‘Will you come to the mission will you come, come, come.
There’s a free cup of tea and sticky bun, bun bun’
The things they did years ago to get you in to the chapel and away from the pub.
In 1982, Isobel and I moved our pottery to Stansfield Chapel. We’d set up Clare Craft Pottery the previous year in an old council garage in Clare. It was small, dark and very cold. On winter mornings we had to break the ice on the glaze buckets before we could start work, and to protect the clay from frost we covered it with straw bales, the latter attracting an unwelcome host of small rodents who shared our space. In spite of the difficulties our pottery was attracting a lot of interest; we were selling all we could and we needed more space and bigger kilns.
The chapel in Stansfield had been converted into a home and studios by a man called Colin Turner who was, and still is, an extremely talented professional photographer. http://www.solidair.org.uk/
Our first floor workshop was large, light, airy and warm. We installed a new gas kiln and set about making our stoneware figurines ever more fantastic and complex. Karen, a clever potter and our first employee came with us from Clare and I took on David my first apprentice who continued to work with me for many years. Another pair of hands was needed so Melinda joined us and soon learnt the skills of hand building and glazing ceramics.
We also rented a ground floor studio in the Chapel where we produced a range of plaster reliefs. Not your usual common or garden plaster that goes on walls and such. This plaster was really special, it was extremely hard, capable of reproducing the finest details and of being stained or painted to look like wood, ceramic or metal. Not many people were using this material and British Gypsum, the company producing it, used us to trial new products for the production of fine art pieces.
This range of work called ‘Suffolk Images’ was a series of wall plaques depicting towns and villages around the county and later the whole country. A craft shop would commission ‘their’ plaque and then send photographs or better still picture post cards of the town and I would select buildings that would suit a bass relief plaque. Not always easy and sometimes a challenge to create something attractive from what were architecturally nondescript buildings. Sometimes ‘artistic license’ got the better of me and I added features that were just made up. It was round about this time that we felt the need to invent a sculptor called Albert Thwaite who we blamed for any inaccuracies and who had unfortunately left the country and could not be contacted. The Albert Thwaite file grew quite thick over the years. Belated apologies to anyone reading this who was Thwaited! Grace and her son, another David, came to work for us and did all the plaster casting and finishing.
Now we were seven and Clare Craft Pottery was commercially successful, with a reputation for quality, originality and innovation.
We exhibited at The British Craft Trade Fair and the International Gift Fair at the NEC where we came away with enough orders to last a year. We took on more people including another potter. A bright, funny and clever fine art graduate called Pip Whiteside who later went on to run her own business. And once again we were running out of space. The search for bigger workshops began, along with plans to employ and train more people together with all the ramifications of growing a business from a very small outfit to something a bit more serious.
Our accountant gave us a name and an address and we met up with a farming couple called Bob and
Trish Baker who thought they might have something that would do. One day Isobel and I drove along a lane to the top of a rise and looking down a wide dirt track into a vast disused quarry saw a large concrete block building with huge sliding doors and metal windows on all sides standing in a landscape of sand, small trees and bushes. We drove down the track and parked outside the factory. It would do, it would do nicely.
The place was called Windy Ridge and here magic would happen.