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, 18 May 2013

There are times when I feel that I am standing still, getting nothing done and not moving forward,
although there is always lots to be done in the gallery, at the moment I am rarly getting home before 10.00pm each night, which must be wrong, but the days seem to slip through my fingers
with nothing being achieved except answering correspondence
and talking to people who have an interest in the different art that we exhibit.
Of course things are achieved but they "creep up on you" and never seem exciting at the time.
Then, I have a couple of days like last week, when the two days felt like two weeks.
So much seemed to be accomplished in such a short space of time and the memories built up to make that short time seem so very long, plus they are good memories, exciting and fun.
Well, some of them.

So, a week ago I left the gallery in the late evening heading north for Yorkshire.
It was time to start collecting ceramics for our next exhibition.
The exhibition of potters influenced by
Isaac Button - Country Potter
I have a sneaky feeling that this exhibition will creep up on me slowly and the suddenly overtake me, with everything running very late.
For once I am determined that this will not happen, although it is still very likely considering that I am dealing with potters.
Potters. They are never on time because nothing is ever good enough and they think that there is always time to make just one more pot or to have perhaps one more firing of the kiln.
I suppose this is why I like them, it seems that with many of them it is a case of
"it's too not bad, but I bet the next one will be perfect",
which of course never happens.

My first stop was at a 'Travelodge' on the M1 motorway, not a very inspiring location but one just a few miles from where I was heading the following morning,
to see the famous potter John Hudson.

Of course John would never conceive the notion that he is famous, but famous he is.
He supplies museums, archaeology groups, historical re-enactors and historians throughout the UK.
His understanding of ceramics, especially historical pieces is second to none.
I can't think of a single museum in the country that doesn't refer to him or stock his ceramics.
Not only does he make copies of old ceramics [from all periods] but he actually re-creates the kilns that they would have been fired in.
A very intelligent, very talented but very modest potter.

I had met him several times before and he had told me
"I don't supply galleries".
But of course sometimes something comes along that even he can't resist, and luckily for me this was to be one of those occasions.
John is a ceramic historian, as such he understood the importance of 'Isaac Button' and the impact he has made on the potters of today.

So, mid morning I arrived at John's pottery.
A pottery unlike any I have ever visited. I have long become accustomed to referring to potters "sheds" as "studios" but with the best will in the world I could never call John's pottery a studio,
nor would he want me to.
It is just an old fashioned potters workshop, perhaps one we will never see the like of again.
For instance he showed me his "stock of clay", and pointed towards a heap of weeds and grass.
I know that some potters occasionally fill a carrier bag with raw clay the boast they are working from the earth, but this was totally different, there was just a mound of dirt and weeds.
But I was to learn that this clay was dug from the very same hillside that was used by Isaac Button.
Soil Hill.
In fact John's pottery is about as close as you can come to owning a "Button" pot.

Although the pottery is very primitive in looks, it is very well conceived in the layout for production,
it is as close as you will ever come to visiting a pottery from another time.

John himself was an absolute gentleman, despite the fact that he had little time to spare as he is trying
to produce an exhibitions worth of pots before visiting hospital for a major operation.
He devoted the best part of a day with me. Teaching, and helping in my understanding of country pottery and the life of Isaac Button.

I told him that I intended to visit the famous old pottery after leaving him.
"It's a great site, I still visit to dig my clay there", he told me.
"In fact I even have a "Button" brick.
"Button" brick? 
I came to learn that the Button family had actually made their own bricks which were used for the creation of the pottery buildings.
Wow! I couldn't wait to go there, who knows I might find a Button brick, that became my new ambition.
Just imagine, having a brick made by the "man" that was created to build his pottery.

Of course before I set off I had to make a selection of pottery made by John that would be included in the exhibition.
What a task, sometimes it is easier just to be given some boxes with the words
"off you go that's it".
But John made it harder by letting me "rummage" amongst his collection.
Everything I selected he let me take, with one exception, that is the jug above.
"No, you can't have that, its got a fault.
Well you can have it, but you can't sell it as it isn't good enough. It can be used to pour drinks at the opening of the exhibition."
So, now it is mine and I will pour cider from it at the opening, after that it is coming home with me.
John told me.
"People say that us Yorkshire folk don't give anything away, perhaps you can now tell them different.
So I have.

Late in the afternoon I left John and his wonderful pottery and drove north, filled with excitement,
heading off to the land of 'Isaac Button'.
I had many expectations but no idea what to expect, but I knew this would be a real experience.
One I now regret and one I hadn't never expected.

It doesn't really matter if you like the old fashioned pots that Isaac made,
It is a fact that he has become something of a legend, he was just a simple country potter.
One of many, but one of the last.
It is the film of his last firing that has made him something of a cult figure, deservedly so.
He represents the changing of an era, a time lost forever in English culture,
a time when pots were made for daily use for ordinary folk.
Pots to be used, cooked in, poured from, drunk from, and often broken,but that didn't matter,
the potters job was to make them, again and again, because they were needed.
How often can we say that now?

So, driving up a hill along pot-holed lane, full of excitement,
I wasn't prepared for the sight of the location that I eventually arrived at.
The actual lane [Coal Lane] or track stopped about a hundred metres from the old pottery.
Although I was tempted to get out and walk from my hired van the pouring rain made me drive to the very limit of the track, from there it was just mud which lead up to an ominous looking house on the hillside. A house surrounded by cars.
I believe that once it was Isaac's cottage although I doubt he would recognise it now.
It gave off an aura, that aura spelt "trouble".
Still as I have been told I have a very active imagination, plus nothing was going to stop me looking at the pottery.
Apart from the fact it didn't exist anymore.

Very little of the original pottery remained, in fact the only portion untouched was the old kiln room
and the kiln.
What a sorry sight.
Surrounded by old car engines, scrap and rubbish, stood the remnants of this famous structure.
A piece of history reduced to rubble.
Why, so someone can build houses on the site.

Although I had intended to I won't tell much of my visit.
It wasn't pleasant, I was intimated, but I was offered a "Button" brick for a £100 pounds.
Guess what? I declined.
I was also questioned.

"These pictures you are taking, they aren't going to appear on the Internet are they"?

For the sake of my own well being I lied "of course not".
So here they are.
I have many others and I just wonder why they must not be seen.
This is an important piece of English history that is being demolished so what is wrong with showing people?
One thing for sure is that I don't have the courage or desire to return.
What is such a shame is there are so many shards of pottery protruding from the mud,
one such piece was a portion of a "bread crock" complete with the handle.
I would have loved to have taken it to present to the potter John Leach as he had told me that it was from watching the old film of Isaac that taught him how to make his handles.
I regret I didn't have the courage to pick it from the mud, 
that is a shame as even today John told me that whenever he makes those handles he thinks of
Isaac Button.
A piece of history buried in the mud, or maybe that is where it should remain.
Encased in the earth it was formed from.

With the evening becoming later, darker and much wetter I drove back down the track to the main road and headed north to the Dales, which is where my real "Button"adventures started.

To be continued.........................


  1. You are a fine story teller. I enjoy reading your blog very much!Sorry to hear Isaac's space is not being respected:(.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Ahhhhhh...... Thank you for explaining why I can not get proper pots to galleries; always the flaw and relegated to the overflowing corner. It is the making and not so much the selling for us.

    As for Mr Button's place of work..... When we loose our history we are a drift and lost...... And a brick for 100 pounds, support your local potter and by a mug or two. Selling off history, nice.

    Great post and much to think about while the wheel turns today.

  4. love the gift of the good brown jug, your posts are always treasures !

  5. Thanks Kimberly
    I must confess I like telling stories, perhaps too much.
    I know that every thing that we sell has a story behind it and I often feel so fortunate to have met "that" artist or to visit "that" place and it makes the work more important to me. So usually anybody who is interested in something that we have on show gets [if they want it or not] a long story about the circumstances that brought that piece into the gallery.
    I know I shouldn't do it as it is unprofessional but I like to talk, and it gives me pleasure to think about the artist, their home, their studio and their inspiration, and I like to think that as a result the buyer leaves with something of a personal connection.
    Anyway, I had better stop as I am talking too much as usual.

  6. Hello Sandy

    Your own post about your "Wild Weekend" was pretty interesting also.

    I thought, "I would have liked to have been there," but on reflection I think you all would have scared me. But it sounded good.

    I to have had much to think about with my trip. It was fun and sad, but at least I had the privilege of being able to make the trip.

  7. Mo.
    That brown jug is adorned with the face of the "Green Man," which is the only reason that I chose it.
    The legend fascinates me.
    Plus the craft involved is pretty impressive, the jug is really large, as are the others.
    To be honest with John Hudson's jugs it is the regret of those I didn't bring home that saddens me, he is just so clever [and a lovely man].