Back at the wheel in new pottery barn
After a 14-year hiatus, Jonny Northcott is back at the wheel.
Financial pressures forced the ceramicist to leave his work behind for regular gigs in construction, but the physical pressures of manual labour weighed hard on him.
The 50-year-old is now working out of a purpose-built space on his property with renewed fire.
“My story stops and starts with ceramics,” said Mr Northcott, who moved to London in 1989 “to be with a girl”.
He was 22 when he signed up for night classes in ceramics. He took to it right away and, after earning his degree from Harrow College, set up a working pottery at Belhaven in Devonshire.
“I built a pottery in an old dairy shed and had my first firing in March 1994,” he recalled.
Mr Northcott made a living from his work for almost ten years. In 2000, he visited a friend in Ethiopia, where he met his wife Feven.
“I had no intent to stay in Ethiopia. I was going to go to Australia and New Zealand, but I got waylaid,” he laughed.
Back in Bermuda, it proved challenging to support his family doing the work he did.
“I was a builder, carpenter, masonry, carpeting, tiling — always working with my hands,” he said.
Issues with his back made it impossible to carry on the heavy lifting. His wife, a teacher at Somersfield Academy, encouraged him to take a break.
“My wife’s always said get back into it and do what you love,” he said.
“I went 50 in March and I had a good local following. We decided to give it another shot. It’s easier on my body and good for my mind and soul.”
Mr Northcott said it felt like “a new beginning”.
“I stopped making pots from 2003 until 2017. I’m learning my craft again,” he said.
His home workshop is a social place. The kiln sits next to a pizza and bread oven and his pieces can be viewed in the adjacent gallery; the work of local artists brighten up the place.
Two cedar tables were made from trees he planted as a child but became casualties of Hurricanes Fay and Gonzalo.
“I’ve been on this property for 45 years, since I was little,” he said.
“This time, I built the area around the pottery to encourage people to come and interact.”
He said it’s been great coming back into it with an online presence.
“My wife puts stuff on Facebook and Instagram and before you know it they’re coming over. I really like the interaction between making a living and somebody getting satisfaction from it. I find that exchange rewarding and real.
“When I left school, my father said, ‘You have to do something’. I wasn’t prepared for the question. I did carpentry,” he said.
“For me it was too much math, too linear and too controlled. A door is a door. When I discovered mud and clay and water, it was up to my imagination. You can make clay look like a hanging leather jacket or you can make a beautiful pot.
“I liked the versatility and the freedom that it offered me. It suited my personality.
“It’s organic, it’s expressive and it gave me a way to use my hands, my head, my philosophy all in one.”
He believes that everything he creates, tells a story.
“I like to show that hands have been here. I always leave a bare bit on the pot so it shows the raw clay.
“There are times that I would leave throwing rings around a mug. People resonate with it.”
While influenced by classical shapes, his glazing is unique. He uses surrounding materials, such as cedar ash and broken green bottles to give the glaze its patina.
“I like to show subtle complexity. I aim for something with the pot but when the fire and the flame take over, it adds something to it. I leave that element of chance.”
He tries to keep the price point accessible. One-off pieces start at $35.
“People who look for these things are excited by handmade stuff. There are pots I remember decades on that I made for somebody,” he said.
“I enjoy making things for people to use. People develop relationships with pots. They’re family orientated. It’s to do with eating and sharing and serving.”
Did he miss it in the 14 years?
“Yes and no,” he said. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Even though there are challenges and pressures in construction, making pots is not easy.
“I found it hard to make a living from it. Now I’ve approached it with a new confidence and a new attitude where I’m just going to work at it 100 per cent.”
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