“You can learn ceramics quite quickly”: the pottery workshop breaks the mold | Design
IIt’s easy to miss the narrow lane that leads to Troy Town Art Pottery, running along the community garden wall on Hoxton Street in east London. The low building, which is filled with light streaming through a vaulted glass ceiling, was once a potting shed. Its horticultural history is about to be reborn. Artists have used this ceramics workshop to produce works exhibited at Tate Britain, the Turner Prize and in the Arts Council collection, but now it’s also a school where young locals learn to throw garden pots .
Troy Town was founded by artist Aaron Angell in 2014 as a resource for artists wishing to experiment with clay as a sculpting material – rather than a material for making teapots. Names such as Anthea Hamilton and Steven Claydon have resided in Troy Town. Angell is part of the growing generation of artists fascinated by clay and her work has been shown around the world in recent years as collectors and museum curators have woken up to the pleasure of pottery.
But Angell wanted to involve local people as well as the wider artistic community in his pottery. The result is the Hoxton Gardenware Scheme, a non-profit social enterprise program for Hackney residents aged 18-24 who want to learn how to throw a pot. “We tried to attract people who might not feel like this industry is for them,” Angell says.
The program was launched five months ago and has six trainees taught by ceramicist Ned Davies. “We started with a series of workshops, but decided to do something more commercial,” says Angell. “Ceramics is a profession that can be learned quite quickly and then, in a few years, set up an independent business.”
“I learned so much,” says Elliot Anderson, a 23-year-old who is one of Troy Town’s interns. “I arrived as a beginner and I’m getting there little by little. I learned to be patient with the process and to appreciate mistakes.
The clay planters, printed with the shapes of leaves or flowers, and the pots are made on the wheel in small series. Natural imperfections – random oscillations, drops of a fleeting glaze – are encouraged. “We take a studio approach to the work, which makes it different from mass-produced garden pots.”
The program is co-founded with Create London, an organization that works with artists on projects that benefit local communities through charities, social enterprises and cultural spaces.
“I think helping young people learn life skills and work together is about the most important thing I can think of right now,” says Hadrian Garrard, CEO of Create. “There is an incredible spirit of collective effort at Pottery.”
Hoxton Gardenware already has orders – for the new British Council headquarters in Stratford and the Barbican Conservatory. Plans to put jars on sale in local stores and at Broadway Market have been put on hold, as has just about all life during the coronavirus pandemic. But existing and online orders are delivered.
“We hope that by arranging contactless delivery and collection, we can help people continue their gardening at home during this strange spring,” says Angell. “It’s a nice transfer of work from people making pots to something that can entertain people at home.”
As Garrard points out, the pots are more than pleasing to their new owners. “Our priority is to put money in the hands of the young people who have worked on the project and to support the pottery in this really uncertain time. We must continue where we can because we all want to look to the future with hope and positivity. There’s nothing more promising than a young plant growing in a beautiful new pot on a sunny day, right?”