Pat Southwood, from Salhouse, wanted to be a potter from the age of 10, but it took several decades for her to fulfil her dream.
09:27 04 February 2013
While you would learn a lot about Norfolk potter Pat Southwood if I reeled off her impressive CV and then talked about her many achievements – all you really need to know about her can be seen with your own eyes by visiting her workshop.
Her passion is plain to see and you can understand why she eventually defied her parents who wanted her to get a more stable job.
She spends most days at her workshop, a former thatcher’s yard next to Salhouse Broad, and is dedicated enough to brave the snow and ice and, latterly, floods to put in her shift.
Being at her workshop is what she likes most, but she admits that a lot of her time is devoted to PR work and using the computer.
My visit certainly opened my eyes to the world of pottery. Previously, all I knew about it was watching Demi Moore have a go in the film Ghost.
Mention of the ‘G’ word does not go down that well with Mrs Southwood – it’s “so full of cliches”.
I apologise and I think she forgives me as we go on to talk about how she became a potter, the fact she made about 50 bowls in one day before my visit, and how the current recession has a silver lining for potters and craftspeople.
“In times of recession, people appreciate home-made things more. If you buy a hand-made mug for £12, rather than £2.99, it’s your own piece of personal pleasure.”
She was born in Norwich in 1961, and after a lifelong love of clay was able to study ceramics through Anglia Ruskin University at Lowestoft College from 1994 – 1999, where she obtained an OND, an HND and a First Class honours BA in Ceramic Design.
She has been making pots professionally since 1999 when she set up her workshop, and her work is now held in private collections in Europe and the Far East.
She said: “It was something I always wanted to do from the age of 10. I fell in love with it. I did pottery at school – Firside Primary and then North Walsham High School for Girls. I had two very good art teachers who were very keen to support me, especially at high school.
“I left school at 16, and as a compromise with my parents, I trained as a florist. I did a two-year apprenticeship. I then rather bizarrely went to work for the civil service. I escaped from that by expecting my first child.”
Setting up on her own was a professional gamble, she said, but she had succeeded through “sheer determination and bloody-mindedness”. She said: “My work is based on observations of the land surrounding me, the effects of man on the landscape and natural form.
Some pots are thrown on the wheel, some hand-built; most are fired in an electric kiln at 1,260 degrees, although some are wood-fired.
“My rural location informs both the surfaces and forms of my pots. Observations are made from photographs and line drawings of the patterns formed by the effects of man on the farming landscape around me, which I am hugely inspired by.
“A field deeply furrowed and ploughed ready for potatoes doesn’t interest most people, but it will have me leaping out of the car to take a photograph to draw from at a later date.”
Since working with a thatcher in 2005, she has also been using recycled thatching reed as an integral part of her glazes.
She said: “I enjoy the continuity of reusing the reed and the sense of place that it brings to my work.
“When the local thatchers reroof a house I take the 50-year-old thatch, burn it to a fine ash and then use that as part of my unique glaze. I love the concept that the reed was grown here in Norfolk, has given good service on a local roof and can be recycled to produce a permanent record of its history and place.”
She has made three study trips to Japan in recent years and exhibited there several times. In 2009 she was selected as the UK participant for the IWCAT six-week residency in the historic ceramic town of Tokoname in Japan.
She exhibits across the UK, has worked in schools and within the wider community, and sometimes works to public commissions.
She regularly sells her work at well-known pottery, craft, and design shows around the country, She also teaches Wednesday nights at Wensum Lodge adult education centre in Norwich.
She has two Open Studios yearly, on the occasion of the Norfolk Open Studios in May and one in November. Upcoming events include “The Potter in Pottergate” on April 26/7, when she will be at her wheel throwing “live” in the window of Ethika Emporium in Pottergate in Norwich.
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