‘Wobage’ is quite simply a great word, and a special place.
Once a farm, and now for almost forty years a pottery and craft workshops, it has been my place of making for the last twenty-two years. Wobage’s legacy is well documented through Mick Casson’s pots and also through his magnetism and special personal connections to so many people over all that time.
Through Mick and Sheila’s generous spirit they encouraged a small independently-minded group of young makers to share this with them. I came to Wobage at the age of twenty three, fresh from travels to India and college days spent at Harrow (1986-1988) and Cardiff (1988-1990). I came with my college friend, Rachel Kyle, in the year we both graduated from Cardiff. We sorted our workshop space before I went travelling, some months later rejoining the initial group of four makers. These were Mick’s son Ben (a furniture maker), his partner Lyn Hodgson (a wood carver), her sister Claire (a jeweller) and of course my potting comrade “Rache”. We were all then in our early to mid twenties, filled with youthful enthusiasm. Other potters shortly followed, John Alliston arrived in 1992, Petra Reynolds and her partner (now husband) Jeremy Steward in 1995; all Cardiff graduates…..and all had been students under Mick at some point.
I remember Mick telling me, the word ‘Wobage’ itself comes from the Anglo Saxon, meaning crooked stream. And there is one here of sorts, it runs along the boundary and out across the drive when filled by winter rains. The stream’s existence may be debatable now because of the excavation of the massive gas supply pipes that carved deeply into the landscape. These may quite possibly have altered the stream’s course.
I have witnessed from the inside the changes, and seen how a community evolves; the ebbing and flowing of changing human energies all of which has now given Wobage its own essence today.
We are now ten years on from Mick’s death which came at the end of 2003. Chapters could be written on Wobage with Mick and without. Mick was a great planner and organizer; democratic and fair. He had great respect for the individual.
Within the dynamics of shared kilns, materials, and work and teaching spaces I have my own workshop where I make my slip decorated earthenware alongside my high-fired ash and feldspathic glazed porcelain. Often I get the reaction that to do both must be tricky and awkward in one workshop, where one wouldn’t want porcelain to get contaminated with red clay! I joke back that it must be my slightly schizophrenic personality. But in reality I often put red and black slip onto my porcelain anyway, to highlight the raised porcelain slip against the glazed surface. The most interesting aspect about working with both materials is that each material feeds different facets of what I love about clay, and one informs something of the other when I am working; enriching both I hope. Also the cyclical nature of potting itself, where we revisit shapes with renewed assessment and energy, makes me always feel like I am starting out again; thus to change from one set of materials to another seems totally beneficial.
The joy of being a little more out of control, freer in process has come about in part by using tin cans for trailing slip on both the earthenware and porcelain. Ideas are allowed to become something else by the very nature of pouring out the slip through a fine slit, the result being looked at again and thought about afresh; worked on if exciting or cast aside. I’m fascinated by this elusive nature of creativity……how you sometimes submit either quite loose or preconceived ideas to the ceramic process and with free experimentation discover how much more can be gained.
I also find there is a fine thread that holds my solo flights of thought which when undisturbed can just flow. It feels beyond consciousness or direct apprehension. I move in small steps with my ideas, but however small, I feel fully stimulated.
If this is a piece of writing about some of my ingredients for a creative life then I think I owe much to my eccentric short-sighted mother (who chose only to wear glasses occasionally). As a child I saw her peer, studying so closely the small intricacies of things, and expressing delight in her observations. I think I have absorbed some of this too. I know my pots still get that careful thrice over scrutiny when she picks them up! I also remember and was aware as a child that the paints, paper and materials in my art box were of superior quality to anything in the classroom: this signified to me her total belief my creations.
I am definitely a mud and water girl first and foremost, but the elusive surface qualities that wood firing brings drive me to that air and fire path too. My bottle kiln, which has two fire boxes and a fancy damper, has now had several firings and is bringing challenges and a tempting road forward.
People, their work, life and creativity become inseparable. To have worked alongside potters I admire so greatly has been undoubtedly hugely rewarding and informing. The wood-fired salt and soda work made by Jeremy and Petra is not only loved and lived with in my own kitchen, but I have been witness to the process too. In the years recently, with Jeremy’s foresight, energy and drive we run a full program of summer pottery courses. Teaching has been inspiring with all the unexpected rewards of sharing with so many talented guest makers, dynamic student helpers, and dedicated course participants. It has been hard work and made me think more deeply about all I do…without teaching my classes and the courses I would most definitely be less of a maker.
From the early group of four makers at Wobage some have now moved on and new people have been gained. With total credit to Jeremy, students have come and apprentices arrived, first with Josh Redman, from student to maker in 2009. He explored gestural and testing ceramic pieces. Josh has moved on to London now where he practices as a photographer. Sheila Herring, the first “Adopt a Potter” apprentice, worked under Jeremy for several years, before making a move into a black clay bodied earthenware with slips and glazes and is creating in leaps and bounds. Ana Simmons, Jeremy’s second “Adopt a Potter” apprentice has now nearly completed her first year making and is determinedly investigating ash and celadon glazes.
Both my work and working environment continue to evolve as they have done over my span of time at Wobage, sometimes in a gradual way, sometimes more dramatically. The more dramatic changes can bring pressures which take their toll, but in resolving problems one can discover new possibilities, new techniques, and new inspiration. More gradual changes to my work may come from a more considered, or even a more playful approach to my work, such as when experimenting with new ways of applying slip. Whatever the cause of this evolution, it rarely happens without bringing with it some form of positive motivation and creative momentum.