‘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.
14 thoughts on “Clare Craft Pottery. Part 2 Going to the chapel. – with pictures”
I recently moved house and rediscovered the Clarecraft collection I assembled between 1990 and 1992, beginning when I was 9 years old. My mother used to work at a school near Stowmarket but we lived in Bury St Edmunds, so we would stop in Woolpit at least once a week on the way home, usually dropping in to Elm Tree Gallery where they sold slightly damaged Clarecraft items at very low prices. This was before Clarecraft moved into Discworld merchandise. I saved up my pocket money to buy as many pieces as I could, beginning with tiny ones like the dragons’ eggs and faces emerging from stones and chestnuts; I became particularly obsessed with the leprechaun series, and I remain convinced that my first job was a disaster because I failed to take my Clarecraft leprechaun with me to Warwickshire… I read a Clarecraft catalogue (which I still have) which claimed the elves were inspired by those that lived in the woods near the studio, and I once even asked my mother to drive to the studio in the hope of spotting fairies; I found a large stone near the studio which I took back as a memento, hoping it was imbued with some of the magic that was in the figures. Clarecraft had a major impact on my interest in folklore, which in turn led me into academic history. I shall definitely be dusting off my old collection and giving it pride of place.
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We own 15+ clarecraft’s our first knight 8” one of six brought in 1980, and many “one off’s” wish we coul have brought “London Bridge” but they would not sell it, ended up in their back garden!
I know who the accountant was that introduced you to Bob and Trish Baker and still have the Suffolk Images plaques that you allowed me to come and make at the chapel when I was a child
We have been collecting Claire craft pottery since 1980 with our first knight, one of six original, having 20 pieces some large one offs, loved meeting them both. Great memories.
I’m looking for the pterodactyl hatching out of its egg as i broke the only only one I have and do love it. it truly is a work of art.
Ah, only the wilds of the ‘bay of E’ now harbor these creatures. I’m glad you liked him, but nothing lasts forever I’m afraid.
What about all the children? Surely there are succeeding generations to take their places. they truly were a work of art!
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That’s very kind of you to say so. I certainly had more fun that I deserved in creating work like this. There is always ‘stuff’ of mine on e-bay, if you see something that you think might be from my studio, then mail me – firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll give you my opinion.
All the very best
Thank you. I will keep looking. I really like the hatching pterodactyl and would love to find another one as I can’t find the little bit of nose he lost when he fell.
There is a cunning man, his name is Mark Ayling. He can be found at: Mark’s figurine and ornament repair and restoration
@wizardrepaired · Art. He can do a good job, in fact when my hands packed up I passed on my tools to him
Hope this helps
We exchanged missives several years ago regarding one of your Wizards that I have nicked name The Potion Wizard. I saw him in Crowley in the early to mid 80s, and just could not afford him then, so I adopted a dragon hatchling. The Potion Wizard has haunted me EVER SINCE. I continue to search for him on the Internet. Did you, by chance, photograph or catalog all of your work?
With so many pieces being made it was impossible. We did do a catalogue for one show, it had lots of pics in it of those special pieces. I’ll have a mosey in the archives and let you know. All the best – Bernard
I have a beautiful stone circle oil lamp but I can’t find any information on it. Please can you help?
mail me at email@example.com with a photo and I’ll see what I can do – that OK?