I first got to know Clare and Simon Dawdry when as a family we attended a pottery workshop for children they organised in the Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries. I think it must have been around 2007. Their friendliness and enthusiasms were palpable, as was their love of clay.
The following year we saw they were taking part In Dumfries and Galloway’s magnificent Spring Fling weekend of open studios. We made sure to go along and support them, coming away laden with cereal bowls, a teapot and various small dishes that could be put to multiple uses.
Each year since we have gone back to ‘We Make Pots’, almost always on the first morning of the Spring Fling event. Our welcome seems to grow in emotion as time passes. We have also attended various one off openings in winter and made visits on other occasions. For us it has been a journey of discovery, as Clare’s preferred colours, glazes, finishes, forms and styles have evolved over time: never dramatically, but always with an assurance that her creativity is a precious thing to be nurtured and given space.
Over more than a decade we have taken our closest friends to Clare’s premises in the wonderfully named village of Kirkpatrick Durham, We’ve been there with other members of the family too, as well as with visitors from various continents. Several of these people have become, like us, recidivist collectors and users of Clare’s work, always eager to add new examples and styles to their shelves and cupboards.
In our house we use Clare’s pots every day and at every meal. From time to time we have requested items to be made specially for us, like pint sized mugs for early morning tea. And so our policy of ‘We Buy Pots’ has served us well. We have also purchased numerous items for wedding, birthday and Christmas presents and I’ve given Clare’s pots to visiting academics over the years – easy to take home in a suitcase, if carefully wrapped. In December 2019 when walking for the first time into the office of a Japanese professor of philosophy at Shizuoka University, I was delighted to see some of Clare’s bowls in use on his desk, brought back from a previous visit to me in Dumfries. More recently in Zoom meetings, people have asked about the beautiful larger pieces by Clare, proudly (and strategically!) displayed on the shelves behind me.
It’s safe to say that Clare’s work is actually an integral part of our quotidian life. She is an inspiring person and a successful maker, You can buy her work in posh hotels and shops and in some of the nation’s finest museums. So in starting up this site I was keen to get in touch and ask some questions about her work. Please enjoy her responses here, and also the short video by Colin Tennant that follows. Of course, if you can, do bring her pots into your own home and daily life!
I’m very grateful to Clare for taking the time to share her practice with us and answering my questions.
1 How did you become a maker of pots?
My story with clay began at Glasgow School of Art in 1996. I had originally applied for a place on the jewellery and silversmithing course, but the panel at the interview thought my portfolio showed potential for a more 3 dimensional approach and I was offered a place on the ceramics course. During my degree I did my first throwing module in my second year with guest tutor Fergus Stewart and it then became clear that I wanted to be a thrower. I developed an interest in functional ceramics, and found joy in the role played by well made pots in daily life.
2 How would you describe the work you have done over the last 10 years or so – particularly the type of pots you make?
Since completing my degree I have continued to work on the wheel, producing ranges of tableware, and developing my skills as a production potter. A large commission for a michelin starred restaurant in 2005 led me to hone my skills to produce thousands of items, in various shapes and sizes, whilst developing new glaze surfaces and colours. Along side this range of work, I enjoy making more decorative, one off pieces. Vases, bottles and groups of pots with complimentary colour schemes.
3 What are the inspirations for your evolving styles, colours and the ideas and emotions behind them?
I find inspiration for the decoration of my work in the local land and sea scapes , patterns, textures and surfaces in nature. I find one batch of work inspires the next, and often the results from a firing can lead to experimentation with new glaze combinations. The challenge of the process is addictive. Recently Ive been enjoying playing with masking techniques, taking the decoration in a more abstract direction. Functionality is always my main consideration when making my pots. I want them to be used, and loved. A favourite mug for your morning cuppa, or the perfect bowl for your porridge.
4 What will be happening in your studio on any given day? Do you have set routines to follow?
My work routine is cyclical. Beginning with making, drying, firing, glazing, then firing again. I find I can be considerably more productive in the summer months when the weather is warmer and the pots will dry more quickly. I love nothing more than throwing a batch of pots and taking them out to sit on the garden wall to dry. When working in a small workshop it makes a big difference to productivity.
When throwing I usually like to make small batches of differing shapes and sizes of pots to allow for a good variety in each firing. Having smaller kilns allows me to get through a cycle of work relatively quickly. From ball of clay to finished pot can take around 2 weeks. Along side the fun parts, there are always necessary tasks like clay preparation, glaze mixing, kiln maintenance etc. I tend to do the paperwork side of my business early in the morning when the rest of the house is still asleep, so as to maximise my studio time when my children are in school.
5 Your studio is part of your house and your kiln is in the garden. What is it like working at home, particularly during the lockdowns?
I feel extremely lucky to have my workshop and kilns next to my house. Its a good thing to be able to keep an eye on the kilns, and to pop through and check how things are drying. Being able to continue working through lockdown has been a wonderful distraction from the worry of the pandemic and the demands of homeschooling.
6 What do you like most about the work that you do?
I have professional pictures taken twice a year, and love to spend time styling the work to get the images I need for show applications, exhibition submissions and promotion.
Meeting my customers is special. Open studio events are hugely rewarding when working for most of the year alone in my studio.
My favourite things are throwing the pots, the feeling of the clay in my hands, and the satisfaction of being able to turn a lump of clay into something to be used and enjoyed in daily life.
When the kiln is cool enough to open after the glaze firing. I’ll never tire of that. It still amazes me what heat and flame can do!
More about Clare …
I studied at George Street School of Art in Dumfries and then gained a degree in ceramics at Glasgow School of Art, graduating in 2000. On a student exchange to Canberra, Australia, I met my husband Simon, whose parents, by coincidence, are also potters. After a time travelling in Japan, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and America we returned home to Scotland where Simon’s parents had bought an old school in South Ayrshire. In 2004 we set up studio spaces and a small gallery in the old school rooms in Pinmore and began our business under the name We Make Pots. In 2008 family life brought us back to my home in Kirkpatrick Durham where I have established my studio and gallery in what was my dad’s old bookshop on Victoria Street. I have been a regular participant in Spring Fling open studios since 2009 and have been an active member on the board of directors of Upland, Dumfries and Galloway’s visual art and craft development agency since 2018. Visitors are welcome to my studio in Kirkpatrick Durham, by appointment. For more information and to see examples of recent work please see www.wemakepots.com, and follow me on instagram @wemakepots, and facebook Clare Dawdry-We Make Pots.