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A Potter's Moll: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

…I popped into the studio one day recently to find Jim looking a bit agitato and Ian Marsh standing nearby with a brush and dustpan in his hand…

There’s many a shattering experience in a potter’s life, as Elizabeth Robison reveals.

For more of Liz’s well-crafted columns please do visit A Potter’s Moll in the menu on this page.

Visit also the website of her internationally-famous husband, potter Jim Robison http://www.jimrobison.co.uk/

I popped into the studio one day recently to find Jim looking a bit agitato and Ian Marsh standing nearby with a brush and dustpan in his hand. It turned out that they had just finished breaking up a leatherhard piece that had developed significant drying cracks overnight and Jim decided it was just not viable to try and save it. The trouble was that the piece in question was a five foot high two-piece sculpture that involved six bags of clay.

This got me thinking about the idea accidentally or on purpose with regard to breaking ceramic items whether fired or otherwise. I remember in my own distant days of doing pottery at night school how hard it was to sacrifice anything you had made, even tough the teacher – and common sense suggested otherwise. It was a hard lesson to learn that you can discover more by cutting a pot in half than you can by trying to finish it. Jim used to reckon that you should be prepared to lose up to 25% of what you make, but over the years his expertise has reduced this figure significantly.

Breaking fired pots is another matter – in a way potters have always relied on functional pots getting broken so that people come back to replace them. Though David Frith tells a cautionary tale about a farmer who came to him with the broken lid of a bread crock. David duly made a new lid to size, glazed it in what he hoped would be a reasonable match to the original lid and then fired it twice. When the farmer came to collect it, he said: ‘Can you use a dozen eggs?’

When I was growing up if a pot got broken during the washing-up [as anything inevitably did when it hit the tiled floor] my Dad’s first words were always: ‘Are you alright?’ Our kids laughingly point out that Jim’s response is usually: ‘Oh, another piece of history down the tubes.’ [think US accent here – ‘toobs’] I suppose the difference is that many of the pots we use are either made by Jim or someone else we know whose work we enjoy.

Last summer a careless scaffolder dropped a scaffolding pole on the rim of our treasured Monica Young garden pot. When I told him that it was worth several thousands of pounds his response was: ‘Well, you shouldn’t have it outside then.’ Even repaired, the pot has lost some of its heirloom quality.

The six bags of clay can be reclaimed, that’s the good thing about the clay being in the leather-hard state. And I must admit I do love breaking crocks with a hammer to improve the drainage in my garden containers.

More from me in a fortnight…

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