Inspired by the east, ceramist Pat Southwood uses the landscape to create her pieces – in more ways than one.
For thousands of years, mankind has been harnessing the earth’s resources to build, thrive and conquer. Ancient civilisations would stop at nothing to create great structures, pyramids and temples – using only the very land we walk on.
Fast forward to the modern day, and although many things have changed, there is still a wealth of traditions, beliefs and principles that live on to this very day. And where the earth is happy to give, we can receive gratefully and the only limitation? – Is our imagination.
One tradition that remains very much alive is pottery. Clay, taken from the ground, is moulded, shaped, decorated and fired – sometimes for weeks – to create elegant pieces for the home, by hand. Bowls, jugs, dishes, cups and pots – from the most practical of items to the most beautiful – it is both a tool and an art-form where weeks are spent creating each piece and like a fingerprint, each piece is different in its own individual way.
Ever since a young age, Pat Southwood has been fascinated by clay in all its forms.
“I had a teacher who was also a porcelain potter,” says Pat. “And he used clay to teach all sorts of subjects. It really is great for education – it makes things come alive.”
After spending years studying and perfecting the craft, Pat set up her own workshop near her home in Norfolk so she could live and breathe the craft on a daily basis and truly develop her style.
“I use stoneware clay which is a high fired clay,” she says. “It’s a lot stronger and you can get effects with it that you just can’t get with red clay.”
After the first firing – also known as the ‘bisque firing’ – Pat uses a wood burner to fully set her pieces.
“Nowadays you can get electric kilns that are programmable which is fine if you want the same outcome every time. But if you want to work in a more creative way, the wood burning technique has a lot more feeling to it,” she says.
By using a wood burner, ash from the fire is drawn up through the kiln and then falls onto the pots. “It takes a long time to understand your kiln and how to get the best out of it but you can develop the most amazing surfaces,” says Pat. “And the temperature of the fire isn’t constant – it dips and then goes back up again. So all the time the pieces are cooling and setting and then melting again.”
Pat’s love for using this technique soon led her to the Mashiko area of Japan – which was home to Japanese potter Shoji Hamada – a major figure of the Mingei folk-art movement – and also where they make a lot of wood fired pottery.
“I instantly fell in love with Japan. They take pottery very seriously and they celebrate any handmade craft,” she says. “They’re aware of how long things take to make.”
“The core principles however were the same over there,” she adds reassuringly. “There are some things that will never change.”
From the first throw on the wheel, to the final firing in the kiln, Pat spends around a month creating each piece – “It’s a labour of love,” she smiles.
By sculpting in both Norfolk and Japan, the east is very much an inspiration for her.
“It’s a continual theme that runs through my work,” she says. “And I’ve always been inspired by the work of the land around me, like the patterns you get in fields when they’ve been ploughed – the surface patterns and textures made by man.”
And not only is Pat inspired by the land, she uses it too.
“I fire with wood from recycled pallets from local businesses and the glazes I use are made from reclaimed silt from Salhouse Broad.”
For Takeaway Art, Pat has made a collection of small vases and it’s clear from her work, that although she creates with her hands, she works from the heart.
“They’re around 10cm high and 3cm at the base, and specifically designed for single flowers,” she says. “You know when you buy a bouquet and there’s always one flower that’s broken? – It’s for that one.”
For more information about Pat and the work that she does, visit www.patsouthwood.co.uk