Press Release - Article on Earth and Fire 2004 Tenth Anniversary by Peter Saunders
It's the last
weekend in June and somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people have
poured into Rufford Country Park, bringing a festival atmosphere to the
grounds of the ancient abbey. As they make their way from the overspill
car parks to the area surrounding the abbey ruins and craft centre they
pass stalls selling the whole range of contemporary studio ceramics,
from simple earthenware mugs and jugs to minimalist porcelain and
abstract ceramic sculptures. Some of Britain's leading ceramic artists
are manning the stalls, willing and eager to give visitors an insight
into their making techniques. Clive Bowen is selling his traditional
slipware, Peter Beard his wax-resist sculptural pieces and Phil Rogers
his elegant stoneware in the Leach-Hamada tradition, while figurative
ceramics is represented by such luminaries as Ian Gregory, Christy
Keeney and Sally Macdonell. Then there are the Europeans, with potters
from the Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Austria and
Italy, many of whom return year after year.
For this is Earth and Fire, Britain's, and now, arguably, Europe's most prestigious ceramics fair. It is not the biggest, but it can justifiably claim to set the highest standards and to represent the highest quality. This year Earth and Fire celebrated its tenth anniversary. It started when Peter Dworok, Crafts and Visual Arts Development Manager and Barry Wilson, Craft and Exhibitions Officer at Rufford visited the ceramics fair at Milsbeek in the Netherlands and decided that the country park would provide an ideal venue for a similar event in Britain. They enlisted the help of the Craft Potters Association and made certain decisions that were to prove fundamental to the success of the venture. First, it was to be a selected event, thus enabling a tight control to be kept on the quality of the exhibits. Second, it would be held in the open air, not in the sometimes stultifying heat and congestion of a marquee. And finally, the first selection panel would be chaired by Mick Casson, an inspired choice who set the standards for which Earth and Fire is still renowned.
The first event consisted of 60 potters, including such internationally acclaimed makers as Walter Keeler and Colin Pearson and a programme of demonstrations. From those beginnings it has expanded year by year, with this year's selection panel facing the unenviable task of having to choose about 90 potters from very nearly 300 applications.
It has always been the aim of Peter Dworok and his colleagues to provide something new for visitors each year. As well as top quality exhibitions in the craft centre gallery and the ever-popular demonstrations, visitors can throw and hand-build their own pots, have a go at decorating plates, cups and bowls, peep into the future of ceramics in the campus section devoted to work from university and college students, listen to a live band, browse through the Craft Potters Association bookstall and win a pot at the CPA's tombola.
Two of the most recent innovations have been the formation of Rufford Woodfiring Society, whose members fire the anagama and wood-burning kilns in the new Woodland Activity Centre during Earth and Fire, and the display of large-scale pots in the turning circle outside the abbey. This exhibition gives makers such as David Frith, Svend Bayer, Monica Young and Phil Simmonds the opportunity to display garden pots too big for a normal stall.
Earth and Fire now offers visitors, and pot lovers in particular, a complete day out, even on the thankfully few occasions when rain has meant that they have had to huddle together in adversity! It is with justifiable pride that Peter Dworok points to the proliferation of ceramics fairs that followed the pioneering path of Earth and Fire. And, reflecting on that initial, inspirational, visit to Milsbeek, he points out that a trend has been reversed: European potters are now heading for Britain in increasing numbers as the potters' markets in their own countries experience a decline in support.
Earth and Fire XI will take place on June 25 and 26, 2005.
Peter Saunders, Journalist