Forget everything you think you know about pottery.
The Cornish Potter is reinventing a traditional craft for a twenty-first-century audience…
Words: Gabriella Dyson. Photography: Ali Green
When you think about pottery, what image springs to mind? I’ll wager that it’s either your Nanna’s dusty collection of Denby teapots or it’s that Unchained Melody scene in Ghost, the Patrick Swayze film that launched a thousand throwing classes. Your image is probably not a twenty-year-old in a vintage jumper with a thoroughly modern attitude. So, let me introduce you to Kit Andrews a.k.a The Cornish Potter.
I met Kit at this family home in the quiet Cornish village of Golant. His makeshift studio was a bright and calm space set amongst the mismatched buildings of his parents’ turkey farm. A second-hand throwing wheel occupied one corner of the room, while row upon row of eye-catching ceramics dominated the white shelves. The subtle scent of incense permeated the air and strings of fairy lights provided the room with a welcoming warm glow in contrast to the cold winter air outside. I wasn’t exactly sure what I had been expecting a potter’s studio to look like, but it all felt rather laidback.
As we sat down with cups of tea – brewed in Kit’s very own designs – I was keen to find out where the young potter’s passion stemmed from. At the age of 20 he’s already quite the accomplished potter. Having appeared on primetime television this year and earned himself a loyal social media following, I wanted to know how it all began and why he chose to style himself as ‘The Cornish Potter’.
“It all started at my ninth birthday party” he explained. While most children would probably have been yearning for a bouncy castle, Kit was ‘keen to try something different’. His parents agreed to take him throwing and he quickly got the bug. “I really enjoyed pottery lessons and I wanted to keep improving. When my first tutor could no longer give me lessons, I ended up going to Chris Prindl”.
Chris Prindl is one of Cornwall’s most renowned potters. Having trained in Japan and the United States, his work graces the homes of many ceramic enthusiasts.
Prindl Pottery has honed a distinctive style, where ceramics are fired with gas or wood and salt, and showcase a huge range of glazes, especially deep oxblood. One need only look at Prindl and The Cornish Potter’s work side-by-side to see how the former has impacted on the young craftsman’s work.
Both potters take their cue from traditional Japanese form and both make use of unique glazes and finishes. Kit’s penchant for pit firing also brings his own distinctive flair to his designs, which are arguably more naïve and rustic in appearance. There’s something familiar although not altogether ‘Cornish’ about this style. So why then did Kit chose such a bold choice of name?
“You have to be bold,” Kit laughed, “It’s pottery. If you’re not a bit bold you end up falling into line with everyone else. You’ve got to get yourself noticed and catch people’s attention.”
“Most of the older potters I’ve met from Cornwall are very set in their ways. They’re into traditional shapes and shades. There’s a lot of the classic blue and white Cornishware. There’s always plenty of fish and seaside motifs.”
In comparison to his peers Kit’s work is decidedly edgier. You’ll most likely have spied his work in one of Cornwall’s many trendy galleries or lifestyle stores; such as Lostwithel’s Alice in Scandiland or Bude’s Jaunty Seagull. But that doesn’t mean he’s doing things by the book. Something about his work speaks to me as a younger person living in the West Country. It’s all about striking that balance between a sense of place and reinventing traditional crafts in a way that will resonate with modern sensibilities.
“I haven’t really got to know many other young potters to be honest,” Kit admits “I can’t say whether or not younger people would actually consider it as their career. In order to encourage them, I think pottery needs bringing back into schools. In our school, they sold all the pottery equipment. People want careers and it’s uncertain as to whether or not the arts can provide that for them.”
While it might not have taken hold in Cornwall yet, you need only head to Instagram to see that ceramics are having a real moment. Like 80s fashion, a whole new generation is obsessing over ceramic mugs and house plants. There’s something effortlessly cool about the kind of pottery that is coming out of kilns these days…
Of course, one of the downsides to a career in pottery is the fact that success doesn’t happen overnight. But Kit is the first to acknowledge this; “Things happen slowly and you’ve got to be patient. Sometimes you can be sat in your workshop all day by yourself and that can be quite lonely. You’ve got to be self-motivated and seek out feedback online.”
Creative overheads can also be pricey. “I got a lot of my equipment cheap” Kit explains, as he starts to set up his wheel for a round of throwing; “I got mine from a local potter having a clear out. Each wheel cost me about £50 and I have a kiln out back too. But if you bought some of this stuff new it would be thousands of pounds.”
Watching a potter at work is hypnotic. Using clay sourced from nearby St Agnes, Kit demonstrated how he would throw one of his unique vases. It’s slow and steady work but there’s something fascinating about watching a lump of grey putty rise and transform into a recognisable shape. Watching Kit at work you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an easy process. Years of training have made his hands adept for the job and before long he had created a slender clay vase. Next he would have to dry the vase, then apply his glazes, and finally pit fire the work to produce a piece of pottery in his signature style.
One of these pieces would set you back anything from £20 to £700, depending on its scale and the resources required. It certainly seems like a lucrative trade when you get it right, but it’s easy to see why handmade ceramics are bought at a premium. Kit represents the latest generation of potters to hone their craft in Cornwall and it’s stories such as his that will keep the craft alive.
You can keep up with The Cornish Potter’s work over on Instagram at @thecornishpotter. DM Kit for lessons and commissions.