Persistence pays off in mastering pottery craft

Work produced by Pottery West in a studio in Sheffield's Persistence Works is beginning to be appreciated at tables around the country including some in high end restaurants.

Thursday, 14th December 2017, 8:50 am
Updated Thursday, 14th December 2017, 8:55 am
Catherine and Matt West in Handmade for Christmas at the Millennium Gallery. Image © Museums Sheffield (2).jpg

Closer to home it is on sale and view at the Handmade for Christmas show in the Millennium Gallery.

The name of the company is not a geographical reference but comes from the founders, Catherine and Matt West.

They design and craft small-batch wheel-thrown ceramic homeware with an emphasis on simple, ergonomic forms and tactile functional glazes. 

Coming from an art school background before they turned to ceramics means that texture, tone, light and form are to the fore. 

Husband and wife Matt and Catherine grew up in Barnsley and became friends while doing a Saturday job at Cannon Hall. They both moved to London as students at Goldsmith’s – Matt in design, Catherine in Fine Art.

After graduation they went to live in Berlin without a clear idea of what they wanted to do.

“Matt learned to be a baker and we moved back to Sheffield when he got a job at Seven Hills Bakery and also because after a year we were beginning to feel homesick,” explains Catherine.

It was through attending classes at Yorkshire Arts Space with Penny Withers that they discovered an affinity with ceramics. What began as a recreation soon became their passion.

“Someone gave us a kiln and we then got a wheel,” recalls Matt. About four years ago they moved into a studio at Exchange Place although Matt was still working as a baker and Catherine copywriting. In 2015 they set up the company now at Persistence Works.

The arrival of their son was the catalyst in Matt deciding that 3am starts as a baker were no longer on.

“At the start we were teaching ourselves, pretty much. There’s a saying that it takes 10,000 goes to master a craft,” says Catherine, and they are not afraid to say they are still learning. “But we have become much more critical.”

Continues Matt: “We don’t have the technical background that a lot of potters have but we don’t want to compete against these people. We want to build on our strengths in being designers because we are never going to be as technically proficient as trained people.

The way it works is that Matt concentrates on the throwing and forms and Catherine focuses on glazing and development

They use social media to reach potential customers.

“Our dream was to produce stuff for Simon Rogan’s Cartmel restaurant in the Lake District,” reveals Catherine. The restaurateur is well known for his use of bespoke tableware.

“We actually missed an email from them but eventually went over there and in the meeting his business partner was doing all the talking and Simon was just sitting there with this bowl in his hand. I was thinking, ‘oh he doesn’t like our work’, until he suddenly said, ‘Curd - that’s what would work with this’.” And so he put in an order.

Closer to home, you will find West Pottery in Marmaduke’s on Norfolk Row. “I think our aesthetics match.”

A vegan cafe in Hackney, London, a coffee roastery in Nottingham and an arts studio cafe in York are other clients.

“We deal with a lot of coffee geeks. I like working with people who really care about what they are doing,” says Catherine.

Handmade for Christmas is in the Craft and Design Gallery at the Millennium Gallery until  January 14.