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Stephen Green

by Angie Boyer

Published: November 2010

We had several aims in mind when we first launched our annual craft&design Selected Awards in 2009; we wanted to bring something positive to the industry at a time when all was doom and gloom in the media; we wanted a project that would help makers promote their work to a wider audience; and we wanted to bring people with a casual interest in crafts much closer to the subject.

The idea was that makers would encourage people to participate in the online public vote, not only to vote for their favourite makers, but also to browse the site and discover the wealth of fine craftsmanship that’s represented there by literally hundreds of British makers. And hopefully the people who voted online would perhaps keep these makers in mind when they wanted to buy something special long after the voting had closed.

So Stephen Green’s focussed promotion of his work for these awards to colleagues and customers worked well for him, with votes coming from ‘the ladies in the local bridge club who collect my work’ through to business contacts and fellow potters, as well as his Mum and Dad, of course.

Between them these admirers of Stephen’s work not only voted for him to win the craft&design Selected Gold Award in the Ceramics category, they also voted in sufficient numbers for him to be awarded our Maker of the Year 2010 title. Part of Stephen’s prize was a cheque for £1,000 and when I asked him what he thought he might do with it, he told me, “I had every intention of spending in on my studio, but it is my mother’s 80th birthday this year. She loves Christmas and she loves York, so I’m taking her and my Dad for a very posh break just before Christmas. But hopefully there will be a bit left over to put towards buying a spectacular piece of John Ditchfield glass that I have had my eye on for a while and which will be a permanent reminder of winning these Awards.”

John Ditchfield is one of Britain’s leading glassblowers whose rather spectacular studio is just a stone’s throw from Stephen’s home studio in Lancashire, which was where I visited him to chat about his work. Stephen’s fascination with the Art Deco and Art Nouveau periods, Arabic art and the work of many of his contemporaries becomes evident as his partner Peter shows me some of their collection of glass and ceramics. Spectacular glass made by John Ditchfield stands shoulder to shoulder with a piece by Okra Glass, and nestling alongside are collectors’ pieces of Moorcroft art pottery, whilst in another room there’s a ceramic hare by Veronica Ballan. “I’m a great admirer of her work,” Stephen tells me, “and she’s helped us a great deal with lots of advice. I love Christine Cummings ceramics, too.” Under the soulful gaze of one of Olivia Brown’s ceramic dogs, which stands guarding the back door, we leave the house and walk through the garden to the pottery studio. The path is lined with Stephen’s own pots, each one spilling out with late summer flowers, whilst nearby on a wall a couple of his ceramic lizards bask in the late afternoon sunshine and over in the far corner are a gathering of colourful ceramic boots.

Stephen explains, “I first started to make the boots several years ago and they’re still very popular. When I taught ceramics at a nearby school, I used to spend time with the pupils looking at images of Van Gogh’s paintings of boots. When I decided I’d like to make something similar, but three dimensional, my mother found me an old boot to use as a model. It was originally my Granddad’s - it’s bizarre where ideas and inspiration come from!”

That original old work boot can still be found in Stephen’s bright and spacious studio today, alongside his work in progress, finished pieces and tools of the trade; neat stacks of clay, which he buys from Potclays, and his kiln standing in a corner. “Northern Kilns supplied that to me, they’ve been amazing over the years, especially when I was teaching ceramics at the school, I’d highly recommend them,” he enthuses.

Stephen set up the ceramics department at a Blackpool school where he taught for thirty two years, only leaving the profession in July of this year. “I used to teach twelve classes a week to children aged eleven to sixteen. Every child at that school did ceramics at some time,” he says proudly. “But now that I’ve left, there are no schools in the Blackpool area which teach ceramics, which can’t be good. I know from my own experience that if you take a child who’s not academic and give them a piece of clay, they’re transformed. Every school child should have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to create something with clay.”

“Although, on a more positive note, I did an exhibition at UCLAN (University of Central Lancashire) a couple of months ago and was amazed by the fantastic facilities they have in their ceramic department there. Some of the students from UCLAN were exhibiting at Potfest this year and others were looking with a view to showing their work next year. So it’s good to know that there is a future generation of potters out there.”

Stephen studied ceramics and glass blowing for his BA (Hons) Degree and tells me, “I absolutely love working with clay, it’s become my life and for me, the most important aspect of my work is the form and shape. Originally, when I first started teaching, I worked in earthenware using a range of underglazes, but gradually I progressed to creating pieces in stoneware. I like the fact that my work is totally weather proof and frost proof – some of my lizards are now in Sweden where they comfortably survive temperatures of minus twenty four degrees.

“Now that I’ve finished teaching, I feel as though I’m starting a new career, the timing of this award couldn’t have been better and winning it has given me the confidence to do more.”

Many people assume that Stephen’s work is thrown on the wheel, but all of his vessels are coil built, each one with perfect precision. “It was the method I used with the children much of the time,” Stephen recalls, “So I’ve had thirty two years of practice!”

“I love the combination of form and decoration,” he continues, “the use of oxides brings a piece to life. I mix many of the glazes I use myself and particularly like the effects that are created when I combine them with copper, which has lovely metallic dark greens coming through. And cobalt brings a stunning deep purple, almost black finish where it’s applied.”

Sometimes coiled patterns or flat clay shapes are applied to the pot before firing, for other pieces evidence of the Arabic influence creeps in with pierced work creating intriguing patterns and shapes. “I use a scalpel to cut the clay when it’s at the leather hard stage, beginning at the top and working my way down, so that the weight is always supported by the bottom section of the pot,” Stephen explains, showing me one of his elegantly tall and intricately pierced pots.

Only a few weeks before I visited Stephen, he had been exhibiting his work at Potfest in the Pens, his third year at the show and the best yet. “We did as well in the first two days there this year than we did in the entire show last year,” says Stephen’s partner, Peter.

“Exhibiting at Potfest has taught me a lot,” continues Stephen. “The other potters there are wonderful, everyone helps each other, it’s a great show with a great atmosphere.”

Whilst Stephen has the creative eye, Peter very much looks at things from a business point of view, the two working together to promote the work, which sells under the name of Breck Stoneware.

“We design the stand at shows like Potfest so that everything is grouped and displayed according to colour, we’ve found that it makes it easier for people to choose that way,” they tell me. “Prices range from £40-£50 for the smaller items to £250 for the larger pots, and we’re aware that we need to keep the pricing on a parity with our stockists, now that we have several of the major galleries in the region selling successfully for us.”

Now Stephen is looking forward to next year, when he will be exhibiting at the British Craft Trade Fair for the first time. “I visited bctf this year,” he recalls, “and decided that exhibiting there would be the next step in developing my second career. I’d like to see my work available in more galleries, although I’m a bit reluctant to work on a sale or return basis with them unless they’re local to me. If a gallery is within an hour’s drive of here, it means I can develop a business relationship with the owner, see how my work is displayed, keep an eye on what sells and what might need replacing, so SOR is manageable in that situation.

“But I feel that if my work is stocked on a SOR basis by galleries further away, it would be hard for me to keep tabs on it and I could end up losing touch with what’s happening out there. So I hope that my pricing is attractive enough to encourage firm orders from galleries outside my region, I think I’ve structured it so that there’s something to suit everyone.”

So congratulations Stephen and very best wishes for your journey into a second career. We look forward to hearing more about your joint exhibition in 2011 with fellow potter, Steve Valentine, and to seeing you in April at bctf in Harrogate.

You can see (and buy) Stephen’s work online at www.breckstoneware.co.uk Details of stockists, events and exhibitions can be found at www.craftmaker.co.uk/stephengreen Stephen will be exhibiting on Stand 231 at bctf 2011 www.bctf.co.uk And his work is available to trade buyers now through the Design Edge online trade catalogue www.design-edge.uk.com

Stephen Green, Breck Stoneware 159, Breck Road, Poulton-Le-Fylde, Lancashire, FY6 7JY M: 0797 670 8797 E: sgreen01@uwclub.net

 
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