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Clay is making a comeback. Try getting on a pottery course in London, you’ve got no chance.
11th September 2017

Urban Potters: Q&A with Katie Treggiden

– By Anya

Clay is making a comeback. Design journalist Katie Treggiden’s latest book explores the resurgence of pottery, with a focus on the new generation of urban makers in cities across the world. The book explores the craft in the context of six cities – New York, London, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Sydney and Sao Paulo –  and the work of makers who live and work there.

With the book launching this September, we put some questions to Katie about the project. In the interview that follows Katie discusses why she’s a sucker for clay, the logistical challenges of putting together a book, and how on earth (no pun intended) she selected just six cities and 28 makers to spotlight.

Why pottery? What about it appeals to you?

Writing is my first love, but my second career. After 12 years working in advertising, I knew I wanted to do something creative but wasn't sure what. In order to find out, I spent a long time doing evening, weekend and summer classes at the Putney School of Art and Central Saint Martins in everything from pottery to photography and painting to printing. I eventually realised that what I loved most was writing about all those pursuits, and have made a career doing exactly that. Of all the pursuits pottery really stayed with me – there's something very therapeutic, and somehow elemental, about sinking your hands into a ball of wet, squidgy clay! Edmund de Waal calls it "returning to earth" and I think there's something innately satisfying about working with clay.

Copenhagen – Ditte Fischer

The book focuses on makers from six cities. What informed your selection of these cities and why was it important for the book to have an international outlook?

The book starts from the premise that there is a worldwide phenomenon of studio potters choosing to work in cities. At first glance, this seems counter intuitive because ceramics is a very space-hungry pursuit and in cities, especially cities such as London and Tokyo (which both feature in the book), space is at a premium. The cities were chosen because they were the cities where this trend for urban pottery seemed most pronounced and they were where the most exciting up-and-coming studio potters were based. Each chapter starts with an essay, so my task was then to tell a story about the heritage of ceramics in each of those cities. It was no surprise that each city had many fascinating stories to tell, the challenge was to choose just one.

New York – MONDAYS

What was the process of identifying the 28 makers? Were there certain approaches and characteristics you were looking for?

We were looking for the new generation of studio potters choosing to work in cities. In the book, I talk about the characteristics that being an urban potter demands: humility, patience, grit and determination. I suppose we were looking for potters with those traits, but also for people who were producing work that was both of their city and also saying something new; people who would challenge me to write a story that was representative of the incredibly diverse talent in each of these cities.

You describe Urban Potters as the book that you are most proud of. Why is that?

I consciously pushed myself to write a better book – it's really important to keep developing and growing as a writer, and I was determined that this would be my best effort yet. It's much more in-depth than my previous books, so while it will make a wonderful introduction to ceramics for somebody who is new to the topic, my hope is that there's also a lot on there for practicing ceramic artists – new stories, new insights and new ways of looking at the heritage of their craft.

Sao Paulo – Sofia Oliveira

Logistically, how challenging is putting together a book? Can you give us an insight into what this particular project involved: how long has it taken? What research did it involve?

Writing a book is always a big project, but one I absolutely relish. Researching and writing the first draft took a few months and I was lucky enough to be able to work pretty much full time on it for that period. I spent a lot of time in the National Arts Library in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and also a lot of time meeting potters, artists, curators and critics. I was buying people coffee and lunch in exchange for picking their brains on an almost daily basis! The whole process from initial brief to holding the first copy in my hands has taken almost a year. I'm incredibly grateful to Micha Pycke and Ruth Ruyffelaere at Ludion, Mark Garland at Thames & Hudson, Abrams, Dylan Van Elewyck, Emiel Godefroit, DeckersSnoeck and Anthony Leyton for making it happen – there are an awful lot of people involved in the making of a book besides the author.

You can pre-order Urban Potters on Amazon here
Urban Potters book
Sydney – Hayden Youlley
Copenhagen – Tina Marie Bentsen
Sydney – Tara Burke. Photo Amy Piddington

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