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.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

.....................So leaving Skipton I headed into the Dales of Yorkshire, taking a route dictated by 'satnav', about I often have doubts but always tend to think "satnav knows best", and considering that I never know where I am, I feel it is best to do as the "Lady" tells me. Although I must admit sometimes I change over to that "Aussie" guy who sounds like fun and seems to know our countryside just as well as that "upper class" English woman.
For example she has never said "Jeez, John you have chucked a left and I told you go right".

Anyway, taking roads I have never travelled I drove off into the rain and mist of north Yorkshire.
What a drive it was.
Even in the poor light of late evening with pouring rain I have rarely encountered such beauty.
If not before, I realised that evening that so much of my heart and soul belonged here in the Dales.
The beauty and softness of the colours has to be seen to be believed.
Passing through soft gentle valleys bisected by stone walls, then onto cliff side landscapes it was truly awe inspiring and made me understand why so many have fallen in love with this landscape.
I can vividly recall making a very sharp right turn while my eyes were looking left,
the sight of a waterfall plunging from a rocky gorge set between gentle green fields was so very much like a scene from Lord of the Rings, and yet again I questioned why the English novel couldn't have been filmed in this country?
Perhaps that's why Peter Jackson is rich and I just run a gallery.
Of course, as usual I digress and have become distracted, but only because of the beauty of this
wonderful part of the UK.
My destination was of course 'The Green Dragon", at Hardraw.
My home from home.

Arriving there late in the evening I was greeted with "Hello John how are you"?
As if I had only left the evening before.
This just from the young girl who works there. I instantly felt at home, and although my key was offered immediately I opted to stay at the bar and have a drink "or two".
Within minutes I was in conversation with a local farmer [I cant understand a word he says] who
remembered me from a previous visit.
What an honour, to be accepted by the everyday people of this area.
I hasten to say that it is not because I buy them a drink, because I don't and it is not expected,
it is just about talking and being friendly, something that used to be common.
An hour later I wandered of to my rooms [yes rooms] and after contemplation of my day was soon asleep, only to awaken hours later by the television that I had left on.
It was a good programme, but I can't remember what it was.

I had been told that breakfast was "whenever you feel like it", which is my sort of timing.
So when I was eventually awake and refreshed I wandered over to the main building to enjoy my
"full English breakfast".
Something I only eat when I am here at the "Dragon".
As I entered the bar/ breakfast/lunch/dinning room [a room so very Withnail and I]
I heard Mark the owner talking in the next room.
I stopped to observe him, just for the pleasure of it.
He turned to look at me.
" John, nice to see you, or should I say good to see you"?
I corrected him and said "No, it should be John its very good to see you".
"You are right it is, come and give me a hug".
So we put our arms out and cuddled for a while, and it was very good. Good to feel part of a different family, and good to feel welcomed at this unusual Inn.
Plus good to have a man who wasn't embarrassed to hold you in his arms.
It was a good homecoming.

"So what are you having, all of that fattening stuff"?
"Yes Please".

While eating my high cholesterol and I am sure very unhealthy breakfast we talked and caught up on past and recent events.
"Oh! Collecting pots are you? Well know this man who is pottery mad, he would sell his house for a pot. You must go and talk with him, his name is Peter".

Two hours later I left the inn to visit to collect pots from the American potter Ron Geering, who was staying at his Yorkshire "holiday" cottage about an hours drive away.
He had brought some pots with him for our Legacy exhibition, and although I had an idea what they might look like I couldn't wait to see them and meet him.
I called him just before I left the Dragon.
"I will be with you in an hour".

But, before setting off I decided to visit a small local antique shop that sometimes has old pots on show.

This visit they did not have very much, so after a quick browse I left.
Walking past the window back to my car I did a quick "double take" at the window display.
There in the centre of an old 'Dresser' sat a small
'puzzle jug'.
Without knowing why I knew who it was made by, so I walked back inside.
"Can I help you sir".
"I just want to look at the puzzle jug in the window please".
"You will want to purchase that" he told me.
"I doubt it I'm a tight git", I replied.
He climbed into the window and came back with the small Jug. "It is made by a potter called
Isaac Button", he announced.
Which was exactly what I thought.
It is now mine and will feature in the exhibition, in fact it might be for sale.

The owner of the shop told me that he went searching for pots with a good friend of his named Peter.
The very same Peter that Mark had told me about.
"Oh, he has a wonderful collection of Isaac Button pots, you should go and see him,
I will give him a call and arrange it for you".

Ten minutes later I rushed out of the antique shop with my destination Cumbria,
to vist "Peter".
Peter Strong, had told me that he could see me but only if it was "now".
So despite my promise to be with Ron Geering in an hour I set off heading further north and west towards Cumbria, the home of the Lake District.
This felt so exciting, I genuinely felt like I was on a treasure quest, after all who knew what ceramic treasure this visit might behold.
I must admit it the drive wasn't without a certain amount of guilt. After all I was supposed to be somewhere else, visiting a man who had travelled across the Atlantic to bring me some pots.
But, I couldn't help myself, the fever was upon me.
Pottery Gold.
However, the feeling of guilt did have me stop on occasions to explain to Ron where I was going, but of course with the terrain my calls were going nowhere.
"What the Heck", this was an adventure.

So an hour later I drove down the track towards a beautiful, traditional Lakeland cottage.
In fact one I have passed a long time ago on a previous visit to Cumbria.
My thoughts then had been "what a beautiful home I wished I live there, I wonder how they live.
Now I know.

The cottage is owned by Peter and and his wife,.
It is a remarkable home, unrestored and untouched by time, the main room dominated by the old traditional [and working] "range". It was like stepping into the past, but with a difference.
Every, and I mean EVERY surface and floor area was covered with pots.
Old pots. old English slip ware pots.
In fact they must own the largest collection of slipware pots in the UK, that includes museums.
It was an incredible experience.
Considering that we had never met and that he had to be elsewhere within an hour Peter was incredible generous, with his time, knowledge and ceramics.
He is the man who worked for a short time with Isaac Button and took over his pottery for four years after Isaac's retirement.
There is much I could tell of what he told me but they are not my stories to tell.
He is working on a book. In fact he is working on many projects.
For me the most important being, that he owns all of the "out takes" from the original film.
The film maker John Anderson gave them to him.
They are in a poor condition but Peter is slowly restoring the film, on completion he will have a 'Master Copy' made, and in time we will all get to see the result. In fact in length it will be as long as the original.
This is treasure and history.

Peters own memories of Isaac are a book in themself.
Who knows maybe one day I might write them, but more likely it will be his wife and partner who is equally obsessed with old pottery.

Before he left to go to another commitment Peter chose [and asked me to choose] several
Isaac Button pots for display in our exhibition.
I understand from our conversations since that meeting that he would have let me have many more if we had known each other a little longer
 this I understand.
He was a very generous man and the pots and pictures he has loaned me can be seen at the exhibition.
Of the pictures that I left with, he only allowed me pictures taken by John Anderson
that have been published, but he showed me "real" pictures from history that only a few have seen.

So with regret and a promise of future friendship we parted to travel in different directions.
Him, I don't know where.
For me a very overdue visit to the cottage of Ron Geering, famous American potter.
Famous, well they are my words, I know Ron would prefer "just a potter".

The evening eventually found me outside his cottage.
I had driven through torrential rain, hail, then sunshine before I knocked on the door of
'Dingle Cottage', set on the cobbled street in a very old village.
Conveniently only yards form the village pub, but one I was too late to visit.

I don't know why but as expected I was welcomed inside like a very old friend.
In truth we are friends, but friends who have never met, and I found that my eyes kept returning to his face with my mind thinking
"is this really you"?
It was a really lovely visit and I do truly hope I can return before Ron and his wife Barbara
"go back home".
It is such a strange feeling to have these friendships from afar.

In their cottage
displayed upon a table for me was a selection of Ron's work for me to choose from for our exhibition.
So in true John fashion I announced
"I will take the lot".
From the stunning giant "chargers" down to the simple country 'Whale' whistles,
they are now all mine.
Well actually they aren't but they are here at the gallery, if you know what I mean.

After too much of my talking and much of Ron and Barbara's time we eventually parted company so that I could head back home, it was only about five hours later than I had anticipated.

Again I set off following the directions from 'satnav'.
I intended to call at the "Dragon" to say good bye and from there I knew the route home.
But for once 'Satnav' was wrong,
It took me off the road and high up into the dales, I'm sure it was the route taken by Crows but never my humans.
It was a journey I will never take again but one I will never forget.
The views were breathtaking, and so was the temperature.
Very high up I had to stop to take in the panorama.
To my left were the black skies towards south Yorkshire, then brilliant sunlight pouring though the hills towards the Lake district, in front of me a white mist, or so I thought but it turned out to be snow.
To my extreme right were the gentle lower dale, bathed in evening sunlight. 
I couldn't take a picture that captured the scene but it is locked in my mind.

Half an hour later I pushed through the door of the 'Green Dragon' to say "goodbye".
I was greeted by Yvonne with her arms out for a hug.
"John you have come back to us".
"Only to say bye, I'm off home now".
As I turned to go Mark the owner called out "John".
" I love you. You know that don't you"?
I do.

I love the area, the landscape, the honest people and the openness of emotions, is it any wonder I long to return?

Driving along the motorway and through the night I had a lot to reflect upon.
If it had not been for Isaac Button the potter and John Anderson the filmmaker I would not have experienced these small adventures.
Small events but in my life very significant.

So much later in the early hours of the morning I pulled into our drive at home.
Of course there to great me were my wife, children and three beautiful dogs who smothered me with doggy kisses.

I often feel sad and think too deeply upon events, and sometimes I am in a dark place with my thoughts,
but on this occasion I could only think upon the words of the old potter Harry Juniper.
"Isn't life wonderful, isn't life grand".
It made me think what a very lucky person I am, to have a loving family that lets me wander off at times and have these little adventures and lets this old man once again become
a young boy.

Of course all of the pots above are Ron's with exception of the little Puzzle Jug
which was made by Isaac.

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.........................