John Wheeldon slab building vessels in the studio
John Wheeldon : In conversation with Contemporary Ceramics Centre

CCC: Why do you do what you do? 

JW: I do what I do because it’s what I do !!

I’ve been doing it for 50 years this year and it has never occurred to me to do anything else. I have supplemented my income with part-time teaching, demonstrating, workshops etc. but they have always revolved around my core practice of making pots.

I am, I realise, very lucky to have been able to make a living (albeit sometimes frugal) from ceramics for all this time and have no plans to retire until I am forced to. We are as potters privileged to be involved in a way of life that we can follow for as long as we wish.
John Wheeldon | Vessel

CCC:  What route did you take when first starting out.  Did you take a formal route through education or a more informal approach?

JW: On leaving school I went to Art College in Chesterfield to do a foundation course intending to follow a career in graphics or photography but became fascinated with ceramics, ending up spending most of my time in the department. This led to a degree in 3d design at Wolverhampton and my first studio back home in Derbyshire.

CCC:  How do you work? 

JW: I work 5 days a week in the studio and tend to work in blocks - an extended period making until all the shelves are full - firing - and then a period decorating and glazing. The finished pieces then are either sent to clients or stored and the process starts again.

CCC: What has been a seminal/inspirational moment?

JW: My seminal moment was in the mid-’80s when I had, literally, a flash of inspiration about how to decorate the black stoneware, I was making then, with small rubber stamps and precious metal lustre which led to a body of work which still echoes in the pieces I make today.
John Wheeldon | Vessel 

CCC: What is your favourite pot or artwork? 

JW: My favourite pot is a stoneware bottle by Shoji Hamada in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

CCC:  What role does the potter have in society? 

JW: What is our role in society ?? I sometimes think that it is to explain, quite often, that I don’t have a “proper job” but this is what I do full-time!! But, less flippantly, I think we have an increasingly important role in a digital age where most people seem to press buttons all day and very few people actually produce anything by hand any more. It is increasingly important that we don’t lose touch with the uniquely human skill of using ‘hand, heart and brain’ to produce things. It is now being recognised that this way of working is actually very good for our health and well being.

John Wheeldon | Vessel
CCC: How has your practice changed over time? 

JW: My practice has changed many times over the years. I started by making reduced stoneware and porcelain, moved into stoneware and porcelain lustreware then copper-matt Raku, crackle Raku, Terra Sigillata and more recently earthenware tableware. I am now making, as a result of suffering from arthritis in my hands, more hand-built forms and doing less throwing. These new pots are decorated with coloured underglaze slips using imagery from a variety of sources.

I used to worry that a change of style would upset my buyers but have actually found that, very often, they appreciate it especially the galleries who are always looking for something new. Some may stop buying but these are replaced by new ones so I don’t worry about it anymore.

CCC:  How does working with clay influence your life beyond the workshop

JW: Working with clay has influenced my life considerably. The main thing has been the friendships I have made over the years. I have been involved in Ceramic shows both in this country and on the continent from the early days of being invited to the 2nd Keramisto in the Netherlands in 1989 and the links and friendships from these have continued and developed. Without shows such as these most potters would work in isolation in their workshops and seldom meet each other. These shows enable us to engage with the public, see other types of work up close and more importantly develop friendships and networks.

John Wheeldon 2019

Comments

  1. An interesting article and fascinating to see how John has varied his practise over the years, and instead of treating his arthritis as some kind of disability- he has used this as a spur to his creativity with hand-building and applied decoration. John inspired me to try raku many moons ago through seeing his work in galleries and at various pottery festivals. A talented man!

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