A Ton of Clay

9 December 2015

They’re full of marks from brisk handling on the wheel, and scuffs from wiping back glaze. It’s this transparency of process and insight into the material that captivates me, not least because it manifests within seemingly anonymous utilitarian objects

A Ton of Clay comprises hundreds of stacked plates and bowls made from white stoneware. The project, conceived by designer and maker Ian McIntyre, aims to explore traditional constraints in ceramic production and its functional translation into a modern process. The concept is a nod to the practice of the late 20th century production potter Isaac Button and his notoriety for being able to throw a ton of clay pots in any one day.

“He’s something of a cult figure in ceramics,” says McIntyre. “He was a one-man factory; he would mine, process, fabricate, fire and sell his wares and he did this alone for the last 18 years of his life before retiring in 1965. I suppose for me, he represents a point at which craft, design and production exist within a closely knit system. Button was designer, maker, manufacturer and retailer. I’m interested in the production constraints that Button was working within. His wares were cheap and seen almost as disposable in his day. This meant he had to produce them in phenomenal numbers if he were to make a living. He produced functional objects – Pancheons, pots for feeding chickens, storing grain and cooking. But they’re full of marks from brisk handling on the wheel, and scuffs from wiping back glaze. It’s this transparency of process and insight into the material that captivates me, not least because it manifests within seemingly anonymous utilitarian objects.”

McIntyre has a background in both product design and applied art, his work sitting at the confluence of craft and industrial design. He works from a studio in East London using production machines reclaimed from a factory in Stoke-on-Trent. He uses these machines to develop collections for design houses and to produce small limited studio runs. He has collaborated with, amongst others; Another Country, Wrong for HAY, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The project took just over four months to fabricate. While Button had an entire building to fire his ton, McIntyre relied on only a small rusted black kiln on the verge of collapse, in which he fired over 900 pieces for the collection. He chose to work with the most utilitarian manifestations of tableware – bowls and plates; “I wanted the objects to be work horses. It was important to me that they reflect function and production, so using a white clay also became important because of its industrial connotation.”

The pieces are made on industrial machines – called Jigger Jolley machines. Typically in industry, a piece of clay is placed into a spinning mould and a profile is introduced, squeezing the clay between the two surfaces. Mould and profile then come together to make a perfectly finished piece and any excess clay squeezed out by the process is trimmed off. McIntyre has adapted this process by designing moulds with no discernable end point. This means the clay creeps towards the edge of the mould but never reaches a defined edge. The result is an uneven edge which naturally forms, and retains the plastic quality of the clay.

In order to demonstrate the concept of ‘a ton of clay’, the project displays the finished pieces stacked upon one another, conveying it as a solid mass. In this, McIntyre also aims to reveal the trace of making and materiality evident in Buttons work: “I wanted to communicate that unapologetic quality which is so evident in his work, nothing is covered up or needs hiding.”

A Ton of Clay is currently on tour around the UK as part of the Jerwood Makers Open. It is currently on display at the Ruthin Craft Centre in Wales, until 31 January 2016:

ianmcintyre.co.uk