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A Potter's Moll: A Place Of Inspiration And Hard Work

...We took the opportunity to visit St Ives, but I was underwhelmed by Tate West – as so often these days, it seemed more about the building than the contents, although it is in a stunning location. The Barbara Hepworth house, garden and workshops are much more to my taste, there being a true atmosphere that this was a place of both inspiration and very hard work...

Star columnist Liz Robison has been on holiday in Cornwall.

To read more of Liz’s effervescent words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Liz+Robison

And do visit Jim’s Web site http://www.boothhousegallery.co.uk/

A week in spring sunshine in Cornwall last week has been a rare treat for us. We stayed at Jane Follet’s house at Trevone, near Padstow, a beautiful spot. After graduating from Bretton Hall College, Wakefield, where she was taught ceramics by Jim, almost thirty years ago, Jane worked for quite a while with Alan Caiger-Smith at Aldermaston Pottery.

The house contained some nice ceramic pieces, including a very recognisable Aldermaston salt pick, and it was good to use someone else’s collection of hand-made pots and plates.

We took the opportunity to visit St Ives, but I was underwhelmed by Tate West – as so often these days, it seemed more about the building than the contents, although it is in a stunning location. The Barbara Hepworth house, garden and workshops are much more to my taste, there being a true atmosphere that this was a place of both inspiration and very hard work.

We had time for a brief visit to the Leach Museum and Gallery, last visited in 1972. Lead potter, Jack Doherty and his colleague, Richard, gave us a tour of the new workshops. Richard told Jim that he remembered an inspirational workshop he gave when Richard was a student at Falmouth. He said he had been watching The Last of the Summer Wine for the last twenty years in the hope of seeing Jim on it. (It is filmed in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, where we live.) I told him that Jim was Compo’s stunt double, so you never got to see his face!

We were bowled over by the Eden Project, never having quite registered the vastness of the site, or its origins as such a huge site of china clay extraction. I found the whole scheme inspirational and the emphasis is firmly on the word project because there is very much a feeling there of looking forward with the concentration on bio-diversity. The spring flower displays were mouth-watering.

In The Core, the educational centre, there is a large wall of ‘hand tiles’, made by people who participated in the bringing of the project to fruition and their children. It was fun to see visitors trying to find a fit with their own hands. A further reminder of the one time vastness of the clay industry in the area is provided by the vast mountains of spoil heaps that dot the landscape as you drive towards the St Austell area.

More food for the soul was found at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, though I shall just call it Heligan from now on because they have been well and truly found. The gardens are beautiful, both the formal areas and the productive ones – vegetables, fruit, flowers, vines. My hero, Joseph Paxton, who designed the Crystal Palace, and who was head gardener at Chatsworth in Derbyshire, even had a hand down here in Cornwall: he designed a heated green house for growing vines. Typically he used a beaver-tail design on the glass panes so the water would run off the middle and not into the corners of the panes where it would rot the wood. What a genius!

Returning home, I considered some of the hand made pots that we use often. They include a trio of jugs, one for flowers, one for gravy, one for custard. A Josie Walters ‘fish dish’ is used for cheeses whenever we have a dinner party or a studio course. A Michael Eden dish is our fruit bowl, and an Oldrich Asenbryl square dish has a multiplicity of uses.

I was contemplating a small Derek Clarkson bowl and remember him telling me that the three small dots in the middle of the bowl were his ‘obeisance to the centre.’ I also remember a wonderful story Derek told us once of how he and his wife, Margaret, had a slight bump in their car once and although they felt unhurt they both appeared to be spattered with blood. It tuned out to have been a bucket of glaze he was transporting in the back of the car on the way to a demonstration.

Another fond memory is of the wonderful quizzes Derek used to do at the early Northern Potters’ Camps at Bretton Hall College. He would show slides of rims, spouts, handles, sections of decoration etc, and participants had to name as many potters as they could. One slide was of the rim of one of Jim’s garden pots, and one of our kids whispered loudly: ‘It’s one of Dad’s!’ They were then confronted with a line of potters from the row in front demanding urgently: ‘Who’s your father?’ What larks!

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