As part of my Jewel-Withy project I am running a series of collaborative intergenerational live projects. The first began in June with Cornwall College media and photography staff and their students! They were tasked to begin a collection of films and photography to document the critically endangered craft and heritage of Withy pot making and I couldn't have asked for a better experience! (Just a little warning, I do mention the weather quite alot! Hehe).
We visited 6 different locations in the South West of England. The first was the Lizard, Cornwall where we met with active Withy pot maker Nigel Legge, who's pots have been seen on television in popular programmes such as Poldark!
One of the first things I noticed when we entered his workshop was the beautiful scent of willow! (I wish I could share this with you somehow!). This was because Nigel was in the process of making a pot he had kindly agreed to demonstrate for us to film. He had said he was working on an order to make a collection of pots to be used as props for t.v.! So keep your eyes peeled!
As he was doing this he also discussed the craft and his heritage whilst some of the team were outside on probably one of the sunniest days photographing tools and pots! Probably not the best conditions for taking photos, but I guess it's better than rain.
Once we were almost done Nigel surprised us all with a live lobster!
Day 2 of filming was in the beautiful cove my children's grandad was from, Penberth!
We met with his sister Kathi and retired Withy pot maker Robert George to hear their stories accompanied by family photos and had a guided tour of the cove.
One of Nigel's pots left behind from what's thought to have been a Poldark set, can still be seen near the water!
..and we also learnt that the Robert George's pot we were photographing was made for Penberth Plants to display at the Chelsea Flower Show and they won gold! Yippee!
Day 3 we visited active Withy pot maker David French in his home town of Budleigh Salterton. The weather was looking a little soggy on the way up there! but luck was on our side, it stayed dry and didn't get too hot and sunny either, which David was particularly thankful for! Otherwise his willow could have dried out too quickly! So the right kind of clouds were about on the day :D
He chose to make his pot in the same spot his family had been making them throughout the generations and his uncle who had taught him the craft, was also there!
David had a few people stop to watch and have a little chat, two people stayed from start to finish. This was a father and daughter who travelled there especially to see the pot being made and when it was finished her father gifted it to her for her birthday!
Day 4 we ventured not so far from home, to the cornish village of Porthleven. We arrived at basket maker Geraldine Jones' Salt Cellar Studio and met with Tom Chambers and his father 91 year old George Chambers.
This was the first time I have seen Tamarisk being used to make part of a pot, they use this material for the base as it is very strong and can withstand the rough and tumble it recieves when it's doing its job in the sea. They have had rights to gather Tamarisk from locations in Cornwall for generations and even used to source their willow from the village I live in, Ashton.
Tom demonstrated how to make various sections of their style of pot and George who only makes one pot a year now, got up and made a bit too! We learnt so much and loved hearing their knowledge and stories.
Tom and George had sourced their willow for our visit from Geraldine and we were kindly invited to visit her garden where we captured lots of lovely shots of the trees. She shared a very clever piece of music created by PlantsUtopia for a project called Sounds of the Plants. They capture sounds created from the plants using very sensitive microphones! It's amazing! I will try and figure out how to share a piece of this with you very soon! For now though if you are on Facebook check out @soundsoftheplants
We also managed to sneak in a trip to Cadgwith Cove, where we visited Nigel Legge's artist studio and boat! What a beautiful place to work!
Day 5 we were in Hope Cove where we saw active Withy pot maker Sue Morgan and her husband David Morgan who is a local fisherman. Sue demonstrated and discussed the Hope Cove style of pot which has a beautiful plaited base and David showed us his collection of pots which demonstrate really well how the pot has evolved over time.
Day 6 we were in Helford, Cornwall and met with Rob Edlin who took up the craft fairly recently on the side of his job in I.T. He has a very strong interest in sustainable living and regularly forages with his wife, most recently for mushrooms, which is something I would love to try, but I'm very likely to pick the wrong sort!
Anyway back onto the subject of Withy pots...he was taught the craft by local makers and has built up good relationships with the local fishing community, including Nigel Legge. He eats his catch and is always looking for ways to make his hobby as kind to the environment as possible, including introducing natural rope and glass floats. He highly recommends anyone interested to give it a try!
A fellow fisherman took some of the college team and myself out on his boat whilst Rob went out on his with the drone man! If you look closely at the first photo you might see him hiding :D
He pulled up his pot and to his delight it wasn't empty! Not a bad way to end the trip eh! Oh and the sun was shining too! Happy days :)
We are now in the process of editing the films and photography and planning the next live projects! I am also creating a collection of jewellery in response to this research and will be sharing any updates via my blog and social media :) so please keep an eye out!
Thanks to everyone involved and thanks also for reading my blog, I hope you enjoyed it.
I have been planning this project for a few years now, but as some of you might be aware I had two little boys in between time who have taken up just a little bit of my time ;@) Covid-19 hasn't helped much either, but I can't complain, I have a healthy family and it's meant that I have been able to spend more quality time with my children whilst they are small.
Now just to recap on the project.... I am working towards an exhibition with the Devon Guild of Craftsmen, which is planned to be held for six weeks during the late summer and early autumn of 2022! The exhibition is based on the endangered craft of Withy Pots, specifically in the South-West of England and it's story told through a collection of jewellery that I design and make. There are five chapters to this story:
Modern day pots
These chapters will be featured in future blog posts and will form the layout of the exhibition.
I am very excited to also add that I will be collaborating with Cornwall College who will be delivering two live briefs with their Media students and Art and Design Students. The first brief is to record a film documentary based on the Withy pot makers and the second is for Art and Design students to attend a Withy Pot making skills workshop and to then re-use the techniques to create something new, such as ceramics or furniture! The final outcomes will be exhibited at the exhibition and also featured on my blog! I will of course update you on our progress throughout! So keep an eye out ;@)
The overall aims of this exhibition are to educate and ignite an interest in others to learn more about the craft and hopefully help save it from disappearing and to launch a new collection of jewellery which is not just to be worn, but also forms a part in telling the Withy pot stories. Let's not let this important craft be forgotten!
Thanks for reading! x