A smashing break
A relaxing and creative time awaits Sue Gilson as she learns to ‘throw a pot’.
Throwing a pot was something I just assumed I would have attempted by now.
So how was it that, although I had dabbled in printmaking, painting, photography and other creative pursuits along the way, I had never taken to the wheel?
This blip on the bucket list clearly needed to be addressed. But how, and where?
The idea of a creative break really appealed – not being one to loll around a pool on my hols – as did a gite in south-west France which offered just that.
So I signed up to a pottery course at Gite Dans Le Jardin, so-called because it sits in an extensive and charming garden with abundant produce that guests are encouraged to cook with.
With all this sun-kissed veg on the doorstep, you really couldn’t get more locally-sourced.
My appetite was well and truly whetted for the whole package, and so I found myself rolling up at said gite, a short drive from Bergerac airport, with a welcome from beautiful pale blue irises lining the driveway.
A pool was shimmering away, not to be lolled by you understand, and a handsome restored farmhouse beckoned.
Gite owner Dennis Gliddon appeared, beaming in a clay-stained pottery apron. This workwear, with its implication of various plates and platters expertly thrown, could have been a tad intimating to the novice like me.
But the former commercial pilot, who has come back to his first love of community art, couldn’t have been friendlier, handing out tea and reassurances.
He enthused about the deeply therapeutic nature of making something with your hands from stuff dug from the ground.
“Clay is one of our most common natural materials and it’s been part of our life from prehistoric man,” he enthuses. “I love that continuity with the whole of human history. There’s something timeless about it.
“And I just prefer to drink my tea from something that is handmade and traditional rather than mass produced, as it has a story.”
Fine art-trained, he was on hand to help during the four-day pottery course, with a professional potter brought in.
Val Sparkes has a pretty pottery in the New Forest where she creates a range of contemporary earthenware including a popular Shipping Forecast range.
She was also a calm and reassuring presence as we assembled in Dennis’ studio, created from one of his rustic outbuildings.
This was an inviting space, with an outlook over fields of corn. But we weren’t there to admire the view. It was on with the overalls and the pottery tutorial.
Val patiently took us through the basics, and then it was over to us to try to keep the clay in some short of shape.
Apparently clay on the wheel always wants to be a bowl, so making a cylinder, our first assignment, was a tad tricky.
Just centering the clay in the middle of the wheel was a feat in itself, demanding quite some physical strength.
But mastering this was very gratifying, and our cylinders gradually grew with simple but exacting time-honoured techniques.
There was no rushing this, and we all appreciated the absorbing process which seemed to slow down time.
“The speed of the wheel becomes in sync with the speed of your brain,” said Val.
Mistakes didn’t matter, and a good job too, as the clay from any collapsed cylinders was reused, over and over.
It was a proud moment when I eventually cut my basic beaker from the wheel.
Over the four mornings we practised and progressed. The afternoons were free for exploration of local towns, markets and potteries in that picturesque Lot de Garonne region.
And over sustaining vegetarian meals cooked by Dennis after plundering the pottager, we learnt about inspirational potters, glazing and decorating techniques, and admired the interesting ceramics dotted around the kitchen.
It was a spectacular climax to a wonderful week when the impressive hand-built kiln, fired by wood from the surrounding Bois de Moirax, was lit and our offerings were carefully placed inside.
It couldn’t have been more satisfyingly elemental. And I’ll never look at a mug in the same way again.
Sue Gilson flew with Flybe from Southampton to Bergerac.
A fully-catered pottery break at Gite Dans Le Jardin, with four half-days of tuition, all materials, home-cooked meals and gite accommodation, costs £580 for shared room and £690 for own room.
‘Throw Yourself In’, a pottery
course with Val Sparkes, runs from September 10-17. There are Raku courses on offer too.
for more. Also visit www.valsparkespots.co.uk
Pictures: Chris Verrecchia
June 29, 2016 Travel and Lifestyle