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report on john calver workshop

updated sat 31 may 97


The Shelfords on wed 7 may 97

Hi all -

The Richmond Potters' Club had an absolutely fantastic workshop with John
Calver. If you are looking for workshop possibilities, you might like to
consider him - he deserves to be better known in North America, IMO. (By
the way, I hope we get reports on other workshops from time to time, I think
it would be interesting and useful.)

For me, the most fascinating thing about John was his approach. He is
self-taught - started off his working life as a civil engineer and then
discovered clay. He established his workshop in 1973 - got or made himself
the basic equipment and dived in. Had to sell everything he made, right
from the start, to keep going. Without anyone to tell him the "approved"
techniques, he arrived at his own. (He still uses the square bats he first
made when, as he said, he was an impatient young man, wanted to get going,
not waste time diddling with cutting circles. Now they come in handy as a
visual reference for squaring or otherwise altering bowls and things.) He
has this same straight-forward approach to everything. His throwing is
riveting to watch - he centers as he throws, so there is no time spent on
centering and coning and keeping to "perfection" all the way up. He has a
date with perfection at the end of the process, not at the beginning - and
he keeps it. His work is not all self-consciously wobbly or extreme, but it
has life and grace. His trimming is amazing - leaves you kicking yourself
for not having thought of doing it that way too. His pieces are stretched
and shaped with verve and economy - his handles and rims are vivid and
sculptural without lots of extra equipment.

His approach to tools is sensible and self-sufficient. He demonstrated
various ways of making them, and supplied the materials for us to make our
own. He has built his own kilns over the years, learning as he goes, and
tells some wry stories about his earliest one - an electric with very low
resistance elements. But he used it to fire and sell and fire again and
keep learning.

He now oil fires ^10-11 stoneware, using a rich combination of slips and
glazes and impressed clay to produce gorgeous and elegant tapestries of
colour. You have to SEE the pieces - I've appended a short list of books
and issues of magazines where his work is included. And with all this - in
a world of big egos, he is quiet, friendly, accessible, and completely
unpretentious. You weren't just treated to a display of virtuosity - you
were taught how to do it too. Everyone came away inspired, energized - not
to say revolutionized! - and in love with clay all over again.

If you want to get in touch with John about workshop possibilities, his
address is:
John Calver
23 Silverdale Road
Yealand Redmayne
Lancs. LA5 9TA
Tel: 011 44 1524 781362

Some of the more recent publications where his work can be seen:
CERAMIC REVIEW, March 1991, "A Potter's Progress"
CERAMICS ART & PERCEPTION, 1992/6 "My Other Layer"
NEW ZEALAND POTTER, Vol. 35, no. 2, 1993
Scott, Paul. "Ceramics and Print", A&C Black, 1994, pp 42-45
Wensley, Doug. "Advanced Pottery Techniques", Crowood Press, 1995
Constant and Ogden, "The Potter's Palate", Chilton Book Co. 1996, p. 46

Veronica Shelford
s-mail: P.O. Box 6-15
Thetis Island, BC V0R 2Y0
Tel: (250) 246-1509