Disgruntled staff and fundraising

Looking at some of the pieces that have recently come out of the kiln, like the one above, anybody might think that Peter Arscott Ceramics is keen on making work that displays the principles of movement, by showing flowing lines and edges that we find in the natural world. But it is rhythm and pattern in the mark making that is of primary concern and this sometimes leads to this impression of movement – repetition of elements or colours. We are just as keen on placing spots on the surfaces, which achieve the opposite, anchoring a design, like the one below.

Talking of repetition, staff meetings are held regularly at PAC. One was recently held to discuss stock levels. Over coffee, Thelonious (pug mill), Spyridon (marketing), Ziggy (fly control) and I agreed that there is nothing worse than having stock that is uncherished and unseen. Subsequently, we are going to display those pieces that didn’t quite make the grade, those “not quite right” vases, those skewed pieces, those stunted or, frankly, unresolved ceramics that have been lurking in some dark corner of the studio, forgotten and unloved but which will for once have a chance to have others cast their eyes on them and decide their worth.

Spyridon, Thelonious and Ziggy

Because all these stoneware vessels are fired to such a high temperature in the kiln (1270°) they are essentially vitrified and will withstand any temperature out in the garden. They are frost-proof. And you’d be surprised how good the most questionable ceramic can look once it has been strategically placed outdoors among shrubs and bushes, or on terraces, or on a balcony or windowsill with suitable plants in them. You may even like one enough to put on your kitchen table, but what I am saying is that despite their flaws they retain some allure if carefully positioned around or outside the house.

So obviously we are not going to charge you for any of these little ceramic orphans. No. We are going to ask those of you who come to see and take, to leave a donation in a box that will be left outside in the garden near the display. You can leave as much or as little as you like, but it will go to a charitable cause.

Thelonious wanted any money to go to a retirement scrapyard for old pugmills, Spiro pressed for donations to go to a home in Greece for retired goatherds, and Ziggy, despite our best attempts at explaining the idea of “charitable” to him, wanted to invest it all in a large glass maggot-breeding farm and fly dispenser. However, as the boss, I have decided that it should go to towards the Ledbury Poetry Festival Community Projects at the new Poetry House in Ledbury to help cater for the many communal events planned to take place there.

“What’s poetry got to do with pottery?” sneered the sulking Ziggy.

“The only difference is the letter t” I riposted.

“You’ve said that so many times before that it is no longer witty,” murmured Spiro.

“Yes,” added Thelonious, “you are repeating yourself quite often nowadays.”

“Listen, you lot,” I said with rising anger, “this is all a bit rich coming from a cast iron contraption that can only compress used clay! As for you, Spyridon, I haven’t heard you ever say anything witty, possibly because you are a third century goatherd and Bishop of Trimythous, but mainly (I suspect) because you are a figment of my imagination, one to whom I have entrusted this enterprise’s marketing campaign!”

There was a hushed silence in the studio.

“And Ziggy, don’t forget that, as a spider, you are here on sufferance because you keep the fly population under control.”

There followed murmured protests and vague threats of a strike, which (like the present government) I chose to ignore. Then my wife came into the studio with a suspicious look in her eyes and asked me if I’d been talking to myself again, which I denied. Perhaps I have been working on my own too much.

So, if you are interested, please make your way to Oakland House, The Homend, Ledbury, HR8 1AP and park on the road, if you are driving, by the gate, skip up the seven steps into the front garden and have a look. If anything takes your fancy, take it and leave your donation in the nearby box. The images accompanying this blog show some of the ceramics that will be on display. They will be there on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17thJuly, from 10am to 6pm.

For those of you wanting to spend as little as possible (hard times and steeper bills are heading our way, after all) there will also be some small three legged bowls to choose from, mainly from when Peter Arscott Ceramics used to be “belatrova” – you’ll find the “b” mark on those, as opposed to the PAC mark.

Although somebody will be at home , Covid has struck, so nobody contagious will come out to greet you. A forlorn wave from a window is all you might get, though staff, being  a machine, a figment and a spider, are not affected. Finally, and with Ziggy’s woeful attitude in mind, and because this is a ceramics blog, and because we have had a highly successful Ledbury Poetry Festival, I’ll finish with the part of the last stanza of John Keat’s poem, Ode to a Grecian Urn:

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, —that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

John Keats by William Hilton, National Portrait Gallery

Pope to belatrova

photo of Lower Manhattan, New York


belatrovians will know that we at No 9 Bankside are hard working and industrious and that we subsequently reward ourselves at the end of the week with a deliciously cold Dry Martini lovingly prepared by the Alcomeister hours in advance so as to reap the most from this sublime Emperor of Cocktails. We have also more than hinted at the excellent qualities of the Negroni in a previous blog. But today we will sing the praises of an altogether different drink and toast a man whose standing should be far better appreciated than perhaps it is. How does all this relate to art, design and craft?


bear with us

image of Ross on Wye

Ross on Wye

Ross on Wye is a charming town on the northern edge of the Forest of Dean and perhaps the birthplace of British tourism when in 1745 the rector Dr John Egerton started taking friends on boat trips down the valley to appreciate the river scenery, its castles and abbeys, its precipices and its altogether picturesque environment. By the 1850s the Wye Tour established the area as a tourist attraction. The town is known for its independent shops, narrow streets and market square with its market hall. Opposite the church, the Prospect is a public garden offering a view of the famous horseshoe bend in the River Wye, as well as views of the distant Black Mountains in Wales.

John Kyrle

The Man of Ross

The Prospect was created by one John Kyrle. He is without doubt the town’s most famous son (and we say this in the full knowledge that two of the founding members of Mott the Hoople were from Ross). He devoted his life to philanthropic works, introducing a public water supply to the town and
laying out the Prospect Gardens. He also reconstructed and added pinnacles to the unsafe 14th century spire of the Church of St.
Mary and gave it a magnificent tenor bell. He sponsored the causeway to the nearby Witton Bridge and set up funds for needy local
children to attend school. Kyrle lived modestly as a bachelor on an income, it is said, of £500 per year. Apart from Kyrle’s charitable works and deeds, he also settled disputes, supported the schools, tended the sick
and helped the poor. His public-mindedness also extended to beautifying the town and its surrounding landscape.

18C painting of baby

lisping babe


His life and good works were celebrated by the poet Alexander Pope in his Moral Essays written in 1732 and called him the ‘Man of Ross’, the name by which he has been known ever since:

“…Who taught that heav’n directed Spire to rise? 

          The Man of Ross, each lisping babe replies.”  


Now, Pope, though an interesting poet, was also a hugely influential landscape gardener and as the perfect representative of Augustan poetry he uses the same principles when it comes to landscape gardening. The Augustan style takes its inspiration from ancient Rome and Greece, emphasizing elegance, harmony, balance, formal strictness and simplicity. We are not just talking Geometry here but surely you’ll agree that it is one easy step from Pope’s harmony to the perfect balance of Mondrian‘s paintings (and to his New York connections) and thus to belatrova’s Manhattan range of ceramics and tables.

Mondrian painting



ceramic collection by belatrova

manhattan collection

And to celebrate these 18th Century geniuses why not raise a cocktail to them? Your 18th Century taste buds were likelier to go for the sweet rather than the dry, so, in keeping with the general theme, we thought the Manhattan hit the spot:



2 ounces whiskey (rye preferable)

1/2 ounce sweet vermouth

2-3 dashes Angostura bitters Maraschino cherry for garnish

chilled glass of Manhattan cocktail

the Manhattan cocktail


Pour the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice cubes.

Stir well.

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Garnish with the cherry.


Ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses to the Man of Ross, and consider this: the pursuit of all that is excellent in design and harmony continues in Ross on Wye with the launch of a new gallery in the town centre. The Studio Gallery, open from the 16th August, is exhibiting ceramics, painting and high quality craft, and would love to see you. So would belatrova, whose work is on show there.

Valencia range in ceramics by belatrova

what you might see at the Studio Gallery

“Hope springs eternal in a young man’s breast: Man never is, but always to be blest.”

Alexander Pope

poetry / pottery

Poet Jacob Polley  standing with banana

Jacob Polley (copyright Harry Rook)

The annual Ledbury Poetry Festival came to town this July; ten days of the best writers, poets and performers, and belatrova took full advantage, enjoying Juliet Stevenson‘s Sylvia Plath reading, as well as Jacob Polley and Sean Borodale together at the Burgage Hall, Martin Rowson‘s tone-lowering Limerickiad, Benjamin Zephania‘s jamming with Tony Benn, and a wonderful celebration of Benjamin Britten’s centenary with Ruthie Culver and the Utter:Jazz quartet and Sam West re-imagining the composer’s settings of WH Auden’s poems.

Cartoonist Martin Rowson

Martin Rowson (copyright Harry Rook)

There were over ninety events in all, including Japanese and Italian poetry, digital poetry, turntabling with Jah Wobble, bike rides, a Cerys Matthews sing-a-long, underwater sound poetry – belatrova tried to imbibe as much as possible and came out of it satiated and inspired. And there was the bookArt 13 exhibition at the Shell House Gallery with five artists, Jeanette McCulloch being one, giving us a rich visual experience with the text.

We did reject the idea of a Ledbury Pottery Festival to run concurrently with the poetry (and someone also came up with the idea of a yearly Ledbury Poultry Festival), and instead took up Jacob Polley’s suggestion to read an essay by Barry Lopez on anagama ceramic firing (“Effleurage: The Stroke of Fire” from his collection “About this Life”). Anagama kilns are wood-burning tube chambers usually built on a gentle slope to promote draft and reach great temperatures, producing ware that is “licked and scorched by wood flame, glazed and encrusted with wood ash”.

tube shaped anagama kiln

Anagana kiln being built

His descriptions of the process, the patience needed, the constant feeding of the fire night and day, the unpredictability of each firing, explains the attraction it holds for potters drawn to social cooperation, physical work and subtle firings. It is the antithesis of the rigid commercial kiln processes. Anyway, it is beautifully written and is now being circulated amongst the local potters.

opening a top loading kiln


The belatrova kilns are electric, so control over the heating is simple compared with the mixture of instinct, experience and know-how required for the anagama firings, but there is nevertheless a similar feeling of apprehension and excitement just before you open the lid to see what the gods of fire have done with all your hard work. We usually lift the lids when the temperature goes down to 80° or lower, the kilns having spent two days slowly climbing down from their peak, in our case, of 1280°.

split ceramic plate being lifted out of kiln

more than just a hairline crack

A gentle stoicism permeates the workshop on these occasions as the ware is slowly revealed and brought out into the light, sometimes with a tiny hairline crack, sometimes with an obvious split, sometimes in small pieces, but most often the ceramic is good to the eye and it is placed on its shelf ready for any wet sandpapering.

Here’s a three legged bowl that came out unscathed, on a belatrova table:

scooped ceramic on painted table

a happier result: scooped tripod on belatrova table