Hamilton and Hare recently commissioned two mugs from Wistanswick Pottery as a fitting addition to any downtime moment. Each mug is made by hand by Phil in his studio in Wistanswick, with unique glazing and firing patinas making each mug completely individual.
A couple of weeks ago we were invited to visit Phil's studio to hear more about his lifestyle change to a slower pace smallholding in the Shropshire countryside and his approach to designing the perfect mug.
It was just past midday as we arrived at Phil’s cottage home, set on a small holding in Shropshire, Wistanswick specifically.
He opened the gate and greeted us together with his two rough collies and two ginger kittens. Welcomed into the grounds, we were introduced to the rest of the family – 6 Ryeland sheep, 3 Brecon buff geese, 2 rabbits, chickens and another cat - Heidi. It was clear they were family and every one of them felt at ease with him, and him with them. It made sense that his ceramics studio looked out to the land with his sheep as that was what made him feel at home.
As much as we weren’t there to experience nature, we quickly realised it was a key part of Phil’s process. He talked us through every step of designing what Wistanswick Pottery stood for, and the products he makes. We knew that here was a man with integrity, with care and consideration for everything that he does.
Proudly but humbly he told us about the locally sourced clay he uses, the traditionally pulled mug handles he makes, the many glaze experiments that he continually does and the fine tweaking required to adjust the kiln temperatures to achieve the best and most consistent results.
Whilst relatively early on in his journey, it was obvious that Phil was passionate, well researched and gruellingly practiced in his craft, and that although capable of producing any number of beautiful product styles and designs, the concise capsule of products is a carefully curated and considered selection.
Can you tell us a bit about how Wistanswick Pottery came about and what you were doing before?
My background has always been in the bathroom industry for 35 years I’ve worked and designed products firstly manufactured in Stoke on Trent (in fact Doulton’s Colonial pottery was the first ever Sanitaryware factory of its kind in the world, built in 1888, and I started work there in 1987 after graduating from Birmingham Polytechnic - it was sadly demolished around 2000).
Then for many years after, my work moved overseas with ceramic manufacturers in Italy, China and the Middle East.
I've always had the dream of making a living from pottery and moved with my wife Nikki to the small holding 6 years ago with the intention of setting up a pottery studio and living a much slower pace of life in the Shropshire countryside.
Last year was a perfect opportunity for me as factories closed due to the lockdown and I had the luxury of real time to set the pottery up and focus on initial pieces – this after 18 months of evening classes at Clay Collage in Stoke and learning from the master potter Richard Healey.
How would you describe your style and how did you develop it?
My work is based on functional tableware and is greatly inspired by a traditional rustic farmhouse style and Nordic retro 50s, 60s ceramics.
Living in the lovely rural village of Wistanswick helps enormously towards a slow country living and meaningful, natural experience when making ceramic pots, as does the small holding in which the pottery is situated on, with our Ryeland sheep, chickens and geese. Making in the UK after years of seeing my products being manufactured in other countries, really does give me a true sense of pride and belonging.
Have you always lived this mindset of a slower and more meaningful living or was this a reaction to something?
Inspiration from nature has always been part of my growing up as a child in the Chilterns, birdwatching, fishing & walking.
More recently not having to travel abroad for business and commuting every week to London has had a huge beneficial impact on my lifestyle now.
Where does your design inspiration come from?
As a student I was forever taking out the studio year books of furnishing and decoration in my university library, these were a great source of material showing past design styles and it had an impressive tableware & studio pottery section.
I now own a few of these valuable yearbooks and refer to them all the time, particularly 1950s & 60s Scandinavian pottery by Gustavsberg and Rorstrand.
How do you relax?
Sitting outdoors in the countryside is when I’m most relaxed, it has a different noise; birdsong, local farming, horses passing by. I love taking a moment when I’m working in the pottery just to look outside and see the sheep grazing in the field or swallows swooping into the stable.
Any advice for anyone else with an interest in pursuing pottery?
I would suggest enrolling in a local pottery evening class, whether it’s experiencing clay for the first time or throwing pots on a wheel, it gets you out to meet other people who are interested in the craft and away from the stresses of work life.
What are your plans for Wistanswick Pottery?
For 2022 I’m hoping to expand the tableware collection with a few more earthy rustic glaze colours and new pieces such as bud vases.
Also growing the awareness of the pottery to reach more customers by promoting the brand and getting out to meet everyone - I’ve just signed up to the Ceramic Wales show in June.