vase that looks like a jug from a certain angle. And here’s another table…

Do you want to listen to the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald singing Gershwin’s “Someone to watch over me“? Click here.

There’s a somebody I’m longin’ to seeI hope that he turns out to beSomeone who’ll watch over me

Sorry, I couldn’t resist this one:

A man goes into a bar with his small pet newt called Tiny. “A pint for me and a half for Tiny, please,” he says to the landlord.
The landlord asks, “Why do you name him Tiny?”
The man replies, “Because he’s my newt.”

Adeus, Astrud.

In what has become customary in this blog, I was yet again talking to a fruit the other day – this time an avocado. And, yes, it IS a fruit. They are considered so because they fit all of the botanical criteria for a berry. They have a fleshy pulp and a seed. This particular avocado was in mourning over the passing away of one of its fellow South Americans, the dreamy-voiced bossa nova singer Astrud Gilberto.

What has bossa nova got to do with ceramics? Not much. It’s just that her voice, for those of us who were around then, played such a defining part of the mid-sixties. At the time of her recording of the “Girl from Ipanema”, although she had little time to prepare (she had never sung professionally before), her detached but sultry vocals perfectly captured the spirit of a “tall and tan and young and lovely” girl who turns the heads of everyone she passes. Her husband, the guitarist Joao Gilberto, was recording with the jazz saxophonist Stan Getz when they decided they needed someone to sing the song in English, and since Joao spoke not a word, she volunteered.

Astrud Gilberto – Kroon, Ron / Anefo photo

She wasn’t credited on the track (which was released under the name Stan Getz and João Gilberto) and she only received the standard $120 session fee for her performance, whereas Stan went on to buy a 23-bed mansion outside New York. But her career took off and she sang with the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Frank Sinatra, George Michael, and Chet Baker. We like listening to her cool-as-a-cucumber, slightly diffident voice here in the studio – her singing entwining with Stan Getz’s smooth saxophone calms the atmosphere. Adeus, Astrud. Click here to hear her sing How Insensitive (Insensatez)– she is slightly hesitant, even insecure, in her delivery, probably because of her limited English, but it makes the song all the sadder.

Avocados (persea americana) are popular with ceramicists who enjoy playing with the colours and the shape to create bowls for tableware, and it was the hippest shade of green for your ceramic bathrooms in the 1970s.

Something else that is becoming popular with some ceramicists is the Japanese art of Kintsugi (Golden joinery), whereby broken pottery is mended with lacquer dusted with powdered gold or silver, treating the breakage as part of the history of an object, rather than disguising it. Nowadays potters can buy tubes of ready-made golden glue that hardens at 300F, and no doubt many have pounced on it as a way of salvaging work that might still be sellable.

Kintsugi hoot vase. Notice the vertical golden crack in the green/blue area.

Yours truly is no exception, and the large piece that cracked in the kiln as described in May’s blog was brought out and repaired. However, there were too many cracks to make it watertight, and though it looks good with its golden fissure unashamedly exhibited to all eyes, it sounds dull when you tap the vase with your knuckles. A horrible sound to all potters, and a death knell to a pot. It certainly can’t be sold and will probably live outside in the garden where it might scare away the mice, though the resident barn owl might get confused. I think I will call it Astrud, which means “energetic, courageous and determined”. I made another similar one, which came out of the kiln in perfect condition.

“Call of the Nightingale recorded over eighty-six seconds” 145 x 180 cms. Nicky Arscott 2023.

Owls are not the only nocturnal birds, of course. So is the nightingale, which sings its heart out in the dead of night to attract passing females migrating back to Britain. Last year I told you about our midnight walk with Sam Lee in a wood near Gloucester and I remember him telling us that if you hear one still singing at the end of Spring, that means he didn’t get the girl and he’ll be a summer bachelor. Sam will be reading from his book “Nightingale” and singing (he is a Mercury award-winning singer) at the Ledbury Poetry Festival on Sunday 2 July, so if you’d like to buy a ticket please click here.

Detail of “Nightingale..” by Nicky Arscott.

I am sure I’ve told you before that all the PAC pieces are stoneware, and that they are glaze-fired to 1200°C. Until now, every piece is dipped in a tub of liquid glaze, or, if too big, has the glaze poured over it. This means you don’t get uniform coverage but inevitable thicker and thinner areas of glaze on the surfaces – which is attractive and accentuates the “handmade” aspect of production.

However, using an air compressor and a recently purchased spray gun, goggles, a mask, and a rickety spray booth made out of a large cardboard box on an abandoned garden table, and finally a coverall that was disappointingly tight around middle, two pieces were glaze-sprayed and came out of the kiln with a lovely sheen. Breathing in glaze is strictly to be avoided, you see – thus all the safety preliminaries.

nice sheen

All this is just another example of how far we go to make things pleasing to others. It’s only a few steps away from exerting a pull by creating something irresistible and beautiful like the nightingale desperately attracting a mate, or Astrud singing about regret, or even an owl hooting in the night. Even potters do it, albeit subliminally.

two hoots

Potters and solitude

The view from Bradlow Knoll

Trudging up Bradlow Hill I noticed that the mayflower was in full bloom. What we call “mayflower” is actually hawthorn, a pagan symbol of fertility with ancient associations with May Day, and its blossoming marks the point at which spring turns into summer. This was a cheering thought, as a large vase destined for a gallery had cracked in the kiln the day before and one’s mind needed some distraction.


In the studio, the radio is always on, in part to accompany the ongoing work and to fend off any feelings of aloneness, though there is nothing wrong with a bit of solitude when making vases. As regular readers of this blog know, my team consists of Ziggy (a spider), Thelonious (a pugmill) and Saint Spyridon, (third century Bishop of Trimythous in charge of marketing) – all of them, possibly, not real.

Leaf vase

An important factor in converting aloneness into solitude is that it is voluntary, instead of imposed. As such, it becomes a creative and productive state. It helps concentration, but sometimes it can get to people. For example, a researcher at a station in Antarctica stabbed a colleague (non-fatally), though this may have happened because the victim was giving away the endings of books the attacker was reading.

Antartica. Photo Giuseppe Zibardi

This information is being given out freely by Peter Arscott Ceramics (PAC) because only the other day, seated alone at the workspace and eating a banana, a small unhappy voice was heard in the studio. Looking down at the banana in hand I noticed that it was looking up at me. Don’t tell me that’s not the saddest little world-weary face you’ve seen in a while.


“You shouldn’t be eating me, you know.”

“Is that why you look so sad?”

“No. It’s just that the monoculture production methods used to grow us can destroy entire ecosystems.  I bet you didn’t realize that the banana industry consumes more agrochemicals than any other in the world, except cotton.’

“Well I never.”

“And the low prices paid by supermarkets and the cost cutting by fruit companies as they relocate in search of cheaper labour, and the harsh conditions in plantations…’

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yes, and none of the other fruit in the fruit bowl talk to me.”


Despite feelings of guilt, I finished off the banana, then chopped up the skin and fed it to the inhabitants of the PAC wormery alongside the studio. At least they don’t talk to me, and the skin was put to good use.

Green wobble vase

Back on Bradlow Hill, my mind filled with images of cracked pots, Puritans on the Mayflower, talking bananas and Antarctic research stations, these gradually faded away as the birdsong in the wood took over. I recorded some for you – the loudest is probably a robin, some blackbirds and a chiff chaff, as well as a distant ambulance on its way to Worcester Hospital. You’ll need full volume to get all that.

Click here: birdsong

The bluebells were past their pomp, but the stitchwort was flecking the undergrowth with white, and there was a lot of campion in the hedgerows.


In parts of Africa the campion is used by Xhosa diviners: the roots are ground, mixed with water, and beaten to a froth, which is consumed by novice diviners during the full moon to influence their dreams.


Given that this type of campion cannot be found in Herefordshire, PAC recommends buying a good bottle of Ribera del Duero instead. The better the wine, the sweeter the dream. Perhaps the resulting pot, a very impractical and possibly useless wine decanter, is the result.

Droop decanter

Still on the subject of wine, over-consumption of the grape, even if it’s the Queen of Grapes, Tempranillo, can lead to moments of euphoria to be followed the next day by terrible remorse and anguish. In an unusual attempt at public information and to highlight the issue of the seductive lure of alcohol and its consequences, PAC would like to introduce the following piece:

Saturday night, Sunday morning vase

Psychoceramics is the study of crackpot ideas about human behaviour – get it? “Crack pots”?  (Also, Psycho Ceramics were a range of novelty ceramics made by US-based Kreiss company and manufactured in Japan between the 1960s and 1970s). However, PAC would like to associate the word with the more subtle art of depicting the mind or mental processes – psykho, (Greek) meaning “the soul, mind, spirit, or invisible animating entity which occupies the physical body”. PAC would like to think that the above is an example of psychoceramics, as is the next one:

Why? Perhaps because it is a “personality”. Whereas other pieces may highlight a particular colour to effect, or hint at landscape, or get across the idea of spring, or even jazz music, others have their own particular and less easily described temperament which is a bit more than just the sum of its shape, colours and brushstrokes. For example, we like the following piece because it’s a gentle play on a grid and geometrical shapes – it’s attractive enough, but what it offers is essentially decorative:

What do you think, dear reader? Is PAC barking up the wrong tree? Is it all too subjective for a theory? Have we been talking to fruit too often? Can bananas ever look happy? Did you know that the Latin name for banana is musa sapientum, which translates as fruit of the wise men? Please send us your thoughts.

psychoceramic or articeramic?

My conversation with Eric

Vell Mill meadow near Dymock

This is the time of the wild daffodils, and one of the best surviving wild daffodil meadows in the UK is the Vell Mill meadow, where thousands of people used to visit during the spring – traveling up from London on the train to pick the flowers to take back and sell. They’d load them on the train known as the Daffodil Express.

from Bradlow Knoll

It is an easy and unchallenging walk along the Poets Path – a reminder of the area’s connections with Robert Frost, Edward Thomas and others poets, who used to walk “ankle-deep in daffodils”. And it’s not as challenging as climbing up to Bradlow Knoll, which was achieved for your benefit, and despite the treacherous mud, the strange ominous gunshots and creaking joints. As you can see from the photo, it’s still looking wintry.

Interior vase at the Palais des Vaches gallery, Exbury, Nr Southampton

This blog exists primarily to promote Peter Arscott Ceramics, but regular readers are well aware of my tendency to talk with spiders (Ziggy), with pug mills (Thelonious) and with a long-dead Bishop of Trimythous and Patron Saint of potters, Saint Spyridon (known as Spiro), who is in charge of marketing.  So you won’t be surprised about my conversation with Eric, a rat.


As I looked out of the studio window last week, I caught sight of a tail disappearing behind the compost. Some of you have already been introduced to Eric (see blog of Spring last year), and he has been a constant affront and aggravation since. His life was saved by a poet then, but by now I had had enough. I borrowed a humane rat trap and smeared a biscuit with peanut butter. Next day I had him at last in my power, though he seemed quite self-possessed given the situation.

Yoohoo vase at Palais des Vaches, Exbury, nr Southampton

‘So, what are you going to do? Shoot me? Drown me?”

“No, no drowning. You rats can hold your breath underwater for three minutes – so it would be prolonged and cruel. Did you know there are other species of rat that can swim for over a mile? So those stories about rats popping up in the toilet are not urban myths – you lot will easily make your way up a drainpipe and bite people’s bums for a laugh.”

“Drainpipes are cleaner than swimming in your rivers. You won’t see me anywhere near the River Wye – it’s like doing the breast stroke in treacle. Disgusting.  And I”m a rat!”, he said rather affectedly.

Good time vase at the Palais des Vaches, Exbury, nr Southampton

Touché. Anyway, I’m taking you over two miles away and releasing you.”

“Oh? May I draw your attention to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare document whose guiding principles in the humane control of rats and mice cover the welfare of trapped rodents and points out the relevance of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If you will permit me to quote from the document, (and here he cleared his throat): Release of an animal elsewhere is not necessarily a humane thing to do – translocated animals may fail to adapt to or integrate into new territory and may suffer and die as a result (Mason and Littin, 2003)”.

“What are my alternatives? If I leave you at home, you just breed like…rats. Apparently, just one of your lady rats produces six litters a year consisting of up to 12 ratlets. And you reach sexual maturity after 4-5 weeks, meaning that a population can swell from two rats to around 1,250 in one year, with the potential to grow exponentially. I daren’t think how many of you there are living by the compost.”

“So what difference will getting rid of yours truly make? I’m just one little rat.”

“Yes, but I’ve been after you for a long time. You are the one who flaunts himself in front of the kitchen window, metaphorically cocking a snoop at me, provoking me. And now I’ve got you, thanks to peanut butter.”

Eric’s downfall – crunchy peanut butter on a Hovis biscuit

“Yes, that was delicious, I admit. Will you let me take some when you “release” me? It’ll tide me over until I settle down and get used to eating whatever it is that’s available in the countryside. What do you suggest?”

“ Nuts, berries, wild vegetables, snails, birds’ eggs. It’s a very healthy diet. You have to work hard – it’s not the easy living of feeding off my compost and garbage. And you’ll have to watch out for traffic and cows.”

a cow

“What are cows?”

“Oh dear. You are going to have a hard time, aren’t you. They are large, domesticated, cloven-hooved herbivores. “Vache” is French for cow, you know, and it so happens that I am exhibiting some of my stoneware vases at the Palais des Vaches, a fine gallery in Exbury, near Southampton.”

Here I will stop talking to Eric and tell readers that included in the pieces on show is a new piece which refers to Betty Woodman, one of the great ceramicists whose approach to making pots was always an inspiration to someone who enjoys painting as much as shaping clay. Click here to visit her site.

Betty vase. Palais des Vaches, Exbury, Nr Southampton

To get back to Eric – I did take him 2 miles away in the car and released him in a very inviting meadow with lots of hedgerows and trees. He took with him some peanut butter on a Hovis biscuit, and, as an extra measure and gesture of goodwill, I gave him 50p. I have not seen him since but if any of you see him hitchhiking in the Ledbury area, you are NOT to give him a lift.

River Wye. Photo by Claire Ward

On a less whimsical note, concerned as Eric by the state our main river and its slow poisoning, the whole PAC team has joined the Save the Wye campaign. The Environment Agency says the main excess nutrient that is causing concern is phosphate and that more than 60 per cent of the phosphate in the Wye catchment, which causes harmful “blooms” of algae, comes from poultry and other livestock manure washing into the river during rainfall. This accounts for approximately 72-74% of phosphates entering rivers, turning them into pea soup.

Peggy Sue, pooping polluter

The situation is compounded by discharges from sewage treatment works, which are regulated through Environmental Permits, accounting for approximately 21-23% of phosphates entering rivers. #SaveTheWye is an umbrella campaign to support and build the network of organisations and individuals working to protect and restore the health of the River Wye and its tributaries, for the benefit of both wildlife and people: https://linktr.ee/savethewye

The display at the Palais

Goodbye from Eric

The Spirit with no anus – pottery and anthropology

Walking up to Bradlow Knoll on a bleak overcast day can be heavy going, and though I like to think I ascended the hill like a young impala, the truth is that it was …  heavy going. Recovering my breath on C.J.’s bench, I decided to continue further into Frith Wood, on your behalf, as there was a possibility that the snowdrops were still in bloom, and I could take some photos for the blog. Alas, I was too late, and too early for anemones and bluebells. It was all a dull greyish brown, with little to attract the eye, so inevitably one’s mind wandered.


Every so often, ceramic vases fling themselves headlong to the floor, shattering into many pieces with that splintering sound that is so alarming. Or else they’ll explode in a muffled thud in the kiln during a firing. Or sometimes you’ll hear that gentle click as one vase touches another and a handle you spent half a day getting right weeks ago drops off. It is not an obvious issue related to ceramics, that of the sound clay makes, but a recent pinging heard on opening the kiln prematurely (revealing a long thin hairline fracture on a vase) brought it to mind.

Yours truly ascending Bradlow Knoll. Photo Hein Waschefort

This was reinforced when I met a professor of anthropology at a party recently. He has written a paper regarding the symbolic resonances of clay, pottery-making, and pottery objects amongst Northwest Amazonian peoples that adds to our understanding of how indigenous populations think about, and relate to, the production and use of ceramic objects, especially in the contexts of ritual and cosmology. Yes, these are the sort of parties I go to.

Capuchin monkey. Photo David M. Jensen

He told me about the Colombian Pirá-Paraná region’s version of the story that accounts for the origin of the clay used to make pottery.  As you have no doubt worked out from the blog’s title, it is an earthy and unpretentious story, and squeamish readers may now want to turn away and just look at the pictures. OK?  Here goes. The Spirit with no anus began visiting the children in the house of his neighbour, swearing them to secrecy, entertaining them with his ankle rattles and maracas, and running away when the adults appeared. When the youngest child divulged everything, the Spirit boiled them in a cooking pot, though the youngest one escaped and told his father, who retrieved the children’s bones, which he beat with leaves, thus bringing them back to life as capuchin monkeys. Much later the Spirit came upon the father fishing in a lake. The father let off a loud and sonorous fart, and the Spirit with no anus, of course, wanted to know how he achieved this. The father explained that one needed an anus, and that if he wanted, he’d make the Spirit one by poking a stick up his backside. Which he did, hammering the stick further and further into his body until it came out through his throat and the Spirit fell down dead.

The Spirit’s smooth backside, an upturned Barasana pot (collection of Dr Stephen Hugh-Jones, photo by same)

Now, bear with me. The Spirit is Clay Father. The flesh and other soft parts of his body became the pungent, bluish-grey potting-clay that is extracted from holes in the banks of streams. The Spirit was a creator deity who gave rise to the earth, and his smooth backside is the underside of a cooking pot; the pot’s mouth is his voracious, open maw; and from the pot’s point of view, when the father retrieves his children’s bones, the pot vomits them from his open mouth. Today he appears as a pottery trumpet.

Uriro pottery trumpet, the Spirit with an anus. Collection of Dr Hugh-Jones

From flatulence to flutes, and the ceramic instruments made long ago in South America, clay lends itself to being blown into to produce all sorts of sounds. Just think of the humble ocarina, the Andean clay pipe, the clay whistle and the percussive pot drums, often made in animal or human form, probably for ceremonial functions or as playthings.

Chimu whistling jar. Circa 1470

The “whistling jar” is a 1- or 2-chambered vessel in which a whistle, often concealed by a bird’s head, is sounded by blowing into the spout, or by pouring liquid from one chamber to the other to create a bird-like twittering sound. Smaller whistles in animal shapes, perhaps worn suspended from the neck, frequently have fingerholes that allow variation of pitch. Sometimes, the sound it creates mimics the creature represented.

The poster above is to call your attention to The Chuffed Store Pop-up shop which is appearing at 16 Seymour Place, Marylebone, London, W1H 7NG  until 26th March. You will not see clay trumpets, ocarinas or fat-bottomed pots there, but you will see fine examples of Peter Arscott ceramics, including three-legged bowls and large stoneware platters. Dotted incoherently around this blog are images of said pieces.

Clay ocarina, Paracas, Peru.

If you’d like to try making a clay ocarina yourself,  click here – the first person who succeeds and sends me a video showing it in action will win a three-legged bowl.


Going anywhere near Chichester?


Hello all. Apologies for the brevity of this blog (though some of you might be relieved to be spared the usual ramblings). Oxmarket Contemporary is hosting its first of the Open Winners’ Exhibitions on 14th – 25th February.  The Open offered five categories of submission including the applied arts (craft), drawing and illustration, painting, print and photography and sculpture. This exhibition features the winners from the Drawing and Illustration and Applied Arts Categories. It includes yours truly.

Chris Shaw Hughes won the Drawing and Illustration prize, he creates photo realistic drawings that document pivotal moments of history in specific places.

Jane Eastell one of the joint winners of the Applied Arts prize works with a variety of clay bodies, either hand building or using a potter’s wheel. Jane experiments with different glazes and decoration techniques and produces beautiful work.

Peter Arscott (yes, that’s me) the other joint winner of the Applied Arts prize uses grogged stoneware, which lends itself to modelling and shaping. Peter makes one-off pieces, he sees the pot or vase as a form you can play with.

Oxmarket Contemporary will be open 10.00am – 4.30pm, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. the gallery is in St. Andrew’s Court, off East Street, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 1YH.

The Madding Crowds

Photo by Rob Curran on Unsplash

Peter Arscott Ceramics paid a quick visit to London a few weeks ago, in order to go to some exhibitions. Walking from gallery to gallery was as demanding as climbing Bradlow Hill, not because of any steep incline but because of the number of people out and about in the capital. – wall-to-wall human flesh, where even on the pavements one had to stop and queue simply to keep going along the same trajectory.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, Their sober wishes never learned to stray; Along the cool sequestered vale of life They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.” Thomas Gray. The view from Bradlow Knoll on Boxing Day

A walk along the South Bank to Borough Market for a bit of street food was a marathon, and once in the market area, the queues in front of each little kiosk (the paella queue being the longest) snaked and coiled around each other and made progress almost impossible. This is not a complaint, by the way, simply an observation – everybody was very relaxed and easy-going, and the atmosphere in the city was memorably positive and friendly.

The first exhibition was Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art at the Hayward Gallery (until 8th January, so hurry), featuring artists working across recent decades, and examining the plasticity and the possibilities of ceramics, often in a defamiliarized way. Weird and wonderful, ranging from small abstract works to large-scale installations that make you wonder how the artists managed to accomplish their work. If you ever wonder what clay can do, this is for you.

Architeuthis by Zinc Yi

David Zink Yi (Lima, Peru) has somehow created a giant squid (5 metres) lying in a pool of its own ink. To achieve the slick-looking flesh he has glazed the piece with a mix of different oxides. An animal we only ever encounter dead on our shores, there is something impressive but sad about this Architeuthis on the gallery floor. Insider info: the “ink” was made by mixing maple syrup with black ink, and acts as a barrier – somebody kicked and broke one of its legs at a previous exhibition, and this is the clever solution.

Brie Ruais

Brie Ruais (USA) draws inspiration for her large wall pieces from the desert landscapes of the Southwest of the United States. She sees similarities between the body and the land since they both bear scars as a record of trauma, the latter as a result of human intervention and extraction in the region.

Betty Woodman

Betty Woodman’s wall piece (USA, d. 2018) made of many separate ingredients that come together to create movement, colour, and space, is typical of her. Many years ago, she started to create an untroubled and friendly world for ceramics that had never previously existed, and her pieces were often set out in the lobby of galleries with flowers in them, offering visitors a warm welcome. She would throw her pieces on the wheel, but played with them afterwards, twisting, stretching, and cutting shapes, I think, without much forward planning, which gives her work such freshness.

Woody de Othello

Woody de Othello makes vases and jugs that incorporate human body parts such as arms, hands, lips and feet. The exaggerated proportions and the vivid hues of his sculptures reflect his Haitian ancestry and Yoruba culture. They are quite funny too.

Grayson Perry

Of course, Grayson Perry (now a “Sir”) is there with his beautifully made vases – he is a coiler par excellence – and so are many more artists proving the flexibility of clay as an art material.

A walk to the Tate Modern followed, and a visit to the Cezanne exhibition (fabulous collection of his work on show), and also Maria Bartuszová work which is based on plaster casting using gravitational pull or her own breath to make serenely white and delicate works.

Twins (1909) by Marianne Werefkin

Then off to the Royal Academy for a look at “Making Modernism” (on until 12 February) which brings together the work of seven German women artists active in the early twentieth century.

Mother cradling dead child (charcoal) by Käthe Kolwitz

Kathe Kollwitz is the best known, but the others, who achieved success in their day, are, until now, largely forgotten thanks to the Kinder, Küche, Kirche philosophy coming back to the fore.

Portrait of a boy (Willi Blab) by Gabriele Münter

Peter Arscott Ceramics will be included in an exhibition of Oxmarket Open winners in Chichester from 14th to 26th of February. If you pay it a visit, the town has plenty to offer – click here for a previous blog about it.

As you have undoubtedly picked up, 14th February is St Valentine’s, patron saint of beekeepers, asthmatics, and lovers, though St Spyridon (Patron saint of potters and in charge of Marketing at PAC) claims he is a fabrication, “like St Philomena, and St Veronica, and St Eustice”, he says dismissively.

And thanks to those of you who got in touch with your reactions to my story in Litro magazine in the last blog. It’s good to hear your thoughts, mostly positive and some constructively critical, and I appreciate them all. Here is another one called Cornelius Radhopper, which is published in Azure, a Journal of Literary Thought. It specializes in other-worldly realism, a genre that represents the known, often mundane, world in an elevated or defamiliarising way. To read it, click here.

Marula with Cornelius Radhopper