There are events from my childhood that I distinctly remember in relation to my first experiences with clay and pottery. I remember being given a cheap tabletop potter’s wheel and a little portion of hard clay as a present from my grandmother. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with the wheel spinning round and adding the water to the clay, and making a terrible mess.
The thing I distinctly remember is the smell of the clay!
I was brought up in Devon where, if you dig down almost anywhere, you are sure to find clay. First red clay. Then, if you dig deeper, you’ll find grey clay.
As a child at the play area I remember the smell, colour, and texture of the earth, it was a very plastic orange clay. As children we would roll it up into balls and use it as ammunition to throw at one another. I cannot forget the smell, it has a distinctive earthy purity. Sometimes when the smell of clay hits me at the workshop, it takes me back in time to being a child for a moment.
I was born in a fishing village, in South-West Cornwall. The area has been steeped in pottery culture ever since Bernard Leach settled at his Pottery in St Ives.
In the 1960’s and 70’s many Studio potters set up their workshops in the rural parts of England. My grandparents had bought hand-made pottery from a potter called Scott Marshall, who had been Bernard Leach’s last apprentice. Growing up around my grandparents, the handmade pots became a part of my subconscious.
I made my first pot at primary school. It was a coiled bowl based on a project about the Roman times. Most children couldn’t keep their pots because they wouldn’t be fired. My Auntie, who was an artist, had use of a kiln, and she glazed and fired it for me. I remember the light orange pigment transformed into deep black under the shiny glaze.
Later on, after I had finished high school, I decided I would like to become a carpenter. My Father and my Grandfather had always made things from wood, and I decided I would like to have a career using my hands. Although I enjoyed being a carpenters apprentice, after a year I decided my hands were made to do something else.
At 17 I re-enrolled to study history, geography and music recording. I also chose to study 'Ceramics' as an extra subject. Initially I paid no thought to the subject of ceramics, but soon found myself enjoying everything about it. I loved learning about ceramic artists and the process of making with clay. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the ceramics workshop and the mystery of the kiln.
To cut a long story short, I was struck by a certain pot in a book one day. It was a very iconic pot, made in ancient Greece. A large and finely made vase, with a bold painting of an octopus on it. I couldn't quite believe its majesty as a work of pure art. I was instantly drawn to this pot, and imagined the nature of the people who would have made it. It spoke to me clearly about the culture it was born in. So I set about trying to make one in the workshop. I was inspired.
In our studio at college, we had pictures all over the walls of different contemporary potters and artists work. I compared the ancient pots to the modern, and found no comparison. It sparked a deep question within me about where to begin when approaching the craft of pottery. I hoped I could trace back to the essence of pottery craft and pay homage to it in my work.
At this early stage, I understood I couldn't hope to make a good pot for, at least, ten years. I therefore gave myself a goal of becoming a great potter and allowed my path to unfold slowly and steadily.
At college I also began studying Asian ceramics and read ‘A Potter’s Book’ by Bernard Leach. I became interested in the spiritual and alchemical side of working with the elements; earth, fire, air, water. I began trying to make pottery on the wheel and made my first bowls and cups.
Initially, I gave myself so much freedom to fail. I experimented without hope. I enjoyed things that worked and things that didn't work. I was in no rush.
After college I went to Cardiff university to study a degree in ceramic art and made some awful things. I felt it was a period where I could purge myself of negativity. I purposely made things the wrong way; fired them at the wrong temperature, added too much pigment, etc. But underneath all this chaos, I had a fixed vision of eventually becoming a humble potter.
Although I made expressive pieces, the theme of pottery was never far away from what I did. I incorporated the history of ceramics, and throwing, in nearly every project. During these three years I spent time working with professional potters in England, France and Eastern Europe.
Leach Pottery 2008-2010
When I left university I went to work at the Leach Pottery in St Ives. I spent two years training to be a production thrower and a professional potter.
At the Leach Pottery I worked with many influential ceramic artists and visiting artists. Everyday was spent studying pottery, art, food and music. I was able to start working on my designs for functional pottery and began practicing my processes of technique.
During my training in St Ives, I worked with a French artist called Michel Francois. He had studied sculpture at Edinburgh University and was deeply inspired to become a potter. We became strong allies and, as colleagues, set about a mission of understanding the purity we desired within our pottery work. We focused all of our attention to Asian and European folk ceramics and traditional techniques. We made work together and fired kilns together. We shared our techniques and recipes in a joint effort of progressing with our work.
Michel always believed in my ability as a potter and gave me positive criticism about my work. He helped me to break free of destructive and negative approaches and instilled me with a direction towards simplicity and beauty for my work. His knowledge of art history and sculpture helped me to understand my true intentions as a maker.
Boscean Pottery 2010-2014
After my training in St Ives I went on to revive Boscean Pottery, where the old master Scott Marshall had made his pots, in St Just, Cornwall. The place where my grandparents bought their pots in the 1960’s.
I had been called there after Scott died, with the job of finishing his last pots. He had been such an inspiration to me in my path to being a potter and I was honored that I would be involved in helping his family. I was also aware of the brevity of what I was being asked to do.
With the permission of Scott Marshall’s widow, Beth Marshall, I set about producing the old shapes and glazes. Customers began returning in earnest. I tested Scott's glazes on his shapes to make sure I reproduced his finish's respectfully. This gave me the stand point to begin my journey at the historic pottery and gave me an invitation to set about paying homage to the traditions practiced at Boscean Pottery.
I am indebted to Scott Marshall’s family for allowing me to be a potter there for over 3 years. During my time in the old masters workshop I soaked up the atmosphere of reality within the walls of the workshop. I consciously challenged myself to emulate the style and quality of the traditional work. This gave me the opportunity to further my skills as a potter and designer before I had to leave and set up my own Pottery.
My career started to blossom at Boscean and I received some major commissions whilst working there. I also spent time documenting the Pottery's history and held a retrospective exhibition to mark its 50th anniversary in 2012.
In February 2014 Beth Marshall passed away. I suddenly found myself with nowhere to go....
Jacob Bodilly Pottery
I set about finding a new site to build my first truly independent Pottery, ‘The Jacob Bodilly Pottery‘. I found an old barn building in the countryside, near to my family, and moved all my 20 tonnes of pottery equipment back to Devon.
The first 4 months where spent renovating the old barn into a workshop. A small showroom was renovated for my customers and guests.
Although I had very little money, I had the support of old friends, loyal customers, local businesses, and my family, who helped me to continue my Pottery work.
Pottery is my full time occupation. I accept many bespoke commissions and also sell my own designs from my online web-page and to visiting customers. My work becomes collectible and is perfect for gifts at weddings or holidays.
I am very flexible about using my processes to produce what my customers want. I believe it is crucial that craftspeople must offer a service, and that his/her work is fundamentally a tool to create useful and beautiful things.
My design style is firmly grounded in studying traditional folk pottery.
My approach is born from the technical processes I use. I submit to the technique I have chosen. Primarily, my work is thrown on a traditional wheel, which puts limits on speed and power. I use simple glazes that are are based on traditional recipes. I use good quality clay and materials, and take my time over each piece I make. I am looking for good proportions and striving for healthy craftsmanship. I strive to provide my customers with harmonious objects for their home.
I produce a range of different pots. I make everyday objects like bowls and cups. I make storage and cooking pots. I make serving pots and brewing pots.
There is also a more personal level to my work that I am slowly etching away at. I make certain pieces I am personally inspired to create. These more personal efforts are like studies, they are my inspirations.
Re-Infusing the Essence
Within the contemporary field of craft there is a cloud of distortion. The dissolution of necessity, caused by mass production, has led to a misunderstanding of general craft values and a weakening of craft lineage
It is my strong belief that the essence of craft must be consciously sought after by the modern artisan-craftsman. He can no longer exist making crude work, and is audacious in thinking he can reinvent humanity's core responses to nature and its beauty.
The essence of our world, as humans, is humanity itself. When viewing Archaic Pottery we are touched with an innate sense of our spirituality. The essence imbued in ancient art comes from our very nature.
The nature of humans, in our relationship to the nature of the world, is exposed by our manifestations. Artifacts from the past feed us with truth. They survive as links to our ancestor’s senses, whose profound nature is captured within the necessity of their craft work.
To make work that pays homage to our ancestors we must think deeply about how we approach our practices. This is especially true if we are individual makers who wish to become craftsman without the groundings of being born within a lineage of crafts.
Bernard Leach set about teaching the notion of the ‘Sung standard’ of work. His concept has been interpreted in many ways and misunderstood by many. It may be possible to distrust Leach's philosophy based on our examination of his own outcomes. We must take initiative to delve deeper into his message and to elaborate on his vision.
I believe Leach sought to enlighten us to the level of quality set in the past. He also wanted us to strive towards regaining an understanding of how to achieve success in the now. His teachings can be easily reinterpreted for the modern day. Leach's manifesto is rooted in the urge to promote what is healthy and harmonious, as opposed to what is not. This is a timeless endeavor that we can strive for in every aspect of our lives.
In understanding what has failed us in modernity, we may begin to procure a basis for our practice.
In order to produce harmonious work now, contemporary crafts practitioners, designers, and artists alike, can learn to understand what has come before, and why it worked. They must, of course, seek to emulate it. In paying homage to the values of our forebears, we keep the spirit alive; we re-infuse it.
Jacob Bodilly - 2015