Hands Down: John Bedding, Potter

This is the fourth in a series of interviews from MEMORANDUM, a collaborative journal celebrating craft, community and nature. This week Harriet Walker speaks to John Bedding, Potter.

“I’m not a big bloke,” says potter John Bedding, speaking from his workshop in Cornwall. “But in the past I’ve arm-wrestled with huge blokes and taken them down, because I’ve got a different tenseness in my hands. I can hold their arms for ages, because that’s the tenseness I have to use while making pots.”

Formely a commercial potter, Bedding , 66 used to spend his days at the wheel on batches of, say mugs or bowls, averaging around 150 of each per day. Nowadays, as a ceramic artist working individually and experiementing with form and finish, his output has dropped to around 20 finishes per month. He is Lead Potter at the Leach Pottery, the influencial ceramics studio founded in 1920 by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamanda in St.Ives Cornwall.

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“The rhythm is a bit different,” he explains. “With domestic ware, you sit at the wheel all day and you get into a zone – it’s quite pleasant. But the method i’m using at the moment, iot’s a mixing of very old skills with new technology, and I like that idea.”

Bedding burnishes his idiosyncratic oblong pots with pebbles, rather than glazing them, a technique that dates back to before the Middle Ages, but he uses a computer to design their decorations and paints them with a light sensitive emulsion that he has developed himself to create an effect akin to photographic exposure.

“In pottery, you lose a lot of work – it’s destroyed in the kiln or it cracks. The raw material is mud and you’re doing the whole process, seeing the thing evolve.”

He laughs at the suggestion he insures his hands, the main tool of his craft. ” I don’t know any potter who has their hands insured. But maybe  some have, because if you damage your hands, that’s it.

Interview by Harriet Walker

Photography by Tess Hurrel

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