Here at Experience Days we love to branch out into all manner of activities, providing our customers with the opportunities to learn new skills and try something completely unique! Eastnor Pottery are fantastic suppliers who put on informative, entertaining pottery classes, that are perfect for hen dos or as gifts for people who want to do something a bit different. I caught up with Jon who runs the classes, to chat about how it all began, and how you can become an expert potter too!
1) Please explain your journey as ‘Eastnor Pottery’ so far.
There had been some sort of planning dispute on a building site next door to the house where I spent my childhood. As a result, the foundations had been dug and abandoned for at least a couple of years. This landscape of trenches and spoil heaps became our childhood playground. Vast seams of different coloured clays and earth were easily accessible and we dug, threw at each other and modelled our way through this fantastic raw material. I particularly remember modelling little fighter planes out of a yellowish marl, burnished with a finger to a shiny finish. I think the love affair with clay started right there.
As a child, I also enjoyed drawing and making things, but it wasn’t till the age of 15 I encountered the head of my local art-school and in a blinding revelation, realised that ‘art’ could be a job! I studied in Swindon & then Bath my experience culminating in a 1st class degree in ceramics and 3d design – I also met my wife and fellow potter Sarah Monk at Bath and together we established a studio on the idyllic Eastnor Castle Estate in Herefordshire. 20 years later and we’re still here! The business has grown and developed, not only as an artist studio but as a centre for others to explore and develop their creativity through the marvellous medium of clay.
Best part of the job? Got to be the variety of people we work with. One day we might be sharing the considerable benefits of working with clay with 12 month old babies and their families, next day it’s the board of directors of an international corporation. Everybody can engage, everybody achieves!
I love my job but there are never enough hours in the day – this is perhaps the most challenging aspect, trying to fit everything in. Coming up with creative solutions and clay projects for all the different ages and abilities, on a daily basis keeps us on our toes and is immensely creative and fulfilling.
2) What a fascinating story, it’s great to see so much enthusiasm and passion behind the work. What makes your experiences exciting and different from others?
We aim to give our clients and customers the most relaxing and creative experience possible. Lots of tea and fresh coffee, comfort breaks as and when and lunch is tasty and plentiful.
Groups are small and each participant has a dedicated wheel for the day. As we have just nine wheels the group size doesn’t exceed nine participants. This allows for maximum one to one tuition and our participants are always amazed at how much they achieve in a day. The demonstration and instruction is gentle, positive and inclusive, designed to create a relaxed but constructive atmosphere.
Working on the potter’s wheel demands a certain degree of concentration. Participants often comment on the therapeutic and meditative qualities of throwing a pot and return home tired but with an overwhelming sense of wellbeing.
Why should they choose us over competitors? 20 years experience of making pots and people happy! The majority of our customers haven’t ever had the opportunity to try the potter’s wheel and our step by step approach to the process works perfectly for those first timers.
3) That’s what we love about this experience, it’s totally unique! Do you have any exclusive information you can share with us?
Play is vitally important to all aspects of my work. I love the opportunity to start with a ball of spinning clay on the wheel and just experiment and see what the stuff can do – always on the lookout for interesting developments and happy accidents. When participants take to the wheel, I’m keen to point out interesting marks, shapes and effects – in clay there are no mistakes!
4) Sounds addictive. Do you have any exciting plans for the future that you’d like to tell us about?
I welcome collaboration and experimentation, working with artists from across all art forms. I work with musicians, poets, and visual artists, asking questions about approach and materials. This curiosity informs all the social engagement work and fuels my enthusiasm for sharing what I’ve learnt with others.
I currently have a touring solo show of my fired ceramics. ‘Sensational Clay’ is a fun and thought-provoking exhibition for all the family to enjoy and designed to stimulate all the senses.
I’d like to continue to exhibit and develop my practice as well as offering course participants interesting things to do with clay.
5) What would you say is your most frequently asked question?
Can I cook this in my oven at home?! Clay needs to reach temperatures above and beyond 1000 degrees to make that irreversible change from clay to ceramic. When you consider that most domestic ovens do not exceed 200 degrees you start to get an idea of the heat and power to create a ceramic object. Clay pots in an oven would get very hot but would still be clay when they emerge – hot, dry mud for sure but definitely not water resistant!
6) I never knew that! What’s the craziest thing to ever happen during a course?
I’ve thrown a pot in front of the queen before! She had a rather immaculate light green coat on at the time so didn’t want to get too close to the iron rich terracotta clay.
I’m constantly amazed by the levels of creativity and imagination displayed by our participants – each person, each pot is an individual and this is something we celebrate here at Eastnor Pottery on a daily basis. Everybody has a creative streak – just need an opportunity and correct environment for it to emerge!
Thanks so much for talking to me, Jon. Pottery is definitely something I’d love to try in the future!