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A Potter's Moll: Everyone Needs An Angel

...We had a few days in Northumberland recently and driving back we stopped at Gateshead to get up close to the Angel of the North. It is fantastic. The information board had a diagram showing how the footings go into the bedrock in the area where ‘miners toiled in the dark for two hundred years’, as Gormley said. When asked ‘Why an angel? he replied: ‘because no one has ever seen one, but everyone needs one.’ It is an awesome achievement: literally a Colossus...

Liz Robison tells of more busy and happy days in the life of a potter and his moll.

Do please visit the Web site of Liz's husband, internationally famous potter Jim Robison
http://www.boothhousegallery.co.uk/

We’ve had a summer of Yorkshire abbey visiting, starting with Fountains in its lovely Skel valley location near Ripon.That inspired us on to Jervaulx, Rievaulx and Byland. It was at the latter that Jim re-discovered some medieval glazed tiles which had so fascinated him when he first arrived in England in the early 1960s and was captivated by anything and everything ‘old’.

The tiles lie on a raised dais which held the altar and are glazes with honey-mellow tones, which have obviously faded but they are miraculously vivid and in intricate patterns, to say that they have been open to the elements for centuries. Clever fellows those medieval potters (probably called Potter too.)

A recent exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s Longside Gallery had us enthralled for several hours. Called ‘Unpopular Culture’, it was curated by Turner prize winner, Grayson Perry, from thousands of artefacts in the Arts Council’s collection. In a film explaining his choices, Perry said that the years spanned by the choices of paintings, photos, sculptures and short black and white propaganda films (c 1940-1980) were times when art was hardly ever in the news, when there were no Damien Hirsts or Tracey Emins. I was amused by his assertion in the preface to the catalogue that it was more likely that a transvestite would win the Turner prize than a ,potter!

The images on Perry’s huge ceramic urn, Queen’s Bitter, may be disturbing, but they certainly have impact, and his bronze Head of a Fallen Giant is a very powerful representation of all things typically British attached in miniature around the skull – Beefeaters, taxis, double decker buses, letter boxes, policemen, historical figures and iconic buildings.

Another room, complete with red plush tip-up seats became a temporary cinemato show six films made by the Ministry of Information. What an age of innocence we lived in, in the days before TV and advertising. I felt I had lived through all the period the exhibition spanned, whereas Jim, growing up in the USA felt the 1950s were a time of opportunity and optimism, rather than the gradual ending of austerity.

Our local paper, presumably using a press release about the show, captioned a photograph: ‘Work by artist Perry Gormley’, thereby conflating Grayson Perry and Antony Gormley. Where’s a sub-editor when you need one?

We had a few days in Northumberland recently and driving back we stopped at Gateshead to get up close to the Angel of the North. It is fantastic. The information board had a diagram showing how the footings go into the bedrock in the area where ‘miners toiled in the dark for two hundred years’, as Gormley said. When asked ‘Why an angel? he replied: ‘because no one has ever seen one, but everyone needs one.’ It is an awesome achievement: literally a Colossus.

All the steel works and foundries are given credits, as is Gomley’s inclusive way. When ‘Field for the British Isles, his army of terracotta figures, toured the country, makers and arrangers of the figures were always credited by name.

This week also saw the opening of ‘3 Collectors’ in the new Gallery of Pots at York Museum and Art Gallery, the culmination of years of hard work by many people. A large gallery has been completely transformed and work from three important ceramic collections are now very effectively displayed. Milner-White, Henry Rothschild and W A Ismay are the three eponymous collectors.

Jim was a trustee of the Ismay collection, along with Jane Hamlyn, Jeanette Haigh, Alan Firth and Tony Hill., so it was an important coming-together of work and events to see the pots on display after originally knowing the work in Bill Ismay’s terraced house in Wakefield. He used his librarian’s salary to amass an amazing collection which filled every room of his house as well as the cellar.

There is more work to be done to raise funds for the next stage of the project which is a wall of pots running the full length of the gallery, which will enable many more pots from the collections to be shown.

As always one does not completely agree with selections, and to many people the selection of a tiny lidded jar was by no means representative of the work of York resident, the late David Lloyd-Jones. But Ismay owned many pieces, so no doubt on future occasions other work will be on display.

The next day we were privileged to visit a brick factory, Hand Made York, where our friend Gabriel Nichols is the resident potter. It was awesome to see clay handled on such a huge scale and the variety of beautiful building products was impressive, (though Health and Safety was a bit minimal.) Gabriel makes garden pots there which can be personalised. They are vigorous and because vitrified, frost- proof.

One last thought: in a recent edition of Ceramic review, Emmanuel Cooper, the editor, wrote that ceramist is an alternative spelling to ceramicist. I beg to differ as only the latter spelling appears in the dictionary, and I like the whole word to appear before the –ist bit, as in art –ist, drama –tist . Purely a matter of opinion, of course.

We are off to Australia for the month of October as Jim has work (workshops, demos, lectures) at three locations on the East Coast.

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