written by Ceri Jones
Ceramics is undoubtedly an artform that is inherent in our culture, a creative expression that has become internationally recognised and that continues to shape our national identity as it grows from strength to strength. In considering contemporary ceramic practice in Wales, my head is filled to overflowing in no time with the wealth of talent, resources and champions from which to draw. Ceramic education, practice, promotion and development comprise the forte that draws practitioners to Wales, there exists a supportive infrastructure which has continued to evolve in natural response to the energy evoked by the artform.
Having once reaped the benefits, many ceramists based in Wales continue their involvement with the higher education sector here. The University of Wales Institute in Cardiff has an international reputation for the undergraduate and postgraduate courses that it offers, including PhD, that provide students not only with the knowledge, support and inspiration, but also the self belief to produce confident ceramic work that makes visiting the degree shows a delightful voyage of discovery. Such confidence is vital to any practitioner in today’s climate and it is fundamental that this is renewed through exhibition or commission experience and investment in research. Together with well established ceramic courses at West Wales College of Art in Carmarthen and North Wales School of Art, North East Wales Institute in Wrexham, north Wales, this is a discipline that is well served nationally and significantly provides the initial lure to Wales for many of our contemporary ceramists.
Fireworks Studios in Cardiff was established by a collective studio group in 1995 and is today a driving force in the development and sustainability of many individuals’ professional practices. It is groups such as this that offer mutual support and understanding sufficient to keep that essential glow of confidence alive. The longest established potters’ organisation in the UK, South Wales Potters, - est.1964, - together with its partner group, North Wales Potters, provides a myriad of opportunities for its members. With such diverse work being produced from their current joint membership of over 200 potters from throughout Wales; the selling, exhibiting, educative and developmental opportunities proposed by the groups are broad enough to engage this dynamic membership.
The much celebrated event established by these two groups is the International Ceramic Festival. Supported by Aberystwyth Arts Centre, this biennial event is not only a highlight in the UK ceramic calendar but has made a significant impact on the international ceramic scene and provides much coveted opportunity to network with many of the influential contemporary ceramists from around the world. The festival has been run since 1987 and now attracts close to 800 participants. Over the festival weekend every other summer, demonstrations, workshops, seminars, film and slide shows, lectures and exhibitions create a buzz of excitement and passion for ceramics that surely cannot be matched. Integral to each element of the event is the exchange of ideas that propels the festival and its participants to energetically explore, experiment and, notably, enjoy the medium
Another hugely significant draw to Aberystwyth for ceramic scholars and enthusiasts is the Ceramic Collection at the University of Wales and the Ceramic Archive. The Ceramic Collection is one of the major collections of studio ceramics in the UK and is noted in particular for its studio pottery of the period 1920-1940. The main collection was formed during these years and latterly - since 1974 - there has been an active acquisitions policy, resulting in a major collection of contemporary pieces.
Claire Curneen, Marcus Thomas, Dave Binns, Catrin Howell, Christine Jones, Morgen Hall and Linda Roberts are the acclaimed ceramists that between them represent over half of the craft gold medal winners at the National Eisteddfod since 1990. Lowri Davies is also an Eisteddfod winner, awarded the Young Artists Scholarship in 2001 for her hand built vessels that celebrate Welsh culture in an uniquely witty and iconoclastic style.
Acclaimed in Wales, many of the ceramists profiled here also have well established international reputations, borne out of the influences that international collaboration can offer.
Head of Projects, Wales Arts International 2005-2007