belatrova in Iberia

Gibraltar on the horizon

A piece of Britain on the horizon

belatrova, musing by a pool in the heat of Sotogrande, with a distant view of the Rock of Gibraltar, discovered that Andalusia has some of the hottest areas in Europe, sometimes averaging above 36 C in summer, with daytime highs of over 40 C. This explains the landscape of Holly and Cork Oak and the Pinsapo Fir trees that do well here, as do the olive trees that are grown all over the area.

Andalusia certainly knows its olives: Manzanilla, Arbequina, Empeltre, Sevillano, Picual, Hojiblanca, Picolimon, Verdial are just some of the estimated 260 different varieties of olive in Spain, which, as we all know, always look their best when offered to guests in a belatrova bowl.

olives in belatrova bowl

the only way to eat olives

But we digress. After being controlled by Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals and Visigoths, for half a millennium “Al-Andalus” was part of a Muslim caliphate, from the moment in 711 a Berber called Tariq ibn Ziyad landed his troops on the coast at a place that would become “Jabel alTariq” (the mountain of Tariq), now pronounced “Gibraltar”. Then came the Catholic Kings, and so on, until Spain became a member of the European Community. How about that for a quick outline of Spanish history?

drawing of Malaga port

Malaga port

Before arriving in Sotogrande belatrova had spent a short time in Malaga, port city of misty mornings and birthplace of the greatest artists of the 20th Century*, and paid a visit to the Museo Picasso de Malaga to have a peek at the great man’s ceramics and paintings on display. A small but fine collection that will satisfy anyone interested in art and ceramics.

Porcelain figure by Picasso

Insect – ceramic figure at Museo Picasso en Malaga



After 90 minutes of leaving Malaga and driving south belatrova suddenly saw the strange presence of the large rock that is part of Britain. It is surprising that there is this tiny enclave with red telephone boxes, bobbies and pubs in the southernmost tip of Spain. But we stayed in Sotogrande and enjoyed the calm of this beautiful location.

belatrova bowl by pool

belatrova by the pool in Sotogrande


bowl with landscape in background

…on the veranda

bowl by Buhdda bust









Next stop was a few days near Ronda in a small town called Arriate. Early in the mornings, before the sun clears the horizon and bakes everything in its path, a quick walk into Arriate will reward you with a breakfast of “Churros con chocolate” before returning and finding a shady area in the house or by the pool. belatrovians have already met Thelonius the Pugmill (blog November 2013).

image of pugmill

Thelonius Pugmill in action


Though it may upset Thelonius, the churro-making machine is basically the same idea. Stuff goes in one end and is squeezed out the other, though in the former’s case it cannot be eaten with chocolate:

churro machine

churro-making machine

churro mix extruded by machine

churro extruded

ring of cooked churro

churro ready


churro with hot chocolate

churros con chocolate




brick pottery chimney

abandoned pottery in Arriate with stork’s nest on the top, seen when wandering into the village for breakfast












As for Ronda, it is a buzzing and welcoming town whose most well-known feature is the gorge that divides it and the bridge that crosses it, both made famous by the series of brilliant oil paintings David Bomberg made when he lived there in the 1930s.

bridge at Ronda



painting of Ronda bridge by Bomberg

Bomberg’s Ronda












Next stop was Granada, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, home of the poet Federico García Lorca and of the Alhambra, Moorish citadel and palace, and the most renowned building of the Andalusian Islamic legacy. Any lover of mosaic and tiles would love its interior, but frankly anybody with an ounce of romance and fantasy would fall for it.

view of Alhambra

The Alhambra in Granada


the courtyard of the lions, Alhambra

inside the Alhambra

Saturation of visual sensation means you will end up agreeing with the poet Franciscio de Icaza who wrote “Give him alms, woman, for there is nothing sadder in life than being blind in Granada.” (“Dale limosna mujer, que no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada.”)


Walking along the narrow streets of the Albaicín district is also enthralling. Lots of shops selling pots and ceramics of all kind.

ceramic street sign

street sign in Granada


Even the street names are made of ceramic.


A visit to the Moorish Baths was a cool break from the sun and heat outside: looking up at the ceiling from the gloomy depths of the 11th Century building, the shapes cut out originally to allow steam to escape let in the daylight and shine like stars.

ceiling of old Moorish baths in Granada

11th Century baths in Granada

All a distant memory. Now back at the workshop at No 9, belatrova is busy preparing for h.Art events which will be from 6th – 14th September and to which you are all most welcome. We will be open from 10.00 to 17.30. Remember to follow the bright red h.Art signs.

picture of the Studio Gallery launch

tHe Studio Gallery opening in Ross on Wye


And if you are near Ross-on-Wye, please drop in at the Studio Gallery which had a very successful launch some days ago and has an excellent display of belatrova ceramics.





* any belatrovian agreeing or disagreeing with this statement is invited to leave a comment. Comments will be awarded points, and points mean prizes … and, much as we would like to give the winner a Picasso bowl, you could win yourself a belatrova Valencia three legged ceramic instead.

Languid June

image of two feet resting on a table

belatrova feet up

The newly refurbished workshop space has come into its own, specially when the days have been hot and sultry and the cooler corners away from the kiln became more inviting. June highlights have been many and varied, both within the workshop and away.

close-up of bird bath

cool for birds

Non-belatrova activities include Stuart’s exhibition at Nantgarw, a museum on the site of an old porcelain works. Entitled “White Gold” (Aur Gwyn) it includes fifteen different potters using porcelain, and can be visited until 17th August. Stuart (Mr Dynamo) is also showing at Abbey Dore  from 20 – 26 July along with other artists as part of a mini Arts Festival there. It is open daily from 9.30 to 6.15 and admission is free.


terracota figures of the Apostles by sculptor Nick Pope

Nick Pope’s Apostles

And we all went down to Salisbury to the opening of Nick Pope’s wonderful sculptures of the Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit by Their Own Lamps in the Cathedral; a grouping of 33 terracotta figures, each one identified by his personal character and attributes. Exhibited some years ago at the Tate, they have “come home” in this new setting, and look as if they had been there from the beginning. Still, rather than talk about it, belatrova urges anyone to pay them a visit when they are in the area, and to be there when the lamps are lit.

image of two legs on a magic carpet

magic carpet at the R.A.

Those of you who are interested can also drop into the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy to see “Flying Carpet“, painted by Peter and selected by the panel – there is also some engaging ceramic artwork to be seen.




Back at the workshop we had fun making a batch of birdbaths and a couple of new coffee tables to match the Valencia and Manhattan ranges. As a result, in-house spray varnishing is now being mastered and the protective gear and mask required induce a great deal of sweating and panting which can only be assuaged by a cold drink, usually water but often something a little more interesting if it is towards the end of the day. We have discovered a new Friday evening cocktail: the Negroni.

ceramic birdbath

birdbath just made


manhattan range coffee table

manhattan table

Oh, and one of the junior belatrovas made a memorable cake for her father, using a belatrova platter to serve it in, of course.

strawberry cheesecake on platter

Dad’s birthday cake



So much to do, so little time. Roll on July

the great Paul Klee’s never ending reach

a line of hand painted belatrova tables

belatrova conga at the Open Day

So many of you came to our Open Days on Saturday 30th November and Sunday 1st December, that we ran out of coffee, white wine and mince pies.  Although Unit 9 Bankside is a workshop, please feel free to drop by at any time, though a ‘phone call beforehand is a good idea, just in case.

two lines of belatrova coffee tables

belatrova squad

Those of you who came were able to see the exhibition of table  paintings which we set up just for the two days, and this proved very popular. These tabletops are all hand painted, each one a painting in acrylic and then varnished over with a heat resistant lacquer.

With a big space dedicated to the tables only, most viewers took their own time to look at each individual piece and enjoyed the experience of a gallery-like atmosphere and the pleasure of looking down at paintings and walking around them. Try it at home, it’s so much more comfortable than looking up at paintings on walls. And you can put hot mugs of tea on them too.

One or two of you, having been to the Paul Klee exhibition at the Tate Modern, noted a connection between his painting and some of the tables. Well spotted. Klee is a particular hero of belatrova’s and every now and again surfaces in our work. Here are some Klee-like examples:

belatrova paul klee table painting

paul klee table

klee reference on belatrova table

a bit more klee

The Klee exhibition is one of the best to be held anywhere, and even if you are not familiar with his work, belatrova recommends a visit (we’ve been twice already); he was innovative and always trying out new ways to make marks on a surface, and, seventy three years after his death, you can see how much he has influenced artists.

belatrova is not sure that Klee ever made any ceramics, but had he done so the results would have been as engaging as Picasso’s, though gentler. Here are two we made earlier with P.K. in mind:

two pots in the Klee style

two Klee pots by belatrova

Caersws (pronounced “Kay-suss)

acrylic on canvas, painting of pregnant woman in orange and blue

pregnant woman by Nicky Arscott

belatrova paid a visit to the Mid Wales Arts Centre just outside the above-mentioned town in Powys on Sunday, in part to get some fresh air and a bit of Welsh countryside, but also to get some ceramic inspiration as well as a look at Nicky Arscott’s paintings.

It’s a two hour drive from Ledbury so we stopped in Rayader and had a snack at the Old Swan Tea Rooms in the middle of the town. Let me tell you that you will not find a better toasted cheese and bacon sandwich anywhere in the world, or a warmer and friendlier café.

Rayader, The Old Swan Tea Rooms.

The Old Swan Tea Rooms in Rayader.

We drove on.

The views were as beautiful as ever, even with the white pockets of snow that still dotted the higher parts of the hills along the way. Lots of sheep, and a few daffodils just starting to show, and (a rare sight nowadays) a very unlucky hedgehog that had not managed to make it to the other side of the road.

Brick facade of Georgian building housing the Mid Wales Arts Centre in Caersws, Powys.

Georgian facade of the Mid Wales Arts Centre in Caersws, Powys.

The Centre  is a fabulous old Georgian house, and contains original artworks and craft in every room, a contemporary art gallery and a sculpture park in the 18 acres of grounds.

It is a wonderful place to stay for casual visitors, walkers, cyclists and artists. All food is home grown, and the Welsh breakfast is a speciality.

It is all run by Cathy Knapp, whose late husband the Polish-born sculptor and enamellist Stefan Knapp left a collection of his work which is on display in the house and grounds.

work by Stefan Knapp

Stefan Knapp’s work on display at Mid Wales Arts Centre

Stefan had many commissions in the 1950sand 60s, including work for Heathrow, and the Shell and Seagram buildings with others such as Rothko and Pollock, and he was a great experimenter and technician, working with Rowneys to develop Cryla acrylic paint. Artists are involved in the

centre’s direction, and there are all sorts of courses on offer, including life drawing, enamelling workshops, poetry events, felt design and ceramic weekends.

tea cakes

tea at Mid Wales Arts Centre

Anyway, we had a good look around and enjoyed the mixed exhibition. There is plenty of pottery on display, and a wide range of paintings on the walls, all of it well exhibited and spaced out and using all the rooms available, which guests are encouraged to walk around in, cup of tea or coffee in hand.

Did I mention that Cathy makes the most mouth-watering cakes in Powys?

I liked the shapes of the assorted bowls that filled the rooms and the importance of their weight and texture came to me when I picked them up.

porcelain bowls on glass shelf with painting of still life in background

bowls at Mid Wales Arts Centre, with background acrylic painting

There is an article in the New York Times International Weekly (Julie Lasky 14/04/13) that highlights the sale of a small white ceramic bowl that was sold for more than $2.2 million. We take the bowl so much for granted and yet its shape has not changed for thousands of years – essentially the shape of cupped hands to hold water in it. Its simplicity is so attractive – another source of inspiration to belatrova, I think.

Have a look at the website for the Mid Wales Arts Centre:

full length photograph of Cathy Knapp, organiser and curator of the Mid Wales Arts Centre

Cathy Knapp

enamel sculpture in the garden of the Mid Wales Arts Centre, Powys.

enamel work by Stefan Knapp

bedroom for paying guests, filled with artwork.

Guest bedroom