This month our regular Meet our Makers series talks to local ceramic artist Hilary Harrison. Former teacher Hilary gave up her 30 years career in education in 2002 to follow her life long passion for ceramics.
Welcome Hilary, please tell us more about yourself, your love of ceramics and how your creative journey began...
My name is Hilary. I have lived in Burgh by Sands, near Carlisle, since 2007, having lived in Cambridgeshire for over 30 years and working as an Infants Teacher.
I gave up teaching to attend Carlisle Institute of the Arts in 2002. I gained a first class honours degree in Applied Arts, specialising in Ceramics in my final year. This, despite being flooded out and made homeless in 2005, but luckily I had moved my computer and my dissertation was saved. I always wanted to make things as a child and would work determinedly at something until I had mastered it. I've always been interested in many crafts and knit, sew and crochet and recently took up printing which has become a second love.
The beginning of my love for ceramics probably began when I bought a handmade mug in Cornwall when I was 15. It was round and was a perfect fit in a cupped hand. I wish I still had it. I was also fascinated with the handmade pottery used in the Cranks cafes in the 1960'S, which I later learnt was made at the Ray Finch pottery in Winchcombe.
My first chance to make pottery came when I attended evening classes in Peterborough. Since then I always tried to find classes wherever we were living. I also attended a family evening class with my son when he was 8, which was great fun. In 2002 I left teaching after a 30+ years career. I arrived at the Institute of the Arts with a big grin on my face ready to make the most of every opportunity.
I knew I wanted to do Ceramics but I also enjoyed the other disciplines on offer. I also attended pottery evening classes at the college and a silver jewellery making evening class.
Since moving to Burgh by Sands in 2007 I am now lucky to have plenty of space for a studio, glaze shed, dry materials and moulds shed, a kiln shed and a gardening shed. More sheds than most men!
I love being outdoors. When I am gardening I have time to think about the pots I am making and what I might make next. One of my favourite places to walk is around the Solway coast where we live. It's always a place where I go to recharge my batteries and where I find inner peace and inspiration.
Much of my early work was slipcast porcelain. I made my own moulds in plaster. But I don't find it such an easy process to do from home. Recently I have worked in low fired earthenware terracotta clay, handbuilding and thrown ware. My clocks are made from slabs and the decoration is inspired by mid century fabric and wallpaper patterns, especially ones influenced by 'the atomic age'. I use monoprints of my designs which I build up in layers using coloured slips on paper. Applying this to the clock is tricky and often a make or break moment.
I also produce a wide variety of hand-built and thrown ware, some domestic and others more decorative, either slip decorated or glazed. I like to use a variety of clays with a range of firing temperatures. I make most of my own glazes. I love testing new glazes and I'm always looking for that new glaze with the wow factor. With ceramics, like many activities, you never stop learning.
I seek inspiration when outdoors, often in nature. My pockets are usually full of found objects, stones with holes through them, leaves, sticks, shells etc. I'm also inspired by small things I find around me in the home. One of my slipware projects was based on seed pods found in my spice collection. Take a closer look at nutmeg, cardamom pods and allspice to see the wonderful shapes and patterns on them.
I have been a member of The Fountain Gallery in Wigton since it started over 10 years ago. It is a co-operative and therefore run by all the members. I love belonging to the group, enjoy being with the other members and love stewarding there. I have met so many fascinating and interesting people who have come into the gallery. I think being a member of the gallery has been my inspiration to keep potting, giving me a purpose to keep making.
My next project is to make and fire Raku ware. My husband is currently making me a Raku kiln which will, be fired outside using gas. I have used the process under other people's guidance but it will be a steep learning curve for me to be in charge. I'm hoping to make social events by inviting friends to make pots here and then to return for the firing. Having fun glazing pots, firing them and watching them be removed from the kiln when red hot.I'm now making pots using a special clay for Raku and making glazes specifically for this process.
I've been invited to take part in the 'Craftsmen at the Priory', in Lanercost, near Brampton, in 2023. It's a selling exhibition that takes place each year for most of the month of August. This will be my second time there. It's in the Dacre Hall, such a wonderful venue.
One of my favourite pots is one I made whilst at college using the slip cast method. I was so upset when I took it out of the kiln after the glaze firing. The result wasn't what I had been expecting. But it turned out to be a happy accident. Other people thought it an amazing effect. The problem was then how to reproduce it!
More recently I made my 'Oil Can' inspired range. I love the shapes of early oilcans used in garages and workshops. I decorated mine using coloured slips, mono printed and some using sponge printing as well. I have kept one which has become a favourite too. I especially like the colour combinations.
Thank you Hilary for sharing your creative story with us. You can find a selection of Hilary's beautiful ceramics in our Caldbeck shop right now and if you want to follow more from Hilary you can keep up with her Instagram feed.