November news

Potter Pete’s foggy day

Sitting on CJ’s bench and looking down at Ledbury from Bradlow Knoll was an autumnal experience in that it was misty, mellow and mushroomy, and there were no sheep bleating and no birds singing – everything was wrapped in a dull light that seemed to smother any sound, as well as the view. It is pleasing to see how a well-worn path has established itself and forked off the main path towards the bench – obviously it is well used, and the many backsides will add a patina of polish to the wood as time goes by.

fly agaric

November is a little late for mushrooms but there are still a few hanging around in the woods daring you to pick them, and there is that strange damp, rotten-wood mushroom whiff that appears at this time of the year. The one that stood out was a Fly Agaric that had had its edges nibbled by something – strangely, since they are somewhat poisonous, specially to insects. In northern European countries it was used to keep flies off the milk, thus the name, and it can induce psychedelic episodes in those shamans and hippies who ingest it.

Old Man’s Beard

Lots of ‘Old Man’s Beard’ along the path, named after the fluffy seed heads that can be found in the autumn and early winter, it’s a wild clematis that produces a mass of scented, white flowers in late summer and is pollinated by bees and hoverflies. Owing to the fact that the dry stems draw well and do not burst into flame, cigar lengths were smoked and hence it is also called Smoking Cane. But it is best known as Traveller’s Joy.

The main gallery at the Oxmarket, Chichester

And thus, dear reader, this seamlessly leads us on to the joy of travelling along the south coast on the A27 delivering my ceramics to some wonderful galleries, two of which we have visited before in this blog. However, Chichester provides a new outlet in the wonderful Oxmarket Gallery, a medieval deconsecrated church which has existed since the 13th century and was used as a church continuously until the mid-20th century, when wartime damage forced its closure.

Kilter vase at the Oxmarket

It was restored and converted into an arts centre opening as Chichester Centre of Arts, later renamed Oxmarket Centre of Arts. It’s right in the middle of Chichester, with a large car park conveniently next door, and an exhibition space that is airy and light.

Flower vase at the Oxmarket

Yes, Chichester, medieval town of narrow streets and birthplace of Tim Peake, British astronaut, and of William Huskinsson MP, whose statue stands by the river Thames in Pimlico Gardens, London, opposite the old Battersea power station – a nineteenth century politician and statesman, an eminent financier, Corn Law reformist and parliamentary reformer.

William Huskinsson, National Portrait Gallery

He was struck by George Stephenson’s Rocket at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester line, and thus one of the first casualties of the railway age. It turns out he was born a few miles from the studio, in Birtsmorton Court at the foot of the Malvern hills.

Klee vase at the Coastal Gallery

On my way to the Coastal Gallery in Lymington, I stopped off at Arundel for the first time and had a close look at the castle and Catholic cathedral which are so striking when seen from the main coastal road. The Coastal gallery now have a partnership with the Palais des Vaches gallery in Exbury, Hampshire, and are showing work there too.

This is not Kevin Keegan

The stuff one learns on one’s travels. Did you know that Arundel’s river Arun is full of mullet, which is why its residents are known locally as mullets? I am referring to the fish, of course, and not the hair style so popular in the 1970s – those of you old enough will remember that finest of all mullets, which sat on the head of footballer Kevin Keegan and no doubt added some aerodynamism to his famously speedy runs up the pitches of the UK and Europe.

Garden vase at Cameron Contemporary

Back along the A27 and to the tranquil, upmarket town of Hove to deliver ceramics to the Cameron Contemporary gallery meant driving through a crowd protesting outside a secondary school at Covid vaccinations being given to children. Many banners, much shouting and a leaflet was handed through the car window. Still thinking of my visit to Arundel, I said I’d mullet over.

Chinese willow pattern protest vase 2

Back in the studio in Ledbury, and with protests in mind, I decided to make a bigger Willow Pattern Protest Vase with the conventional images on one side and the subversive ones on the other (I made an earlier version, see March blog). The firing went well and there was hardly any warping in the arms of the vase, those thinner more exposed parts tend to be affected by the heat than the main body of a work, so it was pleasing when it came out unscathed.

Willow pattern protest vase 2 – detail

You might want to see pearl mullet swimming upstream to spawn, Admirable little creatures, bless ’em – they don’t deserve having a bad hair style named after them.

Meandering

The Leadon, which gives its name to Ledbury.

It was a clear, bright September morning, perfect weather for a long walk, but the thought of trudging up Bradlow Hill for a view of Ledbury overcame any remaining willpower and my feet took the easier option, leading me in the opposite direction, across the bypass and along the (flat) Leadon River walk to the east of the town.

Leadon – Celtic word for ‘broad stream.’

Maybe I would spot a kingfisher, or see fish jumping, or some riverbank fauna. Perhaps it was the lack of recent rainfall, and it could simply be seasonal, but the Leadon was a trickle of its usual self, and looked muddy and, frankly, dead. There was no life in it, no fish, no birdlife, and I wondered if it had suffered another watercourse pollution incident like the one in 2016 which killed more than 15,200 fish after 100 tonnes of digestate had been pumped onto a field and had flowed into the Preston Brook, which in turn flows into the river Leadon.

A tributary to the Severn river

There have been efforts in recent years to help the Leadon thrive as a salmon river. In 2009, thousands of salmon were released, and two small weirs were installed near Ledbury, which were designed with salmon in mind to overcome barriers to migration. Also, roach, chub, and dace were added to the mix. Most fish recently re-stocked into the Leadon have been non-migratory species, commonly called ‘coarse fish’

fish vase – if only the Leadon were like this

So, I wonder if there is a problem, or whether my observations are not accurate, but I would have been very happy to spot any fish, even a ‘coarse’ one. I will return later to see if this is just a seasonal issue.

Three legged ‘Coarse’ fish bowl at the Bevere Gallery, nr Worcester

A tiny bridge leads onto a footpath which meanders away from the river and town, towards Little Marcle, with a distant view of the viaduct to the north. Five million bricks were used to build the thirty round-headed arches on their piers in 1859. It was built for the Worcester and Hereford Railway Co, the bricks made on site from the clay dug out for the foundations by a local company owned by Robert Ballard. Seeing the builders hanging by ropes as the structure went up, locals referred to the camp where the men lived (near what is now Beggar’s Ash) as Monkey Island.

5 million bricks = 30 houses

A Mrs Richards, who was meant to perform the opening ceremony in 1860, was left behind by the special train that was meant to bring her to the event. She did get there eventually and laid the final brick using a silver trowel – I wonder if she was allowed to keep it?

the foaming top of the Heineken fermenter

The footpath leads through Haygrove Farm where land has been turned over to vineyards, as well as to the traditionally grown local fruit, and then onto the Little Marcle Road which you can take back into Ledbury, passing on your right the huge Heineken plant which gives off a heady scent of old cider. In fact, I noticed that one of the giant containers was spewing froth from its open top, no doubt all part of the process, but looking like a colossal tankard of foaming beer. The robust fencing prevented me from tasting the foam on your behalf.

large warped vase

As you may remember from previous blogs, not everything that comes out of the kiln is perfect, and mentioning beer and cider brings to mind one recent large piece in particular that emerged meandering and twisted like the Leadon, looking as if it had spent too long in the pub and looking for a fight. If you saw the vase in the image above side on, you would see what I mean. On the other hand, the next one came out of the kiln looking good:

Green vase

These pieces are not necessarily practical but fun and visually interesting – eye-catching in the way the conventional shape of the vessels has been altered before they reach the kiln. Here are some early examples:

Ruby my dear

People might look at these objects and consider whether they could use them or not, or whether they just go for them because they are sculptures that fill a space in an interesting way.

Striped splash pot

People take them home, sometimes placing them in a particular place in a room, say a mantelpiece or a shelf, or putting flowers in them and changing their position every now again. The work swings between functionality and abstraction – this is what gives it its allure. It’s playful.

Jumble vase

A man walks into a seafood shack cradling a salmon and asks, “Do you make fish cakes?”
“Yes, of course,” the server replies.
“Great,” says the man, “It’s his birthday!”

Welsh jaunt

the glass-like mouth of the Ogwen

I believe fish are craftier than their glass-eyed gaze seems to indicate. Fly fishing is the art of luring a fish onto the hook by making it believe it is a true fly dancing on the surface of the water when in fact you, the fisherman, are the puppet master in control. But this never happened during our week-long stay in Penrhyn on the Menai Strait near the mouth of the Ogwen River. Even during the optimum time when the sea trout fed as the tide rose and entered the river, not one bite was had.

hope over experience

Fish are cleverer than they appear. Fish hold records for the relative brain weights of vertebrates, and most vertebrates have similar brain-to-body mass ratios – except for the bony-eared assfish which has the smallest ratio of all known vertebrates (I’m not kidding, this is its true name and it has endured eons of Piscean teasing as a result). Yes, fish know all about deception, distraction display, false courtship behaviour, death feigning, numeracy (look up the mosquitofish), play, food stocking and fisherman taunting.

the unfortunate assfish

We could see them jumping down river, or if we went down river, we’d see them upriver. At one point a large sea trout jumped right out in front of us, ignoring the lure, checked us out and decided we were harmless enough. We had better luck at the Bangor Seafood Co.

the cool Ogwen

fowl mocking

All unsuccessful fishing activity was witnessed by the many swans which live in the tidal sea by the mouth of the Ogwen. They are joined in the evenings by gulls and other sea birds and together create a chorus of plaintive sounds which are very melancholic but could be interpreted as the local wildlife jeering.

Ceramically, the whole experience is well summed up by the wavy green vase: lots of water but no fish, and the colours reflect those in the landscape, as in the image below.

But back to the Penrhyn area – it had been owned by the Pennant family until death duties forced them to hand over the 40,000 acre estate to the National Trust in the 1950s. The family had owned Jamaican sugar plantations since the middle of the seventeenth century, becoming established as merchants in Liverpool and London, while benefitting from the hundreds of enslaved African people working for them.

bust of Richard Pennant

Richard Pennant (1737–1808), MP for Liverpool, invested the Jamaican profits in his agricultural estates and set up the Penrhyn Slate Quarry and built Port Penrhyn. He also built roads, railways, schools, hotels, workers’ houses, churches and farms, but still campaigned against the abolition of slavery. When slavery was finally abolished, the family received £14,683 compensation for 764 enslaved people on their Jamaican estates.

The real Pennant with his dog Crab, by Henry Thomson

The Penrhyn quarry was the world’s largest slate quarry in the nineteenth century, its main pit being 1 mile long and worked by 300 quarrymen, who went on strike over pay in 1900. There was a massive gap between the wealth of Lord Penrhyn, living in his splendid castle, and the poverty of his workers, who lived in local quarrying communities. The strike lasted 3 years, the biggest in union history, until many returned to work out of hunger; but production was soon overtaken by foreign quarries and the decline set in.

the beach

Nowadays it is home to the fastest zip line in the world, Velocity 2, where you can fly 500m above the bright blue quarry lake, blue because of the dissolved natural minerals – copper sulphate. Other activities undertaken included a visit to a butterfly house on Anglesey where we met a chameleon.

Kevin

And slate lies everywhere in Penrhyn – great slabs on the shore of the straits when the tide is out or washed over by the cool river water of the Ogwen, or used as fencing in fields, or just highlighting the green of the landscape with its dark presence.

groyne

On the tidal beach at Penrhyn the remains of old timber palisades or groynes still stick out of the sand. These groynes were constructed more or less perpendicular to the shoreline to restrict the movement of sediment along the shore but have long ago rotted away and now look like the ribs of some monster.

the path down from Bradlow Knoll

The familiar landscape back in Ledbury was a contrast, with all the varieties of green on display, and trees and meadows at their summer’s peak. Climbing up to CJ’s bench was a slog after the excesses of our Welsh break, but the view was rewarding, as ever, and a remider of how varied the landscapes of this island are.

the eight bells

Another view that required a hard slog up hundreds of steps was a visit to the top of St Michael’s tower in Ledbury, only recently opened to the public after a successful fundraising campaign to repair the eight bells and reinforce the structure.

looking up at the tip of the spire from the bells platform

looking up at the tip of the spire from the bells platform

Ledburians who read this blog, I climbed those steps so that you do not have to, but if you still feel compelled to do so yourselves, then I recommend it, not least for the view you get of the town from the parapet around the base of the spire.

Ledbury from the tower of St Michael’s

Lastly, if you fancy reading another short story of mine, this one was published by Fairlight  Books. Fairlight make all of the stories on their website freely available to readers, their aim is to fight the corner for the short story as a form of literature which is often hidden behind paywalls, and to promote and support the writing of these authors. Just click here.

Hwyl fawr

Rutile

St John’s Wort in rutile vase

Last July I was going on about the names of all the different plants that grow wild in Frith Wood, as well as discussing the benefits of geophagia for some reason (the eating of mud or clay). I also think worms came into it, somehow. Click here if you want to revisit.

 

meadowsweet

This July, however, I would like to introduce you to Filipendula ulmaria, or meadowsweet. It could be because it was used in the Middle Ages as a sweetener for mead that it gets its name, but take a whiff and it might remind you of something familiar. Its chemical constituents include salicin, which was synthetically altered because it causes less digestive upset than pure salicylic acid used in drugs, and thus aspirin was created. It was Bayer that named it aspirin after meadowsweet’s old botanical name: Spiraea ulmaria.  It does have a whiff of aspirin.

meadowsweet

There is a lot of it now  flourishing on the sides of the roads all over Herefordshire: fluffy, slightly floppy, pale cream bundles framed by the hedges they grow by. I confess that the real reason I mention meadowsweet is to promote the Ledbury Poetry Festival and Edward Thomas’ poem, Adlestrop:

 

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—

The name, because one afternoon

Of heat the express-train drew up there

Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.

No one left and no one came

On the bare platform. What I saw

Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,

And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,

No whit less still and lonely fair

Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang

Close by, and round him, mistier,

Farther and farther, all the birds

Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

The Barrett Browning Institute

The Festival this year is mostly online, though there are some great events held in Ledbury itself over the weekend of 9 – 11 July. Click here for all the available events (online and non-online). The Festival is on until 11th July. The Barrett Browning Institute in the town centre  is the Festival’s headquarters, and if you go in you will find Sally Crabtree.

Sally Crabtree

Her latest installation is a sweetshop of conceptual confectionery which offers each member of the public a small gold coin which they can spend on just one thing at the counter and it explores the notion of choice in our lives-“Choose well. Your choice is brief, and yet endless” as Goethe says. It has the feel of a fairground stall with the excitement that each person goes away with a ‘prize’ so to speak. Of more value perhaps however is that each sweet that they choose comes with its own quirky, philosophical inner layer of meaning which they unwrap, depending on what they choose.

Festival A board

And for children… they can fill a jamboree bag with their own creations inspired by the Sweetshop of Words –  including lyrical lollipops, glass sweets and pop a pop a poem balloons!

stonewarew rutile signal vase

As I said in the last blog, the difference between poetry and pottery is only a “t”, and some new pieces have emerged out of the kiln which, if not poetic, are at least expressive.

Wavy rutile vase

The latest batch of ceramics has seen the rise of an ingredient called rutile.   Rutile is a glaze additive that produces colours ranging from light and dark blue, to tan, gold, yellow, and even purple.  It has a mind of its own, depending on the glaze base and the firing conditions and, because it is a mined colorant, its makeup also depends on the mine source. Many potters test their batches of rutile before committing to a full bucket of glaze – all the result of the mineral’s notorious inconsistency. But when it works, it produces many crystalline, speckling, streaking, and mottling effects in glazes during cooling in the kiln and thus it is highly prized by potters.

Wavy rutile vase verso

Of course, here at Peter Arscott Ceramics, and following in the contrarian, or maybe heedless, tradition, rutile is not used in this way at all but rather mixed as a powder with water and a viscous agent to produce a colourant that can be applied like paint to the bisque surface of the piece, and then dipped in a transparent glaze. In other words, it is not used as a glaze but as a colour that gives the object’s surface an effect halfway between wood and honey. See for yourselves.

rutile close-up

By the way, Brits pronounce it “root ill” and Americans say “root isle”, which I prefer. On the other hand, and digressing wildly, why do Americans say “rowt” when they want to say “route”? Answers please. And since we are on the subject, why do they pronounce “rubbish” as “garbage” and “chips” as “french fries”? I am sure that at least one of the three American readers of this blog will tell me in no uncertain terms.

my friend Edith

I got know a resident sparrow, called Edith, busy looking for anything to feed its chicks in their nest in the roof’s gutter. Luckily they were not flooded out, and I felt so sorry for her that I bought a  bag of mealy worms. She didn’t want to land on my outstretched hand but was OK on the table, where she would occasionally forget herself and leave a calling card. The fledglings have now flown, and she has lost all interest in visiting.  Spurned by a sparrow.

Goodbye, May

rain clouds over Ledbury

When I went for a long walk up to Bradlow Knoll and beyond, the day had decided to let rip and unload all of its stored water down onto Frith Wood and onto the lone walker struggling along its already slimy paths. It meant that all one’s concentration was on not slipping, rather than on looking around at the flora and fauna, so these images were taken towards the end of the trudge, when the clouds parted, and the path was level.

bluebells

It turns out that on Friday 21 May , the UK experienced 91% of its expected rainfall for the entire month, with approximately 63.5mm having already fallen. The wettest May on record was in 1967, when 131.7mm of rain fell across the month.

buttercup

It is not the first time the UK has experienced unusual weather this year. April was the frostiest on record, with an average of 13 days of air frosts reported for the UK, topping the 11 days seen in April 1970. Last year, the UK experienced its sunniest spring and driest May since records began with 626 hours of bright sunshine recorded for the UK, exceeding the previous high (555 hours, set in 1948) by more than 70 hours.

bumblebee and bugle

As May transitions into June, we can only hope for dry sunny weather, though the British are, by and large, wary of getting carried away, and will have nurtured low expectations in order not to let disappointment overwhelm them. Is this why, when we go abroad to guaranteed sunshine, and we know we needn’t harbour any circumspection, we allow our inner buoyancy to bubble up and take over? This would explain the uncontrolled alcohol intake, the flippant balcony jumping, the skin-flaking sunburns, the nudity and cross-dressing, the dread of going back home.

The weather and the Brits. What would we talk about without it? It helps us overcome our social inhibitions, but there are rules when conducting these weather-related conversations. Firstly, the topic will almost always be introduced as a form of question and the person answering must agree, otherwise it is quite a serious breach of etiquette. Go on, try it out next time someone says “Cold, isn’t it?” and you say “No.”

dandelion don’t tell no lies. Click here

As for pottery, weather plays a part too. When freshly-made pieces are drying, the dry part will pull on the wet and crack the pottery prior to firing. The best way to avoid this is to dry everything in the shade, but since a humid or wet climate ensures that the pottery will retain its moisture, even after a week, it is best to give the pottery an extra week or even two – the longer the better.

slow dry

And to make sure it dries evenly during the first few days, a plastic bag over each piece is a good idea, otherwise you find parts that are attached to the main body dry too fast and hairline fractures only become bigger visible cracks after the final firing.  This can be deeply disheartening when you’ve put all your energy into one vase in particular, only to discover the fracture after the final hurdle. I’m sure it explains why so many potters turn to drink.

more bluebells

Going back 107 years to June 1914, I see that the month was cool and unsettled, alternating with dry, warm and sunny conditions. On the 8th the maximum temperature was only 13.4°C., and a severe thunderstorm, with hail, produced over 33mm of rain on the 14th. There were many dry and fairly sunny days during the second half of June, and during the last few days of the month it became increasingly warm, and eventually hot. On the 30th, it was sunny all day and the afternoon temperature reached 29°C.

Edward Thomas photo by Frederick Evans

I mention this because this was precisely the weather the poet Edward Thomas was remembering when he wrote “The sun used to shine”. It was the summer he and Robert Frost spent together in the Ledbury area, one of the great literary friendships which ended with Thomas’s death at Arras in 1917. I like to think they took the same paths along the Frith wood, as many of us here still do – they were great walkers. Despite my best research, they do not seem to have any particular interest in ceramics, even though the only difference between poetry and pottery is a “t”.

“Frost’s footfall” is an essay I have written about the two for The Common, a literary organisation based at Amherst College that publishes writing that embodies particular times and places, and where Robert Frost taught for forty years. Click here to read it.

 

The Ledbury Poetry Festival has been going for 25 years, and this July (2 – 11) will be offering us digital encounters with poets such as Margaret Atwood, Jorie Graham, Andrew McMillan, Jackie Kay, Fred D’Aguiar, Billy Collins, Fiona Sampson, as well as Mexican, Zimbabwean, Chinese, Slovakian and Belarusian voices, and puppetry, a poetry sweet shop, bingo, an interactive digital poetry trail…. Click here for more details.

betony – the stateliest of small flowers

 

The sun used to shine while we two walked

Slowly together, paused and started

Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked

As either pleased, and cheerfully parted

 

Each night. We never disagreed

Which gate to rest on. The to be

And the late past we gave small heed.

We turned from men or poetry

 

To rumours of the war remote

Only till both stood disinclined

For aught but the yellow flavorous coat

Of an apple wasps had undermined;

 

Or a sentry of dark betonies,

The stateliest of small flowers on earth,

At the forest verge; or crocuses

Pale purple as if they had their birth

 

In sunless Hades fields. The war

Came back to mind with the moonrise

Which soldiers in the east afar

Beheld then. Nevertheless, our eyes

 

Could as well imagine the Crusades

Or Caesar’s battles. Everything

To faintness like those rumours fade—

Like the brook’s water glittering

 

Under the moonlight—like those walks

Now—like us two that took them, and

The fallen apples, all the talks

And silence—like memory’s sand

 

When the tide covers it late or soon,

And other men through other flowers

In those fields under the same moon

Go talking and have easy hours.

 

moonpot

Spring clean

 

early April morning

Early April morning walk up to Frith Wood, clear sky, a little dew in the grass, birds singing – chaffinch, great tit, blackbird and the deep cawing of the “boss”, the raven, the usual lovely view from C.J.’s bench and then the last uphill trudge into the cool of the wood itself. I had the whole place to myself (I thought) until a hair-raising bark from deep in the trees made me jump out of my skin. It came at regular 5 second intervals and I thought I’d recorded it but realized when I got home that I had not pressed the start button. Research online confirmed that it was a barking Roe deer, probably warning others of my approach – it sounds very dog-like.

barking roe deer

Here we are in April, with lockdown appearing to recede, and Spring well-established, the blooms are beginning to open up, leaves are unfurling – it is the month of the growing season and thus aptly named: it is derived from the Latin word aperit, which means “to open”.

mayflower in April

Also, and more importantly to some, it’s also Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month, as well as National Soft Pretzel Month in the USA. And Edible Book Day is celebrated on April 1st – this is not an April Fool’s joke and is taken seriously by that voracious reader, the book worm.

wood anemone

The wood anemone was just beginning to carpet the ground, and the first bluebells were about to unfurl. It was a quiet and relaxing five kilometre walk after the initial “hart”- stopping  moment.

worm moon?

After last month’s Worm Moon, mentioned in last month’s blog and which was largely obscured by cloud, we may have better luck for the next two over the next two months, with a Pink Moon and a Flower Moon on the way. Wolf Moon (January), Snow Moon (February), Sturgeon Moon (August) and Beaver Moon (November) are just four of the monthly moons to look out for. But in order to avoid this blog becoming a lunar calendar, I must try and be as brief as possible and not get carried away (Yes, do try not to – Spiro).

pink moon

The Pink Moon supermoon will be at its peak on Tuesday, April 27 at 4.31am. The Flower Moon supermoon will be at its largest and brightest on Wednesday, May 26 at 12.13pm. The April and May full moons will both appear to loom large as the moon is at its closest points to Earth on its orbit. The Pink Moon, from the pink flowers – phlox – that bloom in the early spring, is also the Sprouting Grass Moon, Fish Moon or Hare Moon. The Old English/Anglo-Saxon name is Egg Moon. It is also known as the Paschal Moon because it is used to calculate the date for Easter. (OK, that’s quite enough – S.).

wavy fruit bowl

Right. Now the ceramics. Rummaging in the deepest recesses of the storage room is like going back in time. Waiting to see the light of day was a stack of stoneware wave bowls made some years ago and never sold. Spiro ( in charge of Marketing) says it is because they were not properly promoted for their practical use and that customers were perplexed by their description as “wave” bowls. Spiro wants to publicise them as fruit bowls and insists on the following description:

fruity feature

“A really stylish modern ceramic fruit bowl that looks great in any room of the house and can be used in so many ways. This amazing ceramic piece will make a stylish feature on a sideboard, dining room table or kitchen island. It also provides a sense of style to any contemporary space.”

stylish

I suppose I like them for their aesthetic qualities above all and prefer to see them as objects with visual impact, which, I keep telling Spiro, PAC followers do too. He is adamant that function comes before form. Anyway, this is his compromise:

fruit bowl with fruit

“No matter what kind of salad you serve up, this ceramic bowl is sure to make it look scrumptious! This simply designed tableware with its wavy brushstrokes in blue and green depicts a contemporary look with marine associations.  This bowl is perfect for everyday use or special occasions and along with the rest of the range can be used in infinite ways to suit your style. Material: glaze fired porcelain. Dishwasher, oven and microwave safe.”

Edible Book Day

I also found some chargers, or large round serving dishes, so both fruit bowls and chargers need to make room for new stock and will be displayed for sale in the garden at Oakland House, The Homend, Ledbury HR8 1AP from Saturday 18th to Sunday 19th April (10 – 5). They will be spaced out appropriately , but I assume there will not be more than six people together in the garden at any given time. If you want to purchase a bowl, put on a mask and knock on the kitchen door, either Spiro, or Thelonious, or I will serve you. Card or cash accepted. Prices range from £30 to £60.

wave bowl as birdbath

Anyone who’d like a piece but cannot travel, select the one you’d like and just send an email to info@peterarscott.co.uk  Shipping and packaging for UK will add £10.

a. 34 cms max width. 1.7k. £30

b. 42 cms width. 2.4k. £50

c. 42 cms width. 2.7 k. £50

d. 45 cms width. 3.7 k. £65

e. 40 cms width. 1.9 k. £45 Miró

f. 39 cms d. 3k. £40

g. 48 cms d. 4 k. £50

h. 42 cms d. 5 k. £45

 

i. 48 cms d. 5k. £60

Lastly, I thought you’d enjoy this video of a deer attacking a hunter. Just click on it:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

political pottery

wobbly shelf or shard luck?

Last week I walked into the studio and slammed the door behind me. There was a resounding crash. I knew then that I should have repaired the wobbly shelf that held stacks of three legged bowls. However, all potters develop a protective skin that steers them away from howling at the moon, so I swept it all up.

beyond glueing

I hope the night of March 28th is clear and cloudless because this month’s full moon, called the Full Worm Moon, is a “Supermoon”, the nickname given to a full moon when it’s closest to our planet. It’s named the Worm Moon due to the softening of the ground that typically happens in the spring that allows earthworms to emerge. And I couldn’t resist bringing worms into the blog again.

supermoon

But March in the UK is usually associated with the yellow splash of colour that daffodils provide, and we rather take them for granted.  I didn’t know that the word derives from “asphodel”, a variant of Middle English affodil, from Latin asphodelus.

daffs

Yes, we Brits do go on about our daffodils, but we’re not the only ones. They are also valued in China. They bloom around Chinese New Year, and symbolize good luck, prosperity, and good fortune. If the flowers bloom exactly on New Year’s Day, it means that you will have good luck for the entire year. The Feng Shui three legged Money Toad will also bring luck – in fact all things three legged are a good thing, unless they are on a wobbly shelf.

three legs = good luck

Now that we’re talking about China, I can remind you that this is a ceramics blog and that porcelain developed in China and exported to Europe was so named after its country of origin. Porcelain and china, by the way, are fired at a higher temperature than stoneware, which is what I use, but are made of a finer particle clay, which results in a thinner construction and more translucent body.

willow pattern story

So, still with China, many of you will be familiar with The Willow pattern. It is a distinctive and elaborate chinoiserie pattern popular at the end of the 18th century in England when, in its standard form, it was developed by ceramic artists adapting motifs inspired by fashionable hand-painted blue and white wares imported from China. Part of the marketing ploy, claims Spiro (in charge of Marketing at Peter Arscott Ceramics), was to come up with a good story to sell it.

the Duke arrives in his boat

This is the story: once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter. She fell in love with her father’s accounting assistant, angering her father. He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride.

the lovers escape, Dad with whip in hand

On the eve of the daughter’s wedding, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand, though it looks more like a ball and chain.

the lovers transformed

They eventually escaped on the Duke’s ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. He sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves

protest vase

I decided I would give the traditional pattern a more up-to-date interpretation. My visit to Hong Kong three years ago was an eye opener, and I enjoyed the vibrancy and energy of the place – click here to visit the blog – so with the suppression of free expression and democracy in Hong Kong and the repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang in mind, I made a willow pattern protest vase, since I feel strongly about the issue, and I am a potter. Instead of the doves, two helicopters, instead of the lovers escaping over the bridge, prisoners with guards. You get the idea :

Confucius said that an oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger.

And Confucius did not say the following:

 “Man who keeps both feet firmly planted on ground has trouble putting on pants.”

zaijian – 再见 (Goodbye)

The jumble vases of Mud Month

panoramic view from Bradlow Knoll

Apologies for the brevity of this month’s blog, which like the month of February itself, seems shorter than others and lacking a defined personality. Unfair really. After all, had it retained its original Old English name of Kale-monath it would be forever associated with brassica as Cabbage Month, which we can assume was the daily culinary highlight for the medieval English but must have been an off-putting addition to the domestic winter fug within.

muddy path

The other Old English name was Solmonath, which literally means “mud month.” Whichever way you look at it, February does not come out smelling of roses, until the Romans arrived and thankfully renamed it . So, thank you Romans. They named it after the festival of purification called Februa, during which people were ritually washed.

jumble vase

Three facts about February: in Welsh, February is sometimes known as “y mis bach” which means “little month.” It  is the only month where it’s possible to go the entire time without having a full moon.  February frequently occurs in lists of the most commonly misspelt words in the English language

dinosaur legs

However, Frith Wood. It was a cold day, as you can probably tell by the images, and my powers of observation were subdued. The only thing that drew me out of my reverie was the appearance of two giant dinosaur legs wearing green socks. The “green socks” of moss around the two tree trunks struck me as strange. The moss seems to only grow to a certain height before it applies the brakes and comes to a dead halt: “this far and no more”. Possible explanation? The air within 60 centimetres of the ground is moist because water is constantly evaporating from the ground, so moss, lazy like everybody else, just hunkers down and laps it up. Anybody with a better or more scientific explanation please tell us.

another jumble vase

So, to ceramics (about time, says Spiro). Two larger-than-usual vases came out of the kiln this month, and they do look different. They are part of a series called “jumble vases”, made from stoneware slab-rolled and cut into different shapes which are then applied to each other in such a way that the final piece looks as if it’s made from five or six different vases.

jumble vase showing its decals

After the piece is bisque-fired, each “fragment” is hand painted, then the whole piece is dipped in transparent glaze and fired at the usual 1275 degrees. When it comes out, the areas that have been deliberately left blank then have decals applied. These are fine transparent designs which are soaked in water then carefully placed on the glazed surface. Then the vase goes back into the kiln and fired to 800 degrees.

jumble vase 2

They are sculptural, visually arresting, but also practical, since you can fill them with water and put plants (or other things) in them.

things to put in a jumble vase

Lastly, if you’ve ever heard of flash-fiction (a self-contained story under six hundred words, in this case) and you are interested enough, you can read one of my stories at 365 Tomorrows by clicking here. They are an online site publishing science fiction in all its incarnations, from hard sci-fi to cyberpunk and beyond.

cyberpunk (benign)

Spring is around the corner, snowdrops have appeared, crocuses are out, next the daffs, and then it’s Summer. Antio sas, as Spiro the Greek says.

crocus sativus

worm grunting

May Hill hovering on the horizon

The fitter your legs, the fitter your mind. This is what I told myself as I slogged up Bradlow Hill to my favourite viewing spot one harsh cold morning last week. It’s good for you, colder temperatures help people think clearly, people perform tasks better. What’s more, people are less inclined to tackle cognitive problems in the summer, as opposed to winter, because the warm weather uses more glucose that’s needed for mental processes.

the slog uphill

Yes, a long, brisk walk is as good as a run when it comes to lowering risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol because it’s the total energy used, you see, rather than the intensity of the workout, that counts.

frond vase

Encouraged, I tried tackling a cognitive problem. When did time begin? Where does a thought go when it’s forgotten? Where do lost socks go when they are missing? No answer presented itself.

hoar frost

But it was cold. Very cold. Everything was covered in wispy white and the mud, usually so slippery and just waiting to play with you, was ice solid and didn’t try any of its old tricks. I decided it was a hoar frost. Later, when I got home, I looked up “hoar” – it comes from an Old English adjective that means “showing signs of old age”. In this context, it refers to the frost that makes trees and bushes look like white hair.  It is formed by direct condensation of water vapour to ice at temperatures below freezing.

frozen worm roof

More cognitive problems: which came first – the chicken or the egg? Why do men have nipples? What would happen if somebody hired two private detectives to follow each other? At a cinema or theatre, which armrest is yours? What happens to worms when the earth above them has frozen? Just think how nice it would be to sleep curled up in a warm place, like a worm when the temperature goes down and the frost appears. They burrow below the frost line where they nest in chambers at the bottom of tunnels they dig, kept moist by the slimy mucus they produce. All that soil above them keeping them warm, like a blanket – bad news for birds, no matter how early they get up on a cold winter’s day.

do worms dream?

Do worms communicate? Do they produce any sound? My research later showed up all sorts of interesting facts, like worm grunting – which is the art of rubbing iron and wood to cause vibrations in the ground that cause worms to wriggle to the surface – but I read that earthworms do not have vocal cords, lungs or larynx to drive air through and generate noise, and why didn’t I enrol in a biology class, it was suggested, and get a life.

lobe vase

Looking around at the whitened landscape another cognitive problem came to me. What makes stoneware and porcelain white? I know this one: kaolin, or rather kaolinite, a mineral. Kaolin is the only type of clay from which a white, translucent, vitreous ceramic can be made. It is a refractory clay, meaning that it can be fired at high temperatures without deforming, and it is white-burning, meaning that it imparts whiteness to the finished ware, be it stoneware or porcelain. Ceramicists like Edmund de Waal usually like their pieces in their pure white state.

Much as I like the white of stoneware and porcelain, because I am a painter, I feel the need to colour the surface with stains and oxides before dipping the piece in a transparent glaze and firing it to 1275℃.

horn vase

By the way, it turns out that Kaolinite is also used in toothpaste, incandescent lightbulbs, cosmetics, paint, whitewash and paper.  Some people even eat it to help digestion or to lower food toxicity, but don’t try it at home.

bottom mystery

When I got to the top of the hill, I saw that someone had already beaten me to CJ’s bench and left his or her mark. In full Sherlock cognitive mode, I studied the patch left by the person’s bottom on the frosted wood: hmmm, not a large person, and very confident of the waterproof clothing worn, and given the heat required to melt the ice, I surmised the person had, like me, climbed the hill to the bench to generate such heat. Therefore, the person was ahead of me and in the woods. I decided not to test the theory. If I rushed ahead and approached walkers ahead of me whilst looking for damp patches on their bottoms I would only get into trouble.

three legged bowl 52

Instead, I looked at the low wintry skyline and noticed a thin finger of cloud below the top of May Hill, which made it look as if it were floating just above the horizon.

raven photo: www.copetersen.com

The rest of the walk through the woods was uneventful with only a few walkers crossing paths, no squirrels, no birdsong, only the neighbourhood raven who always croaks way above the trees. It made me think of Merlina, the Queen raven that recently disappeared from the Tower of London, presumed dead. It was Charles II who officially decree that the birds must be kept at the Tower at all times (otherwise the kingdom would collapse), and when numbers fell to just a single raven guard, Winston Churchill ordered that the flock — known as an “unkindness” — was increased to at least six.

Seeing the landscape beyond through the vertical grid of the trees, I was reminded of a vase I made some time ago, thus the next two pictures:

view through the trees

You may have noticed that I have taken the advice of my marketing manager, St Spyridon (see previous blog), and have scattered images of recently made vases throughout this blog in a haphazard manner unrelated to the text. He assures me it is called scattergun influencer marketing and all the kids are doing it, and why am I calling this  blog worm grunting? It’s got nothing to do with ceramics.

Brittle Star

Nor has this: some of you who read my verbiage, my waffle, my flannel, might be interested in listening to me read a section from a short story called sibling published in Brittle Star.  Please join us for the magazine’s first ever virtual launch, hosted by the Barbican Library through Zoom. Free to attend, just click here to register.  It is  the publication’s twentieth birthday, with readings by contributors strictly limited to five minutes each.  There will be no ceramics on view, no matter what Spiro says about it being a great marketing opportunity. It will be on 26th January at 6pm until 7pm (UK time).

Keep well.

December squelch

December from Bradlow Knoll

The month of December signals the full emergence of the cold winter season and, as the last month of the year, it promises a new beginning in January – who would not be looking forward to that?

into the woods

On the other hand, we’ve learnt to change our habits so much in 2020 that, as a result, bread-making, chess, virtual wine tasting, online bingo and TV bingeing may be on the up but to the detriment of other activities such as going to your local shop, meeting other humans and playing golf. I do go walking more though.

mud and leaf

Yes, there is always the great outdoors, and on this particular day the sum was out and the day crisp and bright as I made my way into the Frith. There was no point looking for colour other than the general grey-green-brown hues, no plants, no fungi, just the wet mud of the path and Autumn’s fallen leaves, lots of dead bracken and, somewhere high above, a croaking raven.

bracken

Most of the brown areas are the result of bracken. It was traditionally used for animal bedding which later breaks down into a mulch that can be used as fertilizer, and it’s best not eaten, as it contains a carcinogenic compound, though it is used to store freshly made ricotta cheese. Highly invasive, luckily in autumn it turns brown and dies down. Ferns are definitely prettier.

Cameron Contemporary Art Gallery

Walking in squelchy mud is tiring and forces one to use muscles you didn’t realize you had until you clamber into bed, aching and stiff. That night I slept as soon as my head touched the pillow. I dreamt of trees, squirrels, mud snorkeling and giant stoneware vases.

 

nocturnal advice

At some point, I woke up with a start. There, at the end of my bed, sat an old man with a long white beard. He wore a woven straw hat, so he wasn’t Father Christmas. There was a musky smell of sheep in the air. He looked at me and asked:

“Do you honestly think that they care that bracken was used for animal bedding?”

“Sorry?” I mumbled, “who are you?”

“Remember me?” he asked. “Come on. Your blog of November 2019?”

I searched my memory and suddenly it came to me.

“Ah, yes, of course. St Spyridon, patron saint of potters.”

“Spot on, though you did misspell my name on that blog.”

“How can I help?” I asked politely.

“I believe it’s the other way round. I am here to help you.”

“Oh, how?”

“You’re having trouble with your blog. It’s been preying on your mind, and last night before you fell asleep you muttered the words “hydrous aluminium phyllosilicates”. If these are the last words a potter says before sleep, I am duty-bound to make an appearance.”

“Well. It can’t happen very often then.”

“You’d be surprised how often a disturbed and troubled potter utters the magic words before drifting off.”

I sniffed the air, which was rude of me.

“Oh, I used to tend sheep before I became Bishop of Trymithous. That’s why I wear this shepherd’s hat. Anyway, your blog. You’re finding it increasingly difficult to relate its content to ceramics, when, after all, it’s meant to be a ceramics blog. Is that right?”

“Yes, I admit that.”

The Chuffed Store

“Your blogs tend to be text-heavy, filled with rambling non-sequiturs and partly related images. The last one was all about mushrooms.  I am here to provide a solution. Instead of trying to twist the text towards any ceramic-related narrative, I propose you write about whatever takes your fancy and intersperse that with unrelated images of your work. Each image, when clicked on, will link the viewer with details of the piece, where it can be bought, and for how much. The more images, the lighter the blog. Vision trumps all senses; the human brain can process entire images in as little as 13 milliseconds.”

Jewel Street

“Wow. You’re quite media savvy for a third century Greek monk. I suppose once you get to Heaven you absorb everything past, present and future, and take on a wisdom beyond anything human.”

“Natch. By the way, how many followers do you have?”

“Well, seven that I know of,” I hesitated, then added pathetically “not including my wife and mum, of course.”

Jewel Street

Wanting to change the subject I asked:

“So, who else have you helped in this way?”

“Oh, I gave Josiah Wedgwood a hand with his marketing, Bernard Leach too, Kawai Kanjirō, Pablo Picasso…”

“Gosh, all that knowledge at your fingertips.”

“Yes, but there are limitations. We get given one luxury when we arrive at the Pearly Gates but this is restricted to each person’s contemporary experience and era. So, for example, my friend Albert Schweitzer has a gigantic church organ, Siggy Freud has a gramophone player, Nelson Mandela has a constant supply of Dom Pérignon, and so on. Alas, I could not have any of these because they did not exist in my time.”

“So what did you choose?”

“Goat’s yoghurt. I’ve always had a passion for it, and it was considered the height of indulgence in my day.”

“But presumably you can share things, listen to Freud’s records, sip Nelson’s champagne…?”

“Yes, true. Albert is teaching me the organ, though, of course…… for a fee.”

“You use currency there?”

“No, we exchange things.”

“So how do you pay Mr Schweitzer?”

“In yoghurt.”

Jewel Street

St Spyridon raised a hand and signalled the end of our conversation.

“I will only appear when genuinely needed. It’s no good muttering “hydrous aluminium phyllosilicates” unless you have a real potter’s dilemma, otherwise I’d be forever at the beck and call of potters.”

He stood up and waved, then slowly disappeared through the bedroom wall.

The Chuffed Store

Later my wife woke up and, despite my protestations, accused me of allowing sheep into the house while she was asleep.

Parfum d’Ovine

Just click on the images of ceramics to find out more about each piece. Jewel Street is a new outlet you might like to visit, and if you do want to buy a three legged bowl for Christmas the voucher code is PETERARSCOTT10, which will get you a £10 discount. St Spyridon is full of ideas. Meanwhile, back in the workshop, recently made up vases are drying in readiness for their bisque firing in a few days.

waiting for the kiln


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