Well it has been a roaring 2 weeks since my first blog post.

Spode Chimney Kiln

I have been to the British Ceramics Biennial held in the disused Spode factory in Stoke on Trent, I have created plaster moulds for a mug and handle then slip caste them, six times. I have been to Expo in Milan for the day with the family, not to mention today’s blissful day experimenting in the studio extruding clay and playing with the results. Phew!

The visit to Stoke was inspiring and dispiriting by turns. Inside the exhibition were examples of the latest work by established artists and recent arts school graduates. Fingers crossed I will be exhibiting there in 3 years time! I was particularly impressed by the Clay Cargo exhibition put on by my CSM tutor, Duncan Hooson. The depth of the thinking and the amount of energy and commitment he and his co-conspirator Julia Rowntree of Claygound Collective bring to keep the making with clay alive by introducing it to new people was awe inspiring. A barge fitted out as a ceramic studio, navigating the canal waterways of Britain, (that were originally built by Josiah Wedgwood et al, as a means of connecting the potteries to the ports of Britain – who knew?). Then staging public events inviting the uninitiated to make a collective sculpture for the day. Rather like the one we students made on our first day of term.

James Duck
James Duck

My favourite student work on show at the exhibition included James Duck’s vending machine with porcelain vessels in. For a mere £4 you could purchase an original celadon pot from the machine, have it roll forward and smash on a rock placed in the base of the vending machine. Ceramics are breakable, and on one level disposable after all! How long do we ever own them for? I bought a piece and it only chipped on the edge, and it now sits on my desk holding pens.

Hannah Tounsend’s thrown and caste pieces were beautiful too. And I was delighted to see Alex Simpson, my favorite from the RCA’s summer show.


Hannah Tounsend
Hannah Tounsend

But then wandering around this factory site, that has been derelict since 2008 when the loss adjusters came in, was depressing. Spode plate moulds were visible through cobweb windows.

Spode plate moulds, mouldering in a disused warehouse
Spode plate moulds, mouldering in a disused warehouse

Empty warehouses with up turned chairs. Luckily, we came across a maverick in a white jump suit, who was busy painting the walls of an empty unit near the edge of the site. He was setting up a new pottery studio, a professional ceramic painter, who had worked at Spode and currently at Emma Bridgewater, but who was going it alone. Then we discovered the Spode Visitor Centre and were heartened to meet former ceramic factory workers who were keeping the spirit alive, and who had good news about funds having been secured to save the massive Spode archive.

My family’s experience of seeing the city of Detroit hanging on by its finger nails over the last 20 years, and now getting on an even keel, with the threatened bankruptcy behind it and groovy arty types moving into the derelict warehouses downtown, makes me hope that Stoke on Trent and the heritage of Spode will secure a similar renaissance … Fingers Crossed that Stoke City’s victory over Chelsea FC last night is a good omen!

Go Stoke!!!

PS Here is what I have been up to in the studio today playing with extruded clay tubes to make drinking vessels. I couldn’t resist the pull of the human form!


1 comment

  1. I did not know about Josiah Wedgwood using canal transport for his ceramic products – makes eminent good sense to ensure a smooth and gliding passage. Clever man!

    Yes, the reference to Detroit’s struggle to rise above and beyond past difficulties provides
    hope that the Spode Potteries can re-invent itself. True, financial energy and determination is required…but the need for DESIGN talent is an essential element in recovery. An understanding of the market of 2020 and the creative flair of new products to inspire confidence and retail success …. thats how Wedgwood did it!
    Maybe the introduction of a Wedgwood Prize? To give encouragement?

    Sounds as ‘tho Duncan Hoosan has the right idea!
    So “Go Stoke” …..and the Mud Whisperer!


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