Natalie, from NHPottery, lives in Staffordshire and works in Stoke-on-Trent aka the potteries, the birthplace of pottery. Pottery has always been in her life and blood line, from as far back as the 1800’s with her cousin, Henry Stacey Marks whose paintings are still relevant today. Her father was trained at Royal Doulton, just like his mother and father before him. Her fathers love for antiques had a strong influence during her upbringing, from antique fairs to visiting some of the worlds greatest antique collectors. It’s no wonder she decided to get into pottery as an adult and create the beautiful, unique ceramics you now see on her Artisanry Co. portfolio – NHPottery.
Ceramics has been part of my life ever since I can remember, I grew up surrounded by antiques as my mother and father were self trained ceramic antique restorers. From the age of five I could tell the value of an antique and have been nerdy about them ever since. It was only natural that my sister and I would at some point work with ceramics.
5 years ago I had the chance to start working with my parents and fell back in love with the history and amazing workmanship of the ceramic world. I started to ‘dabble’, and it didn’t take long before I realised there is so much to learn. My dad volunteered (or was just sick of hearing me scream at the kiln) to teach me, this saved me years and a lot of heartache.
Trying to start a business is difficult, we all know that. I think I’m not alone when I ask the question: How do we compete against the big boys? Here are my thoughts…
When I first started creating ceramics that I thought would sell, I would get really low when seeing how big name stores would sell ‘ceramics’ at really low prices. I would ask myself, why would customers buy my plant pot at £15.00 when they can buy one at £5.00 including a plastic plant? Don’t get me wrong, I love how we live in an age where you can buy lovely things as your style changes, but on the other hand it’s easy to break and not care about an item because it only costs a few quid.
I had to find out why and how these items were so cheap?
We all know that if you buy items in bulk it becomes cheaper; we also know that companies are manufacturing products in foreign countries to save on costs, but are we sure that they are ethical? Are they safe to have around the home? For example, some glaze colours can still contain lethal chemicals which are still legal in certain countries. I’m not trying to scare people, but honestly I am paranoid of my pets chewing on things or my kids breaking stuff, so I go with the better-safe-than-sorry approach.
To trial this, I bought pots a few months ago to take a closer look at them; and when I say a good look I mean I smashed one and put the other in my kiln to see if it could sustain the high temperature that clay actually goes to – I can confirm, it was not very high! I opened my kiln to a melted mess, this was only at 800°C, which most potters know is not that hot. So yes, these big brands are probably using clay but at a very very low percentage, which makes it a bit unfair to call them ceramics.
Pottery as a keepsake. A sentimental piece of functional art.
When you were little and went too close to your mums Wedgwood or your nana’s Moorcroft bowl, you would be shouted at and ushered out of the room to mutterings of “that’s my inheritance that, collectors item, your grandad saved months to get me that” (which just made you want to touch it even more). As a child I was scared, but now I want that feeling. The feeling mum and Nan had, that pride and feeling that Shiela next door doesn’t have the same household items as you.
How do we get this feeling back? Apart from standing next to the ‘ceramics’ in superstores and whispering to passersby that “these aren’t actually ceramics, it’s mainly cement mixed with clay, and then low fired with a spray paint material”. Or perhaps holding a one woman vigil outside the stores with a sign. Both will likely get you arrested, but it’s safe to say I have had a few ideas…
Every item we (potters) make holds a story, and it doesn’t matter if it seems like a boring story. It could be anything from “I made this while watching Coronation Street at my dining room table” to “I made this whilst in labour to calm me down” – at least it has a story. It certainly sounds better than, “I got this when I was buying fruit”.
I am hopeful that people will go back to saving up for something and not impulse buy. I do believe we are slowly making a turning point in saving the planet.
I also want items that I can hand down to my kids. I want them to say to their grandkids “this was your great, great grandmas favourite ceramic bowl, she would leave her mobile phone in it”. To hand it down to them and see their faces light up in the hope that they get to hand it down to their children one day.
As makers we should show others how we make our items. Explain in as much detail (without giving too much away!) what materials are used, how making it has made you (the maker) feel. To be proud and believe in your unique, one-of-a-kind artworks. Let’s be that community at Artisanry Co. that fellow artists and customers visit first to see how much passion goes into our work!