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Harrow wasnt simply about preparing ceramic careers

Jeremy Nichols, Open Handle Teapot, 2011, Thrown, slipcast and saltglazed, 20 x 21 x 13cm. Image Jeremy Nichols

Carys Davies, Llestri (detail), 2011, porcelain with R S Thomas poem The Bright Field, 25cm dia. Image Sussie Ahlburg

The Harrow Effect

Throwing workshop, Northwick Park, 1971. Far left: Sarah Walton, far right: Micki Schloessingk. University of Westminster Archive. Micki Schloessingk, outdoor kiln site, Northwick Park, 1971. Kiln built with Eleanor Epner and Zelda Mowat. University of Westminster Archive. Left: Walter Keeler and right: Peter Starkey at a CPA potters weekend camp at Losely Park c. 1973-74. University of Westminster Archive.

By Christina Lai

Aneta Regel Deleu, Metamorphosis, 2011, stoneware and volcanic rock, 60cm H. Image Sylvain Deleu

or nearly 50 years, the Harrow Studio Pottery Course trained some of the worlds nest ceramicists, transforming a poorly equipped evening class into an internationally respected degree course. Christie Brown, Janice Tchalenko, Richard Slee and Kyra Cane are just a few talents who studied or taught at Harrow. Despite this, the course sadly closed down after its nal graduation this summer. But why was Harrow so inuential? Why did such a promising hub close? Founded by Victor Margie and Mick Casson in 1963, the Harrow Studio pottery course aimed to train students to be fully independent potters, who could set up their own workshops. It was unlike any other ne arts course at the time, focusing on teaching hands-on skills - kiln building with scavenged materials, production throwing and clay sourcing. It was the ethical optimism of the 1960s; the potters life and his connection with nature were seen as a meaningful alternative to established careers. V&A Ceramics and Glass curator Alun Graves describes Harrows distinctive subculture, ...its emphasis on improvised technology and creative salvage was a form of personal empowerment, the possibility to live outside the systemi. There was great camaraderie and enthusiasm, reected by a strong work ethic. Hours were often long and students were known to sneak outdoors to do extra rings after dark. By the 1970s, Harrows reputation (especially in throwing) attracted students worldwide, from the US and Australia to Europe. Upon graduation many students were immediately employed as throwing we tutors (Walter Keeler, for example) at tu ut Harrow and respected schools like the Ha Royal College of Art. Ro Since the 1980s, the ceramics market, its cultural and social climate has changed dramatically. The course has ch always adapted, ensuring students kept al ahead of the times, beyond making itself ah - understanding the importance of critical thinking, developing an c individual artistic identity, intersecting in

and experimenting with concepts and professional practice. Harrow wasnt simply about preparing ceramic careers. For many staff and students, it was a life-changing decision which impacted their lives in unexpected ways forever. Carys Davies left her job of 18 years as programmer at IBM to study at Harrow in 2004. Disillusioned by the virtualised disconnection between people and things of her job, she found Harrows Reection through Action approach deeply rewarding. It challenged students to develop and balance synthetic and analytic skills, as well as stamina, persistence, and the need to test over-optimistic assumptions about materials, technology and fellow studentsii. In essence, she rediscovered fundamental principles which she believes prepares people to work better in many elds. What reasons contributed to its closure? In 2008, following a brief consultation, a decision was made by the university to shut down the course, due to rising costs. This provoked a huge public outcry; from ex-students, staff and prominent industry gures, resulting in a Number 10 petition signed by over 1000, which proved futile. Ceramics courses have always required space, equipment and staff. With the falling demand of pottery as a degree subject, it was deemed currently unsustainableiii. Lawrence Epps, who graduated in 2011, believes the closure reects a political move towards valuing education primarily in relation to potential future earnings of graduates as opposed to education as a worthwhile and valuable end in itself. In July 2010, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced the states plans to focus on teaching STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), which offered high public and social returniv. In the 21st century world of speed, technology and money making, it appears the self-sufcient workshop potter is no longer a relevant, fashionable or economically viable career. This is reiterated by the Craft Councils report earlier this year, which found the makers national average annual gross income was less than 20,000v. While studio ceramics has never been lucrative, this is in stark comparison to the 1970s, when there was an undersupply of trained throwers to meet the public appetite of homemade tableware. Earlier in 2011, the Crafts Council released sobering ndings across

Lawrence Epps, Employees, 2012, ceramic, 12cm H, Image Emily Cooper


craft&design November/December 2012

craft&design November/December 2012


i) Foreword by Alun Graves, Tradition & Innovation: Five Decades of Harrow Ceramics, 2012 ii) Letter by Carys Davies to Vice Chancellor of University of Westminster, 2008 iii) Quote from Sally Feldman, dean of the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster, featured in A Crisis in the Making by Tanya Harrod, Crafts Magazine, July/Aug 2009 iv), vi) Craft & Higher Education: an update, 2011 http://www.craftscouncil. craft-higher-education-an-update?from=/ about-us/press-room/list/2011/ v) Craft in an Age of Change Summary Report, Crafts Council, 15 February 2012

the UCAS database- between 2009 to 2011, almost 1 in 3 of the 32 undergraduate craft course closures were ceramics based, or contained a ceramics elementvi. Harrow is just one of several prominent universities that have axed their ceramics and glass departments in recent decades (including Glasgow School of Art in 2008 and Camberwell College of Art this year). 2006 graduate Tessa Eastman agrees its a sad sign of the times we live in. Less people get involved with using clay as it is demanding and labour intensive. People today want instant results with little effort and maximum prot. Implications It would be naive to assume only ceramics is under threat. All over the country, traditional material based courses like glass, wood and metalwork have been endangered or quietly disappeared. Consequently, in recent years single craft disciplines have often been blended into generalist craft undergraduate courses, under names like 3D Design Craft, Applied Arts, or incorporated into ne art and wider foundation courses. This is one way to cut costs, keep facilities and staff employed, whilst giving students a wide skills base to increase employability. However, for those wishing to specialise in a single discipline for a professional career, these may prove inadequate to provide sufcient skills and training. It is a huge loss of physical and human resources. The accumulated expertise will be scattered and difcult to reassemble, says 1980s student Prue Venables Harrows closure means less choice for students, leading to talent studying abroad in countries like Holland and Japan, where ceramics is still a highly valued artistic medium. Apprenticeships and sponsorships like Lisa Hammonds Adopt-a-Potter scheme may be the few options left for aspiring potters in future.

On the grander scale of things, the fear is that manual skills may die out. Not just because the craftsman is increasingly replaced by technology, but also due to diminishing craft education in the public domain. This is particularly the case in state-funded primary and secondary schools, where shortage of skilled staff and resources means few experience the benets of handling clay. There is an apparent lack of long-term foresight into what constitutes a healthy, balanced society and education. It is a tragic loss of our humanness; our ability to connect with the materials that we use and create our world. Harrows Legacy Though it is difcult to measure the impact of Harrow Ceramics in real terms, there are signicant achievements students and staff should be proud of; namely its inuence on the academic structure of teaching ceramics (it is now a recognised degree subject) and the dynamic portfolio of its students. It changed perceptions of what could be accomplished within a vocational course - critically and practically. One continuing legacy is the universitys AHRC funded Ceramics Research project, Ceramics in the Expanded Field. Supported by its Ceramics Research Centre, it is run by PhD students and contemporary ceramic practitioners like Edmund de Waal and Clare Twomey. It aims to investigate new ways ceramics can be practised in the context of museums, raising awareness and securing its future. Ultimately, Harrows innovation and community spirit are its most powerful bequests. As Venables aptly points out, There are people who have experienced this training and had their lives permanently changed by it. Their inventive thinking and appreciation of skills will continue to inuence people around them in many different ways. Christina Lai is British-born Chinese ceramicist living in South East London. She is also a freelance arts and culture writer and writes her own blog

Christie brown, The Uncanny Playroom, 2010, 150cm H. Image Sussie Ahlburg


craft&design November/December 2012