Third in our Blueprint for a Paper series is from our regular arts page. This is one of the ‘back of the book’ features pages, edited by Charlotte Du Cann, that include stories about community, media, education, practical projects, food, the living earth, interviews, reviews and wellbeing. Most of our arts stories focus on community-based projects and will form part of the book about transitional arts practice, Playing for Time by TFP contributor, Lucy Neal. Here Julia Rowntree, one of the book’s artists, writes about her most recent project, Clay Cargo.
Josiah Wedgwood, ceramic industrialist, was one of the first visionary investors in the canal system, seeing water as a safer way to distribute delicate wares from his works in Stoke-on-Trent. Clay Cargo is renewing connections between clay and the waterways today by travelling with a consignment of clay containers, or ‘saggars’, on a series of boats from London to Stoke via Birmingham, to create an installation in the Spode Factory as part of the British Ceramics Biennial.
Once used to protect fine china during firing, the saggars will carry delicate works made by many hands along the way in London, Birmingham and Stoke. Local clays will be added to the cargo.
Clay Cargo is one of arts organisation Clayground Collective’s initiatives to pass ‘making skills’ to a younger generation through celebration of clay, the material itself, its role in cultural traditions the world over and at technology’s leading edge. By researching and digging clay in each locality, participants discover local resources, learn new skills and find creative possibilities literally beneath their feet.
Clayground specialises in creation of participatory works. Co-Director, Duncan Hooson, says: “Facilitating participatory projects is a highly rewarding way to share practical and personal skills; often problem-solving on the spot and feeling enormous enthusiasm from those who go on the creative journey with us. In isolation individual practitioners can become too self-obsessed without feeling the need to engage, explain or share.
“At the ‘coal face’ of participation in clay, in what might appear a non-dramatic discipline, the creative buzz and sense of achievement can be thrilling and highly rewarding. The participation with others brings a host of creative ideas and responses to any project that would otherwise remain hidden and undiscovered. Relaying tacit knowledge, seeing others enthused, and knowing that together you have helped each other discover and create something is truly exciting.”
With a commission from the British Ceramics Biennial, Clayground is working with a host of partners to realise the project that include the Canal & River Trust, Central St Martin’s, Arts Council England, Ikon Gallery’s Slow Boat (Birmingham) and community organisations in each city.
Support from individuals and groups has been integrated into the design and collective ethos of Clay Cargo. Those wishing to help get young people stuck into clay and making skills are being invited to donate between £10 and £100 to have their initials or full names inscribed on a saggar. Like old tea chests marked with cargo provenance, destination and ownership, the saggars with inscriptions and contents from three cities will form the exhibition in Stoke.
Clay Cargo aims to encourage clay and hand-making skills, to renew creative connections to local resources underfoot, and to delve into new uses for channels of supply and distribution from an industrial age. Make your way to Stoke to see the exhibition in the Spode Factory and join a range of activities in Burslem during the weekend 12/13 October.
OCTOBER 12 & 13, STOKE-ON-TRENT, Pits and Pots family workshop and sculpture. 11.00-4.00 pm. Free, no booking required. Part of the Burslem Weekender, two days of clay making and outdoor kiln firing at Middleport Pottery, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent. Click here to find out more. Boat appearance courtesy of Etruria Boat Group and the Friends of Etruria Trust.
Julia Rowntree and ceramic artist Duncan Hooson co-founded Clayground Collective Limited in 2007, awarded a national Craft Skills Award, 2013. Julia was Development Director of the London International Festival of Theatre and author of Changing the Performance: a companion guide to arts, business and civic engagement (Routledge 2006). She is also a potter and vegetable grower.
Images: Placers stacking saggars in a kiln; Clay Cargo in Birmingham Image courtesy of The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.