A passion for pottery
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Tessa Allingham meets west Suffolk potter Libbi Hutchence
At the bottom of Libbi Hutchence’s garden is a wooden shed. It’s painted a Farrow & Ball-ish shade of sage, there are pots of pansies softening the edges, and a little ceramic heart hung on the apex of the roof. Inside, loops of floral bunting are strung from nails, there are family snaps and messages pinned to a board, and a little pot of flowers in the window. It is every bit the feminine alternative to a man-cave.
A larger ceramic sign announces this pretty shed to be not just a cave, but the beating heart, the headquarters if you like, of Libbi’s fledgling business, Libbidib Pottery. Open the door – it’s always ajar in nice weather – and shelves in the tiny space are stacked neatly with Libbi’s wares (delicate single-stem vases, juice squeezers, colanders, reed pots, leaf-patterned clock frames) all at various stages of the production process. A pottery wheel, a small work surface, a dresser with Cath Kidston curtains hiding glazes and tools – and a very masculine round kiln – complete the organised picture.
This is where Libbi retreats whenever she can, grabbing odd hours between her full-time job as an ophthalmology secretary at the West Suffolk hospital and teaching pottery at evening classes at the West Suffolk College (she’s about to add a Saturday morning children’s course to her timetable). “Pottery really is my passion,” she says, face alight, eyes creased with smile. “I just have to do it, I need to do it! It’s how I relax. The fact that people are now buying my stuff is an amazing bonus.”
Libbi started selling through the March Hare Collective just a year ago, and now also supplies the Hand Made Shop and Gallery, the Bury St Edmunds shop that sells the work of local artists, designers and makers. Popular pieces include her simple ceramic birds, yarn bowls with looping cutaway channels designed to stop wool rolling away, and strings of ceramic hearts. She favours pretty, delicate designs, much of her work scattered with dainty flower patterns and dots, and glazed in muted shades of blue-grey or pink.
She’s experimenting at the moment with raku glazing, a dramatic technique which creates a shimmering, metallic finish. “It really is alchemy at work!” she laughs.
Even with conventionally-fired ceramics, every creation is unique. “I love that no two items are ever the same,” she says. “Opening the kiln after a firing is still really exciting; you never know quite what you’re going to find! I don’t generally have disasters now, but pottery is quite scientific – just one air bubble will mean a pot will explode – and you have to be careful working with chemical glazes and very high heats [the kiln reaches a staggering 1200ºC].”
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With years of experience meaning that catastrophes are mercifully rare, Libbi loves the calming influence of pottery. “There’s something very meditative about what I do, very therapeutic, the way the wheel spins, pulling up the clay, making something beautiful out of mud.”
“I’ve always been creative, I think I’ve tried just about everything!” She indicates a spinning wheel in the corner of the sitting room: “I can spin, and I’ve tried glass blowing, basket making, knitting, painting, sewing. But I’ve found my real passion with pottery. I’m never happier than when I have clay under my nails! I would love to live as a potter – I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d definitely be happy!”
Find Libbi on Facebook at libbi.hutchence. For more information on Libbi’s West Suffolk College courses, go to www.westsuffolkcollege.ac.uk/courses.