I first made pots as a teenager and dreamed of getting an apprenticeship at a seaside pottery – but it was not to be.
It wasn’t till my late forties that I tried using clay again –enrolling in classes at South Bridge Resource Centre in Edinburgh, which has a well-equipped pottery. My third pot had breasts -inspired by an ancient Cretan water jug with nipples- much to the delight of some of the elderly gentlemen in the class!
My pots are made from red earthenware or white stoneware clays. The base is usually formed in a bowl -as a mould- allowed to dry somewhat and then scraped and beaten to refine the shape. From then on the pot is formed by coiling in stages, allowing it to dry enough to support itself and the shape be refined -smoothing with a large flat river stone as I go along and finally burnishing twice at different stages of dryness with a polished stone. Burnishing is a slow rhythmic process, which compresses the surface clay molecules giving a skin-like quality and a subtle sheen.
When making pots, my hands seem to know what to do and my eyes are engaged in assessing what my hands do. The shapes arise from a sense of my own body and from the movement work I do –more than from observation.
Pieces are biscuit fired in an electric kiln to between 900 and 1,000 degrees C depending on the clay. They are then submerged in hardwood sawdust, which is set alight and smoulders for between 24 and 48 hours depending on wind conditions. This is what imparts the surface markings and is largely uncontrolled –although I occasionally use aluminium foil to mask areas I wish to remain light. Pieces are finally polished with beeswax and named.
Shape and smoke markings suggest certain attributes which I then find an appropriate Goddess name for –from the history of the many cultures who honoured the divine feminine. The Dictionary of Women in Religious Art is a helpful resource, supplementing my own knowledge of world mythology –another interest kindled in adolescence.
I have mainly made my pots in the 17th century village of Culross, at the pottery and gallery there. When extracting pots from the sawdust firing which takes place in beautiful garden on the banks of the Forth, I sometimes reflect on my teenage dream to work at a seaside pottery –here I am, in my fifties! And here are the pots wanting to be made through me.