Stephen Wood

I started being a potter when I was a little boy. My father was digging a hole in the garden and I took some of the clay and turned it into a bowl. I put it to dry on the boiler and it gradually cracked and fell apart. It was my first pottery-related disappointment. Later on, I became a bit obsessed with handbuilding, spending ages forming reefs of creatures from my imagination out of the school clay that came in big cold slabs. I remember my surprise when the teacher fired them and the clay went from grey and dull to pink and brittle. I made the eyeballs separately and glued them onto springs that I prised out of school pens then fixed the other end of the springs into holes in the characters’ heads so that their eyes could interactively boing about when you flicked them. What the GCSE examiner made of it I couldn’t say but I thought this was really edgy. 

I first sat at a potter’s wheel when I was 17. I was studying something else at the time, but kept being drawn back to the art department, to throw pots.


Later on at university, still officially studying something else, I spent an increasing amount of time in the Art School across the road where the head of ceramics, who apparently liked having a refugee from another discipline, let me throw pots after his full time students had gone home. This was my first encounter with reduction firing – I was enthralled how you could get different results from the same glaze combinations by reducing the amount of oxygen in the kiln. It felt like occult knowledge. 

Once I met Sylwia I started practising in a more systematic way. I spent a long time being a bit rubbish, but – this is the important part – I kind of enjoyed being rubbish, I didn’t give up, I had lots of adrenaline and focus and gradually this uncomfortable period where my aesthetic sense and my skills didn’t hook up became the gateway to being better. It’s important when you’re getting into something new, to recognise discomfort as the way into growth. Every milestone, however small or insignificant, is worth celebrating. It’s important when you’re a beginner to recognise that your own limitations aren’t obstacles but the very threshold of a liberating learning experience. I try to model this and incorporate it into the classes I now facilitate for others.

I’m interested in traditional Japanese forms, and the culture, mythology and archaeology of the far north. Though I don’t reflect too systematically on my influences. I just want to improve constantly and to grow personally and technically. As I develop my practice I notice how learning is an embodied activity and material craft is ‘silent knowledge’, in the sense of being non-linguistic. I find this liberating. Bearing and repeating forms of silent knowledge is essentially healing, especially in our global networked culture that puts so much emphasis on the virtual and the visual, where the mind and the body have become detached and ultimately disconnected. In a wider way I’m interested in the potential of the body as a knowing entity – with all our senses being structured to produce and maintain silent knowledge in the form of vessels made of clay. A clay vessel contains traces of emotion, imagination, intelligence, strength, sensitivity, timing; ways of thinking and touching that can’t really be separated from each other.