A Summer of Ceramics

Words by:
Caroline Bingham
Featured in:
August 2019

An exhibition at Doddington Hall is showcasing contemporary ceramic art alongside the historic house’s own extraordinary collection gathered over 300 years. Caroline Bingham went to meet Susanna Gorst, of Oxcombe Pottery, who has selected the work on show by Lincolnshire based ceramicists.
I speak to many Wolds based artists who find all their inspiration on their flora and fauna abundant doorsteps. Ceramicist, Susanna Gorst travels slightly further, to her family’s beach chalet at Sandilands – where the sea and especially sponges in all their delicate forms inspire her work.

Susanna had invited me to a beginner’s taster class at Oxcombe Pottery which was also the chance to appreciate the enormous gulf in skill level between my own efforts and the exquisite, evocative pieces which Susanna will be exhibiting at Doddington Hall.

The pottery was established in 2014 in converted outbuildings at Susanna’s family farm with the help of a LEADER grant. Located in an idyllic spot, such is the demand for places that a second pottery studio is now under construction and will be ready to welcome groups and parties this autumn.

Each pottery I have visited is always a hive of activity, but the focus and concentration required also makes them havens of calm and precision. Six other potters were in the naturally sunlit studio that day, happily chatting as they worked at the wheels or hand decorated their own biscuit fired pieces.

Charlotte Lauriston-Norris, my inspirational tutor for the day, was a very patient guide to forming my first pinch and coiled pots. I had imagined working with clay was similar to manipulating dough. Yes, they need to be worked but wedging is not the same technique as kneading and the aim is no air pockets rather than encouraging them. I left all thought of bread making behind me, slowed my pace and listened. My first piece did remind me of bowls that my children had produced when they were aged 5 or 6. A sobering reality check that my ambition to make a ‘Lincolnshire’ bulb vase may be some way off. Secondly, Charlotte explained how to create a coiled bowl, surely one of the most ancient techniques to create a functional vessel. Both were left to air dry while I met Susanna for lunch.

Susanna moved to the Wolds thirty years ago when she took over the farm. For most people raising four children, building a herd of Angus cattle and developing the farm would be engrossing enough.

“I have always made things,” Susanna explained, “and enjoyed hand skills such as knitting and sewing. Taking an evening class in pottery in Cambridge was the start of wanting to pursue this journey through the skills of ceramics. I have been drawn to throwing from a very early stage and as you learn one technique it naturally leads to satisfying the curiosity of another.”

To keep learning, Susanna next attended a Master Class at Hull Art School where her ambition was further ‘fired’ by the studio environment. On the recommendation of Charlotte and Nicki Jarvis, who teach at Oxcombe, Susanna next enrolled on the internationally renowned City Lit Ceramics Diploma run by Camden Adult Education in London. Susanna is one of sixteen graduating students whose work was shown at the Menier Gallery in London last month. This course led by Annie Turner, Loewe Craft Prize finalist, takes students through all the disciplines and skills of drawing, research, throwing, firing, glazing and technique. It is recognised as an entry qualification for a Masters in Ceramics at the Royal College of Art.

“I love throwing and researching. My work is not really functional but focuses on the form of sponges, their asymmetrical and organic shapes. I have spent hours in the Natural History Museum exploring the huge variation in their structures. I throw the vessels and then alter and manipulate them by hand, exploring the softness and tension of the clay which stretches and moves, creating the shapes of these natural filters which form over many years. Glazes are dry and matt, using oxides for colour.”

The pottery has been so successful that Susanna has to do her own work on Sundays. “It is said that the potter does not choose the clay but the clay chooses you. In my case, white stoneware can be fired at higher temperatures to achieve the stronger yet very delicate structure I strive for. I love mixing my own glazes too and there is a better colour response in the kiln.”

Presenting her work in Doddington’s Stable Yard Galleries will be Susanna’s first exhibition outside the framework of her course and as well as her own ceramics there will be lots of work for sale from twelve or so Oxcombe Pottery students.

Susanna has also identified other Lincolnshire based potters who will represent the county within the Summer of Ceramics Festival. These include Gainsborough based artist Nicola Theakston, Anne Povey, Heather and Michael Ducos from Alford Pottery, Zoo Ceramics from Waddington, Sarah Taylor and Janet Burton.

After lunch I returned to the studio and Charlotte showed me how to scrape away excess clay, techniques for adding textures to surfaces as well as the final smooth finish I chose for my two bowls. A long way from the lightness of touch and sophistication of other work I saw that day but I am excited to see if they survive the glazing and firing process intact.


Rebecca Blackwood, curator of the exhibits in the Hall for the Summer of Ceramics, gives Lincolnshire Life an exclusive tour of the show.

Alongside a centuries-old collection of English Delftware and Chinese Porcelain, Doddington Hall presents extraordinary creations from some of today’s leading ceramicists.

British country houses are unique cultural assets. Italy and Greece have classical ruins, France and Germany cathedrals and castles – Britain has more great, lived-in country houses than anywhere else. The majority of the houses are in private ownership, often lived in by the same family for hundreds of years. They are homes and ceramics are the medium through which generations of owners leave their mark.

Claire and James Birch inherited Doddington from Claire’s parents, Antony and Vicky Jarvis, taking up residence in 2007. Claire’s parents made the house appealing to visitors of all ages and generated funds to repair and conserve it. Claire and James have broadened the Hall’s appeal to re-imagine Doddington as a tourist destination.

Today, Doddington is a wonderful mix of the present and past. This summer visitors will discover a celebration of 300 years of collecting ceramics telling the story of the families who have lived here, their tastes and travels. In The Stable Yard Galleries there is a selling exhibition of contemporary ceramics for anyone interested in starting their own ceramics collection as well as opportunities for the uninitiated to have a go with a potter’s wheel.

Porcelain, Delftware, figurines, busts and tiny tea bowls are on show throughout the Hall. They punctuate the rooms, celebrating the history and interests of the family alongside the best of contemporary ceramists’ work loaned by museums, private collectors, organisations and artists.

Antony Jarvis, Claire’s father, began a lifelong interest in ceramics in 1963 on meeting artist Tom Plowman and gallerist Henry Rothschild. His extraordinary ceramics collection displayed in The Great Hall illustrates his quest for artists with a signature style; whether they produce abstract designs of great beauty or bold, simple forms of domestic wares. The artists represented in his collection reads as a Who’s Who of twentieth-century British Studio Ceramics as it includes Tom Plowman, Colin Pearson, Gordon Baldwin, Jane Hamlyn, Antonia Salmon, Joanna Constantinidis and Gwyn Hanssen Pigott to mention but a few.

In the Library, there is a niche collection of political ceramics acquired by James Birch whose first buy was a bust of Lenin from a flea market in Budapest in 1980. When James went to live in Hong Kong in the late 1990s he began to buy ceramics featuring Chairman Mao. Although modest and incomplete, his collection has been enhanced by pieces from the Hall and his particular favourite is a John F Kennedy plate.

In the Long Gallery in the alcoves and china room, you will see what was used for entertaining by the Delaval family who instigated substantial structural changes to the Hall. Their collection reflects changing fashions, geographies and tastes of a family renowned for its extravagant entertaining, amateur dramatics and practical jokes. Also here is the fascinating china collection of Edwin George Jarvis whose many curiosities, one-off trade samples and individually marked pieces were recorded by him in exquisite hand-painted illustrations. Interestingly he acquired a number of very rare ceramic pieces from Torksey Pottery; a pottery established in 1802 by the artist William Billingsley with money supplied by Henry Bankes because of its location on the River Trent. Billingsley had a prodigious talent as a porcelain painter whose highly valued work was very popular in London. The development of a pottery at Torksey was plagued with difficulties and in 1808 the financial constraints became too great so Billingsley and his family ‘did a moonlight flit’ to avoid being arrested for debt and potentially being incarcerated in Lincoln Castle.

Throughout the Hall you will be able to see the work of some of the UK’s leading contemporary ceramic artists, many with Lincolnshire connections, most notably Edmund de Waal and Peter Moss.

De Waal’s father was Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral and he grew up living next to the Cathedral. His interest in pottery began when he took a ceramics evening class at Lincoln School of Art. De Waal continually investigates themes of diaspora, memorial, materiality and the colour white. His interventions and artworks have been made for diverse historic spaces and museums worldwide.

Moss has spent thirty years living, teaching and working in Lincolnshire. His work is internationally acclaimed and widely collected. It falls into three broad categories: decorative surfaces, sculpture, and architectural works. Moss strives for harmony and balance in ever-changing combinations of colour, pattern and form.

The work of other contemporary artists living and working in the UK exhibited in the Hall include Bouke de Vries, Lucille Lewin, Alex Simpson, Katie Spragg, Rafaela De Ascanio, Alkesh Parmar and Matthew Wilcock, star of the BBC’s The Great Pottery Throw Down.

Like many country houses Doddington is a lived-in family home so the Summer of Ceramics illuminates the collecting and commissioning of artists that continues here today. Doddington Hall offers a unique glimpse of living, breathing British culture and a much needed reflective moment.

Summer of Ceramics runs from 27th July to 8th September. A full events programme can be found at www.doddingtonhall.com.

Doddington Hall and Gardens will be open Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays, 12noon–4.30pm. The gardens open at 11am and last admission is at 3.30pm. Admission applies. The Stable Yard Galleries will be open daily 10am-4pm and entry is free of charge.

Current owner and guardian of the Hall, Claire Birch, said: “We’re proud to be welcoming international and national ceramicists to Doddington Hall. Major exhibitions, tours, talks and demonstrations will bring the house and our extraordinary collection to life.”

Inside the Hall, visitors will discover Doddington’s ceramics collection curated by Rebecca Blackwood. The Edwin Jarvis collection of largely English ceramics will be presented with special displays of Torksey Pottery, and the extensive collection of 20th-century British Studio pottery collected by Antony Jarvis. There will also be pieces from world-famous ceramicists with Lincolnshire connections including Edmund de Waal and Gordon Baldwin.

Curator Preston Fitzgerald will showcase national and international makers at the frontier of ceramic design. Exhibits include decorative, functional, sculptural, figurative, abstract and artisan pottery as well as larger collection pieces available to buy. Exhibitors include Freya Bramble-Carter, James Faulkner, Ryan Barrett and Rafaela de Ascanio. Plus a selection of work by Lincolnshire ceramicists, curated by Susanna Gorst.

Have a go at new activities including handling clay, throwing a pot and painting ceramics with commissioned artists and makers. Charlotte Lauriston-Norris is one of the Lincolnshire potters who will be guiding the ‘have a go pottery sessions’ in the gardens.

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