“Pottery. That most elemental of all art forms requires:”
Beautiful things by Andy Lang, the Potter of Leith
In 35 years of teaching I’ve never worked with anyone who had a piece of clay in their hands and didn’t make it into something
Earth to yield the clay,
Water to bind it,
Wind to dry it,
Fire to bake it.
Something a friend of mine used to ask of her students:
“Are you sure you want to fire that? It’s going to last thousands of years – is that really how you want to be remembered?”
It’s a simple point of fact that ceramic never goes away. The world is full of pots that are truly ancient, that tell our story and the history of our civilisations.
There are Greek vases that resemble Bayeux Tapestries in the round, pre-Columbian water jugs and oil lamps that give praise to the gods by remembering brave or nefarious deeds as well as highly decorative works that are principally functional, born of necessity.
Check out Ildefonso Falcones’s book, La Catedral del Mar, where you’ll meet the 14th century potters of Barcelona striving to make a shilling in what was then the lowliest of trades – where they were treated as scum of the earth - living, working, eating, sleeping, shitting, breeding and dying in their own dark and dusty workshops. Even as they were swelling the coffers of the merchant/owners who were growing rich while providing them with the most basic utilitarian necessities.
These days we have more of a polymorphic relationship to ceramics, which are to be found on a local café table as well as a Gallery of Modern Art, you might fill one of my jars with flour and set it on your kitchen bunker or put it a glass cabinet with a spotlight.
Typically though, hand-made ceramics are leaning more towards becoming luxury items, collectables - iconography.
Functionality remains central to my own work, the justification you might say for its existence. How you use it is entirely your choice but in a disposable world, a world where cheap labour is exploited globally and exhaust fumes are pumped out to transport mass produced goods from anywhere to everywhere, it’s worth thinking about local products. I can’t compete with the price of supermarket mugs, but I can ask where they came from.
Leith Community Pottery is a Community Interest Company (CIC) – a social enterprise. Its intention is to address the affordability of and accessibility to working with clay, an often expensive and potentially elitist activity.
In particular, we look to offer free or donation-based access to classes and workshops for those living with poor mental health, dementia, social exclusion and isolation. Why? In two words, socially prescribing.
Talking therapies may help because often people need to explore or express their thoughts, need to be heard. However private access can be costly, otherwise, waiting times are lengthy.
Clay listens; and responds. You and it make a statement and it’s there, and it stays. Creativity and group activity has shown itself to be an effective alternative, or complement, to medication.
In 35 years of teaching in Community Education (23 at Leith Academy) I’ve never worked with anyone who had a piece of clay in their hands and didn’t make it into something.
Covid 19 has bowled the whole world a googly, Leith Community Pottery included. Classes and workshops had to be suspended and sales all but disappeared. Now it’s time to reinvent and re-emerge in a new environment.
We currently have short term funding through both Port of Leith Housing Association and Edinburgh Council’s 10 Villages Fund to offer free workshops on Saturdays and Sundays and previously arranged courses are about to recommence, with reduced numbers and appropriate health and safety measures in place.
Looking ahead, the aspiration is to secure further financial support with a view to focusing entirely on offering free access to the many whose mental wellbeing has suffered through lockdown and the pandemic, be it through isolation, illness, unemployment or frontline working – obviously, this is an on going mission!
Our Pottery is well worth a visit; it’s a fairly well kept secret housing a small gallery down by the “water treatment” plant at Seafield on the ground floor of Leith Business Centre. There is a fine wee café (Luka’s) picnic tables, flowers and a 2 seater swings Which is built, like most of the Pottery, from reclaimed wooden pallets.
We are open most days but it’s always worth calling or texting just in case I’m out back working with the kiln when you arrive.
Here at Leith Community Pottery we have had sterling support from a lot of good people, most recently, The Scottish Tech Army, a team of professional volunteers, who are working to develop our slightly sketchy web presence. Improvements of which are, as ever, hopefully pending.