Posts

November news

Potter Pete’s foggy day

Sitting on CJ’s bench and looking down at Ledbury from Bradlow Knoll was an autumnal experience in that it was misty, mellow and mushroomy, and there were no sheep bleating and no birds singing – everything was wrapped in a dull light that seemed to smother any sound, as well as the view. It is pleasing to see how a well-worn path has established itself and forked off the main path towards the bench – obviously it is well used, and the many backsides will add a patina of polish to the wood as time goes by.

fly agaric

November is a little late for mushrooms but there are still a few hanging around in the woods daring you to pick them, and there is that strange damp, rotten-wood mushroom whiff that appears at this time of the year. The one that stood out was a Fly Agaric that had had its edges nibbled by something – strangely, since they are somewhat poisonous, specially to insects. In northern European countries it was used to keep flies off the milk, thus the name, and it can induce psychedelic episodes in those shamans and hippies who ingest it.

Old Man’s Beard

Lots of ‘Old Man’s Beard’ along the path, named after the fluffy seed heads that can be found in the autumn and early winter, it’s a wild clematis that produces a mass of scented, white flowers in late summer and is pollinated by bees and hoverflies. Owing to the fact that the dry stems draw well and do not burst into flame, cigar lengths were smoked and hence it is also called Smoking Cane. But it is best known as Traveller’s Joy.

The main gallery at the Oxmarket, Chichester

And thus, dear reader, this seamlessly leads us on to the joy of travelling along the south coast on the A27 delivering my ceramics to some wonderful galleries, two of which we have visited before in this blog. However, Chichester provides a new outlet in the wonderful Oxmarket Gallery, a medieval deconsecrated church which has existed since the 13th century and was used as a church continuously until the mid-20th century, when wartime damage forced its closure.

Kilter vase at the Oxmarket

It was restored and converted into an arts centre opening as Chichester Centre of Arts, later renamed Oxmarket Centre of Arts. It’s right in the middle of Chichester, with a large car park conveniently next door, and an exhibition space that is airy and light.

Flower vase at the Oxmarket

Yes, Chichester, medieval town of narrow streets and birthplace of Tim Peake, British astronaut, and of William Huskinsson MP, whose statue stands by the river Thames in Pimlico Gardens, London, opposite the old Battersea power station – a nineteenth century politician and statesman, an eminent financier, Corn Law reformist and parliamentary reformer.

William Huskinsson, National Portrait Gallery

He was struck by George Stephenson’s Rocket at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester line, and thus one of the first casualties of the railway age. It turns out he was born a few miles from the studio, in Birtsmorton Court at the foot of the Malvern hills.

Klee vase at the Coastal Gallery

On my way to the Coastal Gallery in Lymington, I stopped off at Arundel for the first time and had a close look at the castle and Catholic cathedral which are so striking when seen from the main coastal road. The Coastal gallery now have a partnership with the Palais des Vaches gallery in Exbury, Hampshire, and are showing work there too.

This is not Kevin Keegan

The stuff one learns on one’s travels. Did you know that Arundel’s river Arun is full of mullet, which is why its residents are known locally as mullets? I am referring to the fish, of course, and not the hair style so popular in the 1970s – those of you old enough will remember that finest of all mullets, which sat on the head of footballer Kevin Keegan and no doubt added some aerodynamism to his famously speedy runs up the pitches of the UK and Europe.

Garden vase at Cameron Contemporary

Back along the A27 and to the tranquil, upmarket town of Hove to deliver ceramics to the Cameron Contemporary gallery meant driving through a crowd protesting outside a secondary school at Covid vaccinations being given to children. Many banners, much shouting and a leaflet was handed through the car window. Still thinking of my visit to Arundel, I said I’d mullet over.

Chinese willow pattern protest vase 2

Back in the studio in Ledbury, and with protests in mind, I decided to make a bigger Willow Pattern Protest Vase with the conventional images on one side and the subversive ones on the other (I made an earlier version, see March blog). The firing went well and there was hardly any warping in the arms of the vase, those thinner more exposed parts tend to be affected by the heat than the main body of a work, so it was pleasing when it came out unscathed.

Willow pattern protest vase 2 – detail

You might want to see pearl mullet swimming upstream to spawn, Admirable little creatures, bless ’em – they don’t deserve having a bad hair style named after them.

Meandering

The Leadon, which gives its name to Ledbury.

It was a clear, bright September morning, perfect weather for a long walk, but the thought of trudging up Bradlow Hill for a view of Ledbury overcame any remaining willpower and my feet took the easier option, leading me in the opposite direction, across the bypass and along the (flat) Leadon River walk to the east of the town.

Leadon – Celtic word for ‘broad stream.’

Maybe I would spot a kingfisher, or see fish jumping, or some riverbank fauna. Perhaps it was the lack of recent rainfall, and it could simply be seasonal, but the Leadon was a trickle of its usual self, and looked muddy and, frankly, dead. There was no life in it, no fish, no birdlife, and I wondered if it had suffered another watercourse pollution incident like the one in 2016 which killed more than 15,200 fish after 100 tonnes of digestate had been pumped onto a field and had flowed into the Preston Brook, which in turn flows into the river Leadon.

A tributary to the Severn river

There have been efforts in recent years to help the Leadon thrive as a salmon river. In 2009, thousands of salmon were released, and two small weirs were installed near Ledbury, which were designed with salmon in mind to overcome barriers to migration. Also, roach, chub, and dace were added to the mix. Most fish recently re-stocked into the Leadon have been non-migratory species, commonly called ‘coarse fish’

fish vase – if only the Leadon were like this

So, I wonder if there is a problem, or whether my observations are not accurate, but I would have been very happy to spot any fish, even a ‘coarse’ one. I will return later to see if this is just a seasonal issue.

Three legged ‘Coarse’ fish bowl at the Bevere Gallery, nr Worcester

A tiny bridge leads onto a footpath which meanders away from the river and town, towards Little Marcle, with a distant view of the viaduct to the north. Five million bricks were used to build the thirty round-headed arches on their piers in 1859. It was built for the Worcester and Hereford Railway Co, the bricks made on site from the clay dug out for the foundations by a local company owned by Robert Ballard. Seeing the builders hanging by ropes as the structure went up, locals referred to the camp where the men lived (near what is now Beggar’s Ash) as Monkey Island.

5 million bricks = 30 houses

A Mrs Richards, who was meant to perform the opening ceremony in 1860, was left behind by the special train that was meant to bring her to the event. She did get there eventually and laid the final brick using a silver trowel – I wonder if she was allowed to keep it?

the foaming top of the Heineken fermenter

The footpath leads through Haygrove Farm where land has been turned over to vineyards, as well as to the traditionally grown local fruit, and then onto the Little Marcle Road which you can take back into Ledbury, passing on your right the huge Heineken plant which gives off a heady scent of old cider. In fact, I noticed that one of the giant containers was spewing froth from its open top, no doubt all part of the process, but looking like a colossal tankard of foaming beer. The robust fencing prevented me from tasting the foam on your behalf.

large warped vase

As you may remember from previous blogs, not everything that comes out of the kiln is perfect, and mentioning beer and cider brings to mind one recent large piece in particular that emerged meandering and twisted like the Leadon, looking as if it had spent too long in the pub and looking for a fight. If you saw the vase in the image above side on, you would see what I mean. On the other hand, the next one came out of the kiln looking good:

Green vase

These pieces are not necessarily practical but fun and visually interesting – eye-catching in the way the conventional shape of the vessels has been altered before they reach the kiln. Here are some early examples:

Ruby my dear

People might look at these objects and consider whether they could use them or not, or whether they just go for them because they are sculptures that fill a space in an interesting way.

Striped splash pot

People take them home, sometimes placing them in a particular place in a room, say a mantelpiece or a shelf, or putting flowers in them and changing their position every now again. The work swings between functionality and abstraction – this is what gives it its allure. It’s playful.

Jumble vase

A man walks into a seafood shack cradling a salmon and asks, “Do you make fish cakes?”
“Yes, of course,” the server replies.
“Great,” says the man, “It’s his birthday!”

Goodbye, May

rain clouds over Ledbury

When I went for a long walk up to Bradlow Knoll and beyond, the day had decided to let rip and unload all of its stored water down onto Frith Wood and onto the lone walker struggling along its already slimy paths. It meant that all one’s concentration was on not slipping, rather than on looking around at the flora and fauna, so these images were taken towards the end of the trudge, when the clouds parted, and the path was level.

bluebells

It turns out that on Friday 21 May , the UK experienced 91% of its expected rainfall for the entire month, with approximately 63.5mm having already fallen. The wettest May on record was in 1967, when 131.7mm of rain fell across the month.

buttercup

It is not the first time the UK has experienced unusual weather this year. April was the frostiest on record, with an average of 13 days of air frosts reported for the UK, topping the 11 days seen in April 1970. Last year, the UK experienced its sunniest spring and driest May since records began with 626 hours of bright sunshine recorded for the UK, exceeding the previous high (555 hours, set in 1948) by more than 70 hours.

bumblebee and bugle

As May transitions into June, we can only hope for dry sunny weather, though the British are, by and large, wary of getting carried away, and will have nurtured low expectations in order not to let disappointment overwhelm them. Is this why, when we go abroad to guaranteed sunshine, and we know we needn’t harbour any circumspection, we allow our inner buoyancy to bubble up and take over? This would explain the uncontrolled alcohol intake, the flippant balcony jumping, the skin-flaking sunburns, the nudity and cross-dressing, the dread of going back home.

The weather and the Brits. What would we talk about without it? It helps us overcome our social inhibitions, but there are rules when conducting these weather-related conversations. Firstly, the topic will almost always be introduced as a form of question and the person answering must agree, otherwise it is quite a serious breach of etiquette. Go on, try it out next time someone says “Cold, isn’t it?” and you say “No.”

dandelion don’t tell no lies. Click here

As for pottery, weather plays a part too. When freshly-made pieces are drying, the dry part will pull on the wet and crack the pottery prior to firing. The best way to avoid this is to dry everything in the shade, but since a humid or wet climate ensures that the pottery will retain its moisture, even after a week, it is best to give the pottery an extra week or even two – the longer the better.

slow dry

And to make sure it dries evenly during the first few days, a plastic bag over each piece is a good idea, otherwise you find parts that are attached to the main body dry too fast and hairline fractures only become bigger visible cracks after the final firing.  This can be deeply disheartening when you’ve put all your energy into one vase in particular, only to discover the fracture after the final hurdle. I’m sure it explains why so many potters turn to drink.

more bluebells

Going back 107 years to June 1914, I see that the month was cool and unsettled, alternating with dry, warm and sunny conditions. On the 8th the maximum temperature was only 13.4°C., and a severe thunderstorm, with hail, produced over 33mm of rain on the 14th. There were many dry and fairly sunny days during the second half of June, and during the last few days of the month it became increasingly warm, and eventually hot. On the 30th, it was sunny all day and the afternoon temperature reached 29°C.

Edward Thomas photo by Frederick Evans

I mention this because this was precisely the weather the poet Edward Thomas was remembering when he wrote “The sun used to shine”. It was the summer he and Robert Frost spent together in the Ledbury area, one of the great literary friendships which ended with Thomas’s death at Arras in 1917. I like to think they took the same paths along the Frith wood, as many of us here still do – they were great walkers. Despite my best research, they do not seem to have any particular interest in ceramics, even though the only difference between poetry and pottery is a “t”.

“Frost’s footfall” is an essay I have written about the two for The Common, a literary organisation based at Amherst College that publishes writing that embodies particular times and places, and where Robert Frost taught for forty years. Click here to read it.

 

The Ledbury Poetry Festival has been going for 25 years, and this July (2 – 11) will be offering us digital encounters with poets such as Margaret Atwood, Jorie Graham, Andrew McMillan, Jackie Kay, Fred D’Aguiar, Billy Collins, Fiona Sampson, as well as Mexican, Zimbabwean, Chinese, Slovakian and Belarusian voices, and puppetry, a poetry sweet shop, bingo, an interactive digital poetry trail…. Click here for more details.

betony – the stateliest of small flowers

 

The sun used to shine while we two walked

Slowly together, paused and started

Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked

As either pleased, and cheerfully parted

 

Each night. We never disagreed

Which gate to rest on. The to be

And the late past we gave small heed.

We turned from men or poetry

 

To rumours of the war remote

Only till both stood disinclined

For aught but the yellow flavorous coat

Of an apple wasps had undermined;

 

Or a sentry of dark betonies,

The stateliest of small flowers on earth,

At the forest verge; or crocuses

Pale purple as if they had their birth

 

In sunless Hades fields. The war

Came back to mind with the moonrise

Which soldiers in the east afar

Beheld then. Nevertheless, our eyes

 

Could as well imagine the Crusades

Or Caesar’s battles. Everything

To faintness like those rumours fade—

Like the brook’s water glittering

 

Under the moonlight—like those walks

Now—like us two that took them, and

The fallen apples, all the talks

And silence—like memory’s sand

 

When the tide covers it late or soon,

And other men through other flowers

In those fields under the same moon

Go talking and have easy hours.

 

moonpot

Spring clean

 

early April morning

Early April morning walk up to Frith Wood, clear sky, a little dew in the grass, birds singing – chaffinch, great tit, blackbird and the deep cawing of the “boss”, the raven, the usual lovely view from C.J.’s bench and then the last uphill trudge into the cool of the wood itself. I had the whole place to myself (I thought) until a hair-raising bark from deep in the trees made me jump out of my skin. It came at regular 5 second intervals and I thought I’d recorded it but realized when I got home that I had not pressed the start button. Research online confirmed that it was a barking Roe deer, probably warning others of my approach – it sounds very dog-like.

barking roe deer

Here we are in April, with lockdown appearing to recede, and Spring well-established, the blooms are beginning to open up, leaves are unfurling – it is the month of the growing season and thus aptly named: it is derived from the Latin word aperit, which means “to open”.

mayflower in April

Also, and more importantly to some, it’s also Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month, as well as National Soft Pretzel Month in the USA. And Edible Book Day is celebrated on April 1st – this is not an April Fool’s joke and is taken seriously by that voracious reader, the book worm.

wood anemone

The wood anemone was just beginning to carpet the ground, and the first bluebells were about to unfurl. It was a quiet and relaxing five kilometre walk after the initial “hart”- stopping  moment.

worm moon?

After last month’s Worm Moon, mentioned in last month’s blog and which was largely obscured by cloud, we may have better luck for the next two over the next two months, with a Pink Moon and a Flower Moon on the way. Wolf Moon (January), Snow Moon (February), Sturgeon Moon (August) and Beaver Moon (November) are just four of the monthly moons to look out for. But in order to avoid this blog becoming a lunar calendar, I must try and be as brief as possible and not get carried away (Yes, do try not to – Spiro).

pink moon

The Pink Moon supermoon will be at its peak on Tuesday, April 27 at 4.31am. The Flower Moon supermoon will be at its largest and brightest on Wednesday, May 26 at 12.13pm. The April and May full moons will both appear to loom large as the moon is at its closest points to Earth on its orbit. The Pink Moon, from the pink flowers – phlox – that bloom in the early spring, is also the Sprouting Grass Moon, Fish Moon or Hare Moon. The Old English/Anglo-Saxon name is Egg Moon. It is also known as the Paschal Moon because it is used to calculate the date for Easter. (OK, that’s quite enough – S.).

wavy fruit bowl

Right. Now the ceramics. Rummaging in the deepest recesses of the storage room is like going back in time. Waiting to see the light of day was a stack of stoneware wave bowls made some years ago and never sold. Spiro ( in charge of Marketing) says it is because they were not properly promoted for their practical use and that customers were perplexed by their description as “wave” bowls. Spiro wants to publicise them as fruit bowls and insists on the following description:

fruity feature

“A really stylish modern ceramic fruit bowl that looks great in any room of the house and can be used in so many ways. This amazing ceramic piece will make a stylish feature on a sideboard, dining room table or kitchen island. It also provides a sense of style to any contemporary space.”

stylish

I suppose I like them for their aesthetic qualities above all and prefer to see them as objects with visual impact, which, I keep telling Spiro, PAC followers do too. He is adamant that function comes before form. Anyway, this is his compromise:

fruit bowl with fruit

“No matter what kind of salad you serve up, this ceramic bowl is sure to make it look scrumptious! This simply designed tableware with its wavy brushstrokes in blue and green depicts a contemporary look with marine associations.  This bowl is perfect for everyday use or special occasions and along with the rest of the range can be used in infinite ways to suit your style. Material: glaze fired porcelain. Dishwasher, oven and microwave safe.”

Edible Book Day

I also found some chargers, or large round serving dishes, so both fruit bowls and chargers need to make room for new stock and will be displayed for sale in the garden at Oakland House, The Homend, Ledbury HR8 1AP from Saturday 18th to Sunday 19th April (10 – 5). They will be spaced out appropriately , but I assume there will not be more than six people together in the garden at any given time. If you want to purchase a bowl, put on a mask and knock on the kitchen door, either Spiro, or Thelonious, or I will serve you. Card or cash accepted. Prices range from £30 to £60.

wave bowl as birdbath

Anyone who’d like a piece but cannot travel, select the one you’d like and just send an email to info@peterarscott.co.uk  Shipping and packaging for UK will add £10.

a. 34 cms max width. 1.7k. £30

b. 42 cms width. 2.4k. £50

c. 42 cms width. 2.7 k. £50

d. 45 cms width. 3.7 k. £65

e. 40 cms width. 1.9 k. £45 Miró

f. 39 cms d. 3k. £40

g. 48 cms d. 4 k. £50

h. 42 cms d. 5 k. £45

 

i. 48 cms d. 5k. £60

Lastly, I thought you’d enjoy this video of a deer attacking a hunter. Just click on it:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

political pottery

wobbly shelf or shard luck?

Last week I walked into the studio and slammed the door behind me. There was a resounding crash. I knew then that I should have repaired the wobbly shelf that held stacks of three legged bowls. However, all potters develop a protective skin that steers them away from howling at the moon, so I swept it all up.

beyond glueing

I hope the night of March 28th is clear and cloudless because this month’s full moon, called the Full Worm Moon, is a “Supermoon”, the nickname given to a full moon when it’s closest to our planet. It’s named the Worm Moon due to the softening of the ground that typically happens in the spring that allows earthworms to emerge. And I couldn’t resist bringing worms into the blog again.

supermoon

But March in the UK is usually associated with the yellow splash of colour that daffodils provide, and we rather take them for granted.  I didn’t know that the word derives from “asphodel”, a variant of Middle English affodil, from Latin asphodelus.

daffs

Yes, we Brits do go on about our daffodils, but we’re not the only ones. They are also valued in China. They bloom around Chinese New Year, and symbolize good luck, prosperity, and good fortune. If the flowers bloom exactly on New Year’s Day, it means that you will have good luck for the entire year. The Feng Shui three legged Money Toad will also bring luck – in fact all things three legged are a good thing, unless they are on a wobbly shelf.

three legs = good luck

Now that we’re talking about China, I can remind you that this is a ceramics blog and that porcelain developed in China and exported to Europe was so named after its country of origin. Porcelain and china, by the way, are fired at a higher temperature than stoneware, which is what I use, but are made of a finer particle clay, which results in a thinner construction and more translucent body.

willow pattern story

So, still with China, many of you will be familiar with The Willow pattern. It is a distinctive and elaborate chinoiserie pattern popular at the end of the 18th century in England when, in its standard form, it was developed by ceramic artists adapting motifs inspired by fashionable hand-painted blue and white wares imported from China. Part of the marketing ploy, claims Spiro (in charge of Marketing at Peter Arscott Ceramics), was to come up with a good story to sell it.

the Duke arrives in his boat

This is the story: once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter. She fell in love with her father’s accounting assistant, angering her father. He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride.

the lovers escape, Dad with whip in hand

On the eve of the daughter’s wedding, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand, though it looks more like a ball and chain.

the lovers transformed

They eventually escaped on the Duke’s ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. He sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves

protest vase

I decided I would give the traditional pattern a more up-to-date interpretation. My visit to Hong Kong three years ago was an eye opener, and I enjoyed the vibrancy and energy of the place – click here to visit the blog – so with the suppression of free expression and democracy in Hong Kong and the repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang in mind, I made a willow pattern protest vase, since I feel strongly about the issue, and I am a potter. Instead of the doves, two helicopters, instead of the lovers escaping over the bridge, prisoners with guards. You get the idea :

Confucius said that an oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger.

And Confucius did not say the following:

 “Man who keeps both feet firmly planted on ground has trouble putting on pants.”

zaijian – 再见 (Goodbye)

December squelch

December from Bradlow Knoll

The month of December signals the full emergence of the cold winter season and, as the last month of the year, it promises a new beginning in January – who would not be looking forward to that?

into the woods

On the other hand, we’ve learnt to change our habits so much in 2020 that, as a result, bread-making, chess, virtual wine tasting, online bingo and TV bingeing may be on the up but to the detriment of other activities such as going to your local shop, meeting other humans and playing golf. I do go walking more though.

mud and leaf

Yes, there is always the great outdoors, and on this particular day the sum was out and the day crisp and bright as I made my way into the Frith. There was no point looking for colour other than the general grey-green-brown hues, no plants, no fungi, just the wet mud of the path and Autumn’s fallen leaves, lots of dead bracken and, somewhere high above, a croaking raven.

bracken

Most of the brown areas are the result of bracken. It was traditionally used for animal bedding which later breaks down into a mulch that can be used as fertilizer, and it’s best not eaten, as it contains a carcinogenic compound, though it is used to store freshly made ricotta cheese. Highly invasive, luckily in autumn it turns brown and dies down. Ferns are definitely prettier.

Cameron Contemporary Art Gallery

Walking in squelchy mud is tiring and forces one to use muscles you didn’t realize you had until you clamber into bed, aching and stiff. That night I slept as soon as my head touched the pillow. I dreamt of trees, squirrels, mud snorkeling and giant stoneware vases.

 

nocturnal advice

At some point, I woke up with a start. There, at the end of my bed, sat an old man with a long white beard. He wore a woven straw hat, so he wasn’t Father Christmas. There was a musky smell of sheep in the air. He looked at me and asked:

“Do you honestly think that they care that bracken was used for animal bedding?”

“Sorry?” I mumbled, “who are you?”

“Remember me?” he asked. “Come on. Your blog of November 2019?”

I searched my memory and suddenly it came to me.

“Ah, yes, of course. St Spyridon, patron saint of potters.”

“Spot on, though you did misspell my name on that blog.”

“How can I help?” I asked politely.

“I believe it’s the other way round. I am here to help you.”

“Oh, how?”

“You’re having trouble with your blog. It’s been preying on your mind, and last night before you fell asleep you muttered the words “hydrous aluminium phyllosilicates”. If these are the last words a potter says before sleep, I am duty-bound to make an appearance.”

“Well. It can’t happen very often then.”

“You’d be surprised how often a disturbed and troubled potter utters the magic words before drifting off.”

I sniffed the air, which was rude of me.

“Oh, I used to tend sheep before I became Bishop of Trymithous. That’s why I wear this shepherd’s hat. Anyway, your blog. You’re finding it increasingly difficult to relate its content to ceramics, when, after all, it’s meant to be a ceramics blog. Is that right?”

“Yes, I admit that.”

The Chuffed Store

“Your blogs tend to be text-heavy, filled with rambling non-sequiturs and partly related images. The last one was all about mushrooms.  I am here to provide a solution. Instead of trying to twist the text towards any ceramic-related narrative, I propose you write about whatever takes your fancy and intersperse that with unrelated images of your work. Each image, when clicked on, will link the viewer with details of the piece, where it can be bought, and for how much. The more images, the lighter the blog. Vision trumps all senses; the human brain can process entire images in as little as 13 milliseconds.”

Jewel Street

“Wow. You’re quite media savvy for a third century Greek monk. I suppose once you get to Heaven you absorb everything past, present and future, and take on a wisdom beyond anything human.”

“Natch. By the way, how many followers do you have?”

“Well, seven that I know of,” I hesitated, then added pathetically “not including my wife and mum, of course.”

Jewel Street

Wanting to change the subject I asked:

“So, who else have you helped in this way?”

“Oh, I gave Josiah Wedgwood a hand with his marketing, Bernard Leach too, Kawai Kanjirō, Pablo Picasso…”

“Gosh, all that knowledge at your fingertips.”

“Yes, but there are limitations. We get given one luxury when we arrive at the Pearly Gates but this is restricted to each person’s contemporary experience and era. So, for example, my friend Albert Schweitzer has a gigantic church organ, Siggy Freud has a gramophone player, Nelson Mandela has a constant supply of Dom Pérignon, and so on. Alas, I could not have any of these because they did not exist in my time.”

“So what did you choose?”

“Goat’s yoghurt. I’ve always had a passion for it, and it was considered the height of indulgence in my day.”

“But presumably you can share things, listen to Freud’s records, sip Nelson’s champagne…?”

“Yes, true. Albert is teaching me the organ, though, of course…… for a fee.”

“You use currency there?”

“No, we exchange things.”

“So how do you pay Mr Schweitzer?”

“In yoghurt.”

Jewel Street

St Spyridon raised a hand and signalled the end of our conversation.

“I will only appear when genuinely needed. It’s no good muttering “hydrous aluminium phyllosilicates” unless you have a real potter’s dilemma, otherwise I’d be forever at the beck and call of potters.”

He stood up and waved, then slowly disappeared through the bedroom wall.

The Chuffed Store

Later my wife woke up and, despite my protestations, accused me of allowing sheep into the house while she was asleep.

Parfum d’Ovine

Just click on the images of ceramics to find out more about each piece. Jewel Street is a new outlet you might like to visit, and if you do want to buy a three legged bowl for Christmas the voucher code is PETERARSCOTT10, which will get you a £10 discount. St Spyridon is full of ideas. Meanwhile, back in the workshop, recently made up vases are drying in readiness for their bisque firing in a few days.

waiting for the kiln


αντιο σας

Fungus

image of ceramic pot in 192os setting of Haslington House in Malvern

Star vase at Haslington House. Photo Amanda Jackson

After driving to Upper Colwall to deliver a vase for a photo shoot at Haslington House for the Chuffed Store‘s Christmas catalogue (well it is November), and after gazing down at the counties of Herefordshire on the West and Gloucestershire on the East side of the hill, I was inspired and needed a walk.

portrait of King Alfred

This is King Alfred

A damp and overcast day for a walk in the Frith Wood, but this time in the company of son and daughter-in-law, which shifts the dynamics from the usual meandering inattention of two eyes to the more stimulated and observant six, focussing on all things mycological. Both are keen fungus foragers and they know how and where to look, pointing out all sorts of strange little outgrowths along a track I had only been along two days ago without spotting anything unfamiliar. Even before entering the wood at the top of Bradlow Hill , in the sloping meadow just a few feet from Chris Johnson’s bench, they noticed a large Parasol mushroom.

Parasol mushroom held by hand

Parasol

WARNING. Dear reader, one way of minimising the risk of poisoning by Parasol-like mushrooms is to steer clear of any specimens with caps smaller than 10cm across when fully expanded, so avoid small specimens. The other, better, way to reduce to zero the risk of harm is to not take any of this blog as trustworthy – remember that I am a ceramicist and I know as much about mycology as a fish does about bicycle gears. Which reminds me that this is meant to be a ceramics blog and I don’t know how I’m going to link mushrooms to pottery.

stinkhorn fungus

This is not a Parasol. It is a Stinkhorn.

Anyway, keep in mind that all fungi deteriorate in flavour and texture as they age (don’t we all). This Parasol was obviously way past its sell-by date, so we didn’t take it home.  Experts recommend gathering Parasols at the ‘partly expanded umbrella’ stages of development before putting them in a pan and frying them in butter. Keep the stems chopped up for mushroom soup.

small stump puffballs

Stump Puffballs.

Just behind the C.J.’s bench was a cluster of Stump Puffballs. Must be eaten while the flesh is white throughout (they can be fried with onions or used to make soup) and its best to leave “mature” ones alone, once they have a darker or brown surface, they are inedible. However, even when young, the tough outer skin needs to be removed – a fiddly job – and if any are turning yellow it means they are maturing and should be chucked out. At the end of the cooking session you may want to throw them all out and nip down to Tesco for a bag of button mushrooms.

Blood Red Web Cap mushroom

Blood Red Web Cap

Rosy Bonnet mushroom

The Rosy Bonnet

Once into the Frith and its murky light, some of the fungus we came across are quite ugly, others bizarre, but they play an important role within our ecosystems, helping to recycle nutrients from dead or decaying organic matter, and providing food and shelter for different animals. A pile of old logs in your garden will encourage fungi and the wildlife that depends on them. Some are strangely beautiful in their own right, and the Wood Blewitt is one, the Blood Red Web Cap another, the Rosy Bonnet, the Amethyst Deceiver… by the way, the images of mushrooms and fungi held to the camera by a hand with red painted nails, that’s my daughter-in-law’s and not my son’s.

The Blewitt mushroom

Sordid Blewitt

In many parts of mainland Europe, Wood Blewits are available in supermarkets throughout most of the autumn and winter months, and they are particularly popular in France, Spain and Portugal. Young caps are best, and they have the added advantage of retaining their bluish colouring as an aid to identification. They are very good if sauteed and served with veal, pork or chicken; they are also fine with cheese, rice and pasta dishes.

the jelly-like Witch's Butter fungus

Witch’s Butter

What about the Yellow Brain or Witch’s butter?  According to European legend, if Yellow Brain fungus appeared on the gate or door of a house it meant that a witch had cast a spell on the family living there. The only way the spell could be removed was by piercing the fungus several times with straight pins until it went away.

Honey Fungus growing at the base of a tree

The Honey Fungus

The Honey Fungus can be a destructive forest microorganism since it causes “white rot” root disease. It also feeds on dead plant material, allowing it to kill its host, unlike parasites that moderate their own growth to avoid host death – so they are bad news if they appear in your garden. In parts of Europe it is highly prized and ranked above Morels and Chanterelles for their distinctive “mushroomy” and nutty flavour.  On the other hand, the largest known organism in the world is a Honey Fungus that spans over 8.9km2 in Oregon. It is estimated to be 2400 years old. Yes, the largest living thing on Earth is a humongous fungus.

The cup-like Polyporus grows on dead wood

Polyporus Varius

The Polypore fungus is one of the good guys. It is an indicator species of healthy natural forests, and Ötzi the Iceman, who lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE and was found in the Similaun mountains of Austria in 1991, was carrying a polypore species, probably for medicinal use.

King Alfred's Cake fungus looks like a lump of coal

King Alfred’s Cake

We came across the inedible King Alfred’s Cake, or Cramp Ball, or Carbon Ball, which it resembles. I expect you all know the legend of King Alfred (b 871) who once hid out in a countryside cottage during a battle and was put in charge of removing cakes from the oven when they were done. He fell asleep and the cakes burned and when the old lady of the house returned, she beat him with her broom. The fungus is said to resemble a charred cake. The fungus is a useful form of tinder for fire-lighting. you can drop a spark on to the inside surface and if you are successful you will see a small orange glow begin to form and spread throughout the fungus, similar to a charcoal briquette. 

An opened chestnut burr reveals two chestnuts

Open chestnut burr

Underneath the spreading chestnut tree

I loved him and he loved me

There I used to sit upon his knee

‘Neath the spreading chestnut tree…..

There beneath the boughs make no mistake

Good Queen Bess play darts with Drake

Watching Alfred burn the birthday cakes

‘Neath the spreading chestnut tree.

(click here to hear Glenn Miller’s famous version)

A Hungarian dessert made from chestnut and cream

gesztenyepüré

A significant percentage of the trees in the Frith is chestnut. The ground in the wood is littered with fallen chestnuts and opened burrs, many already nibbled by that nemesis of all saplings, the grey squirrel, who strip bark from them when the tree is about eight years old and onwards. It might be the vitamin C they’re after to set them up for winter since the chestnut is the only “nut” that contains that vitamin. Roasting the fruit involves scoring the fruit beforehand to prevent explosion due to expansion in the oven. Once cooked, its texture is slightly similar to that of a baked potato, with a delicate, sweet, and nutty flavour. In Hungary they puree cooked chestnuts mix them with sugar and rum, force it through a sieve and top it with whipped cream: gesztenyepüré (go on, say it). 

the lobe-shaped Jelly Ear fungus

Jelly Easr fungus

the brain-like underside of the Maze Gill fungus

the porous underside of a Maze Gill fungus

It may be that now that Autumn is here the variety and colour of the flora in and around the wood has diminished, but the incredible array of what so often goes unnoticed is exceptional. I’m only posting some of the photos taken – there are actually twenty six images of different mushrooms and fungi from this one walk: a whole world below knee height.

A cluster of small ink cap mushrooms

Ink Caps

The black mess left after the Ink Cap mushroom rots used to be used as ink after boiling with a little water and cloves, and, of course, a splash of urine. Also, be warned: it can cause sickness when ingested with alcohol, so do not combine mushroom hunting with a pub crawl.

a small white Yellow Stainer mushroom

Yellow Stainer

Not recommended, the Yellow Stainer can cause stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, sweating and diarrhoea. It looks as if something had a nibble of the one above.

image of large ceramic pot with moon-shaped lid

Big Blue

Many fungi, like the Witch’s Butter fungus, are lobed. A lobe is a curved or somewhat rounded projection or division of a bodily part. Behold: a large blue stoneware piece with four lobes at the base and a moon lid. Hmmm, a tenuous link, but if one of you come up with a better one, as I’m sure you will, I will include it.

Read more

Tree Music

Chris Johnson’s bench

With more than a hint of Autumn in the air, despite some bright days and clear skies, another long walk in the woods around Ledbury is a good reason to see the subtle changes in the landscape, if any, and a chance to take the steep hill climb up to Bradlow Knoll and to pay my respects to a person taken away from us much too soon.

the long slog uphill

Chris Johnson was an energetic, helpful and community-minded human being – kind, generous with his time and always full of ideas, and very much a man with a lot of understanding and respect for Nature. It’s fitting that there is now a beautifully-made oak bench in his memory at the top of the hill, with a view of Ledbury, Herefordshire and the country beyond that includes the Vale of Evesham and the Cotswolds. It’s a boon to the breathless walker and to his or her backside, and as I sat there, I thought that next time I’d bring a bottle of wine and a glass to raise to the horizon.

Thinking about it, it would be more sensible to have a companion or two; a whole bottle to oneself might lead to calamity in the woods, falling into badger setts, getting tangled up in blackberry bushes, falling asleep under a chestnut tree and waking up to concerned faces looking down at you. Nowadays, any danger lurking in a wood is mainly self-inflicted, I mean, we don’t really have to worry about vicious footpads or brigands waiting with loaded pistols, do we? Though I admit that when you are alone in the woods your imagination can run away with you, specially if there’s a wind blowing. The trees creak, rustlings noises arise then disappear, stuff scuttles about at foot level and the birds fall silent.

The wind in the trees brought to mind Robert Frost’s poem, The Sound of Trees:

” I wonder about the trees.

Why do we wish to bear

Forever the noise of these

More than another noise

So close to our dwelling place?…”

stuff underfoot

It struck me that the sound of wind in trees is a little like that of waves on a beach, except that, having listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme on the subject (it was with the poet Alison Brackenbury), there’s no doubt that the tenor of the music varies depending on the types of trees. The sound I recorded was of wind gusting through tall pines – turn your volume up and have a listen by clicking the video below.  My mobile had run out of juice by the time I got to a clump of robust oak trees otherwise you’d hear a subtly different song, given their squatter trunks, their more twisted branches and bigger leaves.

Click here for video

Further on into Frith Wood I encountered an angry chattering coming from an oak. A sure sign of approaching Autumn is that territorial denizen of the trees, the squirrel, challenging whoever threatens their patch.  This one was not visible but certainly did not want me anywhere near it. I had noticed, scattered all over the path, a lot of empty chestnut shells or burrs, which I assume is a favourite of any self-respecting Nutkin.

A burr in hand…

I have a friend who dislikes squirrels because of the damage they inflict on saplings and fruit trees, so he controls their numbers with an occasional cull. Nothing goes to waste since he eats them, though he maintains the flesh is dense and rather flavourless, and therefore best cooked in a stew.

Click here for squirrel chatter

Before you get too upset, they give as good as they get and though squirrels are primarily herbivores, they are capable of feasting on small birds and rodents, as well as eggs. There has also been at least one 2005 report of squirrels preying on other animals, such as an incident where a pack of black squirrels killed and ate a large, stray dog in Lazo, Russia.

star vase with dried artichokes

The fact that a squirrel was not chuffed to see me reminded me that this blog is meant to be about ceramics as much as anything else, so I am thrilled, pleased and gratified that a new outlet for Peter Arscott Ceramics (PAC) is promoting a good array of vases and bowls. It is the online Chuffed Store, which I urge you to visit. It’s new and only recently set up. Its products are made and produced in the British Isles. It has a magpie approach to everything: this week there is a section on letter-writing by writer and artist David Thomas. You can also Meet the Maker, who happens to be yours truly. Click here.

horned vase

Back to chestnuts and, sidestepping the issue of young trees being damaged by squirrels, my research found that the world’s oldest known chestnut tree grows on Mount Etna in Sicily and is said to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old. It is the Hundred-Horse Chestnut (Castagno dei Cento Cavalli) – the name originates from a legend in which a queen of Aragon and her company of a hundred knights were caught in a severe thunderstorm and took shelter under the tree.

pencil sketch by unknown artist 1872

The nuts are a rich source of vitamins C (the only nut that is) and B, and minerals including magnesium, potassium and iron. Their high level of starch is similar to that of wheat and twice as high as the potato, and they can be baked, roasted, boiled or microwaved. Remember to score a cross in them to stop them from exploding when they are cooked. Enraged squirrels and exploding chestnuts – the woods just keep getting more dangerous.

At this time of year the landscape takes on a monotone quality that is only sparked off once the leaves start turning, so I was looking for some colour that caught my eye and I came across a clump of pink flowers which I assume is red campion, but one of you will correct me if wrong. I also saw these “berries”, each one growing at the end of its own twig, and could not work out whether it was a shrub or a tree. These small berries (or drupes) have a rounded four-quartered shape to them.  What is it?

red campion

 

mystery solved: a Spindle tree

Keep well. And on the subject of trees, I’m off to empty half a bottle of maple syrup sent by a good friend in New England onto some vanilla ice cream. It’s tapped from his own maple trees, but sadly I can’t reciprocate with our own plum jam because our tree yielded only seven plums. I blame the squirrels.

Read more

Clay is good for you

view of ledbury from Bradlow Knoll
May Hill on the horizon

You can see May Hill on the horizon when you stand on Bradlow Knoll and look down towards Ledbury and the Cotswolds beyond. In the image you can see it slightly to the left of centre, with its distinctive clump of pines standing out from this distance like a pimple, It is where Edward Thomas wrote his poem Words, not long before Ledbury-born John Masefield referred to the outline of the pines in his Everlasting Mercy:

I’ve marked the May Hill ploughman stay

Here on his hill, day after day

Driving his team against the sky

charcoal drawing of Mayhill in Glouycestershire
Mayhill ploughman (imagined)

I don’t know about Masefield, but Thomas was certainly a great walker and I often wonder if he ever took this path. If he did, I’m sure he took it in his stride.  I am not a hypochondriac but every time I climb the hill to Bradlow Knoll to reward myself with the view of Ledbury I seem to need a longer break to recover my breath and my heart thumps away even more in protest at what I am making it do. A few days ago I sat by the top gate gasping away and thinking of how complex the machinery of our body is, and how all our bits and pieces are connected, rather like an engine – you know, the lungs draw in air and deliver oxygen to our blood, the blood circulates thanks to the heart pumping away, the kidneys clean the blood of toxins, and so on. I thought that if my body were an engine then it would be a second hand and slightly rusty ford escort given to early morning ignition problems and always needing an oil change.

image of small toy car
ol’ engine

And sometimes I feel like some ol’ engine, gone and lost my driving wheel, as Tom Rush sang all those years ago, but really it is an excuse to give you a link to the great song if you click here.

cool, dank and very quiet

And where is this going, and where is the connection to ceramics? I do not know yet, but nevertheless, and in the meantime, let me continue with our bodies, their complex needs and some of the problems to which they give rise: ulcers, sore throats, haemorrhoids, high blood pressure, allergies, for example. Well, having got my breath back, I turned away from the panorama at my feet and entered Frith Wood – cool, dank and very quiet – and came across a lot of these small mauve plants growing low to the ground. Self-heal, heal-all, slough-heal and woundwort are all common names for prunella vulgaris, and it is said to help cure all the above, as well as burns, insect bites and herpes.

prunella vulgaris

It is mainly used for sore throats, even severe ones like quinsy, which is an abscess of the tonsils. It is good as a hot tea at the beginning stages of a cold with sore throat. Apparently, self-heal tastes slightly bitter and slightly sweet with a hint of rosemary.

Are ceramics as good for you as prunella vulgaris? Well, potters are the only people, other than children, who play with mud, a base material that is malleable, sensuous and expressive, and, as a result, I reckon the feel-good factor plays a part in reducing stress. Making a clay pot and drinking a self-heal tea is a perfect combination that will lead to improving your quality of life.

dish with knife and fork with lump of clay in middle to illustrate geophagia
geophagia

Now, do not get confused and start putting clay in your mouth instead of the tea. Pregnant women sometimes crave dirt, clay or charcoal if their bodies are deficient in key minerals but geophagia, as it is called, is best avoided.

Ruby my dear – irrelevant, but I wanted some colour

Clay comes in many varieties for the potter. The type one uses depends on the firing temperature, and mine is high so I use stoneware, and because I am a slab potter, I need a certain robust quality which grog provides, tiny pieces of malachite or firesand or chamotte, which has a high percentage of alumina. Anyway, it may taste OK  but I do not even take furtive licks. Quartz, feldspar, mica and kaolinite are other minerals you may find in stoneware. Since I fire my pieces at 1275°, they are vitrified and entirely food safe once glazed, and you can then lick them without harm.

meandering tree design / Coastal Gallery

All this walking in the wood seems to have somehow crept into the vases, a fusion of Paul Klee and a meandering rambling design. This one above can be seen at the Coastal Gallery in Lymington. Click here.

do not lick

By way of contrast, there is ragwort. I came across this clump in a clearing near the edge of the wood. Ragwort is a tall erect plant bearing large flat-topped clusters of yellow daisy-like flowers. Do not lick them! Cattle and horses are particularly susceptible to its poisoning.

A type of ragwort was introduced into the UK from the slopes of Mount Etna around 1690 via the Oxford Botanic Garden where, following many years of cultivation, it  ‘escaped’ and could be found growing in the masonry of Oxford colleges and walls. During the Industrial Revolution, Oxford became a thriving railway centre and Oxford ragwort found a new habitat in the clinker beds of the railway lines that fanned out of Oxford to all parts of the country. The clinker providing the plant with a replica of the lava-soils of its native home in Sicily and, to be fair, it should not be confused with the common ragwort. I do not know which type the Frith Wood ragwort is. Perhaps Bridget of Malvern or another of you botanical savants could tell me.

stinking Bob

Please forgive my botanical meanderings. I just love the names. Herb-Robert is a quick growing plant with explosive seed pods which if allowed to flower, will spread rapidly over a wide area. Also known as red robin, death come quickly, storksbill, fox geranium, stinking Bob, squinter-pip, crow’s foot. Fabulous names.

Autumn cocktail

There was a lot of bramble about, just beginning to flower, so the blackberries will be out by September. To look forward to this I suggest a Bramble cocktail, to be made when the hedgerows are groaning with ripe fruit.  Start by squashing six  blackberries in a sturdy glass. Add 50ml of good gin, 25ml lemon juice, 25ml sugar syrup (you can just dissolve some sugar in water) and fill the glass two thirds with crushed ice. Mix with a long-handled spoon. Top with more crushed ice, a blackberry and a paper straw.

three legged bowl at Bevere Gallery. Click here

I always try to say no to gin – but it’s 42.5% stronger than me.

landscape vase

Free ceramic pieces

Hello all. Those of you who live near the studio can help yourselves to a ceramic piece if you are passing by the house. As you can see from the view from The Homend, all you have to do is climb four steps and take a vase or bowl. They are all rejects – some have hairline cracks, others are wonky , some cannot stand up straight and some are plug ugly. They are all frost proof and can be used in the garden.

Address: Oakland House, The Homend, Ledbury HR8 1AP. There will be a donation yoghurt pot – all proceeds will go to CUP Ceramic Community in Hereford

help yourself

The winner of the three legged bowl (see previous blog) identified three birds correctly: great tit, blue tit, cock pheasant. The fourth was a black cap. The winner is a Mr A.Lloyd of London. Well done.