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

ceramic planter with daffodils

hello Spring

close-up of ceramic brushmarks

painterly close-up

You haven’t heard from us for a while, we admit, but we are coming out of our Winter torpor, just like the snowdrops that every year nose their way out into the light before Spring to gladden the hearts of all lovers of beauty and Nature. And we are here to gladden your homes and gardens, with our handmade ceramic lamps and outdoor tables, our fabulous mirrors and the new range of Jazz pots influenced by our old friend Thelonious Monk and others.

ceramic planter with daffodils

blue and yellow

With your gardens in mind, we’ve been making new Brushstroke Blues planters that will bring to life any corner of a garden or patio, and, because they are mostly blue in colour, they will set off the warmer yellow, orange or ochre hues of the plants. Furthermore, blue is serene and mentally calming, associated with intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, serenity, duty, logic, coolness, reflection, calm, and thus a nice contrast with yellow and its optimism, confidence, self-esteem, extroversion, emotional strength, friendliness and creativity. All of that in one planter, but then belatrova does like to carry out as much research as possible on behalf of its supporters and customers, and this often reveals things we were not aware of – perse, smalt and watchet, for example, are all associated with blue, as are the better known azure, cobalt, navy, sapphire, cerulean, cyaneous, mazarine, pavonated, perwinkle and ultramarine.

the colour watchet

watchet

the colour smalt

smalt

the colour perse

perse

In all honesty, blue is belatrova’s favourite colour – as you may remember from a previous blog (July 2014).

abstract cewramic table top

ceramic blue abstract table top

Click here and you can hear the inmortal lyrics Nel blu, dipinto di blu from Volare sung by Domenico Modugno (skip the ads). Dean Martin also sang it, but Dino’s version is a “tad slick”, according to one member of the team, though another claims that Domenico’s strange arm-lifting movement reminds him of a policeman stopping traffic. See what you think.

jazz inspired ceramic pot

thelonious corner pot

Edmund de Waal‘s visit to the Ledbury Poetry Festival last year reminded us how pottery and poetry are only differentiated by the one “t”, and looking at the quality of the ceramics produced in the UK any objective observer would have to agree that the state of pottery creativity is at an all time high, possibly aided by the “Great Pottery Throw Down” on TV. The most astonishing shapes, textures, glazes and sizes can be seen in galleries and in excellent magazines such as Ceramic Review, and pieces can express a range of emotions, from the calm of a Japanese influenced pot to the freewheeling hurly burly of glaze upon glaze on a large abstract shape. Inevitable, belatrova looks to see where it fits in and we conclude that for the painterly abstract quality and the treatment of the ceramic surface as a canvas we belong to a very small group. Our customers are very discerning, and many seem to have a disposition for the visual arts; but however discriminating, sharp and perceptive they are (and, of course, they are), with Spring around the corner and the sap rising we know that a Spring Open Weekend is a much anticipated opportunity to make up minds and go for that particular piece that will enhance the dining room, or sitting room, or patio.

three ceramic planters

blue planters

Sometimes the world is a valley of heartaches and tears
And in the hustle and bustle, no sunshine appears
But you and I have our love always there to remind us
There is a way we can leave all the shadows behind us…

Yes, by paying us a visit!

So please pencil in the 22nd and 23rd of April (10 am – 5 pm), when we will be at Bankside Studios in Ledbury along with makers such as Fleen Doran and Wendy Houghton, and others. Otherwise you can always visit the website.

ceramic jazzpot

splash pot waiting to meet you

apple on ceramic bowl

belatrova – Open Studio Art Week 10 – 18 September

The purest treasure mortal times afford, is spotless reputation; that away, men are but gilded loam or painted clay.” William Shakespeare

apple on ceramic bowl

temptation

belatrova’s reputation may well be gleaming, but we would like you to see it up close and give it a good poke. We are happy for you to pick up any of our bowls and test its weight, or sniff it, or hold its cool surface against your cheek, even lick it. Pottery does this to people.

Clay engages the five senses.

ceramic acoustics

listen

Put a porcelain pot to your ear and flick its surface with your middle finger; what a satisfying “ping” sound comes from it, clear and perfect and proving there are no cracks in it. How horrible it is when we take a piece out of the kiln and the ping is more a “plock” sound – disappointment soon follows as a hairline fracture shows up.

eyes looking at ceramic

look

Touching pots is part of the experience, both when you are making them and when you are choosing one to buy. Do your fingers yearn to feel the rough textured surface of an unglazed vase or do they prefer the smooth milky whiteness of glazed porcelain? And what about plunging them in wet clay and making shapes?

Your eyes can be drawn to certain pots for all sorts of different reasons: colour, glaze, shape. Try holding up a piece of fine porcelain up to the light and wonder at its translucence.

licking porcelain

lick

And eating clay? Well, it is an acquired taste, but some people swear by it. It helps keep toxins from being absorbed into the body, the minerals that make up Bentonite clay work together to absorb heavy metals and other toxins in the gut. And kids seem to love it. “I am so happy that there are other people who love eating clay. I’ve been eating it since my pregnancy 20 years ago. I love the smell of wet earth in my mouth. Yum, yum” Mrs Elvira Fingerhut of Neasden, London, UK.

nose sniffing ceramic

sniff

Finally, smell….mmmm, a bit of a challenge, this one. Sometimes it can smell of rotten eggs. But sometimes it is just damp and musty, like Autumn approaching with all its mellow fruitfulness.

Yes, Herefordshire Art Week is with us from 10 – 18 September, which means that we are one of over 150 makers and artists in Herefordshire who will be open to visitors throughout the nine days.

And for a limited period only we have knocked 10% off the price of everything in stock! Would you like to know how to get your discount? Just click here.

One of the advantages in coming to our venue is that you get to see the work of three other ceramicists who form the Bankside Studios cluster: Fleen Doran, Stuart Houghton and Wendy Houghton.

This annual event draws many people to our workshop, and many are dropping in not just for the excellent cake and tea they are offered; you get to experience an exhibition of contrast and style, with informal demonstrations and the chance to talk to the artists.

Furthermore, there is an irresistible sale of belatrova pieces in one section of the workshop, and wonderful bargains to be found. Do come along, say “hello”, and handle, stroke and pat our pottery.

hand made jug by belatrova

thelonius splash pot

Directions: in Ledbury follow the red h.Art signs from Lower Rd or New St into Little Marcle Rd. Follow signs to studios behind Alfa-Tech Garage. Parking is available. We are open 10 – 5.30 pm.

large blue ceramic jug

big blue

photo of shadow in pool

Escape from Boredom

fresco at Pallazzo Schifanoia

August

How has August been for you? Have the August weeks seemed long and interminable? Are you dreading the end of Summer or are you just looking forward to everybody getting back to work and school so that you can get on with things? We all want to avoid boredom – sky diving, snorkelling, eating ice cream, going abroad, or building a palazzo with allegorical frescoes as Duke Borso d’Este did in 1465.

exterior of Palazzo Schifanioa

exterior of the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara

belatrova was in Ferrara and paid the Palazzo Schifanoia a visit. The name “Schifanoia” is originates from “schivar la noia” meaning literally to “escape from boredom” which describes accurately the original intention of the Duke when he had the palazzo built.

Schifanoia fresco March

the March fresco

The highlights of its decorations are the allegorical frescoes lining the Salone dei Mesi (Room of the Months). The Allegory of August (top image) mainly depicts the triumph of Ceres, Goddess of the Harvest, but there are other little everyday details too.

Francesco

Francesco

One of the reasons for the visit was the book by Ali Smith called How to Be Both, which has two interconnected stories, one centred on a teenage girl called George whose mother has just died and the other on the Italian renaissance artist, Francesco del Cossa, responsible for most of the frescoes in the Palazzo. It is an intriguing story and an unusual book, and it led us to the almost empty palazzo on a very hot day this month. A lot of the fresco is damaged beyond repair but what remains is surprisingly bright despite the deliberate gloom of the interior of the hall.

photo of shadow in pool

belatrova selfie

The Duomo Venice

The Duomo in Venice

Part of the Italian genius seems to be based on their ability to take you unawares. So many apparently small and modest churches may spring a Giotto on you, a rectangular blur on a distant hill turns out to be medieval Assisi, you go to Venice and all you remember is the best Dry Martini ever, they drive fast on the road but they drive well, a memorable dish of meat and sage is, of course, called Saltimbocca (Jumps in the Mouth), the waiter who forgets to serve anybody because he wants you to tell him everything about Tate Modern, the Roman taxi driver who pines for Manchester.

belatrova planter

belatrova planter with hint of fresco

A surprise around every corner then, something available to suit any mood. Do you see where I am going?

Grand Canal Venice

Grand Canal

By now you must know of belatrova’s great love of the sublime playing of Thelonius Monk and his piano (see July’s blog), of his ability to hit the right “wrong” note at an unexpected moment yet leave you wanting more – a saltimbocca note.

designer pot

Thelonius pot “Saltimbocca”

And so from Italian culture to jazz to ceramics: belatrova’s Thelonius series of one-off pots which we introduced to you recently continues to develop, and we are open throughout hArt for you to come and see it. We will also be selling our ceramic and oak birdbaths, our ceramic lamps, our three legged bowls and large undulating fruit bowls.

San Marco in Venice

San Marco, Venice

Thelonius pot with attitude

Thelonius pot with attitude

h.Art Week 2016 will take place from 10th to 18th September and we will be open 10 – 5.30 daily. Come and visit us at work in the studio. There will be some great bargains to be had at our belatrova studio clearance.

oak plinth with ceramic birdbath

towering belatrova plinths

There is a surprise for everybody at belatrova, the Schifanoia of the ceramic world.

Cheers!

Assisi toast

Toasting Assisi (in the distance)

paper cut-out of dog

The Bankside bestiary

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It has been busy at the studio this summer, so it was not until recently that we started to take in the seasonal activity outdoors; the (slightly) warmer weather, the greenery, the butterflies, the bees, the birds. The various creatures reminded us that most animals that feature in belatrova have been portrayed or referred to in our blogs, not in “real life”. Should we have a pet at the workshop? We at belatrova do not have an official pet, as such, though we have had many animals on our blogs since 2013, and, just to remind you, we are scattering images of them throughout this blog.

 

centipede

Ed Millipede

Many claim that pets have a calming effect on our bodies and minds, that they reduce blood pressure and lower stress, that pets at the workplace make employees more creative, productive, and cordial with each other. This would be a good thing.

 

Jim

Jim

A digital online marketing agency conducted a survey of three thousand office workers, and 16% had an office pet, the top ten pets being fish, dogs, cats, tortoises, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, geckos, snakes and tarantulas. As many as 55% of those canvassed admitted they would feel more motivated if they did have a pet in the office, though in our case, since one of us is a serious arachnophobe, tarantulas would be at the bottom of the list. This is despite Ziggy the house spider being a past visitor (see Oct blog 2014).

 

house spider wearing Xmas hat

Ziggy

Indeed, a research undertaken on domestic dogs and human health (published in 2007 in the British Journal of Health Psychology) suggested that pet owners tend to be healthier – dog owners have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and are less likely to have minor and serious health problems. We wonder if this also applies to cockerel owners?

 

cockerel statue at Trafalgar

giant alarm clock

So what is it about dogs? A carnivorous mammal that typically has a long snout, an acute sense of smell, non-retractile claws, and barking, howling, or whining voice, the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is a domesticated animal selectively bred for various behaviours, sensory capabilities, and physical attributes.

 

Their long association with people has allowed dogs to be uniquely attuned to human behaviour. We very occasionally get a visit from one of these fearsome creatures, but only with her (so-called) master. Rowan has been selectively bred to sniff out and hunt badgers, but she kindly agreed to having her Brockian search interrupted and posed for us in a belatrova birdbath with great dignity.

 

And just in case we have digressed a long way from our intended theme, let us show you a few of our ceramic pieces. All totally unrelated to beasties, but it is what we do best:

 

 

And so it’s goodbye from him…

medieval bestiary

thelonius monk

elephant on the keyboard

thelonius monk

the great Thelonius Monk

With an Open Summer Weekend (Sat 2nd and Sun 3rd July) just around the corner, something happened at the Bankside Studio recently. The ghost of Thelonius Monk made itself known and whispered strange and wonderful things into the ears of belatrova as we were making a batch of three legged bowls. Perhaps “Ruby my Dear” was playing on the cd player, whatever it was it made our hands dance and the unintended clay shapes seemed to be spot on. “What about the three legged bowls?” we hear concerned belatrovians ask. Well, we did make them, though a few days later, after we had returned from Monkland.

ceramic pot
ceramic pot
ceramic pot

belatrova team

Thelonius Pugmill and two friends

Taking a brief trip to Monkland is highly recommended: you will come back refreshed and brimming with more ideas than usual. It is liberating to make pieces without worrying about the end result, and if one piece turns out to be a failure then the next one will be stronger for it. In this we were aided and abetted by our hard working pug mill who, as some of you may remember, is called “Thelonius” and who is by far the hardest working member of the team.

For a ceramicist, going to Monkland means that you accept one condition only – that there is no wrong way to make ceramics. This is how you have to approach the lump of clay, just as Thelonius Monk approached his piano. As he saw it, “The piano ain’t got no wrong notes!” and this explains his unique jazz style, which includes percussive playing, unusual repetitions and dissonant sounds, and a surprising use of silences and hesitations. Click here to listen to “Don’t blame me” where there is a fine example of his style.
ceramic potceramic pot
He also had the habit during performances that while the other musicians in the band continued playing he would stop, stand up from the keyboard, and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano. It was in this spirit that one of our team tried to show his fellow potters how to dance a jig while violently flattening clay with a rolling pin and, at the same time, sipping tea from a mug.
blue ceramic piece
ceramic piece by belatrova
large ceramic pot

A debate followed as to whether this performance was a fine example of syncopation made flesh, since in music, syncopation involves a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected, thus making a tune or piece of music off-beat – “a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm”. We agreed this was the case, and that it would be incorporated into a piece, which in turn would be entitled: “Thelonius made me do it“, subsequently the title for the whole series.

ceramic blue jug
ceramic piece by belatrova
blue ceramic jug

Many of you will want to see this growing collection of freewheeling pottery, and we would like to show it to you, so make an entry in your diaries for Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd of July (10 – 5pm) when we will be opening the workshop for our Summer Weekend.

Philip Larkin

Philip

elephant on the keyboard

Nellie

And we will also be showing our bowls, lamps, tables and birdbaths, as well as our new range of wave bowls and scoop bowls, because not everybody loves Thelonius as much as we do. Philip Larkin, a much better poet than jazz critic, considered Thelonius Monk nothing more than “the elephant on the keyboard”, but Monk is the second most recorded Jazz composer of all time, right after Duke Ellington. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Philip – and just to rub it in, here is a link to a short video of the Thelonius pots spinning to “‘Round Midnight” arranged for saxophone quartet by Quartetto di Sassofoni Accademia, with no piano or elephant.
Thelonius Monk

PS  belatrova will be under the Ledbury Market House this Saturday and every Saturday in June – if you are in the area drop by and say hello.

PPS. We would like to thank “Botloes” for giving us such a great review on Houzz – we wonder if this mystery personality might reveal herself or himself?

Hasta luego.

close-up of ceramic planter surface

Slabby McSlabface

close-up of ceramic planter surface

Spring ceramic

At belatrova we make things because we like them, and think that you might too. We even make things before we know exactly what to call them. We have been slab rolling and glazing pieces for the outdoors and indoors, and though, strictly speaking, they are “slab pots” we think there is a better name for these ceramic containers, or planters, or plant pot holders, or umbrella stands, or whatever.

They are so flexible, you see, that they can be used in many ways.

However, belatrova will not fall into the mistake made by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council who asked people on the internet to name its newest research ship. The internet returned with the magnificent, if inappropriate, RRS Boaty McBoatface. So we are not guaranteeing that we will adopt any name suggested by majority response.

 

It is May, and many will be turning their thoughts to the garden. If you are dreaming of salvia, foxgloves, Sweet William, wallflowers, poppies, nasturtium and scabious, now is the time to sow. You can grow your favourite flowers and vegetables anywhere by planting them in beautiful containers that enhance the setting. “Container gardening” in planters or plant pot-holders allows your imagination to wander all over your garden.

Unlike many planters and holders belatrova’s are colourful and bold, and when placed strategically in the garden or patio, they can brighten the space around them as well as complement the plants inside. They work well in small to medium spaces, or in clusters and groups.

ceramic sweet display

a bonboniere, but you can call it “Fred”

On the other hand, you can use them in entirely different ways indoors – as slab pots, ceramic umbrella stands, bonbonieres (great word) or just plant holders. With indoors in mind, these do not drain because they have no holes at the base, but we can easily make them with drainage holes if commissioned to do so. If you are looking for a bold statement then imagine it as a centrepiece of a side table or counter, or on the floor next to the fireplace, filled with dried sunflowers. The colours really stand out and brighten any space.

We are very aware that most of you do not live in stately homes or manor houses, but just in case one or two of you do, a fine umbrella, whip, or walking stick stand for any hallway or lobby is surely a “must”.

ceramic planter

brushstroke blues for buddha

Try serving a punch or mulled wine out of one. We have previously given you the recipe for deliciously dark and cool Black Velvet (November 2014 blog) – imagine serving that out to your guests with a ladle from this unique tureen (do you see our problem? What can we call this adaptable ceramic?).

We hand make our planters out of four large, rolled ‘slabs’ of clay and it takes two of us to put the larger pieces together. They are glaze fired at 1275 degrees – this is when vitrification takes place, making the ceramic tough and resistant to weather extremes of heat and cold. They will not crack in a frost.

On occasions at the workshop we are overcome by the strange combined influence of our pugmill, Thelonius, and of our favourite jazz pianist, Thelonius Monk. This often happens on a Friday afternoon. We are slowly building a small collection of these inexplicable Thelopots, and we thought you would like a glimpse of one.

three ceramic planters

Thelonius made me do it” series

We are opening our workshop to the public for a Summer Weekend on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd July – please drop in, but if you’d like to come at any other time, just give us a ring – all details on our website: www.peterarscott.co.uk/dev

You can also visit us on Home of Artisans

baby asleep in basket on coffee table

Spring Open (or a brief history of the coffee table)

Tomás

T.A.M. and belatrova

A coffee table, also called a cocktail table, is a style of low table designed to be placed in front of a sofa, to support drinks, magazines, books, specially coffee table books, and other small items to be used while sitting, such as babies.

coffee table with soaf in background

knee-high vantage point

Tomás Aventín Martinez is a recently born resident of Barcelona, a small person of exquisite taste who prefers to take his naps at knee height to keep an eye on his parents sitting on the nearby sofa. He also appreciates the stability offered by the four tapering “Sputnik” legs of the belatrova coffee table, but above all else it is the unique quality of the paintwork on the tabletop that most appeals.

coffee table

good on wood

The idea of a table specifically used for serving hot drinks or putting down one’s cup between sips predates the coffee table in Europe by some time. In Britain in the mid 1800s tea drinking was at the height of fashion and there was increasing demand for tea tables. Other forms of tables in use at this time were called occasional tables, end tables, and centre tables.

painted tabletop

looking down on a belatrova coffee table

coffee table top

like going to a gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Egyptians made use of small tables and elevated playing boards, the Chinese created tables in order to write and paint. The Greeks and Romans made more frequent use of tables, notably for eating. And the English?  Well, in England towards the end of the 19th century, when boredom set in after dinner, some upper class Victorians decided to turn their dining room tables into miniature versions of the lawn tennis court. Anything at hand was used: a line of books became the net and rackets were lids from empty cigar boxes. The ball would be either a ball of string or a champagne cork or rubber ball. This is how table tennis was born.

With the increasing availability of television sets from the 1950s onwards coffee tables came into their own since they are low enough, even with stacks of pizza boxes on them, not to obstruct the view of the television.

patio table with green tiles inlaid

robust and elegant

tiled table with bowl of strawberries

Spring – patio table with strawberries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

belatrova’s coffee tables are robust enough to take anything, and they are beautiful to look at too. As for our tiled tables for the patio, they can withstand rain and rust, and can take a whole stack of baby baskets (with babies inside) without any bending under the weight.

Bring a baby and try it out this weekend. You will also be able see our new range of wave bowls and planters, as well as the new scooped bowls just out of the kiln.

We are open from 10 to 5 on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd April.

Tea, coffee, cake and feeding bottles available

Bankside Studios, Little Marcle Road, Ledbury, Herefordshire, HR8 2DR

tel: 01531 634082

www.peterarscott.co.uk/dev

 

 

glass of Orange Blossom

all fingers and thumbs

glass of Orange Blossom

Orange Blossom cheer

It was Sir Isaac Newton who stated that, in the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone convinced him of God’s existence. And belatrova, stoically recovering from an injured left thumb after an unfortunate encounter with a kiln door, could not help but think of the usefulness of those five appendages that grow out of each hand – our fingers, or, strictly, our digits, if we include the thumb.

It turns out that our fingertips possess a high concentration of receptors, which means that they are highly sensitive to moisture, pressure, texture and temperature. Fingers are capable of feeling the tiniest, almost invisible, wrinkles on what appears to be a smooth surface, an extraordinary level of sensitivity. Thus we use our fingers as sensory probes to find out about the objects we bump into or are puzzled by, and so they are prone to getting hurt – they get burnt, cut, scratched, squashed and scraped. In belatrova’s case it was an injury due not to sensory probing but to simply forgetting where his thumb was as the kiln lid was being closed.

When not getting them injured, we at belatrova tend to use our fingers to poke clay to see how moist it is, or to smooth down the surface of a bowl before biscuiting, or to trim and cut around a shape, or to test how hot a piece is in the kiln (even if the meter indicates 90 degrees), or to brush on an oxide colour or to sandpaper the oak plinth of a birdbath.

mandarins in bowl

mandarins look better on ceramic

What would we do without our fingers. Think of all the finger gestures we rely on: thumbs up, the OK sign, the V for victory sign, the middle finger sign. And pointing is so useful, and counting, and playing the piano. What about the index to your mouth for “silence”, and snapping your fingers, or just picking your nose? The list is endless.

“…Even now that sweet memory lingers
I was playing my guitar
Lying underneath the stars
Just thanking the Lord
For my fingers
For my fingers” Paul Simon

And you need your fingers to make cocktails. As is customary at Christmas, we like to offer our supporters and friends a new cocktail that has been tried and tested on volunteers at the belatrova workshop. We have shown you how to make the perfect Dry Martini, and a delicious Black Velvet, now we would like you to try an Orange Blossom.

Use a large snifter or brandy glass, or balloon glass.

Fill it with ice – perhaps three generous cubes

shake two drops of Orange Bitters into it (this you can buy online or at some shops now). Do not allow more than two drops – these things really matter.

A small splash of Elderflower Cordial

Fill two thirds of the way up with cold Prosecco (it must be cold)

Curl a thin sliver of orange peel onto the rim

Stir

Drink

ceramic costers

star coasters

We at belatrova wish you all the very best for 2016, and we hope you have a Happy Christmas. As some of you know, we are always in and out of our workshop at No 9, so if any of you want to pay us a visit it is a good idea to give us a call first on 01531 634082, otherwise you can always contact us via our website: www.peterarscott.co.uk/dev or you can have a look at our ETSY site, or even our Pinterest boards.

Cheers! Salut! Salud! Santé! Prost! Salute!

pug mill

Thelonius says “Happy Christmas”