A couple of weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting two very different ceramicists in their workshops at Stowford Farm near Wingfield alongside Sophie Cummings, Curator of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and a project partner of Creative Wiltshire.
Our first stop was the workshop of Patricia Volk situated in a farmyard. The workshop was very much a practical workspace but it was also a treasure trove, with glimpses of her recent work. However, we had arrived to find out more about her earlier pieces, created about 10 years ago, and the thought processes and creative skills that combined to bring them to life with a view to collecting a piece or two as part of the Creative Wiltshire project.
Patricia is very much a free thinker, not scared to use different techniques; true to herself. She uses the coiling technique, building up her pieces in stages and going beyond convention to paint her items rather than use glazes, the medium and methods conveying a brightness and lightness to her work which is refreshing and exciting. Her figure heads have been her signature pieces, and many people have asked if they are based on figures such as those at Easter Island, but this is not the case. Patricia is from Northern Ireland and her Celtic ancestry is at the root of her inspiration. She has a fascination with the use of the head in Celtic culture. The idea of balance and shape also fascinates her and is evident in her work, encompassing the idea that something heavy can appear so light, sometimes even to appear to be floating on air. The painted embellishment on her work also has a story to tell, of a language that can be spoken using dashes instead of words, or which can represent DNA to tell a story of relationships and generations. There is far more to see than just meets the eye, and it was fascinating to find out how Patricia’s artwork represents just that.
Our next stop was to the workshop of Sasha Wardell, sited in the upper part of an old fulling mill which still contains a wheel for a hoist on display. Sasha’s work is amazing in its delicacy; she utilises the technology honed over centuries at the Stoke potteries to produce bone china pieces which display a uniqueness of shape and finish. We were lucky that she had held on to a few of her early pieces, dating back to the 1970s, the time when she was graduating from the Bath Academy of Art at Corsham Court and which we hope to acquire as part of the project. Sasha has always been interested in creating a thin type of ceramic and has developed her china clay work to this effect, avoiding the more traditional forms of thrown pottery. Her work is created using moulds and up to five slip layers, working on shaping at the end of this process to create fine work which often lets in natural light and uses techniques to create texture and movement. She loves the idea of shape, and like Patricia is interested in form, with all her pieces rising upwards from narrower bases. Her work has a delicacy and paper-like quality which is beautiful and enthralling.
In a world where there is a tendency to conform, both Patricia and Sasha have broken convention and trends, creating a uniqueness in both form and technique. Many thanks go to Patricia and Sahsa for welcoming us into their workspace. We are lucky to have been given the opportunity to discover more about these ceramicists as creators, and to view the workshops where they utilise their skill to create beautiful pieces of art.