The Eric James Mellon Studio Pottery Collection at Toovey’s

Eric James Mellon (1925-2014)

Lots 1549 to 1597 in our forthcoming auction of British & Continental Ceramics & Glass are from the personal collection of the internationally acclaimed, Sussex-based ceramic artist, painter, printmaker and educator Eric James Mellon, who died on 14th January this year.

Two Bernard Forrester items from the collection
Two flower-bricks by Sarah Walton from the collection

Eric was born in Watford, Hertfordshire, in 1925.  At the age of 13 he won a place at Watford Technical and Art Institute, where he studied until 1944, also attending weekend classes at Harrow School of Art. From 1944 to 1947 he studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London. In the early 1950s he set up an artistic community at Hillesden, Buckinghamshire, with fellow artists Derek Davis, John Clarke, Mary Mansfield, Ruth Lambert and his wife-to-be, Martina Thomas. Eric married Martina in 1956 and they moved to Bognor Regis, West Sussex. He set up his pottery at their home in 1958 and there he worked for the next fifty-six years.  Always an enthusiastic and generous teacher, Eric ran summer art schools for some thirty years in Cornwall and at Slindon College, West Sussex, where he was head of art for twenty years. Eric Mellon’s work has been exhibited around the world and is held in many public collections, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and Pallant House Gallery, Chichester.

The collection includes two Pablo Picasso white earthenware dishes, and works by Josse Davis, Kitty Shepherd, Ursula Mommens, Bernard Forrester, Seth Cardew, Phil Rogers, Clare Sutcliffe, Yolande Beer, Denis Moore and others.

Eric James Mellon (1925-2014)

Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon painting a pot in his studio

It was my great pleasure to count the internationally acclaimed, Sussex-based artist Eric Mellon as my friend. Eric is most famed for his work as a potter and his pioneering use of ash glazes, but he also worked as a painter and printmaker. Eric was both artist and artisan.

Over many years Eric strived to be able to transfer drawings onto his predominantly stoneware pots and dishes. He was always counter-cultural and believed strongly in the importance of narrative and fine drawing. His subjects drew on his Christian faith, stories from classical antiquity and his pleasure in the world around him. He also delighted in the human body, particularly the female form, which he depicted with honesty and fondness.

Eric James Mellon Jessica in a Hat
Eric James Mellon - 'Jessica (in a Hat)', stoneware bowl with brush-drawn decoration and bean-ash glaze, 2005
Daphne and Apollo by Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon - 'Daphne and Apollo', stoneware pot with brush-drawn decoration and Philadelphus-ash glaze, 2005
Chalice by Eric James Mellon
Eric James Mellon – stoneware chalice with brush-drawn decoration and bean-ash glaze, 2011

Years of research and experimentation into ash glazes brought him worldwide recognition as an artist, a ceramicist and a scientist. The ash glazes, especially those created with the ashes of certain bushes, prevented the lines of the brush drawings on his ceramics from bleeding during firing.

For Eric, his art was his calling. He embraced this path and everything in his life was bound up with it. Eric would recall how as a boy all he wanted to do was “to be an artist and to draw and paint”. At the age of 13 he won a place at Watford School of Art, where he studied until 1944. From 1944-1947 he attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where he met his lifelong friend, the Arundel-based artist Derek Davis. It was with Derek at a party held for art students that Eric met his wife-to-be, Martina Thomas. Martina was passionate about fine art and worked as a painter while Eric brought art and craft together through his pottery, drawings and prints. In the early 1950s he set up an artistic community at Hillesden, Buckinghamshire, with Derek Davis and fellow artist John Clarke. It was in 1951 that he began working increasingly as a potter. He married Martina in 1956. She was a gifted and talented artist and exhibited at the Royal Academy. They had two children, Martin and Tessa.

Eric, always an enthusiastic and generous teacher, ran summer art schools for some thirty years. In 1958 he set up a pottery at his home in West Sussex, where he worked for 56 years. To visit Eric’s studio and home was to be exposed to a lifetime of artistic endeavour and a riot of pottery, paintings and prints. He would say: “When I get up in the morning, I want, by the end of the day, to have created something new.”

Often we compartmentalize our lives but with Eric art and existence intermingled; for him, work and life were one. So when you visited him, he would hold you with that particular care, keen to know about you and your news. Fondly and inevitably, though, your life in that particular moment would become bound up with his vocation – his art – for it was this that rooted him in this life. Later, in 2011, Eric wrote, “It takes many years to learn to draw, but eventually the pencil becomes a friend and, in a few minutes, moments in life can be recorded; these I call ‘frozen time’, as the sketches are no longer mere drawings.”

Eric came to the service at which I was ordained as a priest and informed me that he had made me a chalice. The symbol of Christ he drew upon it was, he said, designed to speak to all. It reflected the importance to him of communicating narrative. When I next called at his home, he presented me with it. I suggested that we celebrate a home communion there and then. Eric’s broad smile crossed his face and he accepted. We used his potter’s wheel as an altar, anointed the chalice with holy oils for use and celebrated our Eucharist.

Eric, in the foreword to ‘Pages From My Sketchbooks’, wrote: “Pages From My Sketchbooks records the joy of new life, the anticipation of pregnant women, the sadness of terminal illness, and the incredible moment when life departs the body into eternity… an artist records his life and shares it with everyone who cares to look.” His relationships with his family and friends sustained him at the end, as they had done throughout his life.

Eric Mellon’s work has been exhibited and acclaimed around the world, fitting recognition for this generous and gifted Sussex artist, who died on 14th January this year.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 5th March 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Creating art from craft: Kate Wickham

Kate Wickham is a ceramicist who currently divides her time equally between London and Sussex. Working from her studios in Storrington and Camberwell she creates open vessels that are based on a range of themes, including seascapes, landscapes and interiors. Nicholas Toovey tells us more

'Landscape'-open-vessel
'Landscape' by Kate Wickham
'Docking' by Kate Wickham blog.tooveys.com
'Docking' by Kate Wickham
'Kite Flying' open vessel by Kate Wickham blog.tooveys.com
'Kite Flying' by Kate Wickham
'Field Tracks' by Kate Wickham blog.tooveys.com
'Field Tracks' by Kate Wickham

Born in Yorkshire, Kate spent her childhood growing up in Sheffield and Manchester, often visiting her grandmother in Steyning. Her father was a Suffragan Bishop who set up the revolutionary Sheffield Industrial Mission for the Church of England. Her mother was artistic to an amateur level but also a great collector, as a patron she knew many artists. Kate remembers a childhood home filled with paintings, ceramics and sculptures. Her parents understanding of the visual arts allowed her the freedom to move schools after her O-levels to the High School of Art in central Manchester. Here she studied her A-levels becoming fascinated with ceramics. She feels fortunate to have studied under some fabulous teachers throughout her education, during her foundation course at Rochdale, at the Camberwell School of Art where she obtained her first class degree and at the Royal College where she obtained her masters degree.

After higher education Kate settled in London, establishing herself in the art world and in 1987 obtained a position as tutor coordinator for the ceramic department at City Lit, a centre for adult education in London. Here she set up a Ceramic Diploma Course, allowing a new generation of ceramicists to enjoy informed tutelage by leading experts in the field of ceramics. It was not until the premature birth of her child after just 26 weeks of pregnancy that she considered dividing her time between London and Sussex. Her son was born with cerebral palsy and in the absence of a suitable school in London, Kate found a specialist school near Five Oaks. Ingfield Manor School has an approach towards conductive education and is overseen by the charity SCOPE. After living in a few locations in Sussex she settled in Storrington, moving to Sussex felt like coming home after her visits as a child. Her home is nestled at the foot of the South Downs with spectacular uninterrupted views of the rolling hills. Kate is still at City Lit where she now works as joint head of all visual arts and is proud of the recent Grade 1 Ofsted inspection, establishing the largest college for adult education as a centre for excellence in visual arts. Perhaps it was her own expert teachers throughout her schooling that has inspired her passion to establish herself as an excellent tutor. When other similar courses have closed in London, Kate is determined to preserve the course for the future to enable young people to benefit from it.

Kate has always found time to create. In addition to her studio in Storrington, she recently set up another studio in Vanguard Court, Camberwell, London. As a ceramicist Kate creates hand-built open vessels, the form is built from slabs of rolled white stoneware clay largely in an intuitive way. Kate always carries a sketchbook and after the open vessel has dried, she returns to these sketchbooks to seek inspiration for the decoration. This is carried out with various ceramic pigments, including oxides, underglaze colours and body stains. The vessels are hand painted using a gestural drawing technique, a very free approach that usually applies to capturing movement but which Kate has adapted to capturing the ‘feeling’ of a landscape, seascape or other subject in an abstracted way. Kate also paints on board and canvas and this often informs and echoes the work on her ‘three-dimensional’ canvas – the ceramic vessels. Does Sussex inspire her work? Very much so, she loves the freedom that walking on the South Downs provides and it is the almost aerial view of the landscape and patterns of the fields that translates onto the open vessels. Other areas of Great Britain also inspire her. She generally enjoys areas of wilderness such as the far west of Cornwall and the north-west of Scotland, particularly the Inner and Outer Hebrides. The feeling of ‘getting away from it all’ allows her to continue to be creative.

Once or twice a year Kate exhibits with Shirley Crowther Contemporary Art in Ditchling, but her work can be seen next at the ‘Ceramic Now’ exhibition with the Milton Gallery at St Pauls School, Barnes, from 17th November to 2nd December, followed by an open studio event in Camberwell in the beginning of December.

Kate Wickham

Kate has an instantly recognisable style, created by transferring the unique interpretation of her surroundings onto ceramics. She incorporates colours, textures, mark-making and uncomplicated abstraction with unrivalled success. Combining the sculptural qualities of the forms with her refined painterly decoration allows her open vessels to hold a strong, but not dominating, presence within an interior.

For more visit www.katewickham.com

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in October 2011.

Interpreting Inspiration: Carolyn Genders

'Cobalt Blues Trio' open vessels by Carolyn Genders

Carolyn Genders is an award-winning East Sussex artist. She embraces the ancient technique of coiling to create inimitable hand-built contemporary ceramics, reflective of the beautiful Sussex landscape. Nicholas Toovey tells us more.

'Cobalt Downlands Red Interior' open vessel by Carolyn Genders
'Downland' open vessel by Carolyn Genders
'Downlands Manganese' open vessel by Carolyn Genders
Pages from the artist's sketchbooks
'Stone' sculptural form by Carolyn Genders
'Wealden Garden 5' open vessel by Carolyn Genders
'Wealden Garden 11 & 12' open vessels by Carolyn Genders
Carolyn Genders in her studio

Carolyn believes she was born a ceramicist, aged four she made pots for her mother from clay she found in the garden. She obtained a BA honours degree at Brighton and after graduation set up her first studio. Later, Carolyn obtained a Postgraduate diploma in Ceramics at Goldsmiths College, London. She is a fellow of the Craft Potters Association and a published author of ‘Sources of Inspiration and ‘Pattern, Colour and Form’. Carolyn often teaches at West Dean College, but ensures that the majority of her time is spent creating her own work.

Arriving at her studio in Danehill, you are taken aback by the magnificent view of the High Weald and instantly recognise why it has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You are also greeted by Ludo, a sweet-natured dog who lives up to his name in wanting to play. Carolyn’s studio is light and well organised. Shelves are neatly arranged and brimming with containers of coloured slips, oxides and stains, interspersed with found objects such as shells, pebbles and pinecones. A few surfaces are adorned with trial pieces, many appear as finished vessels, others are fragmented references of firings and colours. These shelves surround the central work table where several works in progress are concealed by bags preserving the moisture in the clay, amassing mystery in what might be unveiled. A large window looks out across the Ashdown and Sheffield Forests towards the distant Downs. Hidden from view around a corner of the room are her three electric kilns. Up a small flight of stairs in the opposite corner is a small gallery space with an offering of finished pieces, all vying for attention and demanding to be touched.

Born in Singapore, Carolyn moved to Sussex with her parents as a child, since then she has grown up in the county and cannot understand why anyone would want to live anywhere else. Is she inspired by her Sussex surroundings? Yes definitely. Although it may not be instantly obvious when looking at her ceramics, the Sussex landscape has been a source of inspiration for the majority of Carolyn’s recent output. A small sketchbook contains vigorous drawings made of her impressions of her surrounding landscape, these are still abstracted but are certainly more identifiable. A larger sketchbook moves these drawings on to designs, selecting elements from the initial drawings and merging them with outlines of vessels and forms with occasional colour references. None of these will ever be made as Carolyn works in a spontaneous and free way. She aims to give the impression she feels when in the Downland landscape, rather than a literal translation of what a camera would record. Carolyn combines the rhythm, colours, light and balance of the view, with brushwork and textures seen in her paintings and prints, to create a reflection of a lifetime of inspiration. She works on a series of vessels all at the same time, each in a different stage of production. This approach keeps her mind fresh, it also allows for play, which Carolyn believes is very important for the progression and exploration of any artist. By making changes to the outlines of the forms, different sgraffito marks and colour variations, each piece will have a completely different identity, united by a subtle intrinsic theme.

The majority of Carolyn’s work is hand-built using the ancient technique of coiling, this involves methodically building up the shape using rolls of clay, pinching and pulling the form upward over a period of days to avoid collapse. Once built, the body is painted in coloured slips, either vitreous or burnished terra sigillata depending on the desired finish. A process of mark-making then begins to reveal the layers below. Carolyn loves the equilibrium of the old techniques and the contemporary surface treatment. Whilst intuitive, the form and balance is carefully considered, unlike a flat canvas, the three dimensions add exciting and challenging possibilities in how the exterior, interior and form will all work harmoniously. Whilst sculptural forms are always prevalent, the artist confesses open vessels are her primary love.

Carolyn has been actively exhibiting her work since 1981 and is now an established and highly-regarded ceramicist. She has exhibited in Continental Europe, Japan and throughout Britain. From 16th June to 2nd July, her ceramics will be featured in a group exhibition with Shirley Crowther Contemporary Art in the ‘Summer Exhibition’ at the Jointure Studios, Ditchling. The recently renovated workshop of the renowned modern British artist Sir Frank Brangwyn offers the perfect backdrop for her eye-catching works. The gallery is open from noon until 5pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Carolyn has a natural mastery of colours, patterns and textures, which infuse her sinuous silhouettes and promote her ceramics into tactile works of art. Her inspiration allows for a depth of perception, adding resonance and veracity to her output. For more visit www.carolyngenders.co.uk

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in June 2011.