Sunday 4 December 2011

Making Bad Replicas??

The pots that I find most difficult to replicate are ones that have been made with little aesthetic consideration and only the bare minimum of technical ability.  In the field of ancient ceramics these qualities (or possibly lack of qualities) are rare, but there are exceptions.  I have been asked to replicate some Souterrain ware, a very rudimentary type of pottery from Early Mediaeval Ireland.  I had to make some very similar pieces for the Gefrin exhibition of Brian Hope Taylor's finds from Yeavering / Gefrin in North Northumberland so the type isn't limited to Ireland.

The problem is, I always have to fight the natural inclination to "improve" the pot because that's exactly what I mustn't do.  The pots we tend to see in museum cases are, by and large, the best examples of their types.  If you've gone to the effort of going to see them you'd probably expect no less.  But I have to admit that it was only when I had gained sufficient professional standing, to be allowed into museum store rooms, that I realised that there were bad Prehistoric, Roman, Anglo Saxon Mediaeval, etc., potters.  But there they are, represented behind the scenes of virtually every museum I've ever looked at, and sometimes I have to copy them.

Take a deep breath and forget the last 35 years of training and experience, grab the clay and just make the pot..... and here is one of said pots, made from unprocessed glacial clay, more or less as it was dug from the ground.  The surface pock marked with small cavities left behind when organic matter burned out during the rather uneven open firing, a firing that brought the temperature of the pot up to about 700C, only really just hot enough to be called pot.  The underside is deeply impressed with the grass matt upon which the soft clay was rotated during the crude hand forming process.

The mystery really is, where had the technology gone??  Ireland is responsible for some of the finest prehistoric pottery in the British Isles.  This pot was obviously made for practicality not beauty and I respect the original maker for that, but were I able to travel back in time, I might be inclined to try and pass on a few potters' tips.

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Sunday 20 November 2011

Replicas as Christmas Gifts

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on a number of different replicas including Neolithic Carinated Bowls & Unstan Bowls, Bronze Age Beakers, Iron-Age Decorated Bowls & Roman Hunt Cups and these are now on display in Crown Studio Gallery, Bridge Street, Rothbury.  So if you need a special gift for the Archaeologist, Historian, Antiquarian or Re-enactor in your life, or even for yourself, I may be able to help.  Whatever festival you’re celebrating, be it Christmas, The Pagan Solstice, The Saturnalia, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (The Birth of the Invincible Sun, Mithras), or any other mid Winter Festival, I should have something that will suit.  If you can't get to Rothbury just ask and I can post items to you.

I take a great delight in the idea that I'm part of a potting tradition that stretches back thousands of years and try to make and fire the pots in ways that the original makers would recognise.  I take even greater delight in the idea that the pots will be owned and used by someone who truly appreciates their heritage, and will use them as they were intended.

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Saturday 5 November 2011

Roman Hunt Cups

I've been turning and finishing the Hunt Cups today and now they're in my workshop drying.
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Thursday 3 November 2011

I'm working on stock for my trip to TORM (The Original Re-enactors' Market) next week, so today I've been making Roman barbotine decorated, colour coated, hunt cups.  This involves building up the relief decoration using very thick slip.  For absolute authenticity I'm using a cows horn and goose quill slip trailer!

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Tuesday 19 July 2011

The Eagles Have Landed Installation at Tullie House Carlisle

OK I'm going to try to catch up on some of the projects that I've been involved in over the past year, they might not be in chronological order but here goes.

First I have finally installed the sculptural piece that I made along with students from Burnside Business & Enterprise College at Wallsend.  (Click here to see my earlier post) It's situated in the Border Galleries, not in the new Roman Frontier Gallery and, if I do say so myself, I think it looks pretty good.

The piece features a Haltern70 Amphora pouring out coins across a map of the Roman World and represents the idea of Rome as a global commercial enterprise.  

The map itself is composed of terracotta fragments each one bearing the thumbprint of one of the students that made it.  Since the most common artifact on a Roman site is usually  the pottery sherd it seemed appropriate that the empire should be represented by this medium.

The coins bear the heads of emporers like Galba, Titus, Vespasian, and the provinces of the empire and beyond are named on embossed copper plaques.

The Amphora and the coins were fired in one of my Roman kilns and here you can see a pot full of the coins glowing red hot in the fire.

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Wednesday 4 May 2011

NAAFI Mugs for Dover Castle

While my days are usually spent in prehistory, Roman Britain or the Anglo Saxon period, my claim the "If it's old and made from clay, I can replicate it" was tested in a rather unusual way recently when I was asked to make replica Second World War (WW2) mugs for the NAAFI at Dover Castle.  These were based on broken mugs found on the site.

They are now part of a reconstructed interior setting where they are ready to be filled with kye, a robust concoction of dark chocolate, condensed milk and sugar.  In the interests of developing my understanding of the people who used pots in the past I actually tried a cup of kye; possibly the sweetest thing I have ever tasted.  You can find more about Kye or Kai on this site Rum Ration on The Navy Network including a recipe, try it if you dare!  Also check out Dover Castle, now that's a day out!

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Tuesday 3 May 2011

Bamburgh Castle and the Laidley Worm

Completed at last, the series of interactive panels for Bamburgh Castle, upon which I have been working for some months.  They illustrate the story of the Laidley Worm and will be situated around the castle so that visitors can seek them out and take rubbings from them.  Look out for them, they'll be in service pretty soon.


Long ago in the mysterious time of magic that we now call the Dark Ages there lived at Din Guayrdi King Ida.  Sadly Ida's wife, the queen, died leaving the King, his daughter Margaret and his son Child Wynd.  Child Wynd decided to set sail to seek adventure and fortune beyond the seas while Margaret remained to comfort her father.

One day while he was out hunting in the forest Ida met an enchantress, Behoc and fell instantly in love with her. In jubilation Ida brought his new love back to the castle to meet Margaret.

But Margaret was suspicious of Behoc who perceiving Margaret to be threat pretended to offer friendship and invited her to visit a cavern beneath the castle where a magnificent gem lay hidden.  But it was a trap and Behoc cast a spell over Margaret

About this time there came terrible news of a most Laidley (Loathsome) Worm which was terrorising the countryside around the village of Spindlestone.

News of of the evil doings of this terrible creature spread far and wide eventually reaching the ears of Child Wynd who sailed day and night to return to his native Northumbria. 

Hunting down the worm Child Wynd eventually confronted the worm and showing no fear challenged the beast.  And yet as he did so his heart was softened when he saw a tear fall from the worm's eye,

The worm told Child Wynd that it was in fact non-other than his own sister Margaret bewitched by Behoc and that to lift the spell he must kiss the beast three times.  Summoning all his courage Child Wynd did as the worm asked and as he delivered the third kiss he found himself stand next to his beloved sister.

Returning to the castle Child Wynd took a branch from a Rowan Tree, potent with the forces of magic and touched Behoc with the branch.  Immediately she was transformed in to an ugly toad and Child Wynd picked her up and dropped her down the castle well into a secret cavern, where she remains imprisoned to this very day, awaiting a kiss to release her from her bondage.  I suspect she will wait a very ... long ... time!

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Saturday 9 April 2011

Beaker Firing

 A very successful beaker firing last night, firing in the dark makes it possible to see exactly how hot the pots are getting whereas in the daylight you can't see the pots glowing.  If you'd like to make your own beaker and see it fired in an open firing come and join the event at Cairnpapple over Easter, see post below.

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Thursday 31 March 2011

Bronze-Age Pottery Workshops at Cairnpapple Scotland

I'll be running Bronze-Age pottery workshops at Historic Scotland's fantastic Prehistoric site at Cairnpapple, Beecraigs and Bathgate (See Map).  

This workshop will give you a much clearer understanding of the processes that went into the creation of prehistoric pots and will equip you to; prospect for natural clay and prepare it for pot making; make your own prehistoric tool kit; make and decorate replicas of prehistoric pots and fire them in an authentic manner. You need no previous experience, this will not be a dry academic workshop but the content will be of use to People with a general interest as well as Archaeologists and Curators.
  • Looking at the Pots: Using replicas and original potsherds we will look at making methods, clay bodies, tools used, firing methods, potential uses, methods of deposition, preservation vs. decomposition, etc
  • Raw Materials: How to find and prepare your materials. We will look at the types and sources of raw materials and their storage. All participants will prepare their own clay with appropriate inclusions.
  • Tools of the Trade: All participants will make their own Bronze-Age Pottery Toolkit including; combs, scrapers, cord, modelling tools etc., using materials such as: Birch bark, Bone, Antler, Slate, Shell, Wood, Flint etc. The tools will be based on marks found on ancient pots.
  • I will demonstrate various basic Making Methods: including; thumb pot, coil etc., then it's your turn to have a go; making & decorating; beakers, food vessels, collared urns, etc. With lots of information, hints, tips, help where needed and encouragement, all participants will have the opportunity to make at least two pots, possibly many more.
  • Sunday will be firing day although there will be plenty of opportunity to carry on making pots as well.  The post will be open fired just as their Bronze-Age originals would have been.  There's much more to this than simply putting them in a bonfire but I'll give you the benefit of my experience and teach you how to be a great prehistoric pot firer! 

 The workshops which will run on Friday 22 April, Saturday 23 April, & Sunday 24 April 2011.

Cost £50 for any two days

For Bookings Contact:

IAN LEWIS     Historic Scotland Countryside Ranger 
Address:         Rangers' Office, Linlithgow Peel, Linlithgow, EH49 7AL
Tel:                  (01506) 842065

Any problems
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Wednesday 30 March 2011

Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon Pottery Workshop

The Anglo-Saxon pottery workshop which I ran at Sutton Hoo on Sunday 27th March 2011 produced some great results.  A small but dedicated group of participants produced some great replica pots using natural clays and replica tools.  One lady brought along clay from West Stow to which, after looking at sherds of original pottery from that site, she added animal dung to provide a similar carbon content.  All based on pots from the Pagan period the pots were entirely hand built and decorated using bone and antler stamps which the students also had the opportunity to make.  The on-site cafe provided us with a delicious light lunch and some excellent cake and coffee.  I'm planning to run another experimental archaeology experimental workshop at Sutton Hoo in the Autumn, probably late September and possibly including a firing, if you'd be interested in attending contact me via my website.  You can also follow me on Twitter @pottedhistory.

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Saturday 22 January 2011

The Eagles Have Landed

I've been working with a group of students from Burnside College in Wallsend to create a piece of sculpture relating to trade throughout the Roman Empire.  It will consist of an amphora pouring a cascade of ceramic coins onto a map of the Roman World and will form part of "The Eagles Have Landed" exhibition at Tullie House, Carlisle.  The coins will stream out across the map in a network of trade routes.

We have made a two metre diameter map of the Roman World entirely composed of miniature terracotta thumb pots giving it the appearance of broken pots, representing the excavated remains of ancient Rome.

Each area and country will be labelled with a copper nameplate 

and the whole sculpture will be placed on a raised plinth.

We have made many hundreds of large ceramic coins and ........ it's getting pretty crowded in my workshop!

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Tuesday 11 January 2011

Wonderful Flint Tools

Taking a piece of soft plastic clay in my hand and forming it into a pot I understand, but striking a piece of flint with a piece of deer antler and controlling the way the the fracture passes through the stone just seems magical.  I'm sure that if I put as many hours into hitting bits of stone as I have into shaping clay I would get the hang of it but with people as talented as John Lord around I think I'll stick to the mud, if you'll pardon the pun.  I'm busy upgrading my handling collections for the coming year so I ordered a few bits and pieces for John's site  and yesterday they arrived.

A flaked Neolithic Axe Head, two Tang & Barb Arrow Heads and possibly my favourite a Beaker Dagger.  I'm just really awed by the beauty of them.  I'm going to be hafting them and putting them together with appropriate pots to display when I'm doing my demos. 

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Sunday 2 January 2011

From Ancient Egypt to English Country Slipware

I think I've said before that my work can be quite wide and varied, well here's an example:  Over the past few days I've been working on sets of Egyptian Canopic Jars and some English Slipware.

Canopic Jar Set

Slipware Puzzle Jug
In this jar there is good liquor
Fit for either clerk or vicar
But to drink and not to spill
Will try the utmost of your skill 

A Slipware Harvest Jug
Good luck to the hoof and the horn
Good luck to the flock and fleece
Good luck to the growers of corn
With blessings of plenty and peace

Getting a bit nautical with this Mermaid Jug

A Health to King Charles

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