Its been just over two months since we all arrived in Middleport, starry eyed and eager to begin. Today is my first Gallery shift, and therefore my first blog. I thought I would present a day in the life.
Friday, 18th November.
We are going to be having Josie Walter in giving us a masterclass. We arrive in dribs and drabs and congregate in the kitchen, coffee poured and steaming dry by the radiators. Josie arrives and we quickly assemble and settle with our notebooks and coffee dregs.
Listening to Josie speaking about her journey and her process was wonderful. I always find it reassuring and refreshing when someone hasn’t been brought into existence as a potter from the outset, but moves towards it a little later in their life. Josie spoke of starting off as an anthropology student, graduating from that and going to work in caves, tracing the ancient art. Upon deciding she didn’t want to live her whole life in a cave, Josie retrained as a teacher. At some point she was tasked with teaching an art class, the focus being pottery. After signing up for a night class to give herself a base of understanding, Josie was drawn back, again and again, eventually making pottery and education surrounding pottery her career. Now a lauded and successful potter. To hear about this non linear route into her practise was so nice, I always tend to think of people getting into their passions and finding work in those spaces as a straight route, one thing happening after another until you are where you want to be. In reality, things just happen and you make choices based on your reaction to them, chance and luck play their part. You can only draw the straight line upon reflection.
Watching Josie work on the wheel (not her preferred momentum, but electric which is a bit faster and less intuitive) I noticed she handled the clay so gently. She talked about ‘soft throwing’ using less water and softer clay, wasting less clay by being very deliberate and slower in your movements, basically slowing down and being more gentle. Sometimes when throwing, the speed of the wheel and the feeling of wanting to be producing things fast can run away with you, and it all ends in a sloppy mess and a bad pot. Josie was calm.
We break for lunch, I jump on Callum’s bike and and rush home to pick up some sugar, a crucial ingredient in butter rum tea, Callum’s promise to the rest of us as we wait for the light switch on this evening. Sugar bagged, quick cheese on toast, back on the bike and back to college for the afternoons talks on Josie’s investigation into food pots through the last couple of centuries, and a demonstration and opportunity to explore her slip decoration techniques.
This is the second masterclass we’ve had, the first being with Dylan Bowen. His was a day of flinging slip around and being very free and expressive in terms of application. To look at his and then at Josie work, you might say that Josie’s is less free. As we watched her applying the slip, and using stencils as outlines and producing some of the recognisable animal designs, the freeness of her movement was in that it was practised. She admitted that she wasn’t a fantastic drawer, so found that practising her lines and movements made for better results. you could see that some these lines, in the slip trailing of a hare for example, has been done countless times. This allowed a freedom of familiarity, the way she drew was so fluid.
Its great having these different potters in for these masterclasses because you can expect how you might be inspired by them, but I find so far that you take away something you didn’t expect as well. The freedom in the differences of being creative and expressing, and the work that goes into that for each individual. There is no one way! Sounds obvious in theory but sometimes when your in the studio and looking around at all the other students, you can feel jealousy and frustration, when something comes so immediately to one person and you are struggling to see what you can make of it (and by you, I of course mean me). I can’t wait for the next masterclasses and to see what I take from each of them.
The afternoon is pressing on, Josie is getting ready to leave and I think wasn’t expecting the long line of student wanting to buy a copy of her book, ‘Pots in the kitchen’, and sidling up to her for an authors signature. Eventually she gets through us all and can head off, the sun is setting and its about to be party time in the studio.
A quick mop and wipe down of the benches and the wheels, Callum in the kitchen whipping up the butter rum teas, and soon enough the Christmas music is blaring out. There are a few moments when we question the rationale in blasting out Bony M’s ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ mid November, but we decide to enter into the spirit full heartedly and pull out our secret Santa names.
We head out into the throng of people, we’ve never seen Middleport so busy. Soon we hear the countdown, reverberating through the crowd. There’s a loud blast from the steam engine just as the lights go up, Christmas has come to Middleport!