Michaelmas daisies


horse's tail

winter rushes in

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

horse head in stone Parthenon

exhausted horse at the British Museum

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

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

Michaelmas daisies

September’s flower

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

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

lounge of Feathers Hotel , Ledbury

inside the Feathers with belatrova

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

Come and see us.


belatrova Christmas opening times

brick viaduct in Ledbury

Ledbury viaduct

belatrovians may well want to know what the Ledbury viaduct has in common with our Christmas opening, and the answer is: clay.

Built in 1860, the viaduct was constructed using 5 million bricks made on site from the clay dug out for the foundations; and clay is what brings together a cluster of Ledbury ceramicists.

Wendy Houghton’s delicate abstract sculpture can be seen next to husband Stuart Houghton’s robust hand-thrown tableware, Fleen Doran’s alluring salt-glazed pots next to belatrova’s beautifuly painted slab pots and lamps. It is an exhibition of contrast and style, as well as a chance to buy a unique Christmas gift.

picture of four ceramicists

meet the ceramicists…


Yes, four ceramicists in one venue, and the ideal Christmas present.

Look out for the red h Art signs. Parking is available, as is disabled access.

Tea, coffee and mince pies will be served.

We look forward to seeing you.


Fiat Lux

shorter days mean less light

fading light

As the nights draw in and the days get shorter with the coming of Autumn and Winter (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere) belatrova‘s thoughts turn to light and dark, and to the importance of that everyday object, the lightbulb. Where would we be without it?

image of lightbulb


Imagine the belatrova team groping around in the workshop carrying tallow candles or rushlights – an Elfin Safety issue, surely.

Rushlights? Well, rushlights were the medieval poor person’s lightbulb, made by repeatedly coating a rush in hot fat, building up the layers to create a thin candle.

rushlight being lit

lighting a rush light

The rushes were peeled and then hung up in bunches to dry. Fat was melted in boat-shaped grease-pans that stood on their three short legs in the hot ashes in front of the fire – belatrova’s tripods look a little like them. The bunches, each of about a dozen peeled rushes, were pulled through the grease and then put aside to dry.

three legged bowl

belatrova tripod

Tallow candles do not sound so good either – a sooty wick burning in animal fat, usually from cows or sheep, though pig’s fat was the worst – given to letting off a great stink when burning.

           madieval depiction of chandler
buying your tallow in the 14C

Anyway, along came the oil lamp, with all the smell and smoke and sooty walls that must have created. Then the oil lamp was superseded by gas, which must have improved people’s ability to read or write and do so many other things, though it did have its drawbacks: explosions and lack of oxygen in the air – the latter a reason for Victorian ladies fainting, other than for their tight corsets, in their gas-lit drawing rooms.

swooning Victorian lady

gas or corset?

Today our gas is natural, piped from beneath the sea.  It burns much more brightly than the baked coal gas used between late Georgian times and the 1970s.

Electricity on the other hand opened up new opportunities.

Michael Farady - genius

the Great Faraday

Thanks to Michael Faraday‘s principle of electromagnetic induction in 1831, generators could start to produce electricity in large quantities at a modest cost. This meant that scientists were able to experiment with electricity and lighting.

The first electric lights were Arc Lamps. The principle is that two pieces of carbon, connected to an electricity supply, are touched together and then pulled apart. A spark or ‘arc’ is drawn across the gap and a white hot heat is produced.

And so to the lightbulb

While most modern light bulbs barely last a year, the Centennial Light is still shining on after an incredible 110 years. It is the world’s longest-lasting lightbulb. It is at 4550 East Avenue, Livermore, California, and maintained by the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department. Is this evidence for the existence of planned obsolescence in modern lightbulbs?

You may be asking yourself why belatrova is rambling on about lighting. Well, we too are doing our bit in the fight against encroaching darkness. We just want to show you our first ceramic table and floor lamps.

table lamp with bowl

belatrova honeyglaze table lamp

What do you think? We like the twist in the ceramic base – it takes two to of us to make, but we think it is worth the effort.

ceramic floor lamp

belatrova floor lamp

The Art of Selling?

6 squared dishes by belatrova

platters (Photo C. de la Torre)

The easy part of a business like belatrova, and any other art/design/craft-based project, is the making of the product. Far more mysterious and challenging is the art of marketing, of finding your target audience, those human beings you know have been put on this good earth to buy your merchandise.

Excellent advice abounds, like The Design Trust run by Patricia van den Akker which really gives helpful insight into website traffic and media tools (“no nonsense business advice and tips for designers and makers”), or the many design blogs which promote certain products but also publish tips by designers and makers on a regular basis. You could easily spend a day surfing and googling them and come out a little wiser if disconcerted because of the many options available.

belatrova already has its website, its facebook page, and its blog. It has its first outlet in London in the Horsebox Gallery, and is taking part in its first “open workshop” week, opening its doors to the public as part of h.Art, the very successful Herefordshire Art Week when visitors can see an array of artwork at exhibitions in locations such as castles, manor houses, barns farms, churches, workshops and galleries throughout the county.

Many have paid us a visit, and we have benefitted from a great deal of feedback and comment, and learnt about the elementary art of selling. The basic, essential, person to person, market place, art of selling.

view of wall display of belatrova ceramics

the view from the entrance

Though No 9 Bankside is strictly a workshop we did set it up as a showroom for the occasion and learnt soon enough that when people came through the main entrance the “wow” factor set in as they faced the display of ceramics on the wall opposite. All very well, but a display does not always invite the viewer to touch and handle the objects, it can actually keep the potential customer at arm’s length.

We noticed that most visitors preferred to go to another shelving unit that was lower and easy to stand close to, and which provided a waist or chest high access to the displayed ceramics. These were always being picked up and touched, and (importantly) purchased. Unlike the main display opposite the entrance, with nothing between it and the person entering but an empty floor space which dramatised the display – most people warm to proximity and clutter rather than to distance and minimalism.

table with ceramics on display

an invitation to touch

Solution: a table placed right in the middle of the room, between display and door, with stacked ceramics and a notice inviting customers to handle the goods.

Result: more sales.

customers handling ceramics around a table


Other tips we have picked up in this temporary market place include:

– welcoming visitors as guests and offering them tea or coffee helps create a relaxed atmosphere that is friendly enough for the customer not to feel that she or he is perceived as only a customer but also as someone who might share an interest or a delight in common with the maker

– establishing eye contact makes it easier for the customer to come back to you with questions

– if you have a bowl to sell put some fruit in it

– do not display anything above the eye line, waist level is best , and tables are friendlier than shelves

We suspect that most of you know all this, and that we have been teaching grannies to suck eggs, but we have enjoyed observing and learning things that we may well apply to exhibitions and trade shows. And we have specially enjoyed meeting you – getting to know some of our supporters and customers is a real plus.

ceramic lamp base with shade

belatrova’s table lamp

And you can still come and visit us at 9 Bankside in Ledbury (HR8 2JQ) until the end of h.Art on Sunday 15th, just follow the pink signs. Come and see our new range of floor and table lamps.

Or you could just come and gaze at the Maestro, Stuart the Wheel, throwing pots and jugs in his mesmeric way.

potter Stuart Houghton on his wheel

mesmeric Maestro