Visit to Svend Bayer's Pottery in Sheepwash, Devon, England

It was a fine spring day in May when my wife Lauren and I visited Svend Bayer's pottery in Devon; the bluebells were in full force. Visiting Svend was a must on my trip to England. I knew of his work and that he had been one of Michael Cardew's apprentices, but Mark Hewitt's admiration convinced me that I needed to go.

Beginning in 1969, Svend spent three and a half years working with Cardew, and afterwards worked at Brannam's as a production thrower. Brannam's was earthenware pottery manufacturing mostly flower pots and pitchers at that time. In a conversation with Lucy Birtles (published in Ceramics Monthly, March 1995), Svend said this was valuable experience: "having to make 120 pots a day, all exactly the same, instead of the 20 I'd been used to making." Cardew famously said Svend was his best pupil and a "force of nature." Receiving such a stunning compliment from Cardew was uncommon.

In his time after working with Cardew, Svend's pots became simpler and less ornamented. Cardew said that form was of utmost importance: 90% of the success of a pot was its form. Despite this proclamation, Cardew still utilised many decorative techniques, just as I am being trained in at the Hewitt pottery. As Mark says, though, and as I have observed at kiln openings, often the decoration sells the pot despite the form (and as an apprentice, some of my forms don't hit the perfect pitch, so nice decoration is pretty important)!

Later in this post, I have photos of Svend's current work and a few examples of pots he made whilst apprenticing at Wenford Bridge. The primary difference is that his pots have moved away from the decorative techniques of Cardew. Svend mostly uses the wood firing process to decorate his pots, rather than techniques such as slip trailing, slip combing, or sgraffito. His pots have gained a simplicity and purity that is hard to express in words and without one of his pots in hand. Svend says: "shape and form are all-important. Kilns, glazes, decoration must never take over--they are only there to help." He goes on, "To me, throwing has always come first. Wood firing has occupied another pinnacle" (p. 49, Ceramics Monthly, March 1995). I think this is a large part of the power of Svend's pots: form resolutely comes first.

Visiting Svend's gallery was wonderful. The simplicity and economy of forms surprised me... he does not make a great variety of pots, but those he does make are very well made. They feel good, with a reassuring heaviness. His knobs, rims, and handles are all chunky; not just to be practical but also because they add to the generosity of the pots. His handles appear to truly grow out of the body of his pots, something I am always aiming for. The curves of his forms are deliberate yet dainty... satisfying to behold and to hold. His pots make you want to squeeze them. We could have spent our plane ticket home multiple times over if we had bought all the pots we wanted.

Svend has built, torn down, and rebuilt over twenty kilns on his property in Devon. Sometimes they only got fired once before being re-configured. He said he'd learnt something new every time he built and fired a new kiln. This is a level of commitment to wood firing that many potters do not possess. Most people build a kiln and work with it even if it doesn't fire quite right. The time, energy, and money to tear down a kiln and rebuild it is huge. Svend invests in this experience, just as he does in the protracted firings which give the pots their complex surfaces. Form comes first but firing is also crucial. His tremendously neat wood stacks represent his work ethic and methodology.

Without further ado, here are my snaps from the day:

Bluebells in the woods beside Svend's cottage.
The first of Svend's current kilns.
Inside the kiln.
Wood to be cut.
Svend's other kiln.
View from the chimney.
Nice stack.
Love the stoke holes.
Pile of broken pots and test rings near the kiln shed.
Shells used to place pots on in the kiln.
Svend's large pots sitting out in the garden.
View from the other end.
Nice ash drips on this one
Close up of one of Svend's big jars.
Gnarly jar by Charles Bound.
Svend's cottage with a freshly thatched roof.
Svend and Lauren, humoring me for a photo.
In the workshop...

Big pots sitting out to dry in the middle of the workshop. If this was my studio I'm sure I would accidentally bash one of these. No doubt.
Pots glazed and ready to be fired.
Medium sized pots ready to be fired.
Handled bowls drying out. 
Upside down bowls drying out.
Bowls. Glazed inside only.
Slip decorated serving bowls.
Freshly handled pitchers.
The new clay Svend was trying out when we arrived.
One of Svend's kick wheels with two large balls of clay ready to be thrown.
Pitchers resting on another of Svend's kick wheels.
Postcards hanging up in Svend's studio.
One of Svend's sculptures in progress.
Honey jar.
Glazed vases ready for firing. Love the symmetry in this picture.
Closer view of one of Svend's unfired large pots.
Nice lug handles on these large jars. 
Significant handles.
Jugs from above. The ridges in the handles are obvious from this angle.

Into the gallery...
Vases. Svend Bayer.
Nice crackle glaze on this vase. Svend Bayer.
Large lidded jar. Svend Bayer.
I like the handles on this pot.
Rows of bowls and honey jars. I was quite tempted by the jars. I love the galleries on them.
Beautiful surface on this jar.
Jugs with just the inside glazed.
Nice fat jugs. Great big bellies and handles on these.
Vases fired on their sides, on shells.
Bowls with handles-fantastically ergonomic pots--holding them just makes you want to eat soup out of them or cereal or whatever. And to see them lined up on hooks in your kitchen. I may have to be making some based on this idea.

Closer pic of the handled bowls.
This was my favorite of Svend's handled bowls but unfortunately it was already sold.

So much going on in this surface.
Vase. Svend Bayer.
A few of Svend's flattened sculptures. Super dramatic fired surfaces.
Black teapot that nearly came home with us.
Beautiful big jar. It looked lovely illuminated by the light streaming in from the window.
Sweet little lidded bowl.
Plates and bowls.
Platter. Svend Bayer.
Pitcher. Svend Bayer.
Honey pot. Svend Bayer. This one nearly came home with us. Such a lovely shape.
Some of the sold wares, set to one side.
Teapots made by Svend during his apprenticeship with Michael Cardew.
Scraffito coffee pots (Wenford Bridge).
Lidded pot. Svend Bayer (Wenford Bridge).
Salt shaker with twist on lid. Svend Bayer (Wenford Bridge).
Sweet little jar. Svend Bayer (Wenford Bridge). 
Fish plate. Svend Bayer (Wenford Bridge). I love the jauntiness of their back bones. It almost looks like they've just been hooked! 
Classic slip trailed decoration. Svend Bayer (Wenford Bridge).
Baking dish. Svend Bayer (Wenford Bridge). I'm a sucker for this classic Cardew decoration.