Pottery to fire the imagination

Robin Welch is a name a few of us will probably know. Yet he is an internationally renowned potter with collections all over the world who happens to live and work on our doorstep, as Rachel Buller discovered.

Pottery to fire the imagination


Robin Welch is a name few of us will probably know. Yet he is an internationally renowned potter with collections all over the world who happens to live and work on our doorstep, as Rachel Buller discovered.

From unusual, contemporary decorative pieces to traditional stoneware for domestic use, there is a rich diversity of pottery being designed, thrown and fired locally. But while Norfolk is blessed with many well known artists, few people are aware of the number of nationally and internationally renowned potters living and working in the region.Robin Welch is one of the most respected ceramic artists in the world, with his striking, dramatic and colourful pieces exhibited everywhere from London to Australia including the Castle Museum in Norwich.Yet he is hardly known in East Anglia, where he produces the highly sought after pieces at his studio in Stradbroke, near Diss. Now, it is hoped that an exciting new two-day exhibition at the Forum on October 22 and 23, called Norfolk Contemporary Ceramics, will ensure that artists like Robin will get more recognition locally.The event will feature the work of local potters and there will be demonstrations, video of the artists working in their studios and pieces to buy.

Now 73, Robin has been working with ceramics for more than 50 years and has developed an internationally celebrated reputation for his unusual sculptured pieces, each of which is thrown and hand built, and sometimes fired several times in an oil kiln.“I was a very traditional potter working down in Cornwall learning the skills,” he says, “but after doing National Service in the 1950s, I moved to London where the thinking on ceramics was very different. I began to use much more abstract thinking, more of an American style.”Inspired by innovative teachers at the Central School of Art in London, he adopted a more sculptural perspective which transformed his work.Over the years, it has taken him all over the world, exhibiting, working on high profile commissions and teaching, including being craftsman in residence at both Alfred University, in New York State and at Indiana University.

But, despite his international commitments, he has remained since the 1960s at his studio in Stradbroke, where he also paints, and says he likes people dropping by to learn more about the ceramic art form.“I use all sorts of different methods; anything I do is an experiment,” he laughs. “I am very rarely satisfied with what I get out of the kiln first time, so I work on it and make it better if I can. Potting to me is like painting.“The difference between an artist and a craftsman has always been the cause of some contention. Some people seem to regard them differently, but I make my ceramic pieces with the same level of artistic creativity as my paintings.”He believes the exhibition at the Forum will help illustrate the variety of high quality ceramic work locally and help create a support network for artists.

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Norfolk Contemporary Ceramics is the brainchild of north Norfolk potter Christina Frewing and she wants the event to become a regular one on the arts calendar. She has just returned to pottery following a lengthy break after having her daughter. Before that, she worked as a highly successful designer and potter, with a range of giftware sold through a store in Covent Garden.“In places like Japan, potters are revered. Here we are not aware of these wonderfully talented people on our doorstep. I want to do something to change this. “People will go into a department store and spend �2,000 on a ceramic piece, so why not buy something original from a local potter and find out more about how it is made?“Most counties have a well established group of potters, or potters’ market. I hope that this will be the start of something new in Norfolk.”

If you would like to visit Robin Welch’s studio, call 01379 384416.For more information on Norfolk Contemporary Ceramics, and those taking part, see http://norfolkcontemporaryceramics.webs.com

The Norfolk Contemporary Ceramics exhibition will also feature the work of many other local potters, including:

• Grahame Clarke, based at East Tuddenham, who specialises in domestic ceramics, in particular espresso cups, with hand painted decorations.• Barbara Windup, part of the “Made in Cley” group of artists from the renowned gallery in Cley. She makes a wide range of domestic stoneware.• Ruthanne Tudball, based at Welborne, near Dereham, who produces acclaimed soda fried pottery and is a Fellow of the Craft Potters Association of Great Britain.• Stephen Parry, from Ryburgh, who uses both stoneware and porcelain fired in a wood fired kiln, a rare and specialist skill with a distinctive finish.• Andrew and Joanna Young, based at Gresham near Sheringham – traditional potters with a countrywide reputation for their stoneware.• Antje Ernestus, from Wood Dalling, whose porcelain works, fired in a gas kiln, produce simple, calm designs with a blue celadon glaze.• Kate Vogler, from Foulsham, who produces burnished and coloured pieces inspired by weathered and eroded natural forms.