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


elephant on the keyboard


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.

Over the moon, on the crest of a wave.


close-up of table top by belatrova

moon power

Gazing at the Full Moon last night belatrova was filled by the wonder of the night sky. Somebody told us it was a Wolf Moon, and it turns out that full moon names reflect the goings on of that time of year, and this one is so called by American Indians because it is the animal’s hungry month, so February’s is the Snow Moon because it is the month most snow falls, Harvest Moon in August, Hunters’ Moon, and so on. And to top it all, five planets in the solar system are visible in a line this month: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – a fabulous quirk of the Universe.

image of 5 aligned planets

planetary alignment

Possibly as a result of this magical alignment belatrova has won ‘Best of Customer Service’ on Houzz®, the leading platform for home renovation and design ( The ‘Best of Houzz’ is awarded annually in three categories – Design, Customer Service, and Photography. Houzz ‘Best of Customer Service’ honours are based on several factors, including the number and quality of client reviews received in 2015. A ‘Best of Houzz 2016’ badge will appear on belatrova’s Houzz profile as a sign of its commitment to excellence and these badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals.

Houzz Customer Award 2016 badge

So, a huge thank you is due to our customers who reviewed us on Houzz. We were chosen by the Houzz* community from among more than one million active home building, renovating, and design industry professionals.

Andrew Small, Managing Director of Houzz UK commented, “anyone building, renovating, or decorating looks to Houzz for the most talented and service-oriented professionals, and we are very pleased to recognise belatrova with our ‘Best of Customer Service’ award.

close-up of wave bowl edge

ceramic wave

Aware that all sorts of things happen during a Full Moon (arson attacks increase by 100% at the time of the Full Moon, murders treble around that time and passengers on flights are more difficult to handle, say harassed air hostesses) we at belatrova would rather let our minds float in all the apparently miraculous stuff associated with it. For example, the link between the Lunar Cycle and the tides is well established but still mysterious, but may well explain why we have started making large wave bowls this new year. We think you will like them: they are a perfect centrepiece for any dining table, and practical as fruit bowls or tureens.

belatrova ceramic wave bowl

blue undulations

ceramic bowl with blue brushstrokes

more blue waviness

We have used the oxides of the Brushstroke Blues range to hand paint the wavy brushstrokes onto the undulating surface, which in turn has wave-like marks scratched in with a peineta or Spanish Flamenco comb. This last element, as you belatrovians instinctively know, is essential.

Spanish comb



close-up of ceramic scratchwork

porcelain comb-over


5 wave bowls out of the kiln

straight out of the kiln

These wave bowls measure about 40cms x 30 cms, and weigh 6 lbs (2.7 kls), so they are robust as well as beautiful. Don’t let February’s Full Moon be a Blue one, cheer yourself up with a belatrova bowl and wave goodbye to the blues.

*About Houzz (

Houzz is the leading platform for home renovation and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a small room to building a custom home and everything in between, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world.


With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community empowered by technology, Houzz is the easiest way for people to find inspiration, get advice, buy products and hire the professionals they need to help turn their ideas into reality.


Peter Arscott, Director of belatrova said, “we are delighted to receive this accolade from such a prestigious enterprise as Houzz. We work hard to ensure that everyone inquiring about our products enjoys dealing with us, and that those who buy a belatrova product are completely satisfied with it and enjoy having it in their home or commercial environment.”


Michaelmas daisies


horse's tail

winter rushes in

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

horse head in stone Parthenon

exhausted horse at the British Museum

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

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

Michaelmas daisies

September’s flower

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

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

lounge of Feathers Hotel , Ledbury

inside the Feathers with belatrova

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

Come and see us.


belatrova Christmas opening times

brick viaduct in Ledbury

Ledbury viaduct

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

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

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

picture of four ceramicists

meet the ceramicists…


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

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

Tea, coffee and mince pies will be served.

We look forward to seeing you.


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


We wish you all a happy 2014.

decorated cake


girl twerking


air drone


comic strip character by Paul arscott


During a coffee break we were talking about how we will be seen in a hundred years’ time. Will the people of 2114 look at us and think  “… hmmm Britain’s got talent, Great British Bake-off, twerking, tweeting, trolling, drones…? What was all that about?”

Or will they be rubbing their chins, impressed by the years’ innovations: wearable computers, developments in biometrics, 3D-printed organs, crowd sourced business. Or maybe 2014 sees the return of abstract art, but made by women artists, or the rise of digital surrealism, or the rise of the comic, or the beginning of a return to connoisseurship and the appreciation of the individually crafted. Who knows? We don’t, but with the centenary commemoration of the First World War about to dominate the press and media, belatrova wanted to see what was happening culturally back then, we wanted to see what the “future” was like one hundred years ago.

For example:

Cubist picture of Horta, by Picasso

Picasso, 1909

Grand Central Station in New York

In Grand Central Station I sat down and wept

German expressionist image by Kirchner

Combat – agonies of love, Kirchner, 1915

Vortcist painting by Bomberg

The Mud Bath, Bomberg 1914

Gaudi’s art nouveau Casa Mila in Barcelona is finished (see blog June 2013), Die Brucke and German Expressionism comes to the fore, Art Deco in France starts to emerge, Picasso develops Cubism, Grand Central Station in New York opens to the public, the Vorticist movement takes shape in Britain,  and airships (or Zeppelins) were new.

And one hundred years ago the Arts and Crafts Movement was flourishing, and had been since 1880, inspired by John Ruskin and William Morris.  It emerged in Britain but was quickly taken up and adapted in America and Europe.

Arts & Craft mug by Finch

mug by Alfred William Finch 1900

They promoted a revival of traditional handicrafts and the introduction of better design in everyday and domestic objects. Individuals in small workshops to large manufacturers created the work.

And they all reached a wider audience thanks to shops such as Liberty’s and  Heal’s selling their goods.

Liberty's in London


Heal's in London


belatrova  has a gut feeling that the era of the individually hand-crafted is coming around once again.

Geometrical painting by Malevich

Suprematist painting by Malevich

Here is one of our recent Manhattan slab pots, with just a hint of Kasimir Malevich about it, though strictly speaking the  Russian founder of Suprematist painting did not start the movement until 1915.

Slab pot made by belatrova with geometric patterns painted on

Manhattan slab pot by belatrova

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

The Art of Selling?

6 squared dishes by belatrova

platters (Photo C. de la Torre)

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

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

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

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

view of wall display of belatrova ceramics

the view from the entrance

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

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

table with ceramics on display

an invitation to touch

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

Result: more sales.

customers handling ceramics around a table


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

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

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

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

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

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

ceramic lamp base with shade

belatrova’s table lamp

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

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

potter Stuart Houghton on his wheel

mesmeric Maestro

grit to pearl

brick kilns in Stoke

gritty Stoke

Here at belatrova increased production and a subsequent urgent need for clay led us on a lightning visit to Stoke, heart of the Potteries.

Sitting on a hill, its grittiness is somehow heightened by the green beauty of the surrounding countryside. Its long association with the pottery industry goes back to the 17th Century and though in the past it was primarily an industrial conurbation, steel and coal being the main source of employment, it is now a centre for service industries and a growing distribution centre.

Plastic bags of clay and glaze in boot of car

clay and glazes in the boot

However, the link to its glorious pottery past remains in places like Etruria, site of Wedgewood’s business and where Potclays are based. They manufacture clay, grogs and glazes themselves at their South Staffordshire clay mines, and belatrova drove there to top up with glazes and then drove on to Valentine’s to load up with porcelain.

hill in Peak District glimpsed through trees

craggy hill on the way to Buxton

The car struggled going up hills from that point on as we made our way through the Peak District to Buxton, then Bakewell and finally arrived at Chatsworth House.

The contrast between the tough and practical character of Stoke and the self-conscious elegance of this stately home is evident, they almost seem to belong to different worlds. But belatrova was struck by something else: the clay that Stoke mined and dug up out of quarries, the poisonous powders of glazes being mixed, the heavy bags carried and stored, all that hard work and toil produced something that could end up being shaped, glazed and fired into the most extraordinary objects that visitors can now see displayed at Chatsworth.

Hard to believe, isn’t it, that a ball of what is generally 40% aluminum oxide, 46% silicon oxide and 14% water can be turned into this:

display of ceramic flowers, fruit and dishes at Chatsworth

ceramic buffet at Chatsworth

tall cream cermic pots lined along chimney mantel

ceramic installation by Edmund de Waal

Or this: ‘A Sounding Line‘ is an installation of numerous cream and white-glazed porcelain vessels of varying form and size made as an installation by Edmund de Waal, leading British ceramic artist, author of The Hare with the Amber Eyes, who inspired by the porcelain that has historically been on display in the house, designed them specifically for display in the Chapel Corridor at Chatsworth.


Or this:

Two clay pots with household paint poured over them by artist Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei’s pots at Chatsworth

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei also had work on show. Two ordinary ceramic jars, the type bought at any market in Peking, looked down on us from a shelf just above head height – with the household paint the artist has poured over them, they are striking: a comment on art as commodity.

blue and white ceramic stack up to 15 ft high

15 ft ceramic stack at Chatsworth

Or this: a giant stack of blue and white  pots reaching a height of about 15 feet at the base of the main stairs, a reflection of the structure of bamboo scaffolding used by builders in China. It was made by Felicity Aylieff who likes to blur the boundaries between ceramics and sculpture. She has developed a relationship with factories in Jingzhen, China, where she produces monumental pots such as this.
Perhaps it is a theme for another day, when is ceramics “art” and when is it “craft”? Looking up at this work from below it was easy to accept that there is a point when a pot can be understood as sculpture.
Anyway, outside in the gardens of Chatsworth we said “hello” to Barry Flanagan‘s Hare – always cheering and heartening to see, and enjoyed the outdoor exhibition of William Turnbull‘s sculptures; the Horse Head in particular looks stunning in this setting.
Metal sculpture of horse head

William Turnbull’s Horse Head with Chatsworth in the distance

bronze sculpture of hare jumping over bell by Barry Flanagan

one of Barry Flanagan’s hares jumping over a bell