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

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