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.
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.
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:
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.
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.