New Craftsman Gallery’s September Festival exhibition points the way to a greater understanding of St Ives’ precious fishing heritage with a poignant multi-site exhibition of ceramics by Jack Doherty


New Craftsman Gallery’s September Festival exhibition points the way to a greater understanding of St Ives’ precious fishing heritage with a poignant multi-site exhibition of ceramics by Jack Doherty

Of the many reasons we should all see and engage with art, I’d say the most important is this: art and craft have an important role in defining and documenting culture. The sort of art which helps people to connect with their own heritage is really wonderful stuff, really powerful stuff that enriches our understanding of ourselves, our community, our past and our present. With works like this context can be everything, and nothing gives artwork more punch than a bit of site-specificity, that is to say, art that is displayed directly within the environment to which it relates.

As part of this year’s St Ives September Festival, you can experience this sort of work for yourself thanks to a multi-site exhibition of ceramics by Jack Doherty entitled Waypoint, which engages with the history of the local fishing community.

I was born into a family of fishermen who lived and worked on the north coast of Ireland,’ says Doherty.


My father and grandfather were harbourmaster there and as a child the harbour was the centre of my universe; a fascinating space charged with emotional content that shaped my world’ says Doherty, whose relocation to Cornwall to take up the role of first Lead Potter and Creative Director (2008 – 2013) at the newly refurbished Leach Pottery brought him back to a life next to the sea.

Waypoint’ is a navigational term, meaning a mapped location on land or at sea. More simply waypoints are signposts: outcrops, stars and boulders which mark a route and guide a boat along its way. Similarly, the Waypoint exhibition takes the viewer on a physical and emotional journey through the history of the local fishing community.

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Exhibited across four historic sites in St Ives, the main part of the exhibition will be on show in the centre of town at St Ives’ leading craft venue, the New Craftsman Gallery, while fishermen’s chapels and traditional places of refuge around St Ives will also play host to Doherty’s distinctive and beautiful pots. By placing the artist’s soda-fired porcelain vessels on the ledges and mantelpieces of these old buildings, Waypoint creates a thoughtful, relevant space in which to view the work.

The aim is to highlight the heritage of the fishing community, connecting visitors with these historic landmarks and tales of epic voyages, courage and faith.

Faith, historically, has been integral to the daily life of fishing communities. The ancient chapel of St Nicholas, which stands alone on St Ives’ island headland, looks down on the Atlantic Ocean and is dedicated to the town’s mariners. Celebrations and blessings are still performed here, and its importance as a symbol of faith, security and protection will be reflected in the group of works on show within - Doherty’s Cradle Vessel and monumental Guardian Forms pieces which relate to the fragile reality and uncertainty of survival at sea.

The tiny fishermen’s chapel of St Leonard stands at the shore end of St Ives’ iconic Smeaton’s Pier. It is a quiet space of contemplation and solitude where you will find a simple prayer, pray for some fishes and a safe dry bed’, and a wall plaque which lists the names of sixty-one local men and their fishing boats lost at sea.

As part of the exhibition the chapel will house Doherty’s Fleet, a family of pots created and titled in remembrance of each of these lost men. Not far from St Leonard’s chapel is Rose Lodge, a simple wooden building that continues to act as a meeting place for St Ives fishermen.

For more than a century men have gathered here around the warmth of its stove to watch the weather and gauge the tides. In contrast to the fishermen’s chapels, Rose Lodge has a homely, domestic feel and is a place to tell seafaring tales and exchange daily gossip.

Accordingly the Waypoint works shown here are a collection of individually created cups, which - through each of their subtle differences - hint at the many unique characters who have waited and watched here over the years, and the simple hospitality the lodge has offered them.

The main collection on show at New Craftsman Gallery draws together all of these ideas from each of the three locations. Large one-off ceramic pieces are accompanied by groups of smaller, finely thrown pieces in Doherty’s signature conical shape and together these pots, set here within a contemporary gallery context, reflect the emotional and figurative elements of the exhibition’s site-specific work.

This must-see exhibition of beautifully crafted and deeply poignant works, created as a collaboration between one of Cornwall’s foremost potters - a man born into the culture of fishing - and St Ives’ longest standing gallery, brings together the key cultural and economic strands of the town’s past and present, and points the way to a greater understanding of this areas precious heritage.

Waypoint is curated by Sarah Frangleton. The exhibition will be on show at site-specific locations during the St Ives September Festival only, and from 5 September to 9 October at New Craftsman Gallery, 24 Fore St, St Ives. The exhibition is accompanied by a series of related events and talks.

See or for further details.

This article first appeared in Cornwall Life September 2015.

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