Before pottery - I was burning out. Let me take you on my journey. 

It was February 2019. I was studying statistics at Lancaster University and struggling to keep my stress levels at bay. I have always struggled with anxiety and stress. To be completely honest depression had taken over for a lot of my 20s and returning to University at 30 felt like a last ditch attempt at reclaiming my life.


I decided to get away from the computer, to just do SOMETHING with my hands. I signed up for an "Introduction to hand building" pottery night class.

 

When I arrived, I felt intimidated. The other class members all looked so... creative. My self talk was destructive: "I'm not an artist. I have no place being here. I don't have an creative bone in my body." 

Despite my fear, there was something about that class that kept me going back.

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That something was that nobody else cared about what I made. If it was good or bad, if it showed any technical skill, it didn't matter.

 

The focus, instead, was on turning up, on who wanted milk in their coffee. The focus was on finally on humans, not production.. Humans just muddling along, taking time for themselves to make the same things our ancestors have been making for tens of thousands of years: cups, bowls, and art. 

Luristan Pottery Vessel (c.1500 BCE) An ancient ceramic container from Western Persia with a long semi-cylindrical spout, a looped handle, and engraved decoration. Hixenbaugh Gallery of Ancient Art. New York.
Ancient Greek pottery from Crete
small trinket bowl with blue green glaze and texture.

As I got more and more obsessed with pottery, I joined the community studio. Pottery didn't save me from the next stress induced sick leave, but it did give me a purpose while I was off work. I would cycle to Halton Mill (my nearest studio), clean the floors, learn to throw on a pottery wheel and reclaim clay. I was strong, part of a community, healthy and getting ready to return to my studies.

Parts of a thrown teapot, spout, body, lids.
A pottery wheel with a thrown clay doughnut.
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And then.. disaster struck. At the end of November I had a cardiac arrest. I was 31 years old. I was in intensive care on life support for days - and woke up not knowing what had happened. The doctors still don't know what caused it.

I would have died in 2019 if there hadn't been people around me confident enough to do CPR. If you don't confidently know how to do CPR. Please sign up for your next local first aid course. 

I ended up in hospital for 3 weeks. At the beginning the nurses had to help me wash my hair, and my short term memory had gone entirely, so I kept asking friends and family what had happened. Over and over again. I was lost. Friends and family were amazing, and my boyfriend only left my side to sleep, but, I still cried myself to sleep every night. My friends brought me a book,  "The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse" by Charlie Mackesy, some watercolours and paintbrushes. I started to paint directly in the book, and slowly realised that I was finally living what I had learnt in that first pottery class. I was spending my days with people. People just muddling along.

More than my just physical heart healed during those three weeks.

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After I got out of hospital, I had a couple of months of recovery time before the 2020 Covid19 lockdowns began. My cardiac rehab got me to the point where I could cycle to the pottery studio, but as March rolled round I quickly discovered that my fear of going to hospital again prevented me from venturing far from home. I had no access to a kiln and I had to learn how to continue creating without it.

This brought me to pit firing. You form the items and then fire them in what is essentially a bonfire. The smoke from the fire decorates the pots, and the heat hardens them so that they keep their form. Sometimes pieces break, and the final finish is really varied and wild.

 

In this way, pit firing asks you to let go of perfectionism - something I've always really struggled with. Imperfection is what makes these pots, and ourselves, beautiful and unique. When the first lockdown eased, I managed to get an old kiln refurbished to fire glazed work at home, but I continue to make pit fired work. Both for myself, and for people like me. People who need a reminder that they are beautiful because of their imperfection."

After my fear of hospital eased, I spent a lot of time walking in our local woods. People of all ages had been leaving painted stones and bark for others to find. This emotional connection to others was so vital for me throughout 2020. In return I collaborated with Holm Cafe to set up "Clay at Holm". Through this we offered clay for those who want to try making something at home. The response to this project has been incredible, and shown a clear demand for craft/art as a form of therapy during these difficult times.

Over the past year I have been selling online, and have sold work through 3 local galleries/shops. It's been an incredible start. I've paid off that refurbished kiln, and raised money for charities that mean a lot to me - Papyrus UK, Refuge UK, and EggCup Lancaster. I've worked with individuals on commission pieces and I've even collaborated with local groups, such as Cold Dark North. 

As I continue on, here is a reminder to myself and to you, the one with self doubt:

Being good enough is enough,

Your worth as a human is not determined by your productivity,

The scars of adversity add to your beauty,

The fire makes you stronger. 

Rae x