Hedgehogs of the sea

Do you know how sea urchins got their name? No? Well here goes. Hedgehogs used to be called urchins, sea urchins are spiny (like hedgehogs) and live in the sea (unlike hedgehogs), so the logical name is, of course sea urchins. Why am I telling you this? Because it’s a cheery fact, and it was part of my research for my fifth Secret Severn visit, to Emma Brownlow, a ceramicist based in St Georges.

Emma explained her skill as a ceramicist is about actualizing the image she has of the end sculpture. Part of the joy for her is puzzling out how to make this visualisation into reality, and her work shows an incredible range. She showed me her Shrewsbury pot, a homage to her home town, resplendent with images of the duck race, timbered buildings and the much maligned market clock tower. It’s a three dimensional collection of memories that brings the town to life.

Emma showed me the first piece from her newest project, a series of elemental pots exploring the power and complexity of the earth.

Emma’s makers mark is on every piece she produces
A finished sea urchin

I’ve been a bit in love with Emma’s sea urchin sculptures since I first saw she them, and I loved having chance to see one being made. They start life as a lump of clay, which is shaped into an urchin-like sphere. They’re then marked out with what I grandly called dowel (Emma later told me it was a kebab stick – ceramicists are experts at finding just the right tool for the job). Spaces for spines are marked out, and texture is added with slip. The whole process is deceptively quick.

After their first firing, the urchins are ready to be glazed. Emma uses a combination of colours and takes care to show a hint of the natural bisque, so there’s an echo of shell shining through.

We talked about the ancient nature of pottery, and I was taken by the inherently environmentally responsible nature of the process. Emma showed me how any old clay is reused. It’s smashed up, rehydrated in an old pillow case, and then wedged, an exhausting type of kneading, so it can be used again.

Wedging the clay

This was another different visit for me, and it was great to see each aspect of the process, and see the preparation too. The thing that shone out was the amount of love that goes into Emma’s work. She spoke of wanting to honour the sea urchin, and this really comes through, and sits well with the sense of this being an ancient craft.

I came away with a strong sense of what I want my finished poem to look like – it’s going to take a little while to emerge I think, but it’s been yet another level of inspiration for my work.

As ever, please, please help me get the most from social media. Please like the posts on my pages, add a comment, and share them. It helps more people see what I’m doing, and helps boost support for my work. Thank you all so much!

You can find out more about Emma’s work here  https://www.facebook.com/Emma-Brownlow-Ceramics-714814132207188/ and see her beautiful sculptures at the Footprint Gallery in Jackfield as part of the Secret Severn Art Trail which runs from 20th to 29th September.

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