Geoffrey Fuller obituary | Ceramic
Potter Geoffrey Fuller’s workshop was surely unique in Britain, attached to the 18th century pub in Derbyshire which he ran for around 35 years. The pub, the Three Stags’ Heads, in remote Wardlow Mires in the Peak District, was largely Geoff’s creation. With his wife, Pat, also a fine potter, Geoff has regenerated an old and atmospheric establishment, one that was the ideal setting for his ceramics.
With his warm hospitality, good food and fine beers, he provided the best backdrop for what he held most dear, doing work to improve the domestic space and the dinner table. There must have been drinkers who were quite unaware that the owner serving them across the bar was one of the UK’s most notable craftsmen. For Geoff, who died at the age of 86, was one of the leading revivalists of indigenous earthenware and tableware, producing simmering pots and figurative works that relied not only on the vitality of pottery pre-industrial, but also on the rich British folk traditions.
Geoff developed a repertoire of wheel-launched and slab-built vessels, as well as a range of highly individual figures reminiscent of 17th and 18th century Staffordshire pew groups and flatbacks, ceramic ornaments for the shelf and the fireplace which had a wonderful effect. stylized life and personality but reimagined by Geoff in his inimitable way.
He was sensitive to the inherent softness of clay, which he brightened with flowing glazes that kept his work always fresh and generous, and full of what potter Michael Cardew called the “kindness” in ceramics, the kindness of mind, an invitation to handle and use. . Geoff’s work had much of the mystery he admired not only in ancient anonymous vernacular wares, but also in more ambitious pieces, the work of Staffordshire master potters such as Thomas Toft and Thomas Whieldon.
Geoff was also fond of the elaborate narratives and decoration found on early memorial vessels made at Ewenny in Wales and North Devon harvest drinking ware, producing celebratory items based on their ancient wassail and posset pots. He enriches his surfaces with applied clay patterns and translucent washes of colored engobes under clear glazes, revealing the textures of the clay beneath.
He had strong opinions about pots that were technically too controlled. He argued that the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution, on the one hand, and the authoritarian teaching in modern art schools, on the other, had sterilized most contemporary studio work. Geoff strove to give more freedom to his own pieces, reveling in the easy plasticity of the material. He made a virtue of his bumps and undulations, squeezing and pinching the rims to add character to the shape.
Its soft coloring reflected the temperate climate of a North Midlands landscape he knew well; he carefully read its history, myths and folklore and walked it with his beloved dogs. Geoff seemed incomplete without his whippets and lurchers, animals that often featured in the humanity and humor of his work.
He was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, the only child of Fred, a worker at the nearby factory in Staveley, and Sarah (née Ball), a housekeeper. He did his military service in the army, then spent 12 years as a librarian in Sheffield, a natural occupation for a book lover. Having become an avid collector of 19th century Staffordshire figures, Geoff decided in 1965 to study ceramics at Chesterfield College of Art, then took the renowned ceramics course at Farnham College of Art, Surrey, run by potters Paul Barron and Henry. Hammond.
This encouraged experimentation with materials and processes, bringing out the clearer qualities of clay and firing. There, Geoff was particularly touched by the teaching of Canadian maverick potter John Reeve, who strove to rediscover “the soul of the pot” and encouraged Geoff to explore its materiality again. He examined the natural expressiveness of medieval English jugs and Japanese Hagi, Shigaraki and Bizen wares, work he loved for its imperfections as much as anything else. He first made salt-glazed stoneware before later turning to earthenware.
After a short period at Farnham as a ceramics technician, Geoff returned to Derbyshire, setting up his first studio in 1972. For many years he taught in the professional ceramics course at his former college in Chesterfield, where in 1980 he met Pat Davison, one of his students, and a great creative partnership began.
After the department closed in 1987, he bought the Grade II listed Three Stags, initially attracted by the potential studio space but soon relishing his new responsibilities as a publican, opening the pub at weekends so he and Pat could do their repotting during the week. .
His other big contribution to British pottery came in 2012 when the Fullers, true to their philosophy, pitched a marquee adjacent to the pub and set up an annual event to promote and sell the best pots and functional foods side by side, in hand selecting the exhibitors. Now a must, the Wardlow Mires Pottery and Food Festival attracts visitors from across the UK.
Fuller’s first marriage, to Thelma Able, ended in divorce. Pat survives him.