Welcome to the Gallery

Imagine is set in the Suffolk village of Long Melford.
This is an attempt to record the daily trials, tribulation and pleasure of running an art gallery.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Too many different pieces of art have arrived or are on route at the moment.
No, that was a mistake.
What I meant is that there are too many different things for me to choose from to show.
"I should show that, but what about this it arrived earlier, wow! I want to let people see this,
how have I left that unseen? Etc, etc, etc.
These are the many thoughts that I have each day, so as a result I take the easy option and instead of taking photographs I go home.
Which doesn't matter as I read on a blog recently,
"it makes me laugh when people apologise for not posting, after all who cares".
Who indeed?
So if there is anyone who is interested here are a few things that have interested or captivated me recently.

Firstly, I have to admit that I have a "bit of a problem" with tea bowls, and what follows will upset any potter who bothers to read, but that is not my intention.
It seems that for the past 25 years or so western potters have been working away trying to produce the perfect tea bowl, myself included.
But why?
It is not of the Western culture, we do not hold tea ceremonies or revere the ritual's associated with them.
But we do know that the best potters in the world, the Japanese and before them the Koreans
regard them with great importance, so obviously to be a good potter you must be able to make a good tea bowl.
In fact I think once I nearly did make a good one as one of my hero's [in ceramics]
Takeshi Yasuda admired a bowl made by me and pronounced that "it is nearly good".
That was it, when I heard I was "made up" as we say in England [or I do].
I was now a real potter, or so I thought at the time.
Since that day many, many years ago I have thought often about Tea Bowls, and even though I have a large collection of them I have decided that the "Western" tea bowl is a lot of nonsense.
What do we do with them?
Drink coffee or wine out of them or maybe even drop a teabag in once in a while and have a brew?
This wasn't what they were intended for and they are not of our culture.
This only became very clear to me one day a couple of years ago when a customer was in the gallery deliberating for an hour or so over different pots
[made by a very revered English potter].
Eventually he came over to the counter and told me "I have decided at last, I'm going for the jar
not the tea bowl [this is where the anoraks ask what kind was it, Yunomi, Chawan, who cares]
they are both the same price but I can't bring myself to pay £200 for a tea bowl".
He went on to explain that he understood that I had to "mark up prices to make a living",
but I pointed out to him that the price label was hand written in gold pen and unlike any of our
price labels. "That is the potters price and what you would pay at her studio" I told him.
"We receive a percentage of that but that is what you would pay direct".

He left with his jar, but he left me with a lot of thoughts.
Hell, we sell mugs from £10 so why was a mug without a handle £200.
What do most of us use each day? A mug or a cup, so to me these should be the pieces that we cherish not a bowl that most of us don't know how to use.
So why do we all persist in making bowls?
Because we are all trying to be recognised potters and to do so it is best to aspire to
replicate the best of the east.
Wasn't there an old pop song "I think I'm turning Japanese". I really think so.

As a result I returned all of the pots to the maker as I no longer felt comfortable with them.
She was not "too" happy, and many people have since asked "are you mad"?
The potter is important, and very very good, but I felt uncomfortable with those prices.
I have made my bed now I will lay in it.

So having upset any potter who is reading.

A few years ago I went to a ceramic fair and showing there was a man named Richard Dewar.
Richard is English but has his pottery in France, and he really does produce some lovely work.
However at the show I visited he had on display a selection of tea bowls.
"What now" I thought. Japanese bowls made by an Englishman in France, "what next".
But these were different, they had all the beauty and qualities that I would look for in a tea bowl but they all had "handles".
They were beautiful, fun, objects, meant to be used and were priced at £8 each.
Here was a man who wasn't taking himself too seriously, although his pots were seriously good.
I have used the one I purchased everyday since then.
Sure it is getting chipped in places but it gives me great pleasure to use, whats more I don't burn my fingers holding the bugger because I use the handle.

I met Richard again a couple of months ago and he was still making and selling tea bowls but this time he was also showing a fantastic selection of tea pots.
Everyone totally different and unique and with prices that started at £25.
Although he was selling them there were no "tea bowl mugs" as beautiful as my own [of course] so instead I left with boxes full with his teapots.
I was surprised that from years ago he remembered me purchasing the "tea mug", not because of the money he made but because he knew I was going to enjoy it [or so he said].
I have meant many times to show the teapots I purchased and now at last today I have photographed those few left.

Apart from Richards pots there is also another teapot I am showing, made by a delightful young
Welshman, Sean Gordon.
He is such a lovely man and whenever I see him he tells me "you are leaving with some of my pots aren't you"? More a command than a question.
He is a strange lad [not strange, lovely], and although young, his roots are firmly set in the past.
He often talks of the "great miners strike" and the affect that it had on his family and his community.
Like him I remember with anger what Thatcher did to the working man.

He remembers his childhood and home and as a result, many of his pots are based on updated versions of old household implements [like his "coal scuttle jugs"].
But like everyone he is looking forward and outward and the latest teapot that I collected from him I have named the "Laboratory" teapot.
It is fun, beautiful, very well designed, and more importantly it pours a treat.
In fact I think I might use it to make a "cuppa" to pour into my "teabowlmug".
Is nothing sacred nowadays?


  1. Great post John, as usual! I read this just after I saw some wonderful teabowls on Doug Fitch's blog. I am convinced, after I tried making mugs for awhile, that potters make teabowls to avoid making handles haha!
    I use my teabowls for wine, it's fun to drink a nice red wine in a beautiful teabowl :)

  2. Hi, John. Interesting post about teabowls. I find that when I sell at craft fairs, people buy teabowls but 95 percent of them don't know that we potters call them that. They most often call them "mugs." Now, you and I both know that a mug has a handle. If someone asks me about them, I'll call them "cups," because after all that's really what they are on this side of the water. And the ones that I sell - and I sell a lot of them - are used for wine (as Tracey says), water, tea, coffee, orange juice ... whatever. I'm not a "name" potter; most of my teabowls sell for $20-$30 and sometimes I'm amazed I get that much. But I love making them and have since early on in my first few classes 20 years ago. I don't pretend they're Japanese. But I've admired Japanese and Korean work from early on and I know that some people would see Asian influence in some of my pots. So be it. Why don't you shoot your teabowl/mug so we can all see what you're talking about? (And I partly agree with Tracey on her offhand comment about teabowls being easier to make because they don't have handles.)

  3. I too was hoping to see the teabowl with the handle; lovely teapots especially the first.

  4. I know what you mean about handles Tracey, I used to spoil too many pots with bad handles. Or sometimes I would even think to myself
    "that's a nice pot I've attached to that handle".
    Handles are funny things, they "make or break" the pot, Doug Fitch I
    think is especially good with them, they seem to grow from his pots and are really robust, Michael Casson's used to be the same.

    I've noticed over the past thirty years or so that there is a particular
    style of handle that is unique to American potters and I really like them, I could never make them but I like them.
    Brandon makes good ones and I love Tony Clennell's.

    But about the tea bowls, I think that over here there is a certain amount of snobbishness about them, they are after all "just" bowls.
    My main annoyance is the high price attached to them.

    Hollis, when you think back to the to the best Korean ceramics they were made by simple craftsmen out of necessity.
    Thrown and turned quickly and simply without any pretension.
    Now [over here] you will find certain potters studying the foot rings and trying to replicate freshness, I have even watched one [very good] potter deliberately throw off centre because as he told me "that's what the best tea bowls look like". He followed that up by saying "besides
    everyone is going wonky nowadays".
    It made me smile but it is a bit silly.
    My own collection of bowls I purchased years ago from various [now well known potters] before they [bowls] became collectors items.
    I mainly purchased them because they were then the cheapest pots
    that those potters were making, for example I have many Jim Malone
    bowls that I purchased in London [where you would pay more] that
    were all priced at £2.50 each.
    We use them each day, we dump our tea bags into them after we have squeezed them out, something I am sure Jim would be unhappy with,
    but at least we have a use for them.
    Besides, I asked Jim once "is it true that for a time you put handles on your tea bowls"? [it was a story I had heard].
    " Yes".
    I didn't tell him some folk use his best bowls to dump rubbish in,
    after all I'm doing fairly well upsetting people without trying, so why go to extra effort?

    By the way Hollis, some of your own [especially a couple of cut sided ones] tea bowls are amongst the best I have seen.
    I found it strange when you wrote about your Phil Rogers bowl, sure it is nice but your own were so much better.
    I think it says everything of the man you are that you would never see that.

    Linda, I had intended to take a photograph of my "mugbowl" but it was at home, I should have done as it would have illustrated what I was trying to say.
    It is a beautiful bowl with or without a handle, but importantly for me
    it was priced to be used and if it was broken it would be a sad loss
    but not a financial disaster. I doubt many people have the nerve to use bowls by our "known" potters.
    Now that would be a disaster if you dropped one, still I am sure that
    most people have them insured.
    One well known "Online" gallery even has a section on its site about caring for your pots, it explains how to clean them and suggests they are stored safely in display cases.
    The world has gone mad, as far as I'm concerned if you can't take the pleasure from using a pot then it is not worth owning.
    The pleasure is in the daily use.

    Now just you all wait until I start "ranting" about "Guinomi".

  5. John, I absolutely agree with you on the pricing of teabowls. They just are not THAT difficult to make, even I can make a sort of nice one every now and then if I try! However, I have several of Hollis' teabowls and they are some of the best around, as you say!!!! And we use them every day for water, wine, juice, and even tea. Interesting conversation, and today, the last day of my studio tour, someone pulled an old raku teabowl that I made a few years ago off of a shelf, clearly a shelf with items NOT for sale, and wanted to buy it. It is the best one I have ever made and I'm keeping it as a reminder that I can do that sort of work if I try, but it doesn't hold my interest for very long! I say sell them to the masses for drinking so more people can understand the value of a handmade object in their cupboard!

  6. That is exactly what I want.
    Being broke doesn't mean you don't have taste or dislike good objects,its just that they are out of your financial reach.

    Hey, imagine having a tea bowl exhibition with everthing at one price
    I don't think it would attract many big names but it would be good.

  7. I think you should do that, John. I've heard from one of your blog readers, by the way. Nice guy who is contemplating a few teabowls of mine whose photos I sent him.