Visit to Clive Bowen's Pottery (Shebbear Pottery), Devonshire, UK, May 6th 2016.

I have long admired Clive's pots; I became aware of his work whilst I was at Winchcombe Pottery.  Over the past year here in North Carolina, Mark has often mentioned Clive in the studio, so paying him a visit was a high priority on our trip to England. Luckily he also lives within five miles of Svend Bayer, who we also visited, and who will be the next victim of this blog.

A bit of history on Clive: Clive studied etching and painting at Cardiff College of Art and then began an apprenticeship at Yelland Pottery under Michael Leach in 1965. He also did some work at Wenford Bridge in the early '70s, and threw some pots at Brannam Pottery. Since 1971, Clive has been working from Shebbear Pottery. He has not signed his pots since the early '70s, but he does not need to: the red Fremington earthenware clay body, warm lead glazes, and loose slip decoration make his pots unmistakable.

We've arrived!
It was a grey English day in May when Lauren and I visited Shebbear Pottery. I had written to Clive and Rosie from the states and arranged our visit in advance, so we were lucky enough to have lunch at the Bowens'. As Rosie whipped up a storm, we went out for a ramble around the workshop and to the greenhouse to pick salad greens.

The courtyard at the centre of Clive and Rosie's house, workshop, and kiln shed.

The two resident ducks.
When we walked in to the workshop the energy was immediately apparent. There were boards of pots stacked up, decorated and ready to be glazed. I wish we could have seen Clive at work but the evidence of his labor was all around us. He makes a wide range of pots, from bowls to mugs to storage jars to vases and large umbrella pots. Clive's forms are strong--a product of his early immersion in the Leach/Cardew school--but it is his decoration that I find most alluring. The pots feel so alive and fresh.

The American folklorist Henry Glassie (who has written many books about craft all over the world and taken a particular interest in pottery) visited the Hewitt Pottery a couple of months ago, and I mentioned that I would be visiting Shebbear. His eyes lit up. Henry is in the process of writing a book about Mark Hewitt and his former apprentices, and had been over to see Clive and Svend, among other people and potters, as part of his research. He admired Clive's work and said that he understood the decoration in terms of jazz: Clive's love of jazz directly feeds into his decoration. I can see where Henry is coming from; Clive's sliptrailing and wiping seem so spontaneous. It's clear that Clive is decorating at speed: there is no way you can decorate with that fluidity if you are moving slowly or thinking too much. It seem to me that each pot is an improvisation on a theme, with similar motifs and movements repeated but in slightly differing ways, with the form determining some of the perimeters for the motion.

Where the magic happens.

View from Clive's wheel.

Boards of pots waiting to be fired.

Clive had decorated this pot on the morning we arrived.

Big pots. I really like the shape of the middle one.

Decorated pots ready to be fired.


Proud jug (or pitcher, depending which side of the Atlantic you are on).

Bowls; the shape reminds me of Cardew's rose bowls.

Tiles out to dry.

Clive uses these to make slumped molded dishes with slabs of clay.

Another couple of large jars.


Prawn tile amidst the normal ones.

Horse sculpture by Clive's daughter.

Sink, tools, and tasty tiles.

View out of the back door to the studio.
Clive's kiln is a magnificent beast. It is based on Cardew's kiln from Wenford bridge, with a large circular chamber leading to a bottle chamber. You fire off the first chamber getting it to top temperature before moving onto the bottle chamber. The bottle acts as the chimney and pre-heats on account of the fire in the first chamber. These two chambers have the potential to hold a great many pots, so Clive has never actually fired them both together, preferring to simply use the bottle as a chimney and stack the circular chamber. I have never seen a kiln like this and would be fascinated to help fire it sometime. The kiln room was much more enclosed than the kiln sheds I am used to seeing around North Carolina. It felt cozy, with shelves full of old pots and store cupboards full of yet more pots, and an upper gallery which allowed a bird's eye view down over the kiln.

View down the circular chamber of Clive's kiln. You can see the bottle neck in the right edge of the photo--the chambers connect underground.

The bottle chamber of Clive's kiln.

Looking down on Lauren and Clive beside the kiln.

Some of Clive's saggars. Most of his work is fired in these to prevent ash hitting the pots.

Kiln furniture and saggars.

Firing wood.

Some pots that Clive made on a recent trip to Japan.

Platter made by Clive in Japan.

Fish tile. Clive Bowen.
Clive describing some of the beauties. Top left is a salt glazed pot from Jugtown in Seagrove, North Carolina.

The mug in the background is a Michael Cardew.

Clive's collection of little teabowls, waiting for a bespoke cabinet to house them.

This pot was made by Clive and fired just down the road in Svend Bayer's kiln.

Lovely jar by Clive. I really like the way the handle sits on top of the domed lid.

Here are some of marvelous pots from inside the house.

Plate made by Jo; one of Clive's kids.

The jar on the left was made by a potter who stayed with them for a while. Excellent chattering pattern.

Large goblet by Michael Cardew, I like the lug handles and classic decoration.

Casserole dishes and baking pans above the stove top.

Baking dishes in the Bowen kitchen.

I can see a chicken in this.

Nice little functional serving or cooking dishes. I want to make some similar to these.

Sweet little casserole dish made by a visiting Norwegian potter to Shebbear.

Plates that Clive made to commemorate the births of some of his kids.
Saving the best bit til last, here are some pictures from the gallery that is attached to the house.

Wide view of Clive's gallery space.

Clive in the gallery talking to Lauren.

Clive Bowen. Potter at large.

Large jar with substantial knob. Clive Bowen.

Storage jar. Clive Bowen.

Slump molded dish. Slip trailed decoration. Clive Bowen.

Bowls. Clive Bowen.

Tankard. Clive Bowen.

Large chesty storage jar. Slip trailed decoration. Clive Bowen.

Platter. Slip trailed fish decoration. Clive Bowen.

The teapot we came away with. It has been in constant use since we got back to North Carolina and I can report that it pours perfectly and holds almost enough to fill my tea flask.

In case there weren't enough photos here or you would like to snag one of Clive's pots, here's a link to his website: