National Ceramics Week

by Geoff and Chris Cox

Many years ago, when Christine and I became full time potters, probably the most important thing that happened to us was making friends at craft fairs. In those endless hours standing behind our stalls we talked with each other about our work, what we were trying to do, which were good shows, which galleries were good to work with (and which weren't). Everyone seemed open and happy to share information. We didn't even know we were networking. At the end of the 80s we did our first Continental potters' market and found this same attitude with potters abroad.
As a result, about 18 years ago, we started Potfest, the first potters' market in the UK. We did this partly to create a focus for ceramics in the North, but also to make a sort of potters' rendezvous, a place to help generate networking opportunities and build friendships between makers both here and abroad. As potters from farther afield came to show their work more British potters began to reciprocate and many now take part in shows all over mainland Europe and beyond.
To try to help encourage this interaction, in previous years we've invited guest groups of international potters from potting communities whose members all know and work with each other. The first were members of the Banko Ceramic Art Association in Yokkaichi, Japan. Seven members of the group came to the first Potfest in the Park in 2001, resulting in an invitation for seven Potfest potters to exhibit with them back in Japan two years later.
Potters from Hohr-Grenzhausen in Germany, a salt glazing community in the Rhine land, came and invited a group back to their show. Last year's guests were from St Amand en Puisaye, a stoneware producing town in Burgundy and several from our show will be doing theirs in August this year.
Potfest is now much more than just a potters' market. As well as a place of inspiration and information it's an international network presenting potters with opportunities unavailable anywhere else. But it does require them to take the initiative and develop friendships. When people come together who knows what or where things might lead.Sometimes we just need an excuse to make things happen. As professional makers we all live from day to day, making work, fulfilling orders and sometimes need a nudge to help us step off the production treadmill and try a new direction. Thanks to Paul and Angie at craft&design magazine, the focus of Craft and Design Month and National Ceramics Week might just be the excuse that everyone needs.
We all work in isolation, we all know many people working in our own craft, sometimes in our own area, but rarely come together to mutual advantage.
Most potters would like to work together from time to time, but what's needed to make it happen is often the vision of one maker and an excuse to do it.

Here are a few potters' networking initiatives to help celebrate the event.

Greystoke Arts Festival - from an idea by Geoff and Christine Cox
Although we organise Potfest, bringing around 250 potters to the area over a 10 day period in summer each year, we as Cumbrian potters rarely come together as a group. There are probably about 50 potters in the county, but as elsewhere most tend to work in splendid isolation. National Ceramics Week seemed to be a good time to try to address this situation. For a long time Chris and I, though not particularly religious, have looked at our local church as a magnificent building and a perfect place for an exhibition. What better time than this to do something about it.
Greystoke is a particularly beautiful village about three miles away from us. The church was once an ecclesiastical college and is much bigger than one would expect for such a small community.
We decided to make the project multifaceted in the hope that it would become an annual event and this is the result. Over twenty local potters will take part during ten days in May and the project will be in five parts.
Part I - Empty Bowls: The event will start with an evening private view and Empty Bowls project. This is an idea started in the USA where potters donate bowls, people buy a bowl of soup at a fixed price. They keep the bowl and all proceeds go to a third world hunger charity. To date potters in the area have promised over 150 bowls. For us the willingness of potters to share is what we've found throughout our potting careers. Our dedicated hunger charity is 'Mary's Meals', who provide a hot meal a day for children at school in Africa. We feel that the fact that each and every bowl made and donated will provide a child with a meal a day for a whole year is the most sharing thing we can do as makers.
Part 2 - The Exhibition: Ten potters have elected to make special pieces inspired by the building, to have on exhibition in the church throughout the ten day event.
Part 3 - The Market: Seventeen potters will make a potters' market, selling their normal work in the church over the first weekend of the project.
Part 4 - Interaction: During these first two days there will be hands-on workshops when visitors and members of the village will be invited to make a ceramics mural. The church is dedicated to St Andrew - the fisherman. Everyone will make fish tiles which all together will make a shoal to be on display as part of the exhibition.
Part 5 - Open Studios: Around 20 local potters will open their studios during the first week in May, National Ceramics Week.
Many potters throughout the rest of Cumbria will do the same.

If the project works this year - and we're convinced it will - there are already plans to include other crafts besides pottery next time and extend the event into the village. Eventually we'd hope that an annual Visual Arts Festival takes over the whole village in May.

On the following pages we feature some of the Ceramics projects inspired by potters showing their work at Potfest this year.
As Craft and Design Month grows maybe we will see similar networking events in other craft disciplines.
Chris & Geoff Cox

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