Potfest in the park – England’s premium pottery extravaganza

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High summer at Hutton in the Forest

The Potfest at Hutton in the Forest near Penrith is as near to pot heaven you can get if you have the slightest interest in quality ceramics. 100 top potters from all over the world turn up to the idyllic venue in the grounds of Lord Inglewood’s stately home just North of Penrith off the M6.

These sheep are no bother

This is the 13th Potfest in the Park a sister event to the even longer established Potfest in the Pens (the pens being the cattle pens at the auction mart in Penrith) which happens on the first weekend in August. Our finest English ceramic artists are here along with potters from Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Finland, Denmark, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and even as far away as Australia and Japan. The Lithuanians drove all the way with their gorgeous delicate hand decorated tea pots in their car. the Australians had to ship theirs in advance. Geoff Cox and his wife Chris started the potfest back in 1994 when he decided he wanted to quit teaching before he was 40 but realised that no matter how hard you worked, if you couldn’t get anywhere to sell your pots then it didn’t really pay the bills.  I asked how he decided who could exhibit at this prestigious event. ‘I look at them at think – yeah! They’re good enough. It’s a kind of benevolent dictatorship.’ he explained. ‘It’s work I find interesting from adventurous potters and I think others will too.’

It was all Geoff’s idea

Friday night was party night for the potters, who were all camping in Greystoke, a nearby village. A rare chance to let their hair down in a profession which must be usually quite a solitary one. Each country brings its own contribution in liquor Geoff explained. The Germans bring beer, the French naturally bring wine, but the Lithuanian brew was always the most dangerous ‘because we’re never quite sure what is..’ My house is full of pieces I have bought at Potfests over the years and some of my favourites were there again this time.  Janet Halligan  makes fascinating Trompe l’oeil pieces that look like real handbags, shoes, suitcases or items that hang around in those drawers everyone has where you keep things just in case you need them. ‘I was hung up for years thinking I had to make pots but then I looked at an open bag and thought  – that looks a bit like a pot – and so I made that.’ They are extraordinarily realistic and very collectable.

Glazed duck for the bathroom

Another of my favourite potters is the German Thomas Thunig who makes beautiful usuable pots and bowls inspired by nature and the harvest, and feature cherries and plums and lavender that look good enough to eat. As soon as I got home I filled my new bowl with summer cherries and strawberries and took a picture of it.

Thomas’s plums

The Potfest in the Park is a civilised and rather cultured affair. One lady said her pots were inspired by the fibonacci sequence of numbers. In case you are not familiar with this the first two numbers in the Fibonacci sequence are 0 and 1, and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two. Exactly. Another lady potter Meri Wells from Wales had created a fantastical character inspired by Behemoth, the cigar chomping cat in Mikhail Bulgakov’s satirical novel on communist beurocracy ‘The Master and Margerita’  ‘I don’t normally explain it’ she said rather tetchily ‘that’s why I called it relaxing with a glass of vodka and a pickled mushroom.’

A glass of vodka and a pickled mushroom

It’s all very sophisticated stuff .When I was doing pottery at school the main worry was whether my clay creation would blow up in the kiln or not. There is just about very kind of artisitic style represented here from the pastel and the pretty to the big, bold and beautiful and it is a very special summer day out.

Prettiest pottery

The Potfest in the Park is the best event of its kind in the country. It’s such a lovely setting too – you can wander the fabulous grounds of the beautiful stately home with its walled garden and rare collection of trees planted in Victorian times including some giant redwood trees. Partake of an organic beef burger or a cream tea in the castle tea room. Appreciate the ambient topiary while listening to the Oompah band. Vote for your favourite in the Potfest competition which challenged participants to come up with pieces on the theme of ‘From the sea.’   No one can dispute the creativity of the ‘clay travellers’ here and there’s always something new to fascinate and delight you at the Potfest. Try it for yourself. Potfest in the Park


Pearl and Bubba ride the wave