Part broken, part whole, you begin again

Jeanette Winterson

We were cycling away from the pottery the other day and Sylwia said to me ‘I can smell the Autumn’. It made me want to go home and listen to The Sensual World by Kate Bush. Different times of year evoke rich associations which are often connected with particular things. Clothes, and some records, seem to come into their own in season then go away again, till the same time the following year. You put on a coat and in the pocket is a memory.

For me, pots are much the same. They mark my journey, both inner and outer.

I recently made a small black tea bowl with a protective, heat-keeping curve to it and a wood ash glazed interior that breaks and swarms in treacly runs. Something in its shape and texture is asking to be cupped and contemplated, preferably near a fire. That will be a container for mead or whisky and reflection, a winter cup. In the same kiln was a taller smoother-sided vessel rather like a Japanese yunomi glazed in a quieter, denser blue-green which made me think of the colour of the sea around certain Hebridean islands – one for the end of summer, maybe.

After my father died I decided I wanted to make pots that would somehow work as vessels for grieving. I tried soon after but it just wasn’t the right time, the wound was so raw, so I put the idea to the back of my mind. Today I was working with the groggy black clay again, trimming feet onto bowls and beakers, and instead of turning the pots on the wheel I instinctively started attacking them with knives, slicing and gouging and prising and scraping. The interiors and rims I left round and smooth but now they arise out of crusty asymmetrical geological black lumps that are abrasive to hold. When I had finished, I thought ‘these are my Dad pots’. And they are at least showing me the way towards those vessels I imagined, and when they are glazed and fired I will hold each of them in turn and sense what they represent.

As you can see, one of the consequences of being a potter, of being involved with making things by hand, is that you often imbue even the humblest pieces with a great deal of significance. Pots are part of my personal mysticism. I am becoming gradually more aware of the magic or medicine in making, how ceramic art is healing and divination for both maker and user.