'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
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders