Adopt a Potter

Hi Folks,
It has been a long time since our last post, well before Christmas and New Year in fact. So Happy New Year everyone…!

We are back in the swing of things at Maze Hill. Lisa has made some pots but it has to be said that her time has been mainly taken up by the “Adopt a Potter” charity and other admin duties. Darren is busy writing his essays for his teacher training course and can’t wait to start mucking about with clay again. I have been making mugs, oil pourers, large bowls, vinaigrette pourers and I am thinking of other projects as I write. I want to venture out in the big wide world of sales and crafts fairs this year and I have been surfing the Internet about that, as well as thinking about my display. It is all rather exciting but scary too because this would be my first outing outside my comfort zone at the pottery.

Anyway, what I really wanted to do when I started this post was to let people know about the “Adopt a Potter” charity.

The aim of the charity is to train the future generation of potters and to fund apprenticeships and secure the future of studio pottery. For further details, please visit the Adopt a Potter website. You will find a full description of the aims of the charity as well as the stories of previous “adopted” potters. It also explains how to get “adopted” and what to do if you are a professional potter who wants to “adopt” an apprentice. Finally, there is a section on fundraising: when the next events will be, what to do if you want to donate or help at fundraising events. For example, you can donate by buying one of the lovely tee-shirts in the attached photo. I can also tell you now that the Camelia Botnar Foundation has vacancies for apprentices; look it up on the website.

Please also do visit our Facebook page , say hello, we love it when people talk to us. You may also come and visit us but it is better to call beforehand. Our phone number is
020 8293 0048.

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Darren Ellis’ exhibition at Kigbeare Studios, Okehampton, Devon.

Made In Devon:  2nd to 11th November 2012.

Preview : Friday 2nd November 6pm to 10pm.  All other days 10am to 5pm.

Darren has been really busy making pots for his exhibition at Kigbeare, the studio and gallery in Devon where he spent three years as assistant to Lisa Hammond. It has not been easy, he has been juggling between his move from Devon to London, finding a new job to support himself, settling in at Maze Hill and getting down to serious business for this show.

I remember going to Kigbeare for his surprise leaving party. His van was parked in the driveway and inside were two chairs and some other stuff. He did not have a clue there was going to be a send off for him so he was carrying on as normal, his usual friendly and happy self, ever so enthusiastic about his experiments with ash and locally found clays. You could tell how popular he is by the huge number of people that had turned up for the party !

Darren has been at Maze Hill a couple of month now and it is wonderful to have him around. Both of us are using ash glazes so it is nice to have someone to talk to about ashes and to compare results. Our work could not be more different; it is really interesting to see what the other one is doing and how they are using their materials.

There are four of us now working in this small space: Lisa and Ellie, her new assistant, Darren and myself. Somehow we manage not to step on each others toes  and work gets done in a dynamic atmosphere. It requires some kind of orchestration and tolerance which we all seem to be endowed with. There is a good positive energy flowing around and it feels good to be there.

As well as working and teaching two beginners evening classes at Maze Hill, Darren is teaching and working as a technician at Bromley College.  I imagine that he is very popular with the students, making them feel comfortable by throwing a few jokes around but he also takes himself seriously and really tries to give them a good start and improve  their skills.

He has worked very hard for this exhibition. His first firing was not to his standard, in fact he incurred a lot of losses but rather than give in to despair, he set off to work again, with only a few weeks to come up with more work. This is what I call determination ! And it paid off ! The next firing was very good indeed despite problems with the reduction being weaker than normal. There is a very nice selection of varied items, well worth the visit !

So here we are , let me introduce Darren …

Darren Ellis packing up his pots for the Kigbeare exhibition.

And his pots….

Darren packing up his pots for the exhibitionDarren and Ellie, Lisa's new assistant.

Shino bowls


Large celadon jar

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The Goldmark film is now featured in the Guardian !

The film about Lisa is now definitely on the Guardian newspaper website. Click on this link  to view it:

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The Goldmark film about Lisa is being listed on the Guardian newspaper website

Here is a short version of the film which will be featured on Monday in the Guardian newspaper website. If you miss it on Monday, it should then feature on their main website under their “Culture” section. I will be keep a close eye for it and post again then will full details.

We also take this opportunity to thank everyone who has “liked” the Maze Hill Pottery page on Facebook and all those who will in the future.

To view Lisa’s and other potters’ work on the Goldmark website, please follow this link: There are other interesting pottery films to watch as well as fine art prints and paintings.

The good thing about Goldmark’s is that you are encouraged to pick up the pots; you will be able to handle them and get a real feel for them. Pots are meant to be touched, they are made of earth after all, and have a tactile quality. They are not meant to just be looked at behind glass, they are crying out to be used, even the huge ones which may want some flowers put into them.

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Lisa’s exhibition and Svend’s firing

A couple of months have passed already since Lisa has returned to Maze Hill and a lot of activity has taken place in such a short time. The preview to her exhibition is happening this Saturday 22nd September at the Goldmark Gallery. Lisa throwing

There still is some effervescence in the air but things have calmed down; it is starting to feel like a come down, – a bit like around Christmas time with all the shopping and cooking to think about but, before we know it, it is January and a new year has begun.

Which reminds me: the next things to work towards to now are the Oxford Ceramics Fair at the end of October, and then our Christmas Open Studio at Maze Hill which always takes place on the first week end of December. Darren will also be selling his pots at Farnham and he is having an exhibition at Kigbeare Studios in November.

Anyway I have “borrowed” a few pictures from the Goldmark Gallery website to share here.

tea bowljar  tan teapot


handled jar

I think Goldmarks’ do a fantastic job at representing potters, the catalogues are beautiful and the films they produce are of very high quality. Whilst I was there looking at the Lee Kang Yyo exhibition, Mr. Goldmark told me that the film they had produced for Anne-Mette Hjortshoj had been seen by the queen of Denmark and that as a result she was going to visit Anne-Mette at her studio in Bonholm. They treat their visitors really well too, offering you a cup of tea or coffee as soon as you walk in; I have heard that they invite you to lunch also if you happen to arrive at that time ! Below is a picture of one of their lunch spreads that I “borrowed” from their Facebook page …

lunch at Goldmark's

I myself am panicking a bit because I only have so little time to make pots and I am going away to France next week end which means I am going to loose three week ends of making. I have put myself in a bit of a pickle too because I have been practising making stir-fry bowls; my aim was to make a hundred to finally get that shape in my head and my hands but I might end up just having bowls for the Christmas sale if I don’t get my act together. How many week ends are there still to December ? I hope to have at least two firings till then and that I will get something good out them otherwise I am doomed…

Firing at Svend’s last week end

To change subject, Svend was firing last week end. The crew was Svend, Debbie Mitchell and myself, as well as Hugs, Debbie’s dog.

I arrived on Thursday evening, Svend had just finished packing the kiln so I was able to take a few photos of the inside. Once the door was in place, Svend put the gas on to heat up the kiln overnight which meant I could have a rest before shifts started for real.

I am normally on the night shift because that is what I do, I work nights at my regular job in London, so I am used to being up at all hours. Besides, I really enjoy it, it is very special; on a clear night, you get to see the stars in the sky and there are so many in the pitch black Sheepwash sky! At Svend’s, it is very peaceful, you hear the owls calling each other; in the spring you are treated to the dawn chorus and you get to see the new day slowly come to life. In the winter, I have seen the weather turn so cold that the water in the jug that I take on shift with me had turned to ice.

svend making the final checks on the kiln

Svend making the final checks on the kiln

The other thing that I like about doing the nightshift is the fact that I am alone with the kiln; this is when I feel totally in charge and the sense of responsibility is enormous. I have to use my common sense and make decisions. When I think about it too much, I scare myself: I certainly do not want to mess it up for Svend, after all the effort he has put into the work, be it making, glazing, packing, chopping wood, stacking it, etc… One wrong decision on my part and I could ruin it, it is very scary but I really feel rewarded when everything works out fine. Of course if I ran into difficulties I would not hesitate to go and get him but my pride hopes I will never have to. I always feel a bit smug when I manage to follow the temperature chart accurately: job satisfaction really feels good does it not ?

stokingdebbie sidestokingbracken into the fire

Anyway, the firing started on Friday morning with wood, with Svend starting the most sensitive part when you have to really slowly reach past the 200C and get the chemical water evaporated. I took over at 2pm and I was followed by Debbie at 6pm ; the shifts carried on like this until Tuesday morning for the finish. The early part of the firing was easy enough with the temperature still being manageable and us still being in enough good shape. The kiln seems to fire itself most of the time, we are only there to feed it and to help it rise to the required temperature. As the days and nights progressed, we were starting to feel the heat ; we have to hold the temperature at around 1050C-1100C for 3 days and 3 nights, and maintain reduction throughout to obtain those beautiful deep fire effects and to get ash on the pots. We were getting more and more tired but we were still joyful ; we always have dinner around the kiln and we really look forward to those because this is the only time we can get together during the day and during the whole firing as such.

After my shift I try to go for a walk and take pictures because the firing process makes everything else seem unreal; the kiln requires all your attention and you tend to forget about the rest of the world and what is around you when you are firing.

straw bales in a field

Straw bales in a field.


View over Dartmoor

The last day was the hardest, it always feels that way for me, I am so tired that I want it to finish, but on the other hand I don’t, I don’t want to leave Devon and go back to London and I love that fire so much I want to keep it going. But well, we don’t want to overfire so we must stop at some point. This time, it was very difficult to reach cone 12 at the back of the kiln; it took us from 9:30am to 4pm. It seems the floor of the kiln was very hot and the heat was escaping out somewhere and not reaching the shelves above. Every firing has different problems and the packing for each next firing has to be thought out differently! The kiln will be opened on Sunday.

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Darren’s on his way and Lisa’s first firing of Wee Bear since her return.

So far this blog seems to have been about beginnings and this post is also about something happening for the first time around. I thought I would write about Lisa’s first firing at Maze Hill since she has been back.

But first, to place things in context, after Svend did his workshop at Maze Hill, I went down to stay with him to make pots there for a week. Teapots ! While I was there, we were invited to a surprise-party at Kigbeare Studios. The party was for Darren Ellis who was apprenticed to Lisa, and who has now joined us at Maze Hill. Sadly, I did not have my camera with me so I did not take any photos of the party, but here is an old photo of Darren about to light the bigger kiln at Maze Hill in 2009. He hasn’t changed much since !

Darren with blow torch in hand

Darren in 2009, about to light Big Mother

A post about Darren is on my mind, but all I have seen of him so far since my return from Devon is his stuff on the pottery floor and his clay piled up in the yard, so it will have to wait until I have properly seen him in the flesh.

Anyway, on my way back from Svend’s last Tuesday, I stopped off at Maze Hill to drop my pots off. It was about 10pm when I got there, so imagine my surprise when I saw the lights on in the pottery ! When I got inside, I found the place in a state of chaos, with buckets of glaze here and there and glazed pots on the benches, jugs half filled with slip, forgotten half-full cups of tea waiting to be drunk, Lolly the dog sleeping in her bed under the bench. The same kind of show was also taking place outside by the kilns. I had seen this kind of agitation before and I had forgotten what it looked like but I knew what it meant : Lisa was packing the kiln and was going to fire the next day ! Although I felt shattered after my journey from Devon, with a stop for tea and cake at my friend’s in Dorset, I wanted to record those moments. This firing was especially important as some of the pots are going to Lisa’s exhibition at the Goldmark Gallery in Uppingham.

Rows of creamers


Wadding and other equipment

General chaos near kiln, complete with half-eaten marmite toast.

Last pots to go

Lasts pots to go in the kiln

Left over pots

Left over pots

The kiln being fired is called Wee Bear after the polar stamps on some bricks used to build it, whilst the bigger soda kiln is called Big Mother. Sometimes, when she does not behave, she is also called Big Mother + something at the end, a word I will not include for fear of hurting sensitive ears. According to Lisa, on the whole though, she is good and has given out beautiful work! It is interesting that for Lisa this kiln is a “she”; Svend’s kilns are also female. For me, kilns are male.

Wee Bear

Wee Bear

Packing was already almost finished but I had got there in time for the placement of the big pot and a few other small bits and pieces. First the pot had to be glazed, then wadded to prevent it from sticking to the kiln shelves. With such a big pot, – although by Svend’s standards it is a small pot, you need at least two people: one to hold it, one to glaze it then wad it. Mike, Lisa’s partner had the very difficult job of holding it and placing it in the kiln. Lisa was glazing it, pouring the glaze strategically so that it dribbled in a certain way.

Lisa and Mike getting the big pot ready

Lisa and Mike getting the big pot ready

Mike lifting the pot up

Mike lifting the pot up to set in place

Once Mike had loaded it in, Lisa checked that it was not touching the pot behind it to prevent them from sticking to each other during the firing. The pot had to be moved a few times before it was safe, then smaller pots were placed around it to make economic use of the space.

Mike setting the pot in place

Mike setting the pot in place

Lisa checking for space behind the big pot

Lisa checking the space behind the big pot

Lisa had also created a little wall around a plate sitting on a shelf below the big pot to help promote good reduction and to obtain good carbon effects. She is using wood at the end of the firing to obtain some lustre during the cooling period. As I understand it, for a soda-shino firing, she packs the kiln with wood at the end of the firing, this prevents the kiln from cooling too quickly and induces lustre effects.

The kiln finally packed

The kiln finally packed

The firing results

Sadly, I was unable to help with the firing, my regular job getting in the way as usual. I have better watch what I wish for though, my boss having told me so himself, after I told him that I can never get enough time off and that I much prefer time off in lieu rather than paid overtime !

My pottery time takes place at the week end and on any day off I can muster. So I arrived at the pottery on Saturday and found lots of lovely pots. At first I did not know what to think as I don’t remember Lisa going for pinks ever, and I was hoping she found the firing to be a success, which she does. Here is a small sneak preview of what can be expected at the Goldmark Gallery on top of the interview and film that they came to do during the week.

Big pot

The big pot

Small sample of pots

Small sample of pot


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Svend Bayer finishing throwing a large jug during the workshop at Maze Hill

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