I went to the gallery of the Society of Designer Craftsmen (of which I’m a trustee) in Shoreditch, to meet our architect and Hackney Council’s conservation officer to talk about the Society’s proposed improvement of the building. We want to enhance the gallery space, with proper disabled access, and to make the upper storeys more useful.
The building, one of a group of four, is listed Grade II because of its significance in the South Shoreditch furniture industry, which flourished between 1860 and 1945. The group was built by William Ratcliffe in 1897 and is typical of the small workshops that dominated the area. Behind the Veneer, English Heritage’s history of the South Shoreditch furniture industry, records that it was organised into a network of interconnected trades in small workshops rather than big factories and that the production line was effectively the street, where work was passed from shop to shop.
Ratcliffe’s workshop is an interesting home for the Society of Designer Craftsmen because we began as the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1887, with Walter Crane and William Morris as our first presidents. The work done by Arts and Crafts furniture makers, however, was quite different from that of the Shoreditch workshops, where “Curtain Road stuff” was a byword for cheap and nasty.
These are my Arabesque and Berry patterns translated from earthenware to stoneware, using the new glaze I’ve been developing, which I described here
. The old glaze was a traditional tin glaze, whose recipe I adapted from one of Daphne Carnegy’s
. The new one is a feldspar dolomite glaze.
You won’t be able to tell the difference from the photo between the old and the new – here, below are the same patterns in earthenware – and you’d find it difficult to distinguish them even if you picked them up. The new range looks the same but is much more hard wearing.
These glaze tests are a new departure for me. I’m planning to relaunch my ceramics over the next few months, replacing the terracotta I’ve used for many years with stoneware and these minimalist, urban colours. My standard shapes will remain but the clay body and the glazes are changing.
Terracotta produces wonderful bright colours but it needs careful handling if it’s not to chip after long use. Although my tableware is food-safe and dishwasher and microwave proof, stoneware is more robust.
For the technically-minded, these are feldspathic dolomite glazes with a pleasant satin matt surface and a nice speckled texture. There’s still some research to be done, but I’m please with the results so far.
I’ll continue to make my “Berry”
patterns on a white glaze background – the glaze on the bottom left is the one I’ll be using. The patterns will look similar but the pottery will be more hard-wearing.
This is just a sneak preview! There will be more news as the new range develops.
This is how I make handles for jugs and cups. The clay is extruded through specially made dies and cut and bent into shape. Then the handles are left for a few hours to harden off, and then adjusted, trimmed and applied. You can see that the end is cut with a curved blade (made from a thin sheet of brass, with the edge sharpened up with a file) – this is done so that the edge of the handles is curved to the shape of the jug.
I make the handles with ridges on the surface to show up different thicknesses of glaze and to create a lively surface; they also echo the throwing marks on the pot.
Photos of me making by Layton Thompson
|Max Frances, Hidden
I was in Cheltenham at the weekend, exhibiting at Handmade in Britain in Cheltenham Town Hall, a well-chosen craft fair with very good quality work in all media. While I was there I went to The Wilson, Cheltenham’s museum and art gallery, which has a famous collection of Cotswolds Arts and Crafts, which I have wanted to see for a long time.
We caught The Wilson’s temporary exhibition “Alternative Visions: Undiscovered Art in the South West” just before it closed on Sunday. Several of the artists deal with physical or mental pain and their work is raw and sometimes difficult to look at. I was struck by the directness of their statements and the absence of artbollocks.
Sometimes they are witty too. I very much liked Max Frances’s statement attached to his sculpture “Hidden”, in which he said, “I am an artist made of wire, string and the bones of someone else I used to be. For me, creativity is as necessary as respiration. I fight my demons with pencils, and paint them into corners. Inspiration comes from nature and the magic and mystery to be found behind the banal mask of the everyday. All nature is precious, but I am especially fond of vultures. As a scavenger myself, I enjoy using found, recycled and unexpected (cheap) materials. I find beauty that is overlooked, ignored or disdained.”
The star of the Louis Vuitton Foundation is the building by Frank Gehry, which looks good from every angle.