Diane Cruickshank reviews the members' day demonstration.
Due to illness, Audrey Richardson was unable to demonstrate on February 6th. Fortunately for us, though, Trefor Owen came to our rescue at the last minute by offering to do our members' demonstration day at his home.
Trefor has been in the trade for a long time, having started as a technician at Harrow where he had the arduous task of supplying all the students with pugged clay, pugging 1 1/2 hrs a day, for only £15 a week (I wonder if things have changed all that much). He then moved on to work in a converted slaughterhouse, near Llangollen, experiencing severe cold with ice floating in the tray of his wheel. Finally he moved into the pottery where he is now, putting a lot of work into converting the various parts of the building into a workshop, living space, shop and kiln room.
We started straight in with Trefor demonstrating pulling handles and putting them on casserole dishes. He doesn't use slip when he joins handles, just water. He works with Valentine's grogged stoneware, having fallen out with his previous supplier because they changed the clay's firing temperature without telling him. He lost a whole kiln's worth of work due to the clay slumping at the higher temperature.
When turning pots, Trefor often turns them while they are standing right way up. That way, he can see the shape the foot is taking and there is no risk of taking too much clay off the side. If he did turn the pots upside down, he would put them on thick coils so that the wheel head wouldn't damage the rim. For turning, Trefor uses steel banding wire shaped in various ways to make the perfect finish. He admired the self sharpening quality of the banding wire. Adapting everyday objects rather than paying high prices for tools seemed to be a theme with Trefor: rulers, cheese cutters, fishing line, all found different uses. As usual though, tools still went missing (even though he was in his own studio!) and Trefor found himself searching throughout the room for that ideal turning tool for the inside of foot rings.
Trefor was a consummate thrower, showing us his skill by throwing a goblet all in one piece. Tips he showed us varied from the Bateson lift (lifting from the left) and then working on the right, remembering that lids shrink more than pots and that you always need more clay for the lid than you might think. Yes, he has that typical thrower's head wobble and he talked about the wobble those poor jigger/jollier's had, who made OVAL plates!
We went on a tour of the pottery to see his kiln. I think that talking about firings and his kiln constructions could have taken a whole day on its own. He talked about the ashes he uses for his glazes, keeping each of his house's fires burning only one sort of wood to guarantee purity. If soil is introduced to the ash, it turns it to a muddy brown. We talked about using slate dust but Trefor has found it also produces muddy browns. Firing his kiln can take 12 hours and he fires regularly during the summer. His kiln is made of his own design with adaptations like an air damper at the bottom of the chimney (lighting a little fire there helped encourage the draught through the kiln) and the chimney being tapered upwards (also to encourage up draught). He commented how metal telephone poles used to be a good source for chimneys. Although he takes care in knowing which ashes are in his glazes, it doesn't make any difference which wood was used in the firing. He had noticed though that the resin in pine makes for good reduction and larch is good for oxidation.
He likes firing the kiln and staying with them during the whole period because it's like "finishing the pots to the end." Trefor says he often spends too much time decorating but when he has an idea, he needs to see it through to completion. Beverley Bell-highes and Trefor then started telling anecdotal stories about their early days here in N. Wales and the formation of the Potters Guild that then became North Wales Potters. Thank you Trefor for being part of that first group that started NWP all off and giving us an informative and enjoyable day.