Mary Kershaw - Internationale Keramiek Biennale at Brasschaat

01 May 2006

This is a one-day biennial festival held on a Sunday in the very attractive municipal park in the centre of Brasschaat, near Antwerp. Admission to the public is free and the event has a reputation for attracting thousands of visitors.

My motivation in applying for a place was threefold:-
1. Having previously exhibited in person only in England, Scotland and Wales, it would provide an ideal opportunity to sample the reaction of some of the public of mainland Europe to my work.
2. I wanted to see how well I could display my work in an open-air, continental market stall setting.
3. After a number of years exhibiting my work in the UK it was time to broaden my horizons. For a variety of personal reasons, I saw Belgium as the right place to start.
Advice and interest beforehand from a number of friends and fellow exhibitors from both sides of the Channel ranged from mildly optimistic to somewhat sceptical. Following quite a few days of very wet weather and with a forecast of more on the way, we set off for Dover early on the day before the festival in enthusiastic mood, at the same time half expecting to bring all of the work back home again.

After a dry journey and within minutes of getting our bearings in Brasschaat, the rain set in again. However, at the Potters' Supper at the Atelier Cirkel we were cheerfully told by members of the organising team that the sun would definitely shine for the festival the next day. A Danish exhibitor also assured us that it was always sunny on her son's birthday. Sure enough, as we drove into the park at 7 a.m. to set up the sun was shining. The stalls were already sited, exactly according to the numbered plan. Within minutes of unpacking and starting to set up, there were members of the public showing an interest. The opening time of 10 a.m. very soon arrived and I had what I felt was a very satisfactory display, achieved without any real difficulty.

By this time a steady flow of visitors had built up with joggers, strollers, dog-walkers, cyclists, amateur potters and generally interested visitors: this continued throughout the day. Our lack of Flemish was no problem at all and most visitors took the trouble to speak in (remarkably good) English, offering compliments, comments and questions, some quite technical. Although very appreciative of the work on display, it should be said that the majority of visitors attending this event do so without intending to purchase.

Nobody seemed to sell very much, although there did appear to be more activity around the Belgian stalls - perhaps an indication of greater public confidence in the people they know. Another factor is the strength of the Pound against the Euro: this makes even reasonably priced work seem expensive in Belgium. The fact that at least two of the nearby town centre cash machines were not working probably did not help either. Exhibitors of each of the twelve nationalities present were grouped together; a more random allocation of spaces might possibly have made for a more balanced event Although not many in number, my sales on the day were sufficient to make being there worthwhile. That, however, was certainly not to be the end of the story, as a number of substantial purchases have since been made by Belgian visitors to our studio, with the added bonus of new friendships.

The overall setting and atmosphere were excellent, with the tall fountains in the middle shimmering in the sunshine and in the afternoon there was a concert performed by a mandolin orchestra. To summarise, the event is well sponsored, well advertised and well organised; Patty Wouters leads a strong team who work very hard to ensure that every detail is covered. I was able to achieve all of my own original objectives and enjoyed the first experience of exhibiting outside the UK. Would I do it again? Probably yes, probably with Bob exhibiting as well and possibly even taking in the event at Gouda in the week before.