CERAMICS CO-OP, BERMONDSEY

anna and tatiana

I visited Anna and Tatiana Baskakova (above) at the Ceramics Studio Co-op in Bermondsey on Wednesday to find out about their enterprise to support emerging potters. Although it’s their brainchild, the studio is a worker’s co-operative, owned and run by the artists who work in it, committed to the values of “self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.”

They provide studio space for amateur and professional ceramists, run classes and offer a kiln firing service. Since The Great Pottery Throwdown there’s been plenty of demand for pottery classes and workshops. The co-op has eight resident artists including Anna and Tatiana. They started with a loan in 2014 , which they paid off this year, and they’ve had an Arts Council grant for kilns, but otherwise the co-op is a business and its expenses are covered by users’ fees. And being in an industrial area they can scavenge bits of kit from local skips – their tubs and buckets (which potters can never have too many of) were all got that way.

ceramic co-op

The Ceramics Studio Co-op is the new face of pottery training, offering flexible learning and open access studios. I wrote earlier about Turning Earth Studios and there’s also Clay College Stoke, formed by potters who were concerned about the potential loss of skills. These well-equipped ventures are emerging as university courses close, local authority classes price themselves out of the market and schools discontinue pottery under the pressure of exams and the national curriculum. They represent the growing enthusiasm for artisanal products and making by hand and a reaction to the retreat from the haptic to the screen There was a recent article about lack of dexterity in surgical students who had had too much screen time, and art teacher told me that new students didn’t know how to hold a pencil and thought that it was enough to download pictures from the internet.

The Co-op, Turning Earth and Clay College are making pottery more accessible and I expect their success to generate more initiatives elsewhere. When I looked for training  forty years ago it was difficult to find and quite rigid. There were a few potters offering apprenticeships, but they didn’t pay enough for the apprentice to live on, and there were a few degree and diploma courses. As the Craftmen Potters Association wrote at the time:

Anyone wishing to develop pottery skills to a professional standard has two choices: to enter a workshop direct as a trainee assistant, or to follow an art school course with a strong bias towards craft pottery. Many potters and students favour a combination of the two – a preliminary art school training followed by a period of workshop practice.

It was a huge leap from a leisure class to this sort of training and required a big commitment of time and money. The new ceramics training is more adaptable and responsive to the trainee’s needs. At the Ceramics Studio Co-op you can do a leisure class for fun, a more specialized course, or take studio space and progress to professional practice.

Ceramics Studio Co-op
Unit 17C
Juno Enterprise Centre
Juno Way
New Cross
London
SE14 5RW

020 8691 6421

HARROW CERAMICS COURSE TO CLOSE

Yesterday I went to a party to say farewell to Kyra Kane, (above centre) head of ceramics at Harrow, the University of Westminster. She is leaving following the University’s decision to close the Harrow course in 2013. The Harrow course is one of the leading ceramics courses in Britain and is respected throughout the world. The accountants have decided it costs too much. Of course, it always cost too much, but in past decades it was worth paying for; closing it means the University does not value it.

Kyra was one of my teachers on the BA Ceramics course. We also said farewell to Richard Phethean, Carina Ciscato and Daphne Carnegy, who taught on the first year of the course. There will be no more first year intake. Kyra, Richard, Carina and Daphne were important in my ceramics education, especially as they are all throwers and I am a thrower.

The Harrow closure is the latest in a series of closures of ceramics courses. There is no ceramics BA anywhere in Scotland now. The extraordinary thing is that the market for ceramics seems to be bigger than ever. The best data on this is in the Crafts Council’s survey of crafts activity in England and Wales, which found about 6,700 people working in craft ceramics in England and Wales. (Making It in the 21st Century, London, Crafts Council, 2004) From their data, I estimate that the annual sales of studio ceramics is about £114m. They say that, “During the 1980s there was an overall growth in the domestic market for crafts and an associated increase in the number of craft fairs and specialist shops,” and that the output of the crafts sector has more doubled since in 1994.

So why is a leading course training ceramic artists closing down? There is no national planning of vocational education and the universities can make their own decisions. There was a huge outcry from major figures in the crafts and education and I understand that there is concern at a senior level about the future of education for the crafts. Education in all crafts is expensive, because of capital costs and space requirements. If this is not squarely faced and adequately funded, training for this important industry will continue to decline.

Fortunately there is an imaginative initiative to provide another training route, complementary to university education. Lisa Hammond of Maze Hill Pottery is putting tremendous energy into a campaign to re-introduce pottery apprenticeships. Her Adopt-a-Potter scheme has a lot of support among ceramists and it deserves even more.