May at the Contemporary Ceramics Centre

It's been a busy Spring at the Contemporary Ceramics Centre. The current exhibition of 50 new works by Ashraf Hanna has proven a great success while an exciting display of works by Derek Wilson and Mandy Cheng is just around the corner. Early this month the gallery also staged a very well received discussion between the gallery manager, Marta Donaghey, and the ceramics collector, Jenny Alexander.

The implementation of the gallery's new rotation policy earlier in the year has also proven an exciting opportunity to see new makers and a range of vibrant and idiosyncratic designs across the shelves. Recent additions include works by Lowri Davies, Deana Lee, Andrew Mason, John Mathieson and Irena Sibrijns. As you'll have seen, the display of ceramics in the gallery is always changing, and the addition to the shelves of these five exciting makers has given even more energy to the space.

With the event calendar now in full swing, this is an exciting time in the year for anyone interested in the UK and international ceramics scene. Kicking the season off was Ceramic Art London in April, which showcased an incredible range of ceramics from internationally renowned makers - including many of those you'll have seen in the gallery - and to a record-breaking number of visitors. On the horizon, ceramics lovers can look forward to the international ceramics festival in Aberystwyth, Art in Clay Hatfield, New Designers in London, the various Handmade events across the UK and finishing off with Oxford Ceramics Fair and Art in Clay Farnham.

Alongside these grand events, UK-wide festivals like the Craft Council's Hey Clay!, with a range of events and workshops available, have given unique opportunities for new makers and beginners alike to try their hand at making with clay at a moment when the craft is going though an incredible resurgence in public interest. Let's hope it continues!

If you've read our last blog post, you'll know that we're very keen to hear and share the stories behind the new makers we're showing in the gallery. Below you can read the thoughts and ideas behind the new crop of makers as mentioned earlier. We hope these prove an inspiring and informative read, offering unique insights into the narratives behind the ceramics, and would love you to come by and take a look for yourself.

Each rotation period we ask the featured artists to tell us something about how they became involved in ceramics and to share their journeys, their inspirations, challenges...

This month we are featuring Lowri Davies, John Mathieson, Deanna Lee, Andrew Mason and Irena Sibrijns.

Irena Sibrijns

"The exchange of ideas with other makers remains really important to me."

Irena Sibrijns in her studio 

There are many good things about our display rotation. Alongside the regular introduction of new makers into the gallery, we also discover more about the makers we are showing. This blog gives us the perfect excuse to delve deeper into the artist's history.  It has been an interesting journey as the blog is put together.  There are many experiences that makers have in common.  One of these is the importance of inspirational people and the process of collaboration and sharing of skills and knowledge.  

Irena Sibrijns speaks of the invaluable support and experience she gained working with and alongside established potters.

" I came to England in 1985, leaving my job as a health visitor in Amsterdam. It soon became quite evident that I would not adjust to the NHS and I quit the idea to continue work as a nurse. In those days education was still slightly more informal then it seems to be now, less rules and regulations and I was allowed to join the BTEC ceramics course in Southampton which changed the course of my life. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the patience of those teachers and the wonderful facilities which were available free of charge.

Irena Sibrijns | Mugs

After finishing the BTEC course I worked with Rob and Vicky Whelpton in their workshop near Warminster and this helped me to get to grips with what it meant to be a production potter and how to run a workshop in general. Although the BTEC course had been a wonderful start to my new career I still felt lacking in direction and general principles behind my work as a potter. Full time eduction was not an option anymore and I opted for lots of workshops with established potters trying my hand at different techniques. This helped me to underpin my own ideas and to develop techniques.

After 7 years of running my own workshop alongside working for Rob and Vicky Whelpton we decided to move to France. 

Irena Sibrijns | Jug
Naively I thought selling in France would prove as easy as it had been in England. I never foresaw the difficulties which would hit me in Provence. I was lucky to meet up with David Miller who’s work I loved. David was another pivotal point in my career as a potter. His enormous generosity in sharing his contacts, recipes, suppliers etc. and in guiding me through the difficulties as a maker in France was invaluable. However after 7 years of doing markets and selling work in galleries all over France I realised that it would always be an uphill struggle and that my work was not really right for the French market. We therefore decided to go back to England and the last 15 years or so I have been working in Suffolk. Ever since being back in England I have been involved in running a gallery and shop with other makers in Southwold. This has proved to be a wonderful balance in my working life. However much I love the process of making I find the solitude it imposes on me as a maker sometimes hard and working with others in running a successful gallery has been very rewarding. The exchange of ideas with other makers remains really important to me.
Irena Sibrijns | Decorated plate
These days I make both utilitarian and decorative work. The utilitarian is largely made on the wheel, while the decorative can be either thrown or built up using slabs. All the pieces are unique and individually decorated, often with variations on a broad theme. I have always been interested in early 20th century British painting, and the decorative arts from this period up to the 1960’s influence my shapes and decoration. While the shapes are important, it is the surface decoration which distinguishes my work. The process of decoration is complex and involves a range of different techniques. I use a white earthenware clay from Spencroft. Decoration is with bodystains and oxides, using latex and wax resists to layer the decoration, in order to achieve a depth of colour and definition to the drawing.

Everything created, either functional or decorative, has equal importance, and the integrity of this thought is the driving force behind my daily practice as a potter.
Irena Sibrijns | Jug

Deana Lee

Deana Lee in her studio

Sable Dynamics | Deana Lee
My love of ceramics began during my A’ level art course at Epsom College, but it was not until much later that I returned to this passion and studied 3D Design specialising in Ceramics at the Richmond School of Art.

It was a fortuitous day during my second year that I met Gilda Westermann, maker of elegant porcelain vessels, and was asked to assist her at Art in Action in July 2005. Little did I realise then that it would be an invaluable introduction to the ceramic world, and allow me to learn firsthand what an artist needed to consider before going to a large festival as well as what is involved in being a demonstrator at a prestigious event.

A few months later, Svend Bayer, who is renowned for his large wood-fired vessels, told me that he was having a firing and I jumped at the chance of assisting him. Bayer has a vast knowledge of firings and how various woods burn and how to achieve different effects. I learned much from him about these elements and the intricacies of a wood firing kiln.

Emergence | Deana Lee
Françoise Dufayard, an Asian-influenced slipware ceramicist, asked me if I would assist her at the next Art in Action, which was another great opportunity to learn from an experienced artist. This time I delved into her world of contemporary slip decoration including sgraffito, painting and calligraphy. It was engaging to see how she had been strongly influenced by her travels around the world.

By now, I had graduated from college and was unsure on how to proceed – it was a slightly daunting but exciting prospect. But luck was with me and I became assistant to Sandy Brown, a passionate and internationally renowned installation artist, based in Devon.

Working with Brown was an amazing experience, and what I learnt from her was invaluable, not only about ceramics but also the running of a studio. I learnt how to construct large artworks including installations up to 10' tall from one piece of clay, and 15' tall modular units.

Deana Lee | with a work in progress
Dish | Deana Lee
I have always been drawn to the ancient method of smoke firing and so it was only natural that I would gravitate towards this for my ceramic decoration. So, in the third year of my diploma I bought a book on firing techniques and taught myself about barrel firings as well as breaking and restoring artwork using the Kintsugi process, which adds an extra dimension to my work. I wanted to learn more and so in 2007 I participated in a smoke firing, saggar firing and pit firing workshop course with Jane Perryman as well as a raku firing course with John Evans. I took what I learnt from them and incorporated them with my own techniques in order to create my own style.

At the start of my career I was extremely privileged to work with some of the world’s top ceramicists and due to their guidance I was in a better position to establish myself in the art world and open my own studio. It’s a way of learning I would highly recommend to any student and graduate.

John Mathieson

John Mathieson in his studio


Like so many people, I got into pottery by accident. I was teaching in a primary school in London, we were living in Notting Hill, and I used to meet Esmé from her pottery evening class at North Kensington Evening Institute. The tutors were Marni Howling and Jack Lonnegan, the people there were good company, so I enrolled in September for entirely social reasons. And that was it – I instantly fell in love with clay. By Christmas and on an accelerated learning curve I was reading Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book, and going to Saturday classes at the Sir John Cass College in Whitechapel. The following September I began teaching pottery and art at secondary level in Northampton; my application form was a masterpiece of elastic creativity. 

Studio view | John Mathieson
Some ten years later I was given secondment to take a degree, which gave me access to a gas kiln for the first time. My tutor was Jim Bassett; we had exhibited together previously, and have done so many times since. When the external examiners were looking at my work Jim phoned me – “They want to see you”. I must have said something appropriate but unrepeatable, Jim said “No, they want to buy some of your work”. And they gave me a First Class Honours degree. 

After leaving full-time teaching I taught in a college, in a prison, and evening classes. I reckon I did over twelve thousand firings in electric kilns during those years, my contribution to global warming. 

John Mathieson | Lidded Vessel


My work

I work in both porcelain (Valentine’s Audrey Blackman body) and DSS stoneware from Doble’s, firing to cone 10 over, cone 11 just starting, in a propane kiln. For porcelain, I use a celadon glaze, for stoneware ash, shino, tenmoku, and a talc, often over a Fremington black slip. In the past I worked extensively in slipware and raku – I am the author of Raku and Techniques Using Slips, both published by A&C Black.

John Mathieson | Teabowls

All my pots are made on the wheel, either a Leach kick, or a Shimpo. I throw slowly – Phil Rogers once said to me “It doesn’t matter what kind of wheel so long as it’s slow”. I don’t like my work to be too finished, too perfect, I prefer to leave some mark of the maker’s hands, and of the tools that were used.

The ‘splash lines’ I do on many pieces come not from Clive Bowen or Shoji Hamada, but from cleaning the bath. In my early days of potting I was making patterns spraying the bath with Jif (showers had yet to be invented) and I thought, this could work on a pot - - -

John Mathieson | Lidded Vessel


The Leach-inspired Anglo-Oriental ‘tradition’ has been very influential on my work. Inspiration also comes from the slipware side of the Leach inheritance - Michael Cardew, Clive Bowen, and Peter Dick (who I consider the most undervalued of all British potters). I find no conflict with this disparate inheritance. To make a comparison, I’ve listened to, and played on guitar and piano, many blues, though I have little in common with anyone who worked the cotton fields of the Deep South. We respond to what we like (and it’s all available to see and hear on the web), and go from there. I hope the ideas evolve and change to become personalized, that the pots I make have individuality.

John Mathieson | Bowls

John Mathieson | Lidded box










Lowri Davies

Lowri Davies in her studio
Having practiced as a ceramic artist for 15 years, I predominantly create decorative bone china tableware from my studio in Fireworks, Cardiff.
Lowri Davies | current work
My early work was very much about documenting a way of life that was disappearing. An element of this thinking still appears now and again.

This traditional way of life for me starts with my grandmother. There was no television, only a radio and the house was full of ceramics. Her Dresser was beaming with blue and white plates, Lustre Jugs hung from the beams, tea sets sat in the glass cabinet, and figurines and souvenirs adorned the shelves and mantelpiece.

Lowri Davies | detail
I spent holidays and weekends there as a child helping her in the kitchen and playing on the farm, listening to stories of fairies and ghosts.

Through using my tableware as canvases for these memories and stories, I could record what I’d seen and what I’d heard. I see what I make as contemporary versions of the ceramics that could be seen in my grandmothers’ home.
Lowri Davies attaching a handle to a jug
Lowri Davies jug and plate

I deliberately use industrial processes to create my tableware pieces but on a very small scale. It’s the same process that was used to make the majority of my grandmothers’ ceramics, and gaining my MA at Staffordshire University was important to me, as this is where most of the Ceramics and vessels were made.

An element that’s been of interest since my MA in 2009 is looking at 19th century porcelain companies, in particular Nantgarw. It’s incredibly fine porcelain and was only made for a very short period of time. The decoration work is beautiful and I’ve attempted to create my own versions by including birds, flora and fauna as decoration. The addition of lustre also attempts to reflect the detail that is to found on Nantgarw porcelain.

Recently I have furthered the creative application of the material by also hand-building in porcelain and casting Bone china Lithophanes.


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