Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Whichford Hecklers - some more pottery people

The noisy people upstairs.
Andy is on the left, Jeannette standing behind him, Simon is on the right
and Hilary is falling out of the middle.

I would like to introduce you to two of the mainstays of the pottery, if you collect Whichford pots you are quite likely to own one made by either of them - just look for a maker's mark at the base of the pot - one is represented by a fish, the other by some rune-like squiggles (crotchet rests?).

Andy back in the dark ages with sweet little Adam Keeling
Adam is now a thrower at the pottery and married, with four children
Long service medal
If you climb the stairs to the main throwing room the first person you are likely to meet is Andy Gill. This is apt because he has worked at the pottery for 30 years, almost since its foundation. I find it hard to imagine him as a teenage apprentice now but he must have been one once.

Nowadays you will hear him grumbling about his aching knees and shoulders, but he is young at heart,  and a great cook and host with many friends and an endless stream of dodgy deadpan jokes. When you hear gales of laughter echoing around the pottery Andy is the likely cause.
Mention pies when you meet him and you'll have his full attention.
Simon singing at the staff barbecue in Jim's garden
with Jake, who is Andy's son.
Don't give up the Day job
At the far end of the room you'll find Simon Day, who also has about 30 years' pottery experience and has been at Whichford for the last eleven of them. He's a talented musician and every now and then he allows himself to be persuaded to bring one of his many guitars and play and sing for us at work. When we all went to Jim's house in France one year Simon's guitar and the Beatles Song Book came too and we sang raucously into the night. The neighbours must have loved it.
Mention fruit of any sort to Simon and he will talk for hours, and hours...



Simon and Andy are a natural double act, if I need cheering up I just have to spend ten minutes with them to find my laughter again. During the summer they will lean out of their windows and hurl abuse at me like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets, so don't be startled if you arrive to find the gardener apparently shouting into thin air, I haven't been drinking, I'm just dealing with hecklers.

Hands on
It is Andy who teaches throwing at the one-day pottery workshops here and he's a patient, friendly and funny teacher. All the makers here are friendly so if you come and have a look round they will be pleased to explain what they are doing if they have time, although sometimes they are under pressure for a big order or need to concentrate on a tricky process, so may not have time for a long chat - but we are all proud of the standard of craftsmanship here and would like to show you what goes on.
Tandem pot throwing

I have only ever had one go at throwing a pot (and produced one small, wobbly pot with a lot of help) but this was enough to show me how physically hard this must be to do all day. The clay is heavy, cold and wet. It looks smooth but it contains grog (see my post about the clay) so as it spins it feels like wet sandpaper, you have to apply a deceptive amount of force to shape it, which is hard on the fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, back... And a moment's inattention can have the whole thing collapse back into a blob.

These two make it look easy. They can even throw in tandem (see left) or with their feet (click here).

Making the top section of a
rhubarb forcer

Size matters
Andy and Simon both make a wide range of items, but Andy's speciality is the two-piece pots. These are usually about 30-36" diameter, using up to 120 lbs clay in total. Andy throws the bottom half of the pot and transfers it to another wheel, then throws the top half to exactly the right size and fits it to the bottom section. Sounds simple? Not many people can do this.
He has also designed some of the pots in our range, including the best-selling Buxus pots.

I am adding making videos to YouTube - click here to see Andy in action.
Andy makes our famous rhubarb forcers, which can be seen in both humble and prestigious gardens all over the country, including Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. He has started making extra-large ones now, so even bigger clumps can be forced for tender, sweet stems.
Checking the finished height of an XL rhubarb forcer

It's very hard to photograph throwers
without making their elbows look huge!

Small but beautifully formed
Simon makes a wide range of flowerpots, usually smallish to medium size. We like to tease him that he can't make big pots but of course he can. He also makes lovely mugs and so-on at home, I have a gorgeous, rounded blue one which is a pleasure to drink from and I get VERY ANGRY if anyone steals it at break time!
Simon throwing - note the high tech measuring device
(a stick)

Both men are very disparaging about their own talents in that peculiarly British way, but both have extremely high standards and a quiet pride in their work. Just don't tell them I said that when you come to visit...
Give us a lift! Even medium-sized freshly-thrown pots are extremely heavy

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