Arscott’s ceramic wanderings

cloud vase petulant

I found myself wandering about in the grounds of a ruined castle, somewhere near the Welsh border, probably Skenfrith, or White Castle, when I came upon an open enclosure, the portcullis and dry moat lay ahead and the grassy area was walled in and contained a massive oak tree. But what most intrigued me a very large vase that stood in the middle – it was familiar to me, in fact one of my own pieces called Cloud Vase, but it was huge.

“What are you doing here?” I asked it, I don’t know why.

“I could ask you the same thing”, it answered rather petulantly.

“But what has happened?”  I was very confused.

“Nothing much. What’s up with you?”

“Nothing. What do you mean?”

“Well, look at yourself. You’re stark naked.”

I looked down and saw this was the case. Which is when, thankfully, I woke up.

vine vase in the Welsh hills

This is how reality, or the day to day, elbows its way into your sleep and there’s always some reason behind it. In this case I blame Mr Dale Chihuly. Let me explain.

dream vase at Cecilia Colman’s

On the way back from leaving some ceramics with the Cecilia Colman Gallery in St John’s Wood (see June 2018 blog), a friend suggested we visit Kew Gardens and look at the exhibition of glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, Emperor of Blown Glass, whose work he often sites in natural settings, landscape or gardens, and whose technique, as he says himself ( he doesn’t like to use a lot of tools), it is all about fire, gravity and centrifugal force: “It’s these natural elements that make the pieces begin to look like they were made by nature”.

Chehuly’s Persian Column in the Temperate House at Kew

This outdoor exhibition brings together work from the past 50 years, the only site-specific piece being the Persian Column suspended from the roof of the Temperate House.

Lime Chrystal Tower

Main ingredients of glass?  Liquid sand, or rather sand, soda and limestone. melted at around 1320 degrees Celsius. This makes a typical glass which can be formed by blowing by mouth or machine, by casting, by pressing and by drawing.

Glass Hornets in the pond at the Temperate House viewed from the gallery

So, it’s a cousin of stoneware, which is also fired at a high temperature and is essentially a vitreous ceramic made from naturally occurring stoneware clay containing kaolinite, mica and quartz, and is thus water resistant and frost proof – like the pieces I make, only mine are really for a domestic setting, though what if….?

Sapphire Star

How big could a ceramic sculpture be, I wondered? The glass work on view is large, and mainly made out of many hand blown pieces which are carefully slipped onto steel rods that stand out from an inner steel core or tube planted deep into the ground. Like the Summer Sun by the lake, or the Sapphire Star by the Victoria Gate entrance. They are very large and dominating, and impressive. Which is why I ended up dreaming about man made ceramics in outdoor settings.

Summer Sun

If you haven’t been to Kew, you have a treat awaiting. It is a garden that houses the largest and most diverse botanical collections in the world (30,000 different kinds of plants), a World Heritage Centre, 132 hectares of gardens, glasshouses, listed buildings and the fabulous Palm House built in 1848. Parking is challenging unless you go early, otherwise it is best to arrive on the underground, either Kew Station or Richmond. The sandwiches are good.

small vine vase at Cecilia Colman’s

So, back to nocturnal wanderings of the mind, finding yourself in a state of undress in a dream is no big thing, nothing to worry about. Everybody has had one of these dreams, or at least that’s what the giant vase on the hill tells me.

giant vase that tells me things

A Stoneware Wolf in a China Shop

towards Paincastle

Delivering ceramics is a way to get to know a country. I found myself in the car, ceramic pieces carefully packed in boxes at the back, on a narrow road in the Welsh countryside of Powys, marooned in a sea of wool as a flock of sheep was driven to an adjacent field by two men and a woman. It was warm enough to have the windows open and as the woman walked by, I asked her what breed they were (the sheep, not the people). Badger Face Welsh Mountain was the reply. I nodded sagely, as if I knew my sheep.

green vs brown

The countryside I was driving through was an upland area above the Wye River and I was on my way to Erwood but had allowed the satnav to dictate terms, so instead of going the direct way, I was doing the “picturesque” route via Paincastle, which meant dealing with slow, winding, single track lanes in an undulating landscape,  but it also presented me with the unexpected opportunity to enjoy a rural backdrop that seems little touched by man…. until you realize that the place owes its personality to the sheep that graze it and the farmers that have shaped it through the ages. On this particular early Spring morning the sky was bright and clear, and the green was taking over from the Winter grey and the brown bracken. Clean air and only a whiff of sheep.

clean air

inside one of the Erwood carriages

Erwood itself is tiny but used to have its own train station until 1962. Nowadays, three railway carriages from the 1880s mark the spot, and form part of the largest privately-run contemporary applied arts gallery in Wales, the Erwood Station Gallery. There’s even a diesel locomotive from 1939 parked outside, a restored Fowler 0-6-0 engine. It is only a few yards from the Wye river, and attracts not only anglers, but also walkers and cyclists.

Fowler 0-6-0

A stone’s throw from Erwood is the village of Crickadarn, which was the remote “East Proctor” in the cult film “An American Werewolf in London”. The gory scenes on the lonely moors with the rampant lycanthrope feasting on Badger Face Welsh were all shot in the nearby Black Mountains, but a Stoneware Wolf (yes, sorry) would undoubtedly calm down at the site of the ceramics on offer at the Erwood Station Gallery. Unless there is a full moon, in which case there would be little chance of protecting the fabulous pieces on show from any lupine loss of control.

Werewolf thrilled at having found an Arscott ceramic

By the way, if you have recently developed a craving for raw meat and a sudden fear of water, have begun ripping your clothes off during a full moon, have a unibrow across your forehead, find yourself screaming with anger when it’s nothing to do with Brexit, then you may well be a werewolf. Click here to see what happens during a full moon – warning: remember it’s all pretend.

Some of the pieces on view at the gallery:

fish vase

ivy vase

Following your visit to Erwood you may well want to have a meal, in which case Hay-on-Wye is 20 minutes away by car. There you could spend a whole day just browsing in the bookshops for which it is famous, visiting the Erwood sister gallery, the Lion Street gallery, mainly showing the work of Welsh artists, or prowling around the open market (Thursdays only). Or you can hire a canoe and paddle down the Wye – if you are lucky you will catch sight of a flash of brilliant blue and green dropping into the water. A kingfisher.

early morning River Wye

Worcester’s ceramics, swans and sauce.

Arscott at the Bevere Gallery

You would not normally associate the city of Worcester (pronounced Wuster) with the pong of rotting fish and other ingredients, but it is thanks to a certain Lord Sandys in the 1830s that two local chemists, John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins were approached  and paid to come up with an anchovy-based sauce that the former had tasted in India and which he wanted to have made. However, it was deemed to be a disappointing flop and abandoned in a barrel, only to be rediscovered many months later and, to everyone’s surprise, the taste had mellowed into what we know as Worcestershire Sauce. To this day, the ingredients are allowed to ‘mature’ for 18 months before being blended and bottled in Worcester.

Best in a Bloody Mary

Those of you unfamiliar with this dark brown liquid will want to know what you do with it. Well, I like to sprinkle it into the mincemeat when a making Cottage Pie. Or Spaghetti Bolognaise: pour it in to the mince whilst it is simmering away and add a nice big splash just before you serve it up.  The company suggests a splash Worcestershire sauce in your baked beans, or your fish and chips, even in your green salad. They seem to imply that it goes with pretty much anything, but I would personally keep it well away from, say, bananas, or ice cream, or Spotted Dick. Whatever you do, do not sprinkle it into your single malt whisky, but a drop or two in a Bloody Mary is a must. Above is a picture of the sauce; the watch strap is not a Rolex but a cheap one I bought locally. I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m making a fortune out of my ceramics

Worcester Cathedral from the river

I expect you know why I’m going on about Worcester – I was delivering ceramics to the Bevere Gallery, which meant driving on the bridge over the River Severn into the city with the Cathedral sitting impressively over the dark water away to the right. The bright white specks floating about in the almost Worcester Sauce – coloured river are swans, which are always here because for many years the area between the railway viaduct and the Worcester Cathedral Ferry has been designated as a Swan Sanctuary. There is now a large and healthy population of Mute Swans on the water. Fishing in this area is banned and the swans are supported by a number of organisations including the City Council. The local Tourist Board extols “the natural beauty and general friendliness of these swans”. Note the word “general” – in other words, keep away from them or they could turn nasty, like the notorious one in Cambridge called Mr Asbo (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) that had to be deported because it kept attacking people and boats. But, yes, they do look spectacular in the river.

Mr Asbo strikes again

There was no time to stop at the cathedral and say hello to King John who was buried here in 1216 after contracting dysentery in Lynn. John is most famous for agreeing to the Magna Carta, which was a charter of demands made by John’s rebellious barons and the basis for much of our present rights as individuals. When he died he had lost most of his French lands, and was in the midst of a civil war against many of his own barons, though the current consensus is that John was a hard-working administrator, an able man, an able general, albeit with distasteful, even dangerous personality traits, including pettiness, spitefulness and cruelty, which is why he is always the “baddie” in the Robin Hood movies. Anyway, here’s a picture of him getting angry because someone forgot to put the top back on his bottle of Worcester Sauce.

Bad, bad King John

But I digress. I was on my way to the Bevere Gallery, an oasis of ceramic calm on the outskirts of the city, where visitors can really enjoy a high quality and varied selection of pieces on display and then sit down in the café and enjoy what’s on offer (the food is very good). Bevere is the name of an island in the Severn, 2 ½ miles N of Worcester. It is supposed to have been a resort of beavers; was a retreat of the inhabitants of Worcester during the plague of 1637; and is now, they say, a good bathing-place. It commands a fine view of the Abberley and the Malvern hills.

“Interior” vase at Bevere

And talking of ceramics, how could I not mention Royal Worcester porcelain which used to be made here in the 18th century until the Severn Street factory was closed down in 2006? One of its best-sellers was the Evesham Gold series, and samples can be seen at the Museum of Royal Worcester. There were various factories each producing distinctive wares: Flight and Barr, Chamberlain, Hadley and Sons, Kerr and Binns, Grainger and Dr Wall ( Dr John Wall perfected a recipe for porcelain that could withstand boiling water and this discovery led to the fame of the factory).

Evesham Gold

But back to the Bevere Gallery. Informality is an essential element here. You are encouraged to look at, handle and talk freely and openly about what you see – you can be as rude or polite as you like. Stuart and Clare like to engage and talk about the making and creative process. They also hold a Makers’ Lunch, an informal opportunity to talk with ceramicists and artists whose work is exhibited; an unpredictable two hours of conversation with open and frank discourse with the invited maker. They would be very happy to welcome you.

Crouch vase at Bevere

Ledbury (part 2)

spring vase

What is the difference between pottery and poetry, other than the extra “t”?

I don’t know, though I could go on about how playing with clay, twisting it into shapes, applying glazes in a particular way, to make an object “speak” so that it is more than the sum of its various parts, is not unlike playing with language so that a poem emerges that engages or surprises you. But I won’t.

jumblepot

Instead, I will present you with more reasons to visit Ledbury, including not only a look at the new ceramic pieces now being shown at John Nash but also the opportunities to combine eating and drinking with some gentle therapeutic shopping followed by, say, a walk in the Herefordshire countryside now that the wild daffodils will be in full bloom by the end of March.

wave fruitbowl

This is daff country. As you’ll see, they still grow wild but are no longer picked and sold commercially as they were up to the middle of the last century. Loaded onto train known as “The Daffodil Express”, it was big business, and GWR ran specials for the pickers who were mostly gypsies from Kent and day trippers. Walks are now organised to see them at their best – no picking encouraged.

Matisse vase

These small plants appear every Spring and transform the local landscape, specially around the Dymock area which becomes very popular with visitors who can take the various walks designed as circular routes that take in the many associations with the poets who lived in the area at the outbreak of the First World War. Aha, back to poetry.

anglepot

This was a group of like-minded poets who got to know each other, mostly in London, so that when the best-known of these, Lascelles Abercrombie, moved to Ryton, the others followed. Thus you have the coming together, for subtly different reasons and agendas, of people like the American Robert Frost, Wilfrid Gibson, Arthur Ransome (Swallows and Amazons), W H Davies (the Supertramp), Edward Thomas, John Drinkwater, Ivor Gurney and so on.

Lascelles

Ezra

Lascelles Abercrombie, by the way, may be largely forgotten nowadays but he was the “go-to” poet at the time, and a man with a sense of humour. When challenged to a duel by the argumentative Ezra Pound and was asked to choose the weapons, he suggested they bombard each other with unsold copies of their poetry.

Back in Ledbury however, peer into the Master’s House, the recently refurbished medieval building that is the Ledbury library and houses the poet laureate John Masefield collection – yes, he was born here. Across the High Street is the Painted Room, another medieval set of rooms which display, among other things, the poet W.H.Auden’s marriage certificate – yes, he got married here to Thomas Mann’s daughter.

moonpot

But enough poetry, what about something to eat? Try the Malthouse on Church Lane – fabulous pancakes with maple syrup, and Eggs Benedict, and if you’re there for Sunday brunch (booking advisable) get Jim to make you a proper Bloody Mary. The best in the West Midlands.

tuttifrutti jug

But do drop in at John Nash’s and have a look at the ceramics, some are a little different from the vases; more sculptural as they are best viewed in the round, and give the appearance of having been made out of different fragments bonded together – in fact they are all made out of the usual stoneware and built up, bisque fired to 1000 degrees, hand painted and then glaze fired at 1275 degrees.

wild daffs

Just in case you can’t wait to sip a Bloody Mary, here’s how to make one:
Place the ice in a large jug. Measure a splosh of vodka, a small tin of tomato juice and lemon juice and pour it straight onto the ice. Add 3 shakes of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco and a pinch of celery salt and pepper. Stir until the outside of the jug feels cold, then strain the cocktail into 2 tall glasses. Top up with fresh ice, add a celery stick and lemon slice to both glasses. Delicious (and surely nourishing).

Strike hands with me. The glass is brim. The dew is on the heather. And love is good, and life is long, and friends are best together.

pottery/ poetry in Wales

landscape vase

Driving through the countryside in Herefordshire and then on to Wales is a captivating experience. Perhaps it is the winding roads and the rising and falling of the horizon as you make your way past meadows, hills and then mountains. Small hamlets, castles in ruins, the occasional farmhouse, all punctuate the drive to Abergavenny and, if you are brave enough to do so on a cold January morning, lowering the window will reward you with a steady blast of the cleanest air garnished every mile or so with a whiff of soggy river bank or wet grass or diesel from a tractor as it turns off into a field.

the mouth of the river of blacksmiths

Yes, Abergavenny was my destination. Aber, from the Welsh for “mouth” (of a river) and gofannon, which is Middle Welsh for “blacksmith” and subsequently the name given to the local river, the Gavenny. The reference to blacksmiths relates to the town’s pre-Roman importance in iron smelting. However, my mind was not concentrating on these facts but rather on the strange fusion of cricket, poetry, Nazism, and, of course, ceramics that this town’s history brings together within its old stone walls.

Poetry allusions are plentiful in beautiful Wales, but this town was where Owen Sheers was born – poet, playwright, novelist and actor, and as I say whenever I get the opportunity, the only difference between “poetry” and “pottery” is the letter “t”. Click here to visit his website, and, if you are interested, I can tell you that he is booked to come to the Ledbury Poetry Festival this July.

Malcolm Nash

From poetry to cricket is an easy jump, given the many poems written about this game. For those of you who do not know the rules I would need a whole blog to explain them but allow me to mention writers like Les Murray, A.E.Housman, Harold Pinter and perhaps the best-known, Henry Newbolt (“There’s a breathless hush in the Close tonight…”). One of the most remembered moments in the game took place on 31st August 1968 when the great left hander Gary Sobers became the first batsman ever to hit six “sixes” in a single over of six consecutive balls in first-class cricket. We all remember Gary, but who thinks about the man who bowled those balls? Step forward Malcolm Nash, born in Abergavenny, and forever Garfield Sobers’ partner in cricket history. “My goodness”, says the commentator of the last ball, “it’s gone all the way to Swansea” – click here to see it.

But I digress. I was in Abergavenny to deliver some pieces to the Art Shop and Chapel. Regular exhibitions of fine and applied arts are held at the Art Shop, where artists’ materials can also be bought, while just down the road at the Chapel readings and performances take place with artists, musicians and poets, and you can eat at the Chapel Kitchen too, all ingredients locally produced – something for everyone, from meat-eater to vegan.

The Chapel – music, poetry and food

The town is small enough to make wandering around in it a pleasure, and if you like your food the place is great for world-class mountain lamb, venison, Y Fenni cheese, pastries, beer and cider – unsurprising since every September it is the stage for Wales’s biggest food festival, set in stunning area surrounded by green hills, including the Sugarloaf that looks down on the town.

Abergavenny Market

But I know what you are thinking. What about the Nazis? Well, OK. On the road to or from Abergavenny you will drive pasty a large stone ruin called Skenfrith, built in 1066 to protect the route from Hereford to Wales and now largely visited by passing tourists. One such was Rudolf Hess, a leading member of the Nazi party of Germany.

Skenfrith

Deputy Fuhrer to Adolph Hitler, he served in this position until 1941, when he flew solo to Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace with the United Kingdom. He was taken prisoner and eventually convicted of crimes against peace, serving a life sentence until his suicide. They had to keep him somewhere straight after his capture, so he was kept under escort at Maindiff Court Hospital for a while and paraded before the cameras and even allowed out on sightseeing trips – he was apparently known locally as the “Kaiser of Abergavenny”.

You will need a coffee when you are there. Go no further than the Chapel – the coffee is seriously good. The kitchen and cafe make breakfasts, lunch and suppers, starting with fresh soda bread every morning.

 

Hwyl fawr

a curly tail of two cities

a pier with no equal

Brighton and Hove is an engaging place and I was wandering around in an aimless way when I came across a giant donut surrounded by very happy people, two of whom has just got married, all of whom were drinking champagne, and one of whom offered me a glass. The donut is a huge circular shape cast in bronze and its centre at eye level allows a view of the world through the sculpture. It’s called “Afloat”.

Afloat

Some of you will know that expectant feeling that takes over when a kiln is opened up and the work of weeks is revealed fully glazed– smooth shiny shapes that are pleading to be picked up, weighed and felt for the first time. Stoneware and, occasionally, porcelain is what’s used at the workshop, and recently after my trip to Brighton and Hove, I was thinking about piglets for some unaccountable reason. The brain is a strange and wonderful thing.

whirlpot set

Stay with me on this one. The point of the story is that the donut is sited at the seaward end of the groyne, a word I had never heard of but which turns out to be a man-made barrier designed to trap sand which the waves have moved along the beach and to prevent the sand being moved too far along the coast. Groynes are usually made of wood, or concrete.

porker

If you are like me you will want to know why it is so called. Well, it comes from the Old French groign, which derives from the late Latin grunnire (to grunt) and thus from grunium ( a pig’s snout). I suppose groynes do stick out like porkers’ snorters towards the sea. I was relieved to work out that this was the reason for my porcine daydreaming and pleased to realize that it afforded this blog yet another tenuous link with ceramics.

porcelli

How? Well, porcelain comes from the Italian porcellana, literally “cowrie shell,” the chinaware so called from resemblance of its lustrous transparency to the shiny surface of the shells. The shell’s name in Italian is from porcella (young sow), the feminine of the Latin porcellus (young pig), diminutive of porcus (pig). The smooth and plump little cowrie does have piggy qualities though some experts point out its resemblance to a pig’s genitalia. You judge

Robin and Kirsty

All this preamble leads me to the reason for my visit. I was there to deliver some recent ceramics to the Cameron Contemporary Arts Gallery run by Robin Cameron and Kirsty Wither. Scattered throughout this page are examples of pieces you can see if you visit the gallery.

leaf vase

The gallery shows a changing programme of high quality established and up and coming British artists, ranging from traditional to modern, figurative to abstract, and each exhibition is accompanied by a selection of sculpture, ceramics and jewellery.

blue/green stoneware vase

The gallery is in the more laid-back Hove half of this twin city, less dense and intense, but because of its Regency buildings, villas and art-deco housing, wide roads and general leafiness, it is as expensive as Brighton but still attracts young families perhaps drawn by the wistful names of the areas there: Poet’s Corner, Wish Park, Palmeira Square, Adelaide.

seagulls go free

Brighton itself is certainly busy and cosmopolitan. I heard the sing song tones of Swedish, the emphatic sounds of Spanish, a lot of French glissando and very loud screeching Seagull. Seagulls own the promenade and perch all over the place in wait for something edible – they stare back at you unblinkingly and with a certain smugness because they are the only ones who do not have to pay to climb to the top of the British Airways i360 tower, from which you can view Brighton and the south coast. Visitors glide up gently to 450ft in the glass viewing pod, designed by the creators of the London Eye.

the Pavilion

Brighton’s famous lanes, narrow and crowded, are home to jewellers and a few restaurants, but a stone’s throw from them is the exotic Brighton Pavilion built for George IV, with its extraordinary exterior, its Chinese decor indoors, and its huge kitchen designed to feed a monarch who became very piggy-like in middle age.

Gorgeous George

As well-known as the stout sovereign’s palace is the Brighton pier, formally called the Brighton Palace Pier with its amusement arcade, rides and attractions, candy floss and Brighton rock. A lot of you may remember visiting it as children, and I still remember the smell of candy floss (does candy floss smell, or is my brain playing tricks again?), the one-armed bandits spitting coins at the ever-hopeful and the money I spent at the Shove Ha’ penny machine trying unsuccessfully to get a pocket knife in the shape of Elvis Presley.

three legged leaf bowl

I do remember going blue with cold after being frogmarched to the beach when we came to visit Granny. Luckily by then there were no professional “dippers”, robust women who plunged bathers vigorously into and out of the water for a small fee when the popularity of sea-bathing grew back in the 1790s. The ‘queen’ of the Brighton dippers was the famous Martha Gunn, a large woman who dipped from around 1750 until she was forced to retire through ill health in about 1814.

Martha at the Brighton Museum

It is hard to believe that before George IV made Brighton the “go to” resort it was a very impoverished town after the decline of the fishing industry resulted in much unemployment. It reached its nadir when the population had fallen to around 2,000 by the mid eighteenth century and great chunks of it were being gobbled up by the sea. Daniel Defoe, never one to mince his words, described Brighton as an old and poor fishing town in imminent danger of being completely swallowed by the sea; the proposed expense of £8,000 on groynes was, in Defoe’s opinion, more than the whole town was worth.

ceramic wave bowl – appropriate for a seaside resort

But it is another story now, and should you want to spend a day or two enjoying the sea, the vista, good restaurants and hotels, fairground rides, serious shopping, sailing, museums and galleries – and all of it an hour’s train ride from London – then this is your place.

Do drop in at Cameron Contemporary, and to see other galleries selling my ceramics click here and it will take you to the Gallery page on the website.

Lastly, I’d like to thank my dear old friend C.D.N. and his lovely Sue for putting me up that night, despite the fact that he was celebrating a significant birthday the next day. I hope the party went off with a bang and that all the wine brought in was consumed. I snuck out very early the next morning and tried to write a thank-you message on a paper napkin, but the tissue soaked up the ink in my pen and all I managed was a wobbly “Tha…” Here’s my present  –  an old song we both like (you’ll be hooked with the first note of the sliding guitar).

Arrivederci

ceramics, olives, squirrels

the view from Úbeda towards the Sierra de Cazorla

A long time ago, arriving anywhere in Spain meant being greeted by the smell of tobacco and coffee. Nowadays, with smoking restrictions in place, it is just the coffee you can just about whiff as you get out of Málaga airport and walk into the dry heat of Andalucía. The drive from Málaga to our destination, the city of Úbeda in Jaén, was a trip through a dry but varied landscape of mountains, valleys and great stretches of olive groves as far as the eye can see. This is the region that produces the most olive oil in the world, alone producing more than the second world producer of oil, Italy. Something like 20% of world production comes from here. There are about 60 million olive trees in this fertile land, and a squirrel could travel happily across the whole province without once touching soil (they claim). Anyway, the photograph above was taken from the hill of Úbeda looking down and across towards the Sierra de Cazorla. The next image is of a squirrel.

Spanish trapeze artist

The cultivation of olive trees goes back centuries in the different Mediterranean cultures, and includes the Greek, the Phoenician and the Assyrian – even the Bible mentions it over 400 times, since it was used not only as food but as a light source. Of course, the oil had to be stored, and what better way to contain it than the ceramic amphora or jug.

amphora jug of oil, aren’t you?

olives in a three-legged bowl

In Spanish a potter is known as an alfarero, a word that comes from the Arabic “alfahar” meaning “ceramic” and “ero” denoting a profession, and without doubt the best known alfarero in Úbeda is Tito. And pottery has been made in Ubeda for over a thousand years; there have been many influences and styles that have left their mark, and at Tito’s ceramic workshop you can experience absolute fidelity to traditional forms as well as a decorative eclecticism that incorporates and recreates the contributions of each historical period, from Iberian geometries to colourful Baroque via Arab greens and the blues of the Renaissance.

Inside Tito’s workshop

From the cool oasis of Tito’s you can walk to one of the most striking Renaissance collection of buildings in Spain – the Vázquez de Molina square where you can visit the Palacio de las Cadenas (so named after the decorative chains which once hung from the façade), the chapel of El Salvador and the Basílica de Santa María. The interior of the chapel is stunning, built as a burial place for the local nobility in 1536, it is a Spanish architectural jewel with a main altar that forces one to sit down and contemplate.

interior of El Salvador chapel

The town lends its name to a common figure of speech in Spanish, andar por los cerros de Úbeda (literally ‘to walk around the hills of Úbeda’), meaning ‘to go off at a tangent’, which yours truly did by succumbing to a mild case of shingles. Luckily the local chemist is very helpful so no doctor was required, but it did mean that any consumption of local delicacies such as perdiz en escabeche (partridge), andrajos (a stew made with flour, oil, tomato, pepper and rabbit) and paté de aceituna (olive paté) had to be postponed, as did any drinking of the local Torreperogil wine.

Écija – the Frying Pan of Spain

This small sacrifice was soon forgotten with the next stage of the trip. The drive to Jerez de la Frontera meant a brief stop at Écija, the Frying Pan of Spain, and though it turned out be hot enough, the temperature was not as high as in the UK at the time. Something of the dryness of the Spanish landscape and its underlying human endeavour and activity inspired a set of pots once back at the workshop – an abstract interpretation with a marked personality. What do you think?

landscape pots

However, back on the road, the landscape changed gradually the further West we drove, and by the time we were nearing Jerez the fields were white. Albariza is a chalky soil that retains moisture within while forming a dry pale crust above that prevents any drying. This is ideal for the growing of the Palomino grape used in the production of sherry and brandy. The result is a stripy landscape of green and white, grape and soil.

Barbadillo’s cathedral-like warehouse of soleras

A tour of the Barbadillo sherry makers in the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda taught us that manzanilla is made there whereas fino is made in Jerez. Because of the sea breeze that enters the giant bodegas where the maturing takes place, manzanilla has a slightly salty tang. Manzanilla is camomile, which is another aroma typically found in this type of sherry, and where better to sample some than at a bar in the centre of the city. After admiring the cathedral-like building that houses the hundreds of soleras (oak barrels) of manzanilla we headed back to Jerez.

Bar Juanito

Bar Juanito is a cool and airy space clad inside and out with locally-made ceramic tiles where they serve all the sherries along with their specialities, artichoke and deep-fried whitebait. As with most towns and cities in Andalucía tiles are used to decorate buildings on the outside, such as the tower of the church of San Miguel, and to help keep interiors at a lower temperature, for example in the courtyards and patios of houses, and in public and domestic rooms.

the tile-clad tower of San Miguel, Jerez

But if you are feeling the heat then go to the beach. The one at Santa Maria del Puerto is wide and clean and, despite the fact that it is the Atlantic, easy to swim in. The view across the bay allows you a glimpse of Cadiz in the distance.

Cadiz in the distance

In a further attempt to link ceramics, however tenuously, with this blog and the trip to Spain, here is an image of a large pot made two or three years ago which was inspired by the movements of a flamenco dance. It is called Flamenco Pot.

Flamenco pot

Should you want to meet any of the ceramics face to face, keep in mind that other than the workshop in Ledbury there are outlets too in St Ives, Worcester, Cambridge and London – addresses and contact details on the website. Click here to go to the website.

Leaf pot

Hasta luego, amigos.

12 hours in London (is like a year in any other place)

derelict Victorian Public Toilets into a cracking little pub.

A quick overnight trip to London was called for, ceramics to be delivered in the morning to the Cecilia Colman Gallery, so arrival was late in the evening – the idea being to spend the night and get up early.

closing time at Pueblito Paisa

London is an extraordinary place, which is why I found myself late that night somewhere in Haringey eating aborrajado (deep-fried stuffed plantains) and empanaditas (meat turnovers) all washed down with cold Colombian beer. The city is ever shifting, neighbourhoods seem to change overnight from the down-at-heel to the slickly bourgeois, and this perpetual construction of flats for the professionals, the foreign “land bankers” and who knows who else seems to be hitting Seven Sisters, so that the little restaurant we were eating at is now in danger, along with its neighbouring businesses, of making way for another redevelopment scheme.

ceviche

Within this large building more than 100 Latin American traders have created a busy complex of cafes, butchers, travel agencies, restaurants, clothes shops and greengrocers all under one roof, and is a fine example of a city that can boast to being the most multicultural place in the planet.

Relocation is promised, but everyone knows that it would never provide the genuine atmosphere that exists when people unselfconsciously transform a place through the need to make a living and make use of their own experiences and backgrounds. It is called Pueblito Paisa, and long may it thrive. Pay it a visit and try the ceviche.

passers-by outside the High Cross pub

We then walked a couple of blocks to a solid Victorian public toilet. This very hospitable place turned out to be a pub, recently converted, and we sat down outside under a cherry tree to drink and watch the night traffic flow by, mostly double deckers and taxis, and pedestrians of all shapes, sizes and diversity, track suits, hijab, business suits, shorts, sauntered past us.

Reynard

At one point we looked at the shrubbery at the base of the cherry tree and were startled by the untroubled gaze of a fox which gave up on us and turned away.

the canal, early morning

The next morning a visit to Tottenham Hale and the canal that runs alongside the Walthamstow wetlands offered a complete contrast to the urban activity of the night before. Here all was placid and calm, and, if it had not been for the trains, it was easy to imagine you were in the countryside.

Cecilia’s place

And then the trip to St John’s Wood to visit the Cecilia Colman Gallery. Another contrast: spacious Regent’s Park, the London Zoo, the Regent’s Park mosque, Lord’s cricket ground, and St John’s Wood High Street with its cafes and shops – a small world away from edgier Haringey, but cosmopolitan nevertheless.

small three legged bowl at Cecila Colman’s

The Gallery has been in London for forty years having opened in 1977 and is one of the few remaining shops on St John’s Wood High Street which survived the transformation of the area in the last few decades. Cecilia chooses all the pieces and artists herself and is passionate about the work she exhibits. She chose eight recent Arscott ceramic pieces – do drop in to have a look.

large stoneware vase

On another note, we are all very pleased that CUP ceramics project (see previous blog) hit its crowdfunding target with 5 days to spare. Over 90 people pledged contributions, an excellent indication of the support for an open-access studio providing a creative community for all types of ceramicists to share skills and ideas in a relaxed environment

blue vase

Arscott ceramics in Cambridge

King’s College, Cambridge

It strikes me that delivering ceramics is one way to get to know your country. If last time it was a trip to St Ives through the Cornish landscape and the pleasure of seeing those beautiful pieces at the St Ives Ceramics gallery on Fish Street, this time Cambridge called for an easterly road trip via Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire through low-lying but fertile agricultural countryside criss-crossed by hedgerows and lines of trees, ditches and canals, and, frankly, quite a lot of traffic

local transport

But once in the city of Cambridge traffic is strictly controlled in the very centre and deliveries must be made before 9am before automatic bollards rise out of the road and trap the unsuspecting driver. Most students whizz around on bikes – it’s not cars the pedestrian needs top look out for, though Cambridge Contemporary Art, which is where the ceramics were heading, is on a quiet street right in the heart of the university city.

The gallery is light and airy, and the team who run it very bright and welcoming. It stands on Trinity Street opposite Gonville and Caius College, and specialises in handmade ceramics, prints, paintings and sculpture and have gained a reputation for their extensive range of high quality work and innovative exhibitions of local, national and international artists.

cambridge contemporary art

Peter Arscott’s ceramics will be part of a mixed exhibition running from 23rd June to 2nd September. If you happen to be in the area make sure to drop in and use the visit as an excuse to see one or two other Cambridge highlights such as the Fitzwilliam Museum, one of the greatest art collections in the UK. It owes its foundation to Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion who, in 1816, bequeathed to the University of Cambridge his works of art and library, together with funds to house them, to further “the Increase of Learning and other great Objects of that Noble Foundation”.

Merete Rasmussen – blue twisted form. Hand built stoneware. Fitzwilliam Museum

At the time of writing there is an inspiring exhibition of ceramics called Things of Beauty Growing showcasing the practice of the art form in the UK today, tracing the changing nature of British studio pottery through the evolution of specific types of vessel: the moon jar, vase and bowl. Photography is not permitted in this section, but I took some photos of the ceramics show in the main room on the ground floor to whet your appetites.

Rupert Spira – bowl (thrown stoneware) at Fitzwilliam Museum

In another part of the museum is a contemporary project by Matt Smith called “Flux” which uses ceramics as a way to ask questions about our history and why museums celebrate lives of some people and ignore others. He uses Parian busts from the Victorian era of widely-celebrated colonialists and adventurers to challenge our traditional readings of their achievements. Parian pottery is designed to look shiny like marble and was developed by the Staffordshire pottery Mintons in 1845.

Matt Smith’s Flux: Parian unpacked. Fitzwilliam Museum

One wall is covered by wall paper designed with illustrations from the life of General Gordon of Khartoum meeting his fate in the hands of the Mahdi’s army he was sent to subjugate, his heroic bust set in the centre. Those of you of a certain age will remember that his part was played by Charlton Heston in the film “Khartoum”, and Lawrence Olivier played the Mahdi.

Gordon of Khartoum meets his fate

Lawrence and Charlton

As I wandered from one wonderful room to another my eye was caught by a painting by the great El Greco in the 1590 – a typical late work with extremely free brushwork and blurred facial features which still looks fresh and contemporary after 400 years

El Greco’s St John the Evangelist – detail. Fitzwilliam museum

By the way, the Fitzwilliam building itself is grand and imposing, and was designed by George Basevi (1794-1845) and completed after his death by C R Cockerell. Poor George died accidentally falling from the Bell tower of Ely Cathedral while inspecting repairs.

Walking back to the city centre you will go past the imposing façade of King’s College whose students include not only Rupert Brooke, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith and John Maynard Keynes but also Sir John Harrington whose New Discourse describes a forerunner to the modern flush toilet that was installed at his house at Kelston in the late 16th century. It’s the functional as well as the beautiful that help change our world for the better.

Sir John Harrington’s legacy at Kettle’s Yard

Which leads me neatly to the bathroom at Kettle’s Yard, a house open to the public since Jim Ede gave it and its art collection to the University as ‘a living place where works of art could be enjoyed… where young people could be at home unhampered by the greater austerity of the museum or public art gallery.’ Here you can look at work by artists such as David Jones, Ben Nicolson and others, all of them friends of Ede’s (who had been curator at the Tate Gallery) in relaxed domestic surroundings, even in the loo.

the calm interior at Kettle’s Yard

By now your thoughts will be turning to other things: perhaps a punt on the River Cam or a visit to one of the colleges, or a cycle ride, or a walk over the Bridge of Sighs, or a Pink Floyd tour to see the childhood homes of band members, Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Syd Barrett?

punts waiting on the Cam

This visitor just sat at a café and watched the people go by – school parties, animated university students, bemused tourists, thoughtful academics, and a fat dog that sat at a bus stop opposite and looked at people meaningfully. There was no sign of people hanging on in quiet desperation (yes, another one for the oldies) or of any student debauchery, as spotted at the Fitzwilliam in a painting by Breughel the younger called A Village Festival.

16th Century debauchery

Returning to Herefordshire it was pleasing to see that the CUP ceramics project has surpassed the crowdfunding target’s halfway mark (see previous blog). If any of you are still interested please visit the website and see what is on offer and help make it happen: https://www.cupceramics.com/

come and see me at cambridge contemporary art

Arscott ceramics go to St Ives

on the beach

A trip from Ledbury to St Ives coincided with one of those May days when the sun is hazy, the temperature mild, and the rolling landscape, as you enter Cornwall (or Kernow in Cornish), is sprinkled with mayflower and a roadside flora that does not seem to belong to any other part of the country. When you lower the car window and breathe in the fresh smell of early summer and gaze at the way the blue hills recede into subtle greys and you get your first peek at the sea between clumps of trees and rocks, you could easily bring to mind the painters Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon and Terry Frost. On the other hand, a lot of people go to St Ives for its ceramic associations, thanks mainly to Bernard Leach and his Japanese-inspired studio pottery, and visit not only the Tate gallery there, but also the fine independent galleries that exhibit both painting and pottery. There is no doubt too that a lot of people take advantage of what is on offer there and stuff their faces with Cornish pasties, fudge and ice cream. I know I did.

looking down to sea

St Ives Ceramics is on Fish Street, right by the harbour, and was opened by John Bedding back in the 90s. Bedding worked at the Leach Pottery and is now an influential presence in the ceramic world. It was he who introduced us to the idea of a dedicated ceramics gallery that would show work to its best and as primary exhibits. The gallery has since expanded and now shows a range of the best in contemporary studio pottery. The entrance appears small but once inside you realize that it is a treasure trove of ceramic pieces shown in four generous and well-lit spaces. The size of the whole space is a surprise.

treasure trove

I would urge you to drop in when you are in the South West, not least because some of my new ceramics will be on display, but also because you can enjoy the exhibits in a very quiet and cool place, away from the bustle of St Ives, and then consider going onto the Tate St Ives – at this time there was an exhibition of Patrick Heron’s which was inspirational. By the way, it is best to walk – avoid driving in the town and leave your car at one of the car parks further up the hill. Or better, arrive by train.

John Bedding

On the way back to Ledbury my head was full of the possibilities that clay offers us, and of the complex ways it can express moods and feelings depending on the way the material is used. It can do “sombre” and “flippant”, it can invite you to touch or it can repel intimacy, it can sit heavy and unfathomable on a plinth or seem to want to fly away. Most of all it reminded me how much human pleasure is achieved through making.

ceramic wall piece at St Ives Ceramics

Which in turn made me think of CUP, and what follows is another reminder of our open-access ceramics studio situated in Hereford which we aim to open in Autumn 2018. We want to provide a unique and creative community for beginners, intermediate and advanced ceramicists to share ideas, skills and friendships in an inclusive, relaxed and ambient environment. Excellent facilities, storage and expertise can be accessed for an affordable monthly fee allowing time for experimentation and extensive development of skills. CUP Ceramics is a social enterprise, so our profits are committed to providing access to ceramics for all in our local community.

face stuffing

CUP is currently running a crowd funding campaign to show that there is a demand for what we offer in Herefordshire. Here, you can find out more about us and pledge for discounted courses and membership. Or you can simply make any donation, no matter how small, to help make it happen.

Arscott St Ives vase

Please have a look at the new website for Peter Arscott Ceramics.