It’s Potfest in the Park time again. If you are a lover of fine ceramics, either to use around your home or just to appreciate as art, this is the event for you. The largest festival of its kind in the UK, this year welcomed artists for the 14th time to the gorgeous grounds of Hutton in the Forest just a couple of miles from Penrith, gateway to our lovely Lake District. Many of the artists traveled hundreds of miles from as far as Eastern Europe, Australia and Japan to be here, as it is a prestigious event and attendance is by invitation only.It is a real Cumbrian cultural feast from a pot/tourism perspective but the setting is also pretty perfect too.
The country house, Hutton-in-the Forest is still a family home – quite rare these days – and the beautiful grounds and gardens are definitely worth a wander around.The Walled Garden, built in the 1730s, houses a large collection of lovely plants and the terraces were originally laid out in the 17th century.In particular, I like the tree walk where you can identify dozens of rare trees which wereplanted by the 1st Lord Inglewood. A free tree trail guide gives you some seventy species to track down including some giant California Redwoods.
Munching mansion lunches
The potters show their wares in marquees on the lawn and there is always something to intrigue and engage you as they find their inspiration from all walks of life. Every year there is a potter’s competition with a different theme and this year it was ‘Out of this World.’ Visitors meander across the green perusing each piece and cast their vote to say which they like the best. There is a potter’s choice award too. These are very special pieces and it is a lot of fun to work out each potter’s interpretation of the brief. It really shows off the creativity, the beauty and often the humour that can be contained in a ceramic piece.
The people’s choice was the slightly puzzled looking dinosaur in a space suit creating an interesting visual juxtaposition. The caption read ‘Leading paleontologist Professor Jardine’s ideas on the disappearance of the dinosaurs were quickly ridiculed by his peers.’
The potter’s choice was the rocket dog. A small space man stands on the orange nose cone of a rocket clutching Laika, the first dog in space. I liked these both very much but I also liked David Hilton’s ‘A world perceived,’which had three Munch like figures having a good scream and was captioned ‘The world as seen by each individual can be disturbingly different.’ Ceramics as philosophy.
The world has gone mad MAD I say!
There were many of my favourite potters there (although some had put their prices up a bit) but there is always someone new to see. David Hilton is a repeat visitor. His beautiful detailed pieces have multiple figures of animals and trees depicted in multiple coloured enamel glazes which are built up over repeated firings. He spent several years studying in Japan and they do have a Japanese feel to them but with a very modern twist. David acknowledged that the people who come to the Potfest are a pretty clued up audience and that usually sales are good.
Please don’t ask me anything.
The animal sculptures here are outstanding and I especially love Jon Barrett-Danes small flock of super realistic life size sheep – which all have names by the way – and his lovely sheep dog Raven who watches them (he is a sculpture too)I took a small rest on the broad and quite comfortable back of Hatty, the most robust of the flock, with permission of course. Jeremy James is also an exceptional sculptor of realistic animals, in particular the wildlife of the Inner and Outer Hebrides. His delicate bird sculptures are quite delightful.
A foxy sculpture
Ian and Hilke MacIntyre’s detailed story tiling was a new addition to the festival and Guy Routledge’s funny flattened faces , heads and bottle are also very unique. I wondered if he’d had a tight squeeze himself maybe earlier in life which may have inspired him?
The thin man
Refreshments at the Potfest area lot more limited than they are at the Tatton park Flower Show but they are a lot cheaper a probably a lot tastier. The pork and apple burgers on the BBQ were yummy, and the home made cream scones for sale in the tea roomsin the house, top notch. We even got to try some sour cherry liqueur from Stefan Bang who happened to create his pottery in a well known wine growing region of Germany.
Stefan Bangs out the liqueur
There was a great Oompah band (I’m not sure if that’s the correct description) made up of magnificently mature musicians and Don Roberto’s punch and Judy show which appeared to be in Portugese. Well, hitting someone over the head with a frying pan pretty much translates in any language.
You’re never too old for Oompah
The Potfest was the brain child of potters Chris and Geoff Cox. They have really put Cumbria on the map with this terrific event and their passion for what they do is evident in the quality of the work on offer here. If you haven’t had enough of pots then why not tryout the Potfest in the Pens (it is held in the pens of the cattle mart) next weekend (it’s always the first weekend in August). You won’t see the same people, as potters can only attend one of the two events so if you didn’t buy anything this time round you will get a second bite of the ceramic cherry..