Wild seas and clay-laden fields surround the studio of potters Popalini & Jezando. Nestled away in the rural parish of Welcombe in North Devon, the duo create collaboratively designed, wheel-thrown pots from their agricultural shed-turned-studio, set across the wide moors and not far from the sea. It probably sounds more romantic than it is, Jez says, but we love the space because we made it.
Pop Wilkinson and Jez Anderson both grew up just a few miles away from their studio, on the Hartland Peninsula. This familiar landscape has grounded their practice, while providing them with some of the materials they need to create. You can dig down almost anywhere around here and find clay, Pop explains. As a child I used to go and collect clay from the banks of streams and sculpt clay animals with it.
With this in mind, they use as many local materials as they can to create their distinctive tea pots, jugs and tea bowls. We collect our stoneware clay from a small, independent clay-pit on the coast of North Cornwall, Jez says. And our earthenware clay is partially dug from the land that surrounds us. It's a beautifully silky, vibrantly orange clay, which we mix with clay from Stoke on Trent to make a good workable body.
Once bisque fired, their stoneware pots are dipped in an iron-rich glaze that is reminiscent of cast iron, and earthenware pieces are glazed with a traditional white tin which is then decorated with oxides. Sometimes, portions of each are left bare to reveal the natural qualities of the clay. The finished wares carefully reference the understated forms of Japanese tea-ware and the cast iron kettles that traditionally hang above the open fires in Japanese homes. And intrinsically, they also pay gentle homage to the traditional pottery of North Devon too.
In a bid to learn more behind their inspirations, Pop and Jez went to Japan in 2018, studying at the studio of Setsurou Shibata in Tajimi. We first learnt to spiral wedge and made pots out of porcelain, Pop explains. And a month in Tokoname at Peter Seabridge's studio was spent throwing pots out of a more rough and textured stoneware. We also split wood before helping to fire his Tokoname-style wood kiln. The following year saw another trip to Japan, supported by the Arts Council. This was spent learning more about the ancient wood-firing process, as well as taking a closer look at traditional Japanese teaware.
Another poignant source of inspiration for Pop & Jez is a little closer to home, at the Burton Art Gallery and Museum in Bideford. The upstairs of the gallery houses a collection of traditional North Devon pots that have been produced since the middle ages, and were used predominantly for cooking and storage. They are humble, irregular and mostly honey-yellow in colour. They have some quite ingenious designs that have either been sgraffitoed or slip trailed on to them, Jez describes. They were mostly made by farmers as a supplementary income, and shipped to America as an outward cargo on boats that brought tobacco back. I love the rawness of them.
Both Pop & Jez are largely self-taught, and it is these joint fascinations and informed inspirations that have provided a backbone to their practice. Important family relationships have prepared them with equally crucial hand skills and pragmatic thinking. My dad is a carpenter and artist, Jez says. The slow, uncompromising way he crafts his designs out of oak with just a few basic hand tools gave me an appreciation of craft from an early age.
For Pop, it was a ceramics youth project run by Philip Leach over a decade ago that provided a pivotal moment towards working with clay. Pop decided to make a giant harvest jug, and hived off in a corner and began to patiently hand build. The jug was wood fired in an old, English style bottle kiln built by Philip in Bideford Park, Pop describes. I can still remember excitement of handing over the raw pot to be fired, and getting it back hard and shiny with serendipitous licks from the fire. Since then, Pop and Jez have both benefitted from Philip's mentorship and encouragement, and it was perhaps he who even sparked their initial their interest in Japan.
When not making in the studio, Jez writes and plays music, and quiet days are spent together outside in the fresh air. Whether they are clearing patches of land for growing vegetables, scything back brambles or sawing up logs for the fire.
You have to lend your hand to whatever needs doing, Pop says, in a practical manner that perfectly matches their practice. And we are both addicted to the sea in different ways, Jez adds. Surfing and swimming in summer has become a daily ritual, a place to think, and to reset the mind.
Words by Daisy Gray.