It started when I was nine on a rainy day in the holidays. Looking for something to do, I browsed in my father’s encyclopedias and came across an article, Pottery for Use and Ornament and the account of how it was made fascinated me. I went into the garden later, smashed a flowerpot to dust, mixed it with water and wondered why I couldn’t make it into clay again. (The clay changes irreversibly in the kiln, in case you wondered.)
There was a pottery wheel in the art room at school when I was studying A-level and my art teacher, Connie Passfield, lent me Kenneth Clarke’s Practical Pottery and Ceramics, based on the course at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and very much influenced by Picasso’s ceramics. But much of my time was spent looking at Netherlandish painting in the National Gallery and I visited Ghent to get a good look at Van Eyck’s Adoration of the Lamb.
Then, studying history at Keele University near the North Staffordshire Potteries, I found an art room with a kiln and a pottery wheel and started practicing by myself. When I left, Judith Partridge took me on as an apprentice in the Rodmell Pottery where I learned all the processes of making, firing and decorating pottery. It was a good experience but it didn’t pay, so I took a long detour into public administration, eventually as head of economic development in an English local authority. But I kept up pottery as a hobby.
I returned to study for a BA in Ceramics at Harrow, University of Westminster, and then set up my studio in St Albans – making pottery for use and ornament.
I write about the decorative arts, particularly those of Europe and north America after 1850. My main interest is in ceramics and I’m particularly interested in the place where art and manufacturing meet.
I’m a managing trustee of the Society of Designer Craftsmen, the multi-craft society whose founding presidents were Walter Crane and William Morris. The Society is now one of the leading national organisations promoting the crafts and represents the best designers in Britain.
I’m currently curating an exhibition about Dora Billington, which will open at the Crafts Study Centre in 2022. Billington was the most important British studio pottery educator of the 20th century, teaching at the Royal College of Art and the Central School of Arts and Crafts between 1915 to 1955 and inspiring many of the major ceramicists of the period. This will be her first retrospective.