Ceramic artists Jenny Dunbar describes her life in clay:

I tend to work quietly these days, on one off pieces, always aware that I need times of reflection to take stock of where the creative process is going.

The nineteen eighties were an extraordinarily fruitful phase for me and pots. Meeting Judy Chicago and being part of a mixed media exhibition with her enthused my commitment in a crucial way. I was still running a small pottery in a rather chilly barn in Rockingham on the Northamptonshire, Leicestershire borders, but was about to move on. The opportunity of creating a gallery, work shop and exhibition space, in Brigstock, presented itself and proved to be a very worthwhile experience for thirteen years. Things expanded substantially and the venue was flexible enough to use creatively in a number of ways.

Meeting Judy Chicago

My first discipline and specialism is in voice and performance, so the training of ‘practise’ was well ingrained in my psyche. We had designed the space to be flexible enough to extend into the main house from the ‘shop’. My workshop was in the Victorian bake house at the back. I fired in gas, electric and raku kilns. We organised custom made exhibitions where ceramics and pictures, sometimes textiles, were shown in a domestic setting. This was something we felt enhanced the work and, hopefully, the visitor’s way of seeing it. Many possibilities presented themselves as a result of the years there. I had already met Ron Pile, from Primavera in Cambridge, as I had work there, and he was a tremendous inspiration, as were the artists and makers who exhibited with us.

Those years were a constant learning curve, including turning my hand to production throwing for Good House Keeping magazine, creating a limited edition of egg separators! Functional certainly. I returned to exploring one off forms happily, not forgetting that essential component called function.

Novel egg separator

Moving to Oundle some years ago enabled me to concentrate on developing my work in a different way. My studio is small, but full of purpose and is a good place in which to create. I was a member of the Anglian Potters for some years and exhibited in lovely places. The Dolby Gallery, locally, have my work.

Without wishing to sound frivolous or too fey, one develops a way of ‘being with the clay’ which allows new things to evolve, gradually beginning to find one’s own way of making and marking. At the start, in that cold little Northamptonshire barn, I immediately saw form quite differently. I guess as an actor one learns to inhabit the space in a similar way, the possibilities and nuance, economy and integrity of a thing. I am probably freer than I should be at times with both clay and decoration, so have to remind myself of the technical side of things, fold up a pot and rethink, but not always. I tend to be a solitary inhabitant of the workshop and enjoy space and time to work. That is not to say I am a total recluse!  

Jenny Dunbar in her studio

I am always an observant and empathetic traveller through landscape. The light in different regions influences how I deal with colour and clay. In my studio in France the air is dryer and hence management of the body requires a different awareness, how the pot receives and absorbs the pigment is also different, hungrier.  Often the process from preparation through to final firing goes at a different pace there, which can create a more spontaneous piece of work if everything works out. The pots appear different in character.

Over this strange time of Lock down, creating has provided a welcome distraction and enabled a very different pace at which to contemplate the work.

Where ever or whatever, opening the kiln always makes me a tad apprehensive, but we all know how that feels and I have become much more patient over the years. Somehow we mature with the body a little.

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