When I started making pottery at school, I was less inclined to the pots in books of Leach tradition, but more towards the like of Lucie Rie and Mary Rogers. I was obsessed with throwing, honing my skills in the school pottery room. From then, I did the whole education bit, with Foundation course, followed by Hons Degree. My degree was in Glass and Ceramic Design. This allowed the exploration of both these materials, investigating possible cross overs, a constant theme in my work.
More tea Vicar!
Just because I’d be found warming up my plasticine on the hot pipes at the village school, creating little vessels and creatures or playing in the farmyard sand pit making sandcastles and mud pies, doesn’t make it a foregone conclusion that I’d make a living from working with clay. It may, however be a clue to where my heart lay…being creative, playing with materials and sharing in these experiences. Always so much more fun making plasticine creatures with the grown-ups on the sofa!
So how did I make the rather huge leap from mud pies and plasticine animals to where I am now? I always remember Mum’s ‘best’ crockery that she would lay out for special visitors, like the local Vicar (or Reverend in our case). Beautifully fine china, with delicate flower motifs in subtle hues adorned a table laden with homemade cakes.
I then trained as a teacher, teaching at both Primary and Secondary level, before becoming Technician/Demonstrator and then lecturer at the then Cumbria College of Art and Design, now University of Cumbria. This was a steep learning curve with so many different techniques within the Ceramic Resource area to explore. But I was also fascinated with what was going on within the Textiles and Print resource areas. This led me on to developing techniques from in particular, textiles and translating them into a Ceramic context.
Investigative practice continued, exploring more industrial techniques, combining my new found love of mould-making and Slip-casting Bone China. This allowed me to create much finer work and a whole new technique steeped in tradition.
Almost by happy accident I ended up working alongside Jan Goodey (Goldsmith and Foundation Course Leader at that time). We undertook a body of work researching into the adherence of Precious Metal Clay with Bone China.
Our combined research was published in Ceramic Review-Issue 203, Sept/Oct 2003. Silver Service - Gwen Bainbridge explains how she combines silver with bone china.
Now, I work in Bone China but predominantly in Porcelain, beginning to create more narrative references to local stories and memories, using a kind of hand-me-down heritage theme. I’m drawing from my past, living on our rural farm in Cumbria, where working on the land was a more harmonious partnership. This has highlighted the reality of the decline of these habitats, their natural inhabitants and the traditional methods of working the land.
Even within my lifetime I’ve witnessed many birds, wildlife and flowers that are now sadly much less prevalent. In my work I want to reflect what we still have and to celebrate craft in its multiple guises.