FANGFOSS Pottery couple Gerry and Lyn Grant are celebrating 40 years at the wheel in 2017.
After a year of studying ceramics at Exeter Art College, followed by a stint as a thrower at Honiton Pottery, Gerry set up his own pottery in East Yorkshire in 1977 with the help of his wife Lyn.
Their pottery is in an old Victorian school in the centre of Fangfoss, ten miles east of York, which came into their hands when the education authority and the Church were selling off their small rural schools, replacing them with bigger, centrally placed ones. "A lot of the schools were turned into houses, but some escaped and were converted into small workshops, like ours," says Lyn.
Pottery made by Fangfoss Pottery
Gerry is a "production potter, making pots with strong functional forms that people want and are able to afford". Originally he specialised in sprig ware for tourist markets and for commemorative work, but later he expanded his repertoire to take in domestic ranges and gift ware too.
He made pots, and still does, for Durham Cathedral, Iona Abbey, the Jorvik Viking Centre in York and other outlets throughout Britain. Latterly, he has been producing more individual pieces for galleries and exhibitions, using a variety of clays.
Explaining how the Grants' creative partnership works, Lyn says: "Gerry and I own the pottery together, but Gerry does all the throwing and I do the hand-building and the finishing off of the pots. I do the glazing and decorating, and I manage the pottery too! I also do a lot of the courses and go out to schools and other community groups to encourage involvement in ceramics."
Fangfoss potter Gerry Grant meeting Her Majesty The Queen in 2002
The couple are marking their pottery’s 40th anniversary with a series of specially planned events. "We both feel that we've been lucky doing what we want to do, making a living out of something we enjoy, and want to share it with people," says Lyn.
"We've made 40 ceramic leaves that we're in the process of hanging in public places in East Yorkshire for people to find in March. Finders can take the leaf home, follow the instructions on the back and phone the potter, stating the leaf’s number and location to win a prize, while other prizes will be given away in competitions each month for our Facebook followers."
Lyn Grant fixing tiles made by children at Driffield Junior School
In addition, the Grants have organised a series of workshops for children and adults and are doing a number of talks and exhibitions. "We'll also be working closely with the Northern Potters Association, which is celebrating its own 40th anniversary with a number of events," says Lyn.
A children's workshop will be held at Pocklington Arts Centre on April 11 from 10am to 11.15am, while the adults' workshop at the pottery on March 5 is fully booked, but places are still available for April 30.
Fangfoss Pottery 40th anniversary mugs, to be given away to mark the celebrations
Gerry and Lyn have kept scrapbooks of photos and press cuttings since 1977 and will drip-feed a photo a day on to social media, starting with the empty school.
"We're on to our 11th scrapbook, and we'll be posting an archive photo with explanations each day throughout the year," says Lyn. "Throughout the year too, we'll be having exhibitions in local galleries called Past, Present And Future, where we'll be displaying archive material – some bought back from secondhand shops! – alongside our current work,” says Lyn.
Gerry Grant at work on his potter's wheel
The first such show will be held at Pocklington Arts Centre from March 25 to April 28 and soon afterwards the Grants will participate in the Pocklington Area Open Studios on May 6 and 7. "We'll have a slide show running chronicling the history of the pottery," says Lyn. "We're also planning other events for the summer and these will be announced on our website, fangfosspottery.co.uk, where an up-to-date list of events can be seen."
The Fangfoss potters have noticed a huge increase in interest in pottery brought on by two series of The Great Pottery Throw Down on BBC2. "Yet we're acutely aware of the lack of opportunity for people to become involved with clay work. Schools, colleges and night classes are cutting back on the teaching of ceramics, and in some areas there is a no night school provision at all," says Lyn.
"We're hoping, for this year at least, to redress the balance! We’re looking forward to our celebrations tremendously and see this as a way of promoting pottery and ceramics to everyone”.