Saturday, May 1, 2010

Potted History of Bideford

I’ve got really interested in history since living in Bideford; its history is heavily tied up with Art and America, two of my biggest passions. Bideford prospered in the 17th and 18th centuries through trade with new American colonies (it helped to set up) importing tobacco and exporting pottery. In the Autumn I shall be accompanying my wife Sadie on a research trip, sponsored by a Sir William Churchill Travel Award, to North Carolina and Virginia. She’ll be finding out where Bideford’s pottery went and making contact with artists, arts orgs and networks close to Bideford’s twin town of Manteo on Roanoke Island. For more information about her trip follow this link:

I’ll be looking out for visual similarities and differences between the two communities and environments. I’m hoping to find traces of North Devon in the old sea port towns, did our ships ballast, alien rocks and plants, get dumped on the beach, was it used as building material? Was anything else exported at the time, ball clay etc? I’ll be listening out for traces of local dialect with Devon words or pronunciations. Appledore smocks? I’ll be doing the same when I get back home, are there common place things here in North Devon that originated from the USA which we’ve forgotten about through generations since they got imported.

Also, in support of Sadie’s research, I’m photographing pottery. I started examining this craft when I was commissioned to photograph the ‘kiln in the park’ firing just before Christmas 2009. I’m now keen to make a good documentary record of potters who are still making slipware and using the sgraffito effect with red clay and white slip carrying on the tradition of North Devon pottery.

‘Bideford Pottery’, a family business of Harry Juniper, his son Nick and daughter Sue is the only pottery in town making pots instantly recognisable as North Devon ware. Everything is made by hand in a similar way to how it would have been done in the 17th century. So far I’ve been photographing Nick throwing mugs and a pitcher and also decorating the jug. Close by is the studio of Doug Fitch, another young potter with a huge respect for the local tradition who even sources local clay which he digs out. Doug also has a collection of old pots and shards from the time when pottery in this area was as big an industry as it was in Staffordshire. The images in this post are the start of the documentary which I intent to take with me to North Carolina to share with the arts community and potters in our twin town Manteo and throughout the State.

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