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  • kevkeaneclay

365 Days of Pots

Updated: Mar 15

It seems incredible that this day 12 months ago, I set out on my pottery odyssey. The date kind of snuck up on me this year - and its a bit surreal. The last 365 days hold enough to fill at least three years in my mind - both externally and internally, a lot has changed since March of 2023.


At the time, I was living in Phibsboro in Dublin, and working an unfulfilling, if fairly handy, remote work job from the couch in my rented apartment. I was going through it a little bit - I had been in a fairly scary car crash just before Christmas (no-one got hurt), a relationship was ending, and the social anxiety of Covid had burned me out. I felt untethered - adrift, and rudderless. The car crash had shaken me up quite badly, and I felt distant from my body and the world around me. In reality, I was in a bit of a crisis.


Pottery pulled me back, and set me on a whole new course. In the immediate aftermath of the crash, I enrolled in a night course in pottery in Dublin city. I instantly fell in love. My pots were wobbly, my centring was poor, and it was remarkably frustrating in patches, but the peace of the wheel took a hold of me straight away. Anyone who's ever sat at a wheel and enjoyed it will relate to the feeling. It really does feel like the volume is turned down on the world and its worries, and narrows completely to what's taking place on the wheelhead.


Nothing matters. Worries, stresses, anxieties fade, and you're brought radically to the moment. The most important thing on earth becomes the straightness of your walls, the little wobble in the rim, the curve of the belly. It's an exercise in release, and surrender - most of your early pots will end up as a squishy mess in a clay bin, ready to be recycled for a future effort.


I became consumed with pots and clay almost overnight. In retrospect, I see now that I had been introduced to a medium that would unlock my creativity (which had become blocked over the years), and through which I would discover a deep sense of meaning & purpose.


As Spring 2023 unfolded, I had a decision to make. I was leaving Ireland for a while, that much I knew, but without any direction. I didn't particularly fancy floating about hostels aimlessly - I wanted a purpose. I had spent most of January in Dzogchen Beara, a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in West Cork, and over and over again while I was there, pottery called my name. My first real introduction to conscious mindfulness, presence and meditation had come at the pottery wheel, and even in the idyllic surroundings of the cliffside monastery, the peace of the wheel called my name.



So I made the decision in Beara - I'd tear my life up, commit entirely to this craft I had just discovered 6 weeks previously, pack my bags and see where it'd take me. On 14 March 2023, I stepped on to the ferry to take me from Rosslare to Bilbao, in Northern Spain. My ultimate goal was to make it by land from Dublin to Morocco - Ireland to Africa on foot. The prize at the end of the journey was a pit firing and week-long wild clay immersion in the Atlas Mountains, but more on that later.



Portugal



From Bilbao, and after a quick 400km diversion to walk the Camino de Santiago, I made my way to Porto. Porto is a magical pottery city - it's famous for its Azulejo tilework, and with good reason. I just walked, for hours and hours and hours, staring at the walls. My camera roll is still full of hundreds of photos of tiles, and some day I'll for sure dive in to tile making.


There are pottery workshops and studios on every corner in Porto, and I could happily spent months dandering about ogling pots. Sadly, I was due to be in Andalucia for a 10 day intensive a week later, so I was slightly pressed for time. I managed to sneak in two single days masterclasses, though - a throwing workshop in Atelier Miragaia - a gorgeous little corner studio hidden down a side street, opened by three friends during Covid, and a tile painting workshop. The tile painting is fascinating - an archive has been developed of all the city's tiles, down to street and building. Many of the tile designs are being lost to the ravenous machine that is over-development, and the Azulejos are doing their utmost to preserve and maintain the heritage and culture of the city through its tiles.


From Porto, I stopped in to Lisbon, another glorious pottery city. It's the home of the National Tile Museum (heaven) so I spent a full day wandering through the maze of ceramics, mouth agape 90% of the time. It calls itself a tile museum, but in reality its so much more - a celebration of all things clay, from classically ornate tilework to surrealist chickenheads.



Andalucia


After Lisbon, things started getting serious. I enrolled in a 10 day intensive in the rolling mountains of Andalucia, under the tutelage of a highly experienced master potter called Elizabeth Aylmer.

It was an old school apprenticeship for 10 days - on the first morning, Liz asked if I wanted to have fun, or if I wanted to really learn. That should have been my first warning, but always a bit of a sucker for some punishment, I told her to give me everything she had. So we quickly settled in to a routine - every morning. I'd wedge 15 400 gram balls, under strict instructions to produce 15 identical straight sided cylinders. By the time I was done, Liz would be in to wreak havoc. She'd go pot by pot, slicing every single one in half to inspect the walls. They were never right, not quite, and Liz wouldn't be slow to tell me.




Morocco


Morocco deserves its own blog post entirely, and I'll give it its space in a standalone post soon. It was my first experience playing with wild clay, my first time getting to be part of a pit fire, and the most incredible immersion in a world of pottery completely different than my studio-based experience until then. Morocco as a whole is a pottery heaven - thousands of pots are stacked up in shops in every single medina in the country, and Moroccan ceramics are mind-blowing. For me, though, the real magic lived in the mountains.



I lived on a farm in the middle of the Rif mountains for a week - but not just any farm. The Gite Kissane is a biodynamic nature reserve of sustainable agricultural practices - it is home to the largest seed bank in the region, is chemical-free, and acts as a focal point for the regeneration of traditional farming and ceramic practice in the area.



The potters (all women) gather each morning under the Moroccan sun, and create utilitarian cookware and functional pottery, using inter-generational handbuilding techniques. The clay is dug by hand from a clay bank outside the village, and processed by hand each day. Its incredibly groggy, and it needs to be - the clay, once formed and dried under the sun, is given to the fire in the traditional manner.


After a week of coiling pots together, we dug a pit in a clearing between olive trees, and built a pyre. The pots were carefully nestled in amongst dried wood, straw and sawdust, before a layer of dried cowpats was added over the top. This forms a kind of cap over the fire, and forces the heat in to containment, which helps the internal heat to rise to around 900 degrees - enough to vitrify the clay, and transform it from mud to ceramic.




I stopped in too many places to talk about in one go, and anyway this isn't a chronology, its a celebration. I can't celebrate the last year, though, without celebrating Oslo for a few lines.


Oslo


I arrived to Oslo in July, and by this stage I was pretty burned out. I had been travelling hard, and as any of my friends who were subjected to my very long voice notes at the time would attest, had gone through a period of deep introspection, which took its toll. By the time Oslo rolled around, all I wanted to do was play with clay and have a nice time. Which is exactly what happened!










Two of my best friends live in Oslo, so I lived with one of them and took a membership in a community studio in the city. Like all things in Norway, the studio was magnificent in its Scandi-ness. It was a massive space, with over 20 wheels, tonnes of work space, kilns constantly on the go, and a vibrant and talented group of members. I had some of my happiest and most restorative times in the Keramikkversted in Vulkan.


I also sold my first work! In August, I took a stall at a local craft and design market, and had absolutely mighty craic. I love nothing more than hanging out and chatting to whoever will listen, so market days are some of my favourite. Sitting at that stall, in that moment, I knew I had to quit my remote work job and go all in on pots.



All these adventures have brought me to here, today. In my granny's old house in Spanish Point, West Clare, typing a blog in front of the fire. I spent today working in my very own studio overlooking the beach, in a beautiful 260 year old convent building. I had a meeting this afternoon with an incredible, ambitious new cafe and restaurant in Kilrush to chat about plates (more on this soon). Tomorrow, I'll be in the studio all day working on a commission for one of the most exciting new restaurants in Clare (Glas in Hotel Doolin, best tasting menu in Clare, soon Ireland, and all ingredients are sourced within 30 miles of the kitchen). In the next few weeks, I'll be welcoming tourists and visitors to the studio, making work, shooting silly little videos, and staring at the ocean. Its magic, and I'm almost overwhelmed with gratitude.




The last 365 days have transformed me, and the life I live, completely. Clay has been at the heart of everything I've done. Its filled thousands of hours of thinking and dreaming, and animated pretty much every waking moment. I can't wait for another 365.




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Corin Haines
Corin Haines
Mar 15

Tremendous post. I loved reading your pottery journey (creative and physical). I'm just over a year into my pottery learning and going a lot slower than you. I'm still throwing wonky pots while loving learning about what I can do and what is possible. There is nothing more satisfying than eating or drinking from the stuff you have made. Looking forward to reading more when the next posts come. :-)

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marychosullivansanford
Mar 15

Thoroughly enjoyed reading your first, (of many I hope), Newsletter. Reading about your adventurous last year is inspiring and fascinating. Congratulations on following your gut/heart and changing your life mid-stream. Hats off! Can't wait to hear what happens next........I totally agree that eating food off plates that have been hand made brings something extra to the plate, quite literally. ❤️⚱️❤️

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