Interview with potter Clare Stephens

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Pottery has been a rediscovered passion for local potter Clare Stephens. Having first tried it at a school sixth form club, she continued to educate herself after leaving by way of evening classes, while by day she started a career in nursing and midwifery.

After marrying and having children, she took a break from arts and crafts, but around four years ago she found a strong desire to return to making things out of clay. “I found the Folk House in Bristol, where they have all sorts of amazing arts and crafts. I was fortunate enough to get on a day studio course with a professional potter called Bill Moore. I was so excited, I felt just the same then as I had twenty-odd years before.”

A couple of years ago, around the time she started to exhibit in the Severn Vale Art Trail, she realised that pottery was something she wanted to pursue more seriously. An old playhouse and dilapidated shed were cleared from a corner of her garden, and a wooden studio was erected, with space for her wheel, a big table and sink, shelves to arrange her works in progress and mostly importantly a kiln.

She refers to the building as her playhouse, or the shed, and spends much of her spare time there, learning about firing and glazes and exploring many of the techniques used in producing pottery. “I’m very happy out in my little shed, I’m out here for hours and hours. I never ever get even a tiny bit bored making things with clay, even if they’re fairly repetitive. Every time I make something there’s something I learn, however tiny it might be.”

Clare never refers to her work as “ceramics” preferring instead the earthier term “pottery”. She likes the connection to the past, and the fact that pots have been made in a similar way for thousands of years, and also that her pots will survive and be used by future generations. “Pottery is amazing because it’s something that is a very permanent and traditional thing to do. The link with the past and future is rather lovely.”

Her pieces are varied, often bright and colourful, reflective of her upbeat and outgoing personality. She uses different glazes and decoration techniques and makes her own linocut stamps to impress into the wet clay as well as sgraffito designs where layers of glaze are scratched off to expose the different colours beneath.

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She still attends weekly studio classes and would like one day to be a full-time potter, making things that people would love to have in their homes. “That’s one of the things I like about pottery. If what I make gives someone a little bit of pleasure, that’s two-thirds of the reason why I make it.”