As I write this on a grey, wet and challenging Bank Holiday Monday, it could feel difficult to think of what there is to celebrate in the passing of August 2021. Arguably the summer, such as it was, is over in name at least, and the less frequent days of bright and warm sunshine should now be preceded by startlingly fresh and brilliant mornings.
However, embracing the mindset of gratitude, August has been amazing in so many ways. Considering that the Covid situation isn’t going away anytime soon, it's been a huge relief for families and friends to meet up, get out, get away - any change from the four walls of lockdown a victory. For me personally August has seen the Ravn Clay Studio welcoming dozens of visitors, and I’ve had the pleasure to work with lots of budding potters. The month has given me a sense of joy (and relief) that this aspiration of nurturing people’s creativity and craft-skills via pottery is something that can bring pleasure to many people - and sustain one man and his dog long in to the future.
Many of us will look on September as a time of change - starting a new school or going to college - when we stealthily prepare for the winter ahead. With the fall of leaves an ancient, animal part of our brain will start to think of closing in, wrapping up and gathering stores for the darkest months; digging out the candles, airing blankets and throws, finding candles and cashmere, rummaging for favourite soup recipes. Hats and scarves and gloves will soon replace summer shorts for all but the most fool-hardy, and the home will incrementally become a woollier, warmer retreat.
There’s also a rush of ‘making-the-most-of-it’ with the last of the festivals and outdoor events. Here in my corner of Northumberland, September brings the Berwick Slow Food Festival (https://www.berwickfoodandbeerfestival.co.uk) on the 4th and 5th September, then Heritage Open Days a week later, (https://www.heritageopendays.org.uk) with Berwick-upon-Tweed and its magnificent border history and built heritage celebrated in over fifty events - a chance to see inside and understand many of the hidden secrets of the Town’s troubled past. The weekend of the 10-12th September 2021 is also the 17th Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival (https://bfmaf.org) - countless reasons to still be out and about while the weather is at least making up its mind.
At the studio I am having to think strategically for the months ahead. The approach of winter is a challenge for teaching opportunities - a test of how resilient folk are in their quest to work with clay. I fully plan to keep going with half day workshops until the end of October in my current location, with a few full day sessions planned out at Broomhouse Farmhouse, Cheswick. What happens after that is a situation that is evolving but not hopeless. The frequency of classes may diminish somewhat as I balance these against making stock for the seasonal rush, but teaching or at least sharing pottery skills with people is rewarding in so many ways that it needs to remain at the heart of what Ravn Clay is about.
Pottery isn’t an instant process, and although this can be a huge part of its appeal, it's also something of an obstacle when trying to be look ahead. That is why, as a metaphorical fly-on-the-wall at Heatherslaw at the moment, you might see me wrestling with designs for pumpkin pinch pots for pop-up workshops before Halloween. That, or building, firing and glazing ceramic Christmas Tree decorations, experimenting with form and decoration, trying to achieve something that will be resilient and cherished for years to come. Luckily I have one or two friends who are fairly obsessed with Christmas, so they will no doubt be getting hounded with questions about what works decoration-wise in the weeks ahead.
More than either of those though, I’m planning to deliver some Christmas Workshops. These will be awkward to promote; aiming for a physical, ceramic product for the Festive Season in a way that allows for two firings, glazing and collection/dispatch via the post, might make me look like one of those Supermarkets that have the mince pies dusted off for the end of the school holidays. (I will resist Christmas Music as long as possible.) I don’t wish to give too much away, but the plan would be for an activity working with prepared slabs of stoneware, building a single (or set of) items(s) that celebrate the time of year, as well as symbolising the family and friends that remain the core of the season.
If anyone has been to the workshop over the past few weeks (or will be visiting the coming weeks) you will probably have been pestered about your thoughts on progress on any or all of these - pumpkins, decorations or Christmas Workshops - and once I have something concrete to move forward with, I will of course share it via social media and bookings etc will be available either an site at Ravn Clay or via the webpage.
Despite the typical August bank Holiday drizzle and biting wind, Raven has dragged me down the beach already. She is getting over her salt-water exertions in a well-deserved and deep sleep. I shall potter off now (only potters are allowed to potter - I am reclaiming the word for the Claysmiths) and drink strong, hot tea from my own mug, and scoff buttered toast while thumbing through my soup recipes. Still not putting on long trousers though….