Hilary Porter meets a local potter who throws his studio open to novice ceramic makers

With its white painted brick frontage and blue doors, Vinegar Hill Pottery sits cheerfully on the edge of the New Forest in a serene sylvan setting just a stone’sthrow from Milford-on- Sea and the beach. This small, tranquil corner of rural Hampshire would be easy to miss amid itsleafy landscape, but people travel from across the world to experience it’s unique charm.

For this is a fully operating working pottery, gallery and bed and breakfast. What’s more, it offers pottery courses that range from just one day to a long weekend, with fabulous accommodation and food included. There is even an 1885 gypsy caravan – a former show wagon called Rosie – available to rent alongside more traditional accommodation in the garden room and hayloft.

It is run by widely recognised potter David Rogers and his wife Lucy, who live in this delightful property with their three young children.

Dave, who is originally from Lymington, discovered a passion for ceramics at Brockenhurst College and never looked back. He studied for his foundation diploma at Salisbury College of Art and graduated in ceramics from the Surrey Institute of Art and Design in Farnham. Having worked as a thrower at Wrecclesham Pottery, he set up his own studio pottery and joined Hampshire Contemporary Artists co-operative in 1997. After a spell in Bristol where he ran The Botany Studios, he returned to the New Forest in 2006 to set up Vinegar Hill Pottery.

Today Dave divides his time between creating his own ceramics and running courses. The studio is filled with hundreds of wonderful pieces available for sale. He currently produces wheel-thrown functional stoneware with clean lines, simple in form, in vibrant blues and stripes, and part-glazed wood-fired pots. “All designed to be used and loved”, says Dave.

Functional but fabulous, Dave’s work is all thrown on the potter’s wheel and very high-fired making it long-lasting and durable. His pots are traditional in style but with a contemporary finish, and he works to create rich glazes that are deep, textural and beautiful in their own right. He aims to give his pots a minimalist feel with clean lines and the criteria that form follows function. Throwing lines are emphasised, which along with his vibrant blues and the curled handles, have become hist rademarks.

Dave’s recent work includes a fantastic range of striped cream tableware and his new found love – woodfired pots. Indeed, he built his own wood-fired kiln in 2011, which enabled him to experiment and develop his work further and it is here I find him when we meet for our interview.

The kiln, which looks like a padded Tardis, is tucked away in the back garden and is fuelled entirely by surplus New Forest oak wood from the local sawmills.

Literally a tonne of wood is needed to fire the kiln and it takes a whole day to fire it up.

“It then takes three days to cool down and unloading it is like discovering a real treasure trove,” says Dave.

It has to be really hot, an incredible 1300°C, as the glaze on the pots is designed to melt at that temperature.

As we chat, Dave and his apprentice Emma McEwan have been working flat out since 6am, stoking the kiln with planks of wood every 10 to 15 minutes and they will continue until 6pm. He has about 200 pieces of pottery in the kiln at the time. They aim to do this every two months.

It is tiring work but Dave says: “The wood kiln gives you different effectsso that the pieces almost look like they have a sun tan.”

There is little time to take a break and he revealed the brick beside the kiln is so hot he can heat his pasty lunch on it in just two minutes.

All of Dave’s work is stoneware, thrown on the wheel and either fired at 1250°C in an electric kiln in the studio or 1290 to 1300°C in his woodfired kiln, making the pots durable and usable in the kitchen.

His glazes are all his own and are very textural, with a cobalt and red iron oxide base. The browney green is almost a ten moku glaze, but with more texture. None of Dave’s work is decorated, as his desire for the simple form is echoed in his striking hare fur glazes. He wants people to appreciate the glaze itself rather than a pattern on the pot.

Throughout his pots the throwing lines are emphasised. This and the handles have become one of Dave’s trademarks.

Watching Dave work and seeing the finished products is certainly inspirational. It is no wonder his pottery courses have become so popular.

In 2017 they did 64 one-day courses and 10 three-day courses over weekends. On the one-day courses 98 per cent had never been on a potter’s wheel before. On the three-day course that was 80 per cent.

With a maximum of seven people in a class, everyone gets hands-on support. The first day (of the weekend course) is making pots on the wheel. Even making a cylinder shape is not that easy, but as a trained production thrower, Dave teaches them all the tricks of the trade.

The second day may involve putting handles on the pots and Raku firing – the ancient Japanese firing process highly prized by the Japanese empire. Dave says it includes “opening the kiln up, which is 10,000°C, putting the pots into a pit of saw dust, which is very visual so there is lots of whooping. If you are not hook line and sinker smitten with it by then you never will be as it’s very visual.

“After four minutes in sawdust we put them in water which fixes the glaze and then students turn into ‘scrubbers’. They scrub away at the pots and you get this amazing iridescent lustre and crackled effects like little jewels. When they are all finished we present them by putting them on Rosie’s steps like a gallery. The sun shines on them and they really sing out.”

Those on the one-day course get to make a few pots and then Dave and his team finish them off. The courses include a fantastic cooked lunch and homemade cake to delight all foodies.

“People absolutely love the courses, even those who have no skill. I could just run courses every day, but I like the balance of teaching and doing it myself. And people come from all walks of life. When we had the ash cloud we even had a couple whose flight was cancelled drive all the way from Sweden. I was so impressed we opened a bottle of bubbles. We have had people come from Romania, Spain and all over Europe as well as from all over the UK.

“We were always a pottery, but started the courses six years ago and with the growing trend for people wanting to experience thingsthemselves we are busier than ever and now sell gift vouchers,” adds Dave.

Dave also runs The Hand Made Basin Company producing high quality hand-thrown ceramic basins and sinks in a variety of styles and finishes. The Single bowl hand basins look great recessed into, or mounted on top of vanity units and washstands.

All are handmade by Dave.

Vinegar Hill Pottery

E: info@vinegarhillpottery.co.uk

T: 01590 642979 or 07881 658727