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Sizzle v Sausage

Wave vase

Are you as confused as we are with emojis of giraffes in sunglasses, smiling coiled poos and aubergines? Well, relax. It’s just that the world of our cultural references is becoming increasingly visually based, that’s all. It’s a cliché that a picture tells a thousand stories, but what writing can surpass the photo of the workmen having lunch atop a skyscraper, or of the tank man of Tiananmen Square, or of the sailor kissing the girl in Times Square?

Segment vase

Which leads me to the more mundane issue of imagery and marketing. Images act as storytellers.  You can evoke an emotion by using a high-quality image that can then draw visitors to your website. They will take in the image, and in a split second decide whether the rest of your site is going to be relevant to them.

Eric

Though a long-standing colleague and friend says “it’s the sausage in the frying pan, not the sizzle that counts”, obviously using the image of a nightingale singing, or of Michelangelo’s David with tulips growing out of his head, or of a fat rat called Eric, or of a Hereford cow, or of a fish with an Elvis hairstyle, is not really going to encourage a visitor who is interested in ceramics to keep on clicking. All of which Peter Arscott Ceramics has been guilty of, despite warnings from Spiro, Head of Marketing.

Which explains the images at the top of this blog – visually stunning compositions that have been set up, photographed and edited by someone who knows her craft – click here for a link to her site. Your eyes stay on it that little bit longer, and that extra nano-second may be the difference between leaving or continuing. A post on social media accompanied by an image is ten times likelier to receive engagement.

Willow Pattern Protest Vase at the Oxmarket

It turns out that a big chunk of our brain spends its time in visual processing, in part because images can grab our attention so easily. When you clicked onto this blog, did you immediately start reading or did you look at the photos first? The theory is that our visual senses are the most active because quick processing of visual information would have saved our ancestors from an attack by a predator.

Willow Pattern Protest Vase (verso) at the Oxmarket

A quick visit to Chichester via the M3 and A27 is a real test of anybody’s visual processing: looking out for signs at the spaghetti-like interchanges and dealing with predatory lorries on their way to Southampton docks is a bit like going on a hunting expedition. One of our ceramics has been chosen for exhibition at the Oxmarket Open and had to be delivered to the Oxmarket Gallery, a deconsecrated church formerly St Andrew’s, in the heart of the city, and beautifully redesigned as an Arts centre.  The piece in question is a Willow Pattern Protest Vase – see relevant blog here.

The good news its that the ceramic was chosen as one of the joint winners of the Applied Arts Prize, selected by glass artist Adam Aaronson: an exhibition of ceramics in 2023 awaits. Watch this space. The other winner is Jane Eastell, whose instagram handle is @thepotterycabin_lm.

One of the few things saved from the redundant parish church of St Andrew, Oxmarket, was the memorial to John Cawley, which was moved to the cathedral where you can see it now. He was thrice Mayor of Chichester, and his son William (d. 1666) is also commemorated. William was a philanthropist and a staunch republican, signing Charles I’s death warrant. I think Cawley Senior’s expression is priceless, and probably not one that is meant to convey goggle-eyed confusion, but I can’t help feeling I’ve met him somewhere before..

I’ve resisted the temptation to sign off with a relevant limerick that starts with “there was a young woman from Chichester, who made all the saints in their niches stir…” because Spiro says it is too lewd. Instead, why not visit the cathedral which has a stained glass window by Mark Chagal, a tapestry by John Piper and a painting by Graham Sutherland amongst its collection of art.

But of all the monuments, the Arundel tomb is the best known – the inspiration for Philip Larkin’s poem of that name, and even though he himself said that love isn’t stronger than death just because statues hold hands for six hundred years, we can’t help reading the poem in that way:

… the stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

 And drop in to see the Willow Pattern protest vase too.

Disgruntled staff and fundraising

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

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

Spyridon, Thelonious and Ziggy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a hushed silence in the studio.

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

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

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

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

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

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

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

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

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

John Keats by William Hilton, National Portrait Gallery

Ceramics – Form or Function

St John’s Wood in London. Most people think of Lord’s Cricket ground and long sunny evenings watching a game and sipping beer, or perhaps a stroll through beautiful Regent’s Park. Others conjure up the image of the Beatles on the now famous zebra crossing  outside Abbey Road studios – those old enough will remember the mystery surrounding the image and  the rumours of Paul’s death; after all, why else would he be barefoot, and doesn’t George represent  the carpenter who made the coffin, John the religious figure conducting the ceremony, Ringo the undertaker?  However, I mention it because like all zebra crossings, it is black and white, and thus a clumsy introduction to my theme. Bear with me.

I still do not know for sure whether those of you who buy Peter Arscott Ceramics (PAC) do so because you want a vase in the house to put flowers in, or whether you just want the piece because it’s a particular colour and shape you find attractive, or eye-catching, its use as a vase thus being secondary. I suspect it is the latter.

Monochrome vase at Cecilia Colman Gallery

All this head-scratching comes from one piece which a lot of people do not like, while others do. For starters it is unlike the typical PAC piece in that it’s black and white, and its shape or form does not seek a harmonious balance in the whole, but rather rejects it. All of which makes it sound like sculpture, which it is not – it’s still a vase.

Monochrome vase, verso.

As you probably already know, at PAC each piece is made by hand, each piece is a unique one-off since nothing is made twice, nor is function strictly observed – the pot or vase is seen as a form you can play with, PAC having moved away from the potter’s wheel to focus on hand-built forms, as this technique allows much more freedom for expression.

Vine vase at Cecilai Colman Gallery

Some of the pieces have a singular lop-sided stance; improvisation takes place either in cutting out the rolled clay shapes, or later when painting oxides onto their surfaces. The approach to clay is that of a painter’s, and the forms arrived at often work as sculptures or as shaped surfaces with paintings. In other words, its function as a vase is secondary when being made.

Frond vase at Cecilia Colman Gallery

Now, if you want something to perform a function, you want it to perform well. If it doesn’t, you’re probably going to stop using it or ask for your money back, no matter how good it looks. This has yet to be a problem at PAC – never has a vase been returned because it hasn’t functioned as a vase. However, if you hate the way a product looks, you’re less likely to buy it in the first place.

Vase 54 at Cecilia Colman Gallerey

The main distinction between art and design is that design must have a purpose. Art can have no other reason for existing other than to be to viewed, say, or experienced (probably contentious, but some of you will let me know). However, design requires a function. If the design is visually striking, then it may also be dipping its toes in the ocean of art, because often art and design overlap. However, without function, it’s just form – it’s not design but art.

Dave as flower pot

Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. Your eyes tell you whether you like it or not – and that is that. So, if you are in London, go to Cecilia Colman’s gallery and test your eyes. Cecilia is showing some PAC ceramics, including the much maligned monochrome piece. See what you think. You could combine it with a visit to Regent’s Park Zoo, or a nice meal out at one of the restaurants on St John’s Wood High Street (nearest underground station is St John’s Wood).

Ming Dynasty, Jiajing: 1522 – 1666

Of course, you will know if a piece is a genuine Peter Arscott Ceramic by the stamp on the bottom of each piece. Stamps are important for dating and authenticating ceramics. The one above belongs to the time of Jiajing’s reign, a man infatuated with women, known to be a cruel emperor who lived in isolation while ignoring state affairs. This eventually led to corruption at all levels of the Ming government, and to a plot by his concubines to assassinate him in 1542, by strangling him while he slept. Sadly, the plot failed and all of the concubines were executed.

Peter Arscott Ceramics, 2022,

The next stamp above is of the early 21st century, probably during the reign of Jon Son, a man who survived many plots, and belongs to a small ceramic workshop based in Herefordshire that produced rare, unique and now much sought-after vases in stoneware.

Cecilia Colman gallery – over 40 years of experience

Having mentioned The Beatles, it is only fair to finish with The Rolling Stones whose 1965 song “Play with Fire” contains the following lyrics:

Your mother she’s an heiress, owns a block in Saint John’s Wood
And your father’d be there with her
If he only could

Click here to hear them sing it.

Spring ceramics

This blog usually begins with a view from Bradlow Knoll looking down towards Ledbury, accompanied by text complaining about the effort required to get to the top. This time, for a change, behold the view looking up towards the Knoll – disappointingly, the hill does not look so challenging  in the photo, but it is a slog. Honest.

Spring vase

This is meant to be a ceramics blog, but I sometimes find myself meandering away from the subject and end up finding out about things I had little or no idea about. Then I feel I have to share it all with you, dear reader. This time I delved into the world of rats because they are so evident outside and inside the house, but before I deal with them, if the following comes across as a Latin lesson, please forgive me:

image Wikipedia

Equinox, the time or date (twice each year) at which the sun crosses the equator, when day and night are of approximately equal length (22 September and 20 March). Either of the two occasions in the year when the centre of the sun is directly above the equator, and day and night are equal in length, thus “equi” (from Latin “aequuus”, meaning equal, and “nox” meaning night). In case you are asking, the solstice is the longest and shortest day of the year.

Persephone – Greek goddess of Spring (photo Wikipedia)

In the northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox marks the first day of spring and occurs when the sun moves north across the equator – “vernal” comes from the Latin word ver, meaning “spring.” Here endeth the lesson. Why am I telling you all this?

Spring vase at Palais des Vaches

Because the Coastal Gallery in Lymington  is collaborating with the Palais des Vaches in Exbury (Hampshire) and putting on a show of paintings, sculptures and ceramics to celebrate the Spring Equinox. The private view is on Friday 18th March, 5 – 8.30pm, and the exhibition continues Saturday 19th – Sunday 20th March, 11am – 4pm. Otherwise it is by appointment only.

Close-up of Spring animals on vase

The pieces commissioned are meant to reflect abundance, green shoots, and Spring in general (thus the images of bunnies, hedgehogs and birds in parts of the vases, don’t know what the teapot is doing there). Do have a look if you live nearby.

Thicket vase at the Palais des Vaches

Ah, Spring. When air temperatures rise, life is primed and ready to go. Sap is rising, supplying the energy needed to grow new shoots and leaves. Animals become active — arising from winter sleep, migrating, breeding.

Tendril vase at the Palais des Vaches

However, rats do not have a real breeding season.  if they are all warm and tucked up in your cellar or attic, that is the perfect setting for continuous breeding. My research shows that a female rat can be ready to re-conceive immediately after giving birth. At home they can be seen running between the yew tree and the cellar, lurking behind raised beds and sometimes climbing up and having a go at the bird food. They can often be heard scratching behind the skirting boards in the sitting room. I say “they” now, because in my naivety I first thought it was just one rat called Eric.

Eric – enormouse

I have an air rifle and I admit I took a shot at Eric, and thought I’d got him, but he soon reappeared, mocking me with his tubby gait and air of nonchalance. Shocked that I could even think of taking a life, even a rat’s, my colleague, the poet Brenda Read-Brown, wrote a poem, as a result of which I have pledged not to shoot Eric:

Making a living (by Brenda Read-Brown)

The shotgun’s missing from its mount.
It’s by his side, he says, ready
to kill the rat. It’s a big one, he says.
And in the basement, a sleek intelligence
plans a raid, sets the alarm
for its nightshift, behaves
like early man, who had to hunt
to live; does what it can
to keep its fur from red spatter,
its guts intact and full,
its family fed.
It only wants the things that matter:
cast-off crumbs of bread;
a roof over its head.
It’s willing to work, to creep,
to hide and run.

The man leaves his post today;
buys his food, takes his car through a wash
crewed by thin-faced strangers
who won’t meet his gaze;
men willing to work, to beg,
to hide and run.
Men who know the meaning
of a gun.

And now a complete change of subject. Scribble is an online venue for flash (very short) and short fiction. This eclectic journal is open to literary fiction and all fiction genres with a literary approach, and has published a short story called Last Outing by yours truly – if you’d like to read it, click here. It’s about an old aunt being taken out for lunch.

Any further developments regarding Eric will be reported. For now, he is just a fortunate rodent unaware of the power of poetry to change lives, even small furry ones.

 

Eunice done me wrong

Storm brewing over Ledbury

The consequences of humans evolving bipedalism from a body designed to walk on four, not two, legs, include the effort required to climb a hill without running out of puff. This is what walking up to Bradlow Knoll entails – back pain, breathlessness, and aching thighs, but the reward awaits, no matter what the weather: the view down to Ledbury and beyond, though it looked ominous and buffeted by winds.

Final hurdle

But it would be easier on four legs. The fact that it is a “knoll”, which means low hill or hillock, somehow adds insult to injury. It feels more like a smallish mountain, or at least a steep hill. What’s more, when you make it to the top you are ambushed by the fifty extra steps required once in the wood to get to the very top.

Two legs good

Bipedalism. It seems that thousands of years ago our pelvis shortened, the thighs became longer, the angle of the thigh bone changed to point inwards allowing the knees to come together under our centre of gravity, allowing us to stand for a long period without getting tired. The spine curved into an S-shape helping to support the head and creating balance. Oh, and we lost our body hair.

Moe

The disadvantages of standing on two legs?  More pressure put on our spine and on our knees. The vertical position of the spine makes it more prone to back injuries. It’s also much harder on the heart and its vessels to pump blood to the entire body. And the big heavy head our spine has to carry, no wonder we lose our balance and fall when we get older.

Bighead

In the case of Moe, my bedside table mascot, he can only stand upright if his feet are wedged at an angle behind the table, otherwise his head, being too heavy for the design, forces him to collapse. Who is Moe? Those of us of a certain generation may remember Larry, Moe and Curly Joe who had us laughing when we were six or seven. Not sure their vaudeville humour has survived with time, but there is a certain nostalgia seeing them poke each other’s eyes and indulge in slapstick. Click here for The Three Stooges .

Fingers – one of the benefits of bipedalism

On the other hand, walking upright frees the hands for carrying your important tools like your mobile phone, for social display and communication like when you feel the need to welcome or insult somebody, but, most importantly, for making pots out of clay – there’s no doubt that would be difficult on all fours. Having fingers also helps.

Eunice did it

The fragility of the human frame and what it has to put up with (stress, weight, temperatures, balance) leads me, of course, to ceramics. All this was uppermost on the day of the climb to the knoll. It was cold and windy but not yet a storm. That was to come a few days later in the guise of Storm Dudley, very much a milksop of a squall compared with his successor a few days later – Storm Eunice. Presumably the next one will be a male name starting with “F” – Fred, Finnegan, Fernando, Finbar? Well, while writing this, Storm Franklyn blew in and is at the moment playing havoc with the tree in the garden. The news says there’s another on the way, and it’s called Gladys. Dudley, Eunice, Franklyn and Gladys – sounds like a polite tea party at an old people’s home.

Large Block vase

 

Large Block vase stress fracture

It was Eunice who knocked over a big garden vase, but sometimes it is the potter who is the culprit, as in the case of the large block vase. By not allowing its thick stoneware time to dry slowly and completely, sections of it dried at different times creating stress fractures that only became visible after firing. It is now useless and will be relegated to garden duties.

Big Spring vase

Big Spring vase

Sometimes the fractures are made when the potter is manipulating the clay too much, as when adjusting a handle onto the body of a vase, which is what happened with this Big Spring vase.

Big Spring vase close-up

Still on the subject of bipedalism, cows have four legs, as is well known, but not feet. They have hooves – hard, good for long distances. Good in almost any environment except sharp rocks. Very little maintenance needed. I mention them because Arscott Ceramics will be exhibiting some work at the Palais des Vaches near Southampton opening on 18th March, in collaboration with the Coastal Gallery. More about that in the next blog, but if you are nearby on the day do pencil it in your diary.

Tendril vase at the Palais des Vaches

Why do cows have hooves? Because they lactose.

I wonder if at this rate we’ll get to Storm Zebedia this year? Anyway, keep well and don’t forget to pencil in the Equinox exhibition at the Palais, which is in Hampshire, and as everybody knows, in Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly happen. So you’d be safe from the wind.

 

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)