Peter Arscott Ceramics in Ledbury (part 1)

pink ochre vase grogged stoneware

These blogs usually spring from the places and galleries where Peter Arscott ceramics can be seen, places like Worcester, Brighton, London and Cambridge, and despite all this geographical weaving around, until now the actual heart and home of production has never been properly introduced to you: Ledbury, where you can also now see some of the recently made ceramics displayed at John Nash’s in the town centre.

C vase at John Nash

It’s a market town with the ingredients to make its High Street attractive to the eye: a curving length, a slight dip in the middle and buildings on either side that are as tall as the street is wide. Founded in 1123, it has inevitably changed a great deal since then, though the ground plan in Bishop Capella’s rent book shows that it still is the same essential High Street made up of burgages, strips of land 200 ft long and 20ft wide with house frontages onto the street and access via alleyways to the rear where animals were kept. Hard to believe when you look at the shop fronts today; the cafes, pubs, grocers and bookshops hide what is still there – a medieval layout.

Ledbury High St

A saunter down Church Lane and its carefully laid (small) cobbles is a pleasant experience but over a century ago you would have had to deal with petrified kidneys, large sea-worn flint lumps used for paving which caused terrible problems for clog-wearing Ledburians. Today anybody seen having problems walking down Church Lane might well be a local coming out of a pub late at night.

blue scoop bowl

Water used to run down the centre of Church Lane from the hill above town, Dog Hill Wood, and the lake in the grounds of Upper Hall, and gather in the dip in front of the old library, the Barrett Browning Institute, where detritus from nearby tanneries and blood from the Butchers’ Row, a row of 15 shops which originally stood in the middle of the High Street, mingled. The effluvia was blamed for the outbreak of typhoid in 1826 and eventually led to their dismantling after prolonged resistance from the occupants.

whistle, don’t thigh

One shop was saved and rebuilt behind what is now Boots, and later transferred to its present location outside the Burgage Hall – it’s a museum of curiosities: a hurdy-gurdy, pots, breastplates and a Tibetan flute fashioned from a human thigh bone; the femur of a criminal or a person who died a violent death is preferred. Alternatively, the femur of a respected teacher may be used, though I do hope none of the kids from John Masefield High School gets the wrong idea.

entrance to John Nash Interiors

Next door to the alley entrance is John Nash Interiors, contemporary and period interior design, who are showing various Peter Arscott ceramic pieces with the launch of a new collection of furniture by Andrew Martin.

three legged bowl

The Andrew Martin Interior Designer of the Year Award celebrates the best of design from around the world. Designers from all six continents take part. Every year, a panel of celebrity judges, are charged with the fiendish task of selecting one overall winner. One of this year’s judges was Elizabeth Hurley of this parish (the winner was Ohara Davies-Gaetano Interiors).

retro charger

Do drop in anytime, perhaps combining it with a visit to the Ledbury Gallery next door, and a coffee at one of the town’s seven fine cafes. If you have any time left, nip into St Michaels Church and greet the medieval being halfway up one of the pillars near the choir: the stone Manticore. It has the head of a human, body of a lion and a tail. It eats its victims whole, using its triple rows of teeth, and leaves no bones behind. The Ledbury Manticore, however, looks rather baleful, so just say “hello” and move on.

…………… (to be continued)

sad, sad Manticore

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.

image of belatrova stall

Arrivederci – everything must go

ceramic bowl with three legs

a belatrova collectable

We admit we haven’t been in touch for some time but belatrova is discarding its old skin and emerging anew like a butterfly from its ceramic chrysalis.

Arscott, Houghton and pugmill

arrivederci from Houghton, Thelonious and Arscott

So is belatrova closing down? Was it inadequate capital, lack of cashflow, poor research, scattergun motivation, a saturated market, big lawsuits pending?

None of the above. After lengthy discussions on the future of belatrova and the path to be taken, it was Thelonious who moved to dissolve the corporation in a pool of margaritas; glasses were then raised to the next stage in this ceramic odyssey.

Each handmade piece will now be sold under Peter Arscott’s name

something new this way cometh

No longer will we be making lamps, birdbaths and coasters. From now on we will concentrate mainly on vases and three legged bowls, painted in a distinctive abstract style, and we will be selling them through various outlets, from St Ives to Edinburgh (details to follow).

ceramic bowl

new range of three legged bowls

Our website will be a blog and gallery from now on, where new pieces will be shown and developments and outlets announced.

Ledbury Market House

Ledbury Market House

This means that everything must go and we are offering our belatrova pieces for sale at very low prices. From Saturday 5th May we will be selling belatrova pieces under the Market House in Ledbury from 9am to 4pm every Saturday.

image of belatrova stall

stall

Throughout the month of May customers with any queries or just wishing to visit the new studio workshop can do so by ‘phoning ahead on 07734 678667. Do allow for time as we are occasionally not at the studio throughout the day.

image od Naples residents strolling

Neopolitans strolling

Only just back from Naples, arrivederci is most appropriate since it means until we meet again in Italian. Not that any Neopolitan considers himself or herself Italian but a race apart. The city has an energetic buzz and the volume control is set to “loud”, with groups talking on street corners, under trees, in shops, anywhere convenient where views can be exchanged. Politics, football and gossip reign supreme. When we were there Napoli beat Juventus 1 – 0 and the city around us erupted and citizens spilled out onto the streets to celebrate.

Vesuvius mouth

caldera

We visited the Royal Palace, the Archaeological Museum, the San Martino palace on the hill, and, of course, ate pizza. Pompeii was fascinating and the climb to Vesuvius provided the best scenery available: the whole bay of Naples and the islands of Capri and Ischia. The deep crater, or caldera, still oozes a sulphuric whiff which for some reason was reminiscent of the workshop on a Monday morning.

nocturnal shot of bay of Naples

the Bay of Naples at night

Aglianico, a red grape variety of the area, produces a delicious wine that belatrovians (well known for their excellent taste) may want to try.

Once back in soggy Britain belatrova was involved with the launch of an exciting new ceramic project. CUP Ceramics Community is Herefordshire’s first open access ceramics studio and aims to open its doors in Autumn 2018. CUP provides 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 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: https://www.cupceramics.com/

glass of wine

aglianico

Here’s looking forward to the future, and to seeing you under the Ledbury Market House and elsewhere. We will be keeping in touch.

array of glazed fine art ceramic bowls by belatrova

Far from the Madding Crowd

photo of people swimming in Mallorca

far from the madding crowd

Heat has a strange effect on some humans. When temperatures hit a high, as they did this August in many parts of Europe and the Mediterranean, confusion and dizziness set in, common effects of too much exposure to extreme heat because of increased blood flow to dilated blood vessels and fluid loss through sweating. This sometimes happens to belatrova when the kiln is going full blast and ceramic production is in full flow as we try to feed the insatiable appetite for our products – on the other hand a cold Dry Martini often wards off any lasting effects.

dry landscape of Mallorca

Mallorca inland

This August was an excuse to go abroad for a break before moving into the new workshop in Ledbury (about which more in the next blog).

watercolour of Mallorca

towards the monastery of Sant Salvador

Mallorca is a beautiful island that has lured many foreigners over the years, from Chopin to Robert Graves, and, this year, belatrova. But mass tourism is affecting it much as it is elsewhere. Barcelona, Venice, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Dubrovnik, Skye are all examples of unmanageable jam-packed destinations filled with visitors on holiday. ” Tourist: your luxury trip / my daily misery“, says a placard in the Parque Guell (Barcelona). “Tourists go home. Refugees welcome” was the graffiti that greeted us as we drove to Felanitx for our week in Mallorca.

pool shadow

tourist

And who can blame residents when all anyone can do on the beautiful beaches and calas is to stand waist-deep in the water surrounded on all sides by others similarly engaged in staring at the horizon with arms folded and wondering how to escape – we did find a great spot though, as you can see from the first image.

drawing of tourist on mobile

tourist with mobile

Go inland and the atmosphere changes and the landscape is an engaging mixture of the agricultural and dramatic, from fertile farmland and Aleppo pine forests to the limestone mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana and the summer flowering of oleander, hibiscus, marigolds and orchids.

 

cacti

away from the tourists

If you really want to get away from any crowds, we recommend a visit to Botanicactus, a cactus sanctuary (though belatrova believes they are quite capable of defending themselves) where the cacti flourish in the dry and sunny climate and the landscape has been specifically designed to protect the plants, with the creation of the artificial lake and raised terraces protecting the plants from the wind. While everyone is at the beach you can wander about in perfect solitude surrounded by these giant prickly beings.

 

glazed bowl with painting

belatrova’s Miró bowl

Among the many artists associated with the island is Joan Miró, painter, sculptor and ceramicist born in Barcelona, but resident in the latter part of his long life in Palma where he bequeathed a collection that is the basis for his Fundació Joan Miró which we visited one morning.

 

retro 1950s style bowl

retro bowl (three legs)

It is a purpose-built exhibition space that uses thinly cut alabaster as a source of light into the rooms and has pools of water outside in the gardens that reflect their own light through low cut openings at floor level – and the whole complex stands on a hill overlooking the bay of Palma. We watched white sails racing each other in the distance, the ferry from Barcelona ploughing its way to the docks, and three giant cruise ships blocking part of the harbour architecture as they disgorged their passengers into the city for the day.

 

fundació Joan Miró

But back to Miró; tiny forms in huge empty spaces, deep blue cerulean sky-like canvases, crescent moons, birds, meandering shapes, his work is captivating and has inevitably inspired belatrova, back in Herefordshire, to make a few ceramics in his style.

array of bowls by belatrova

inspired bowls

If you’d like to see them come and pay us a visit at our old workshop at No9 Bankside Studios during hArt, which runs from Saturday 9th to Sunday 17th (open daily 10 – 5pm), just follow the red hArt signs in Ledbury, or use the postcode: HR8 2DR. You are most welcome. As the hArt website says: “Meet hundreds of individual artists, see an array of artwork across the county in the city and countryside, in fabulous locations such as manor houses, historic barns, farms, churches and beautiful gardens.”

 Finally, belatrova shed a tear on learning of the death of Walter Becker, guitarist and composer, who with Donald Fagen was one half of the unforgettable Steely Dan. We invite you to click here and listen to one of their middle period songs (skip the ad): subtle player that he was, technically dexterous, meticulous master of the instrumental gesture and never a grand-stander, “some of his most intriguing work is embedded in the background – the architectural arpeggios of “Aja,” or the wry, blues-tinged asides that dot the margins of “Hey Nineteen.” (Tom Moon / NPR Music)

Many a bowl was made listening to Walter on his guitar.

When all the dime dancing is through,                                                                                                                              I run to you..

ferry crossing from Kowloon to Hong Kong

belatrova in Hong Kong

image of sunset at harbour

sunset over Victoria harbour

belatrova will go to the farthest corners of the world to seek inspiration, and, in this month of May, decided that a visit to Asia would blow away the cobwebs and stoke the fires of creativity and imagination. So, on your behalf, belatrova flew to China’s south coast to a place that is surrounded by the South China Sea and is made up of a peninsula and over 200 offshore islands.

What a complex place Hong Kong is – belatrova’s first ever visit was an introduction to a 21st century cityscape, a vibrant, densely populated urban centre that is a major port and global financial hub with a skyscraper skyline, as well as to a calm and timeless rural scene that contained Chinese Pond Herons, blue spotted mudskippers, frogs and dragonflies.

ferry arriving at docks

ferry docking

Strolling down Nathan Road, the spine of Kowloon, towards the harbour to catch the Star ferry to Hong Kong island is a challenge to those conventional types who like to walk in straight lines; the streets are crowded with energetic and focused inhabitants going about their business, and the art is to look ahead and avoid the many characters who jump out and try to lure you into their tailors’ shops. The heat and humidity makes one want to strip off down to one’s underpants, so the thought of a made-to-measure suit is not uppermost in the mind as you drip and sweat your way along the streets, stopping for iced tea and the air-conditioning provided everywhere by shops, cafes, buses, underground stations and shopping malls (NB. Inhabitants were not subjected to belatrova in underpants).

chinese dishes in Hong Kong

Cantonese dishes: eel, pork and squid

A further challenge is to stop yourself from buying steamed pork buns from street vendors, or egg tarts, or shrimp dumplings, or curry fish balls, or… you get the idea, food in Hong Kong is delicious and diverse and is eaten throughout the day either on the streets or at the uncomplicated neighbourhood eateries. A plate of pig knuckles at a modest restaurant in Ma Tau Chung district was probably the culinary highlight.

a mudskipper skipping

the blue spotted mudskipper in action

A train ride and local ferry took us to Lam Tsuen in the New Territories and a long walk along the river and estuary provided a fleeting view of the Chinese mainland and the tower blocks of Shenzen in the distance. The wildlife here is extraordinary, from the kites soaring above ones head to the invisible frogs in the river reeds with their incessant calls that sound like dogs barking. But it is the mudskippers and their strange little dance that stick in the mind. Fish that can breathe air through their skin and have flippers that they use as arms to crawl out of their muddy holes, poke their heads above the mud and check to see if the coast is clear with their goggly eyes, then skip and dance with each other, either courting or just having fun. In the distance an old woman on a “mud sleigh” was plunging her arm down into the mud and collecting them – presumably for eating.

The weather in May is hot and sultry, so any walking needs the occasional stop and rest, and in the estuary area there are a few shacks that serve cold tea or water. At one of these we tried a Roselle smoked tea drink – subtle and aromatic – and visited the animals kept at the back, including a seriously outraged goat that kept screaming “help”. Yes, it sounded all too human, and is a phenomenon reported by others, not least by a couple of belatrova supporters who were recently playing golf in the Malvern Hills (though they had drunk Armagnac the night before). Anyway, we also saw these beautiful Koi carp, some the size of a New Zealand Rugby player’s forearm.

view from Victoria Peak

from Victoria Peak

Another view to enjoy is from Victoria Peak where you can look down on everything and work out exactly the positions of Central H.K. in relation to Kowloon and Lantau island. A No 15 bus from Exchange Square will take you uphill through narrow streets, zigzagging its way into the hills and finally getting to the very top after 40 minutes or so. Catch it on the way down and, if you’re in luck, the driver will teeter on the edge of peril as you sway and jolt your way back to the city.

whole roast pigeon

roast pigeon – sad, but tasty

The evening is a little cooler and a good time to walk around the markets of Mongkok: Ladies’ Market, Goldfish Street (besides fish, there are also the tiny frogs, hamsters, beetles, turtles, and all sorts), Flowers, Fishmongers and the Bird Market, where owners bring out their pet songbirds and feed them. The fish on display are for eating, on the other hand, and are so fresh they are still flapping and jumping on their slabs. Eels, conger, starfish, bass, you name it and it will likely be there – the Hong Kong palate is wide ranging and adventurous.

boat selling fish

seafood for sale

Not far is a square where the fortune tellers can be found; unfortunately as we waited in line for a small bird to reveal the future, the heavens opened and we took refuge in the public toilets with a few others, including a taxi driver who had been caught short and whom we commandeered for the journey back.

Ruined facade of St Paul church, Macau

facade of St Paul church ruin

Soon after Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese government by the British, Macau too was returned by the Portuguese. This small peninsula is an hour’s turbojet ride from Kowloon, and its historic centre still retains a European feel to it, with its churches, squares and the ruins of the 17th century St Paul’s College and Church, destroyed by fire in 1835. Nearer the water the A-Ma Temple is quietly beautiful, and, by way of complete contrast, Taipa, a mostly reclaimed strip of land reached via the longest bridge in the world, is an exercise in gargantuan vulgarity with its monumental hotels and casinos, specially the Galaxy hotel which looks like a small city in itself, all gold leaf, glass and marble. A slogan leading to its restaurant reads “Life is good, eat more”.

sketch of A-Ma Temple, Macau

A-Ma Temple in Macau

Back in Kowloon and off to the opera. The Chinese Opera. The Ko Shan theatre is hosting the “Bright Sing Cantonese Opera Troupe” and it is obviously a favourite with the older generation, specially women. Formalized movements and delivery are synchronized with music from the pit, and the costumes are beautiful.

chinese opera poster

Bright Sing Cantonese Opera Troupe

The audience is relaxed throughout and the players act out their parts with aplomb, despite the rather naughty granny playing solitaire on her ipad, and the continual chatter of at least three granny clusters, and the non-stop flow of arrivals, even 60 minutes into the programme. Our ignorance of Cantonese did not help matters either, but it was such an unfamiliar experience that it was memorable. Click here for a taster.

passengers on bus

on the bus to the Big Buddha

Another combined train and bus trip took us to see the Tian Tan Buddha, or Big Buddha, a large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni completed in 1993 and located at Ngong Ping on Lantau Island. It sits on top of its hill hidden away by lush mountains and the 268 steps to get a close-up view of it also gives you a sweeping panorama of mountain and sea.

giant bronze statue of Buddha

Tian Tan Buddha

Opposite the statue is the Po Lin Monastery, home to many monks who were chanting as part of a ritual in the main hall. Incense is offered up by the devout, and placed in special holders that include these giant three legged ones that remind one of belatrova’s very own three legged bowls.

large three legged incense holder

giant three legged incense holder

three legged ceramic bowl

belatrova three legged bowl

From Ngong Ping it is a fifteen minute taxi ride to Tai O (Big Bay), an old fishing village on the coast where homes and shops are kept hovering above the sea by thousands of wooden poles or stilts. Tai O is home to the Tanka people, a community of fisher folk who have built their houses on stilts above the tidal flats of Lantau Island for generations.

sketch of Tai O village

Tai O fishing village

A lot was done in a short space of time, and places were visited that have not been mentioned and deserve to be: the Hong Kong Museum of History, the Science Museum (“Don’t blow it, good planets are hard to find”), the beautiful Kowloon Park with its flamingos, the Mandarin’s House in Macau, the trip to Sai Kung and Sharp Island, the communal barbecue somewhere in the New Territories. And the people are easy going and straight forward, bright, busy and focused, and enjoying the small pleasures of life. How the experience affects belatrova’s creativity is anyone’s guess, but something is bound to come up. Until then, returning home was filled with great memories of a unique experience, musings that were interrupted by our very early morning wait at Munich airport with a group of contestants on their way home from a bodybuilding convention.

sketch of man from behind

Body builder at Munich airport

sketck of pasdsenger sleeping at Munich airport

different sort of body builder at the airport

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next month we move into our recently built workshop and studio, of which more later, but it will signal a new stage belatrova’s development.

吻別〔-别〕

 

pink pasque roses

Springing Open in April

pink pasque roses

Pasque roses in Spring

Everything is blooming in this part of the world, the sap is rising, winter’s greys are turning into varied shades of green, and cherry and apple blossom are everywhere. April is a month when things turn for the better, it even gets its name from the Latin word “to open”, describing flowers opening at springtime, though Aphrodite the goddess may also be another root for the word. Did you know that April used to be the second month of the year until January and February were invented by the Romans? No, nor did we.

statue of Aphrodite

Aphrodite

Nor did we know that “April” was the 250th most common name for a baby girl in the UK, or that in the UK it is National Pet Month, or that in the US it is National Pecan Month. And our meticulous research has unearthed the following:

pecan nuts

pecans

Zebra crossings were introduced in Britain on 4 April 1949, when James Callaghan, then parliamentary secretary to the ministry of transport in the British government, came up with ‘zebra’ as a name for the crossing which it was thought would be easily understood and remembered, particularly by vulnerable groups such as children.

imaghe of Yuri Gagarin

Yuri

Russian cosmonaut day is April 12, commemorating the astronaut Yuri Gagarin who became the first man in space on April 12, 1961 aboard Vostok 1. He spent 108 minutes in space.

eggs benedictine

eggs benedict

And when, we hear you ask, is National Eggs Benedict Day? Why, it is on April 16th, a day to enjoy eggs with hollandaise sauce, crispy bacon and English muffins. Apparently, a lot of people have never had Eggs Benedict, but we reckon belatrovians are sophisticated and most likely to have enjoyed Eggs Benedict a number of times, and perhaps, on a regular basis. See how many of your friends can tell you how its made, or what’s in it. Or, ask them what hollandaise sauce is.
Celebrate by eating Eggs Benedict – click here to see how to make them (first get a hen).

ceramic planter with elongated corners

belatrova corner planter

All of this is just a preamble to let you know that we are holding our annual Spring Open Weekend on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd April (10 – 5pm) at the Bankside Studios. You are most welcome to drop in and browse, and even though Eggs Benedict will not be on the menu, we will offer you tea, coffee and cake.

ceramic dish with goat head by Picasso

c’est ne pas un chevre

You would be hard pressed to find a spot anywhere that both makes and sells the variety of goods you can find at the Bankside Studios in Ledbury. You can step into the studio to see Fleen Doran, fresh from her successful show at the British Craft Trade Fair at Harrogate, making her salt glaze pots at the wheel, while Wendy Houghton works away at her delicate ceramic sculptures. This is the same workshop where belatrova produce ceramic planters, fruit bowls, mirrors and birdbaths next to the joinery section where Stuart Houghton busily shapes and cuts wood to perfection – at the moment he is whittling a small goat out of myrtle. Upstairs Dan Barker has his photography studio, shared with the textile designer Sunny Todd, and across the road can be found artist blacksmith Dave Preston hammering iron on his anvil – in fine contrast to Bob Evans who can be found in his studio opposite printing images of striking quality on very new and sophisticated printers.

handmade ceramic flower pot with handles

striped splash pot by belatrova

The studios are situated just behind Alfa-Tech on Little Marcle Rd, which is accessed via either Lower Rd or New St. Please follow the signs. There is limited parking on-site (and wheelchair access) and there is additional on-street parking.

large mirror with wide painted frame

large wall mirror with blue frame

The address is: Bankside Industrial Estate, Little Marcle Rd, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 2DR. And do please visit the Ledbury Cooperative’s website: https://www.ledburycollective.com/

poster of Spring Open weekend

For those of you who live in or close enough to London we would encourage you to visit the Cecilia Colman Gallery in St John’s Wood. It is right on the High Street and easily reached by underground. Glass is a speciality but among the many excellent pieces on show, ceramics, paintings and jewelry also have pride of place. The gallery is showing some belatrova pieces, including three legged bowls, wave fruit bowls and a large wall mirror.

Cecilia Colman Gallery

Cecilia Colman Gallery