As Wyn Abbot says: “The first time I picked up a lump of clay, it changed my life forever.”
“As old as time
Yet young as a bud
Covered in leaves
And born of the wood”
The first time I picked up a lump of clay, it changed my life forever. Just as when our ancestors first worked clay, it set in motion a journey that would touch everyone on earth.
Clay tells the story of our humanity: from the first time it was moulded to the time and accidentally baked in a fire, it has told the story of where and how we lived; our belief systems, homes, even our diets. When I see pottery made thousands of years ago, I know I am part of that tradition. Our firing and glazing may be more refined, but I am using the same creative processes, and I love that.
My studio is in The Wolfhouse Gallery in Silverdale, a small but a magical place on the shores of Morecambe Bay, surrounded by woodlands and coast. While I spend my days sculpting on the upper level, my partner Colin runs the gallery and deals with orders. I need only step out of the door to find woodland walks and magnificent coastal views.
I’ve always loved the Wolfhouse, so when we had the option to take it over, it seemed perfect. Established over 45 years ago, all who visit fall under its spell – it’s a place of memories, named because it looks over the bay to Humphrey Head, where legend has it the last wolf in England was killed. There are three other businesses onsite including holiday cottages, a café and artist’s studio; independent, yet working together. Combining Wyn Abbot Ceramics and the Wolfhouse Gallery was a perfect fit: I love the name and the story behind it because my work is about stories and myths.
My life as a ceramic artist has been an amazing journey, one I never envisaged for myself, although I dreamed of being an artist. I was born with magic in my soul, creating and writing stories. Ever since I could hold a pencil I was encouraged to draw, paint and craft and growing up by the beach and woods, nature was my mentor.
However, I followed a career in health and social care for over 20 years and work, as well as completing my masters degree, left me screaming to get back into something creative; so I took a course in sculpting.
My tutor said “there’s the clay, just do what you like”, but never having worked with clay, I had no idea what to do. But it was the best thing the tutor could have said: eventually I picked up the clay, became mesmerised by it and after a while, found a hooded figure in a boat sat in front of me.
I realised the symbolism of what I had made in relation to where I was in my life, and decided I needed to create from instinct. I became passionate about working with clay as it’s so tactile and incorporates all the elements: Earth (clay); Air (drying process); Water (to make it malleable) and Fire (for baking). I realised how much we take clay for granted, using it every day from the cups we drink from, to the houses we live in. Our garage became a studio and in less than two years, with Colin’s support, I left the NHS to work full-time with clay.
It was hard at first, competing in a society of ‘mass production’, and hardest of all was finding the right place to sell. I’d advise any budding artist not just to go for the obvious places, such as galleries. See where your art fits. Visit places
before you approach them and don’t be despondent when you get the inevitable rejections or fail to sell your work. See it as a process of elimination, helping get your work seen, and finding where your art will be appreciated.
From day one I was drawn to making goddess figures and green man plaques. Researching the figures made by our ancestors, there is so much power in those pieces: it makes me wonder who made them, what were they thinking. I spent some years creating archaeological replicas for museum shops, something I would have never considered doing but it fitted so well with my style. Holding items made thousands of years ago made me tingle, and re-creating them was amazing.
Despite spending years finding my ‘place’ in the art world and people telling me what I ‘should’ be making, I stayed true to my beliefs and instincts. I weave the myths and beliefs of the past in to my work. It’s crucial that my work is not not just an ornament, but a piece with presence and meaning – when I pick up a lump of clay I let the piece emerge. When I teach, students will say “I can’t think what to make” and my advice is not to think, just feel! Art comes from the soul: once the head gets involved, it brings in doubt.
I would say my own belief system is eclectic. I have been following the Pagan path consciously for about 30 years, but unconsciously, all my life. I work shamanically. I’m not good at being told to do things in a particular way, and my beliefs and rituals are instinctive and intuitive; not found in a book.
I draw from areas such as Wicca, Druidry, Shamanism and more. I have studied and worked with astrology, tarot and runes but while I stick to my own path, there are aspects I need from each to fulfil my life and work. But when I create something, I draw from a deep well of spirituality and nature. I used to worry and think “well what am I then?!” But now, having studied and practiced over the years, I don’t need a label. I have a deep, strong spiritual belief and connection with the land that sees me through my life and informs my work.
My spiritual path strongly influences my ceramic work – earthy and reflecting the natural world- but equally, my ceramic work informs my path. As a child I spent my days collecting shells and stones from the beach at the end of my street or wandering through the woods collecting fir cones and twigs. Today still, I draw energy and inspiration from my surroundings and the stories of our ancestors.
Working with clay deepens my connection with the earth, as I am making things from the earth that reflect the earth: tree altars or stoneware statues. Archetypes such as the green man, green lady, hare, and animal totems greatly influence my work as I story-weave depth and meaning into each piece. Names for pieces will come to me suddenly as I am make them, and sayings fly into my head.
One of my favourite things to make are my tree bowls: quite large, with a tree-bark effect outside and rich glaze inside – each one has a spiral at the bottom and a quote around the rim or spiralling upwards with little hares, green men or goddesses. They look magical with floating candles. I’m often asked where the quotes come from but unless I am asked for a specific one, they just come into my head, sometimes as I am actually writing it.
I never tire of picking up clay and knowing that it has taken thousands of years to get into my hands. I never tire of closing the kiln on unfired pieces and opening it to the alchemical process that turns them into vibrant glazes. I’m happiest when my shelves are full of figures and pots yet unfired – I love the natural beauty of the faces in raw clay.
The recent TV series The Great British Pottery Throwdown has been a real boost for pottery. The business declined so much, what with cheaper imports, resin pieces, and factory-produced pottery, but the show highlights this amazing craft and has inspired many people to start courses. Not only is pottery a versatile and essential material, it is also therapeutic and fun. Everyone can make something and I would urge everyone to have a go. When you make something from clay or wood it retains an energy that you won’t find in mass-produced pieces.
My advice to anyone wanting to pursue a creative project is just do it! There are books, courses, Youtube videos, online information etc, but while people can teach techniques, they cannot teach you creativity – that comes from within. Just let it happen, enjoy the feeling and let it grow. The hardest thing is trying to get out of your own head.
I didn’t like the potters wheel at first, it was a relationship that grew gradually and not without some pain! But it has enabled me to expand my work by combining wheel-thrown pieces with sculptural designs. My work has evolved naturally– I couldn’t sit and make the same things all the time. I need constant change so I am always evolving designs and pieces. I might walk through the woods and pick up a stone that inspires me, or make a pot on the wheel and suddenly decide to make it into something different. As I grow and evolve, this is reflected in the pieces I make. Most of my pieces, certainly the sculptural pieces, have sculpted feathers, leaves and drums incorporated into them.
I have made lots of pieces that I struggled to part with. I think my favourite piece is ‘Drumming the Soul back Home’. I felt such an infinity with her, when she came out of the kiln she looked so completely ‘at one’ with herself. She is definitely a one-off, with such a powerful yet peaceful energy about her. Most of my female figures are drummers: drumming represents the heartbeat of the earth.People tell me that my pieces talk to them and are a powerful presence in their home, and that’s very special to hear.
Being an artist is not an easy path, especially in this financial climate. You have to really want to do it, and it is something far more substantial than money that drives you on. It’s difficult to articulate, but it is very personal as what you create tells a story of who you are. It is a reflection of you, or of part of you.
It’s financially challenging, with very little time off; but I wouldn’t change it for anything. When times get tough, we pull together and trust that it will get easier which it usually does. When the downs hit, we know that the wheel will turn again.
The vision for Wyn Abbot Ceramics is to continue creating beautiful and spiritual pieces that are meaningful and symbolic, and selling ethically through shops around the country and beyond.
More information about Wyn and her works is available at her website: Wyn Abbot Ceramics.