Lockdown gave Potter Tessa Wolfe Murray time to look back at her love of slab building and her history of studios:
I’m a slab builder making pots out of white earthenware clay. In my present range, vases and vessels are made of either 5, 4 or 3 slabs. In the past I have used up to 7 slabs.
I have never wanted to use a slab-roller. I prefer the rolling pin. Maybe because the connection is more intimate? Contact with the clay more direct?
In the 1990s I was supplying slab built vases and lamp bases to Conran shops in the UK, USA, Japan, France and Germany, often large orders. I had an assistant helping me, an absolute necessity not only for the workload but also the company in what otherwise would have been a lonely repetitive process. Even then I never entertained the idea of a slab-roller.
Another reason for choosing the rolling pin over the slab-roller was space. My workshop was in the family home. If I spread my arms wide, I could touch both walls.
When the Conran orders came in I took over the spare bedroom.
Over my working life I have had several workshops.
On leaving Goldsmiths College Ceramics course, in 1985 I moved into 401½ Studios in South London, a multi-discipline group of makers with potters among them. It was a big disappointment. I had come from a tightly knit group of passionate ceramic students at Goldsmiths eager to communicate, share and support each other in their practice. We were led by committed and talented teachers and technicians.
I had hope for that kind of community at 401½ Studios but the reality of earning a living and fulfilling orders kept studio members behind closed doors, few people wanted to engage with me.
I moved my studio to home and found I enjoyed the flexibility it gave me to work around family life.
Later I lived in Leeds for several years and shared a huge multidiscipline studio on one floor of an old mill destined for future redevelopment. This was followed by Biscuit Studio in Hove, another group of ceramicists and woodworkers.
Enabled by a legacy, I finally decided I wanted to work from home, building a studio where I am now. Its back to the beginning where if I stretch out my arms, I can almost touch the walls. No room for a slab-roller even if I wanted one!
Another youtube video of me at work filmed by Stefan Kadijevic, our lockdown guest.
This time ‘Assembling a 5 part Slab Vase.’ https://youtu.be/5H6Ea8RWooc