'Blinding yellow-white, the nearest of the pots are within arm's reach, yet they are in another world'

'Blinding yellow-white, the nearest of the pots are within arm's reach, yet they are in another world'

I have always thought of potters as true country people. The clay they mould is the stuff from which we spring, and to which we must return, and contact with it puts them close to the roots of creation.

So it is with Alan Caiger-Smith, who not only has a show on in London, but also has just published an account of his own career and craft. The book describes how he founded a pottery in Aldermaston, Berkshire, in 1955, and how for nearly 40 years he struggled not only to keep afloat commercially, but also to master new techniques with which he became obsessed.

Appropriately enough, the pottery was housed in an 18th-century building made of soft red brick, itself baked clay. The working area was permanently coated in pale clay dust, and a rickety wooden staircase led up to the showroom - a treasure-chamber full of brilliantly coloured pots, bowls, mugs and jugs ranged on shelves that disappeared far into the shadows.

A small, wiry man, Mr Caiger-Smith lives in an ancient farmhouse close to the River Kennet, and his book reveals the joy he finds in working with his hands, whether throwing a pot, painting a bowl or merely splitting willow logs, which long experience has shown him are best for firing the kiln.

Along the banks of the Kennet, willows are grown commercially for cricket bats, but only the best sections can be used, and the potters were allowed to cut up and carry off reject pieces. In Mr Caiger-Smith's view, willow makes exceptionally good fuel for firing earthenware, since it releases its heat quickly and burns with a long, soft flame, making a kiln atmosphere that gives a pearly whiteness to the glazes and luminous depth to most of the colours.'

His description of firings reads like a chapter from a thriller. The process begins at 4am, and the heat in the kiln builds steadily over the next 15 hours or so as logs are fed into it faster and faster by a team of stokers. "However often you have fired the kiln before," he writes, "you can't help being amazed that logs of wood could generate such a dense mass of heat, held in by tons of glowing bricks, with the pots standing out blinding yellow-white in the midst of it. The nearest of them are in arm's reach, yet they are in another world."

In a lifelong quest for ideas about techniques, Mr Caiger-Smith travelled to Egypt, Spain, Morocco, and far into the past in pursuit of authors such as Cavaliere Cipriano Picolpasso, who wrote authoritative treatises on the potter's art 400 years ago. Only in the matter of his own teaching does he not come clean. He will say that over the years he learnt from his ever-changing team of half-a-dozen assistants; they, that he was their inspiration.

He is at his best when considering the creative process. He describes potters not as creators but as "makers", who know that "their ideas are not absolutely their own, but are brought about by some interchange between their minds and a source beyond their control". To him, every act of making is "a reverberation of the great wind" which has moved through the universe since the beginning of time.

How agreeable, how rewarding, to spend time in the company of someone so practical, so good with his hands, and yet so articulate about the mysterious forces that have made him a master of his craft.

'Pottery, People and Time', pounds 28 from Richard Dennis Publications, Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset TA19 0LE. The show is at the Richard Dennis Gallery, 144 Kensington Church Street, London W8 4BN (0171-727 2061), until 14 October.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future