Introducing Thelonius

image of belatrova products

slab pot and tables at the Courtyard

Before introducing you to Thelonius, belatrova would like to invite you to the Hereford Contemporary Craft Fair. Please come and see us and the work of 59 other selected makers of contemporary craft exhibiting over three days at The Courtyard (Hereford), where you can commission a piece of original work or buy direct from makers. It is open 10am to 6pm Friday 15th and Saturday 16th, 10am to 5pm on Sunday 17th November. The Courtyard has full disabled access and a café and restaurant that serve excellent locally sourced food and drink. Entry is £4 (free access for carers) and visitors can win a belatrova piece by just entering the daily Prize Draw at our stand by simply leaving their names and email addresses.

drawing of muscular right arm

belatrova’s mighty pugging arm

the arm used for lifting dry martinis

belatrova’s other arm

Now, Mrs belatrova has recently remarked on the amazing muscularity of Mr belatrova’s  right arm, and the strange contrast it offers when seen alongside his other rather weedier left one. This can be easily explained. It is the result of being right handed and having to thump the daylight out of lumps of recycled clay in order to “pre-process” it to get it to a smooth consistency before it can be used again.

In order to correct this imbalance, and to stop belatrova looking like a gangster with a bulging holster under his jacket, a decision was taken to invite a new member to the team who would take on the sole task of pugging.

image of pugmill

Thelonius’ first day at No 9

Allow us to introduce Thelonius Pugmill; he’s from Essex and has until now spent his working life at a school in Colchester.

A pugmill is like a large mincer or sausage machine with knives on the screw fan principle that cut and knead the recycled clay, pressing it out of a smaller aperture (3″), smooth and even in texture, and ready to be used.

Most pug mills require you to process the clay to get it to a relatively tight range of consistency before going in. Dry clay has to be soaked in a bucket and wet clay kept wrapped in a plastic bag so that it is just right for the mill. The clay is squeezed out in long tube shapes called “slugs”, which are carefully stacked and wrapped in plastic until required.

The following images will give you an idea of how it all works:

ready for pugging

a lump of clay

clay in a bucket

clay soaking

image of clay going into pugmill

the clay is fed to Thelonius

image of pugmill lever being used to squeeze clay

squeezing the clay through

image of clay slug coming out of pugmill

Thelonius makes his first slug

image of two clay slugs or tubes from the pugmill

voilá, two lovely slugs, ready for use

image of pugmill with Peter Arscott and Staurt Houghton

the team

If you want to follow belatrova’s progress via Facebook or the blog, and unless you have already done so, just click the tag at the bottom right of your screen that says “follow” and you will get notifications everytime the blog is updated with news. We will be opening at No 9 for Christmas – details in the next blog.

grit to pearl

brick kilns in Stoke

gritty Stoke

Here at belatrova increased production and a subsequent urgent need for clay led us on a lightning visit to Stoke, heart of the Potteries.

Sitting on a hill, its grittiness is somehow heightened by the green beauty of the surrounding countryside. Its long association with the pottery industry goes back to the 17th Century and though in the past it was primarily an industrial conurbation, steel and coal being the main source of employment, it is now a centre for service industries and a growing distribution centre.

Plastic bags of clay and glaze in boot of car

clay and glazes in the boot

However, the link to its glorious pottery past remains in places like Etruria, site of Wedgewood’s business and where Potclays are based. They manufacture clay, grogs and glazes themselves at their South Staffordshire clay mines, and belatrova drove there to top up with glazes and then drove on to Valentine’s to load up with porcelain.

hill in Peak District glimpsed through trees

craggy hill on the way to Buxton

The car struggled going up hills from that point on as we made our way through the Peak District to Buxton, then Bakewell and finally arrived at Chatsworth House.

The contrast between the tough and practical character of Stoke and the self-conscious elegance of this stately home is evident, they almost seem to belong to different worlds. But belatrova was struck by something else: the clay that Stoke mined and dug up out of quarries, the poisonous powders of glazes being mixed, the heavy bags carried and stored, all that hard work and toil produced something that could end up being shaped, glazed and fired into the most extraordinary objects that visitors can now see displayed at Chatsworth.

Hard to believe, isn’t it, that a ball of what is generally 40% aluminum oxide, 46% silicon oxide and 14% water can be turned into this:

display of ceramic flowers, fruit and dishes at Chatsworth

ceramic buffet at Chatsworth

tall cream cermic pots lined along chimney mantel

ceramic installation by Edmund de Waal

Or this: ‘A Sounding Line‘ is an installation of numerous cream and white-glazed porcelain vessels of varying form and size made as an installation by Edmund de Waal, leading British ceramic artist, author of The Hare with the Amber Eyes, who inspired by the porcelain that has historically been on display in the house, designed them specifically for display in the Chapel Corridor at Chatsworth.


Or this:

Two clay pots with household paint poured over them by artist Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei’s pots at Chatsworth

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei also had work on show. Two ordinary ceramic jars, the type bought at any market in Peking, looked down on us from a shelf just above head height – with the household paint the artist has poured over them, they are striking: a comment on art as commodity.

blue and white ceramic stack up to 15 ft high

15 ft ceramic stack at Chatsworth

Or this: a giant stack of blue and white  pots reaching a height of about 15 feet at the base of the main stairs, a reflection of the structure of bamboo scaffolding used by builders in China. It was made by Felicity Aylieff who likes to blur the boundaries between ceramics and sculpture. She has developed a relationship with factories in Jingzhen, China, where she produces monumental pots such as this.
Perhaps it is a theme for another day, when is ceramics “art” and when is it “craft”? Looking up at this work from below it was easy to accept that there is a point when a pot can be understood as sculpture.
Anyway, outside in the gardens of Chatsworth we said “hello” to Barry Flanagan‘s Hare – always cheering and heartening to see, and enjoyed the outdoor exhibition of William Turnbull‘s sculptures; the Horse Head in particular looks stunning in this setting.
Metal sculpture of horse head

William Turnbull’s Horse Head with Chatsworth in the distance

bronze sculpture of hare jumping over bell by Barry Flanagan

one of Barry Flanagan’s hares jumping over a bell