This is Me
I regularly post photos of the finished objects either before of after kiln firing. Sometimes there are photos of the making process during a workshop with an odd hand in a photo but nothing else.
This is the story behind the clay. I work in many settings but one of my favourite workshops is the most inclusive. It's the reason Creative Clay For All started in the first place. The residential care homes, the disability groups and the day centres.
These spring lambs were created at a day centre. Eleven people of mixed abilities all sat round the table, it's lively, it's fun, lots of giggling and chatter. Behind each sheep is a story, a person, a maker.
This sheep was made by a lady with dementia. She tells me she has a form of dementia where she can not remember how to put on items of clothes to dress herself in the morning. She used to be very creative and has submitted work to Dorset Arts and Crafts show. She makes a note of when I am next in and looks forward to the class.
The sheep is beautifully made. The maker spends a long time with tools incising and mark making, creating patterns and texture. There is a particular strong style in the making and each week I immediately know which one was made by her before seeing the name on the back. I forgot what we made the week before to give an update on drying and kiln firing to participants. She proudly tells me. Despite dementia the art created is such an important part of her week it stays with her. I look forward to running a workshop with this maker. She is full of life and always giggling away with her friend. The maker of the next sheep.
The two ladies have been friends for a long while and enjoy participating in a class together. A quiet and patient dog sits under their feet. When I run a workshop the demo is always next to the maker of this sheep. Hands follow me and feel the clay, tools and templates. She is particularly good at 3D pieces like the crocodiles made a few weeks ago. Pallets of colour are given explaining where each colour is. It is usually a range of tones that blend well. Each week a willingness to try. Always expecting a disastrous outcome but tackling each project with humour, fun and excitement. Then surprise that it actually turned out well.
This sheep was made by a participant I am slowly learning more about. He is hearing impaired. The lady discussed earlier with dementia told me she thinks he has learning disabilities. Before he started attending the clay workshops he sat in a chair and didn't interact with people. She tells me his confidence has grown each week. I am aware he has a problem with short term memory so every five minutes I go over to him with a demo piece like his to show him what we are doing. Carers tell me his family are really proud of his creations.
This sheep is my favourite. It makes me smile when I see it. The maker is in a wheelchair, it is difficult to make out his speech. There is limited body movement. Often people will come over and help him, adding more paint or cutting round shapes. No one helped him make this sheep. Every bit of clay was formed by him. Every bit of colour was his decision and added by him. He was so proud of his creation. This maker is so enthusiastic, normally one of the first to enter the art room, full of chatter. When the sheep came out of the kiln and I gave it to him I told him it was my favourite sheep as he made it all by himself and I am so very proud of him.
This is just a snapshot into the variety of makers in my workshops. Looking into the future some of the participants of my workshops could develop their skills further becoming artists and exhibiting their work. There are already visually impaired potters and potters with physical disabilities selling work and exhibiting as artists. Anything is possibly.
As I write this article we are in lockdown. The day centre is shut. I do not know when this group of people can get together again to be creative, to laugh, to be independent. Museums have made virtual tours. Artists and entertainers are creating podcasts for you to carry on being creative, exploring, learning. The people who really need clay, who really benefit from it's tactile and adaptable nature can not access it now. In this now virtual world how can I get clay workshops to where it is needed? There are many people living on their own with disabilities in isolation with carers visiting for their basic needs. How can they access clay and the arts to improve their wellbeing?
Hello, there was so much that happened over the summer I felt the need for a summer newsletter/blog. It's been diverse as normal. So here's the highlights.
At the beginning of the summer holidays I had fun taking part in Sting in the Tale festival in Wimborne. To compliment the story telling festival there was crocodile making in the morning and dragon making in the afternoon. A new photo booth was made for the creations with a castle and mote as the backdrop. It was a brilliant festival with some amazing puppets and storytelling. Some fabulous creations were made including this detailed dragon.
Another brilliant event was the Dorset Arts and Craft Association summer show in Wareham. As part of the event there was a variety of workshops. I organised two workshops, ammonites and turtles in air drying clay for families. I also entered a couple of my hand built ceramics in the open exhibition and was very happy to be awarded the Potters Challenge cup!
Creative Clay For All took part in a new Arts and Environment day at Portland Marina and was back at Lyme Regis Museum for a variety of workshops during the summer. These included dinosaurs, rabbits inspired by Beatrice Potter, octopus and beach huts. There was some fantastic and creative clay artworks. Below are a few. Did you participate and is yours in the blog?
August bank holiday at Maumbury Rings in Dorchester for the Anonymous festival. If you have not been before it is a great festival for families. Everything is free to do including live music, art, bungee run and bouncy castles. A little bit different for this event. An alien clay installation. Families could create aliens or space ships and add them to the metallic silver space scene. Another photo booth for the creations was made with black interior and silver stars sprayed on. The planets were added to the front. There is a video on the facebook page
Into September there were more adult workshops. I had a few private bookings and took part in the Bridport Fringe as part of Bridport arts weeks for a drop in environmental clay session and took part in the Libraries as Cultural Hubs. Sunflower clay bowls made with Creative Clay For All at Weymouth library. Upstairs, the library was well lit and calm. Many of the participants had not made anything with clay since they were at school. I think they did brilliantly. The images are the sunflowers being unloaded from the kiln.
In the middle of September Sculpture by the Lakes had their first Wellbeing by the Lakes event. Three days wellbeing including yoga, talks and Tibetan Monks. I was in a fabulous marquee for three days running botanical tile drop in sessions. On the Friday and Saturday Stephen Yates, a potter from Portland joined me to demonstrate his throwing skills. I managed to take a great photo of the monks watching him throw. The event was well organised and will be happening again next year. I shall finish this blog with images of the event. I hope you have enjoyed this newsletter blog. There are lots of classes and events happening this autumn including the regular morning pottery class at Milton Abbas, so please join me in being creative and having fun with clay.
Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with a Geologist on the effects of geology on clay and raw materials used in glazes. I went home and did some further research on one part of our conversation linked to Dorset and I thought it might interest you.
Whats the difference between China Clay and Ball Clay and why have we got Ball Clay in Dorset?
China Clay (Kaolin) is formed by the decomposition of minerals particularly Feldspar which is the main ingredient in a rock called Granite. This is not a quick process and it happened millions of years ago between the late Cretaceous and early Paleogene periods. I had not heard of the Paleogene period, according to the National Geographic website it follows the Cretaceous period. Dinosaurs had gone and mammals were becoming more diverse. China Clay is found in Cornwall and parts of Devon. China Clay is only found in a small amount of places across the world.
One County along in Dorset we do not have China Clay we have a very good quality Ball Clay. Why?
Now it gets interesting and I am sorry but I am going to get a bit more technical. Ball Clay is a Kaolin that has been transported by water from its primary decomposed rock, which is usually Granite. So to put it simply the China Clay was created millions of years ago in Cornwall and Devon then vast rivers picked some up and carried it into Dorset. When this happened the Kaolin picked up impurities and was ground down on it's travels into smaller particles. This Kaolin on the move settled in Dorset and became Ball Clay.
Ball Clay mainly consists of Kaolinite, Mica and Quartz. It has a higher plasticity to China Clay due to the ground down smaller particles. It contains a larger amounts of Silica and still has a whitish colour when fired. The majority of Ball Clay in Dorset can be found on the Isle of Purbeck, the Wareham Basin. Evidence of the mining of the Ball Clay can be seen at the Blue Pool tourist attraction.
In ceramics both China Clay and Ball Clay are used as ingredients to make clay bodies, but they are very different ingredients. Ball Clay has a very high plasticity and excessive shrinkage. It is used to make clay easier to work with, giving the clay body it's plasticity. China Clay is used for it's whiteness and purity, but it has very poor plasticity making it difficult to work with. China Clay is well known for it's use in Bone China and Porcelain.
This whole research came about from a conversation discussing the fact that clays and glazes can be effected by a broad range of things from the type of wood that is used in a kiln firing and the rates of temperature change in a firing to the particular place a raw material was dug from. What happened to a raw material in the millions of years before it was dug and refined can have a huge effect on how it reacts in a glaze. A prime example of this was listening to Kate Malone at Ceramic Art London talk about her Saville Row project. Enough materials to mix the glaze for the whole project had to be purchased in one go as the whole glaze would change if one of the ingredients was dug from somewhere else in the world to the original glaze test ingredients. Savile Row is an amazing architectural and ceramic project, more information can be found here.
I have tried to write this as simply as possible so you can gain a basic understanding . If you found this interesting and would like to explore this further you may like to visit Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum at Norden, Dorset (please check opening hours) or visit Blue Pool. It has a small museum showing early history of clay mining in Dorset and the pool is set in a deep clay bowl. If you would like to travel further afield I recommend visiting Wheal Martyn Clay Works at St Austell. It is an interactive museum including a fully preserved Victorian China Clay works. If you would like to find out more about the geology in the South West I recommend having a chat with one of the members of the Jurassic Coast Trust. They have a wealth of Knowledge and information. For history on Dorset Potteries and clay mining do visit the Dorset History Centre. They even have Poole Pottery glaze recipe books! I enclose links to all these at the bottom of this blog.
Finally while researching this I found a snippet of local clay history about Brownsea Island Clay on the National Trust website. In the 19th Century Colonel Waugh bought Brownsea Island and thought they had discovered a high quality of Ball clay similar to that at Furzebrook. A three storey pottery and a tramway to transport the clay from the pit was built. Unfortunately the Ball Clay was a poor quality and only suitable for making sanitary ware. It just shows that Kaolin moving only slightly further from where the ball clay is mined in Dorset can have a huge effect on the properties and qualities of the material.
Clay, isn't it fantastic. It can make something functional or sculptural, tell a story of past civilisations through Archaeology, link in with geology showing what can happen over millions of years, show chemical reactions through glazes and be good for our well being!