For our November Maker in Focus interview, we spoke to the Ceramicist Sasha Wardell about her shift from Graphic Design to Ceramics, how maintaining her French language skills led to a defining moment in her practice, and how Craft works to preserve our culture and heritage.
Sasha demonstrated her craft alongside the ‘Echoes of Process’ exhibition at Contemporary Applied Arts during LCW 2018.
LCW: What is your background?
SW: Life’s habit of twists and turns means the direction one sets out in is quite often not the one originally intended!
This can definitely be applied to my career when I reflect on its events. The first ‘what if’ being a sharp U-turn whilst studying for A-levels – I had very clearly imagined myself studying languages with the very vague notion of being a bi-lingual secretary and doing something ‘exciting’ like a simultaneous translator for the European Parliament.
However, when our art teacher retired halfway through the course and a new and inspirational tutor, named Terry Sladden, took over a whole new world opened up as he introduced me to the, previously unheard of world of art schools, foundation and even degree courses!
LCW: What drew you to the medium of ceramics?
SW: During that first year of a graphics degree course at Bath Academy of Art in the mid-70’s I gradually realised I was on the ‘wrong’ course, albeit in the ‘right’ place and at the ‘right’ time, so asked for a transfer into the ceramics course. I had the good fortune to be there whilst another eminent tutor, John Colbeck, was the head of department and so another direction ensued.
Whilst settling in quite happily to the ceramics world I was tempted by the opportunity to do an Erasmus exchange scheme to France in my second year.
In retrospect, I guess I didn’t want to let go of languages completely so the prospect of combining French and ceramics appealed. This was a seminal moment and a classic case of ‘what if’ I hadn’t made that decision for it clearly defined the way I work now and most certainly contributed to later lifestyle decisions.
The period spent at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs in Limoges introduced me to the fascinating world of industrial ceramics and hard-paste porcelain. It entirely suited my way of working where up until then had been a struggle combining both form and decoration unsuccessfully. The precision required to turn and carve plaster, coupled with mould making challenges and traditional surface treatments, seemed to answer my questions as well as suit my personality.
LCW: Take us through your typical day…
SW: If I am running a course then a typical day is spent in the workshop in France teaching four students how to work with plaster through mould making and slip casting bone china. Otherwise, I will be working on my own production fulfilling orders/commissions and attempting to create new work….!
LCW: How long does it take for someone to really build confidence in their craft?
SW: Personally I think it is a lifelong journey to really build confidence in one’s chosen craft.
LCW: What are the positives/negatives about being a craftsperson?
SW: The positive aspect of being a self-employed craftsperson equates to freedom although the downside of this is, inevitably, a certain degree of financial insecurity!
LCW: What role does craft and making have in society?
SW: I feel that craft, and the role it plays in society, is a hugely important one which represents our culture and heritage by preserving traditional knowledge, skills and talents whilst, at the same time, constantly updating them.
LCW: Do you have someone that you idolize? Craftsperson or otherwise.
SW: I wouldn’t say I ‘idolise’ these people but I have a huge amount of respect for Bodil Manz, a Danish ceramicist, whose paper-thin porcelain pieces have always been an inspiration for me, as has Andreas Steinemann, from Switzerland, who demonstrates extraordinary technical feats with mould making and porcelain.
LCW: What’s one thing you would most like to own?
SW: If possible I would like to own two very different things – a brand new Rohde kiln and a horse again!