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June 2013 Potter of the Month - Kevin Millward

1. What general skills & Techniques do you use?

I have used a wide range of making techniques over the years. I started off with hand building like most people but once I started to use the wheel it became my preferred process. I like the speed, fluidity, and directness of throwing pots. In fact it became something of an obsession with me; this is why I have spent most of my life working to perfect the process.

2. Where have you studied and learnt your skills?

As with most potters I started my training at art school and then went on to work at a number studios. These included Coopers Pottery in Cheshire, producing domestic stoneware and porcelain. From there I moved on to the Gladstone Pottery Museum in early 1975 when it had a working studio producing terracotta domestic ware and garden ware which was sold all over the UK. It was while working here I had the privilege to be introduced to David Leach by a mutual friend who arranged for me to work with him for a short time. I have also met many other accomplished potters from all over the world who were very generous sharing their time and expertise. While working at the Gladstone I was approached by Harrison Mayer, now Potterycrafts, to be their craft advisor, helping potters, schools, colleges and small industry with making and technical problems as well as giving workshops and demonstrations all over the UK and Europe. This was great for me as I was able to work with some of the best in the world on the technical side of ceramics. It was about three years later that I left to set up my own studio in Leek, making stoneware and porcelain. At this time I also started to do some part time teaching at my old college, which led to lecturing at some of the UK’s leading universities specialising in ceramics. The last two I taught at before the courses were closed were Bucks New University, High Wycombe and University of Westminster, Harrow. I would say that one of the unusual side affects of my potting is the amount of TV work it has brought my way, from children’s TV and light hearted game shows to serous documentaries and a cameo part in Coronation Street.

3. How long have you been a potter?

I have been potting now for over forty years and I am just starting to think I am getting somewhere, but that’s what attracts me to ceramics - constant creative, aesthetic and technical challenges to keep you on the ball!

4. Who has inspired you along the path?

Who inspired me? Too many to mention but I have to say if it had not been for the work of Hans Coper and Colin Pearson sculptural qualities in their work and the sublime functional forms of Mick Casson in my informative years, I would have probably persued a fine art sculptural path. In fact I believe it was my very traditional art training that has influenced me over the years. I have said many times to my students that some of the most important lessons I have learnt about potting were in the life drawing room.

5. Please explain your work process?

At the moment I am working with Valentine’s low fire white with a lead glaze which gives a subtle cream body colour reminiscent of early Wedgwood. I have long had a fascination with early to mid 18th century ceramics of Staffordshire that are over- looked by many potters but I like to draw as much as possible from the culture I understand most. The body’s low plasticity its almost rubbery feel adds to the quality of the thrown form, the deep throwing lines and alterations made to the form after the throwing process add to the complexity of the form. The controlled distortions compliment the feeling of fluidity when the pot is on the verge of collapse .It is that moment in time I want to capture retaining all the marks of the making process. After biscuit firing, the surface is then enhanced by the deep shine of the lead glaze. Added to this, the juxtaposition of the very precisely turn foot ring helps to elevate the form so it appears to float free of the constraints of gravity.

This work is in contrast to the black and red stone ware bodies that rely on the matt finish and the texture of these clays which have excellent plasticity that give great throwing quality.

6. What has been your proudest piece that you have produced and why?

The fact is I can find problems with everything I make and can always see the next pot and how I can improve it. I would say this is what drives me to improve my work. The Wedgwood museum acquired a piece of my work to show as an example of a contemporary approach to cream ware - that was a good moment.

7. What are your future ambitions?

As for the future, I want to get back into high fired reduction stoneware and porcelain. In fact I have just built a small gas kiln that I am playing with at the moment. It’s a bit strange as the smallest gas kiln I have built before was 36 cu ft and this is only about 6 cu ft. I would also like to pass on some of my knowledge, so want to offer more workshops and seminars as well as training potters at my own studio. I am very aware of the demise of ceramics in education and we stand at a crossroads when it comes to the acquisition of skill. I know some people regard skill and technique with suspicion and feel it gets in the way of creativity. However, much of ceramics is process led and an idea is no good if you cannot make it and what do you do when there are no longer the skilled makers to fall back on?

 

View Kevin Millward's gallery

Visit their website: kevinmillwardceramics.co.uk