In issue 35, we featured an event hosted by Potclays, in which six potters were given access to two tonnes of clay to make one big piece each over a two-day period. It was a mammoth task but, in truth, the objective for the potters was to experience the challenges of working on such a big scale; something they would probably never have the chance to do again. The work wasn’t to be fired; the clay was simply reclaimed and reconstituted at the end of the session. Nevertheless, everyone who took part found it really rewarding, with most going on to make larger pieces than their usual productions. So what next?
Geoff and Christine Cox, who instigated the project and are potters themselves, thought it would be a good idea to do something similar with a bigger group of potters playing together. In January they started a Facebook page called ‘Potters’ Playtime’, in the hope of finding others who might like to play along. To date, over 400 potters from all over the UK, and a few from abroad, have joined the group. Everyone is welcome to join and see what’s going on and maybe even sign up to take part.
Potclays, Valentine Clays, Commercial Clay and Spencroft, the four major clay suppliers in Stoke-on-Trent have offered to donate several tonnes to the project and Gladstone Engineering which makes pottery equipment will lend slab rollers and extruders for the weekend. And so the stage is set – but where and when?
To most potters, Stoke is the natural centre for ceramics in the UK, but it tends to present itself mostly in historical terms rather than being a vibrant hub for contemporary makers. Situated in the Midlands it’s still quite a distance from most makers, but it does have good motorway access, is within one hour of four international airports and has a railway station 20 minutes walk from the old Spode factory, an iconic complex of buildings now redundant but ripe for development as an international hub of creativity in ceramics. Ideally, it could be a British equivalent of Keramion or the Westerwald museums in Germany, but that’s something for the future.
The China Hall at Spode is a massive space within the old factory complex. At present, it’s in a rather run-down condition, but the city council has plans to develop it. It’s big enough to hold several thousand people, so it is the ideal location to house the first major Potters’ Playtime event. Sufficient space for everyone to have a workstation – probably bigger than their own workshop at home – so we hired it for the weekend of 15-16 August, but Covid-19 has knocked us all off balance and changed everything. In light of developments, the new thinking is to delay the event until the spring of 2021, before all the shows begin and potters get busy preparing for them. This should act as a better focus and give those who will be taking part something to look forward to.
When the date is finally set, several tonnes of clay along with 100 work tables will be delivered to site. All that’s needed now is 100 or so potters to come and play together. Everyone will have the chance to test themselves by hand-building a single piece up to 75kg in weight [6 bags of clay] over the two days. No arts council funding, no establishment elitism, just potters working alongside each other, swapping banter and ideas. Everyone out of their comfort zone, be they ‘student’ or ‘star’. The clay will be the same for everyone – grogged terracotta to make it a level playing field and we’ll just see what happens. It isn’t a competition; everyone can make what they want. The object is to be together, make new friends and try something new and unique.
Like most makers, I work in isolation in my studio, often not seeing people for days, sometimes weeks. So, when I do get together with other potters, the conversation is lively and uplifting, with great camaraderie. It’s always lovely to hear what other makers are currently doing, about their plans for the future and any gossip they may have – oh yes, I love a bit of gossip, but it’s always harmless banter that probably wouldn’t even register as gossip in other walks of life because potters are generally a good bunch whose lives revolve around their work.
When Geoff Cox contacted me to tell me about his plan for a Potter’s Playtime event, I thought what a great opportunity it will be for makers of all abilities to catch up with one another, while at the same time doing something they love – albeit on a scale most of them would not have previously attempted. A fabulous idea.
I have to say, I’m in awe of people who dream up these schemes and make them a reality. The Coxes are old hands at this, of course, having started the very successful Potfest events in the 1990s, which are still going strong. But we shouldn’t underestimate the scale and difficulty of the task – it takes tenacity and determination not to be disheartened by the setbacks that inevitably occur.
I’m sure Geoff and Chris will get this event off the ground, but they need people to fully commit to it to reach the minimum number, although more would be even better, so how about setting aside some time – makers all, to have some fun. Surely, none of us are so experienced that there’s nothing left to learn?
The proposed date for the event (spring 2021) is recorded in Geoff’s mission statement but of course, even looking forward to a year from now, these plans can only be provisional as we watch with horror, the progression of Covid-19. However, be assured that it will go ahead no matter when that may be, giving us all something to plan for when it is safe to congregate again – and won’t that be a party?
Sign up friends – let’s have some fun – we’ll all be desperate for company when the pestilence has passed through.
You can join the group and register your interest here or by searching for ‘Potters’ Playtime’ on Facebook.
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