The Compton Potters' Arts Guild Revival Project

Like Mary Watts, we work to make things of use with terracotta, satisfyingly made with our hands. A sheet of terracotta clay is pressed into a plaster mould, allowing the clay to take on the mould's shape. The clay is then attached to another piece of moulded clay to form the finished pot.

Art for All Community Learning Programme participants from the Compton Potters' Arts Guild Revival Project

Every Thursday evening, Mary Watts invited the people of Compton into her studio to take part in clay-modelling workshops. Inspired by the ideals of the Home Arts and Industries Association, and encouraged by her participants, this social enterprise developed into a village-industry known as the Compton Potters' Arts Guild. Mary wrote, 'Our aim … is to keep the people in their village homes and to give them profitable and beautiful work.'

While all Art for All Community Learning Programme groups take part in the Compton Potters' Arts Guild Revival Project, this year the two lead pottery groups have been the Syrian Refugees and Opportunities. Both groups have been inspired by the methods and ideas of Mary Watts, learning the same processes that the Compton potters used for their terracotta ceramic ware.

Students of the Compton Potters' Arts Guild Revival Project have engaged in the making of domestic terracotta dining ware, with much the same enthusiasm as the original residents of Compton under Mary Watts's tutelage. The craft of moulding clay to shape platters, saucers and drinking vessels is part of the rich heritage of traditional English pottery, which Mary Watts championed.

To train the eyes and fingers of its pupils, thereby not only adding to their resources and powers of employment, but increasing their value as workmen, and making them more fit to earn a livelihood in whatever occupation they may adopt.

Mary Watts on the aims of the Rural Organisation Council which influenced the Compton Potters' Arts Guild, 1917

…I luckily met Mr Ricardo & had a delightful talk with him – about our clay. In an instant he told me that the white clay was too brittle for our large pieces of work. He says that we are working on the right lines, using terra cotta with freedom, as a grand material for strong good work, not for the fanciful delicate artistic work.

Mary Watts, diary entry, Tuesday 17 May, 1898

Students of the project have succeeded in making a captivating range of pottery by using new skills and techniques practised and built upon during weekly making sessions. It has been a pleasure to engage with people from the community who show an aptitude for ceramics, and I hope the achievements made during this project will aid participants across new aspects of their daily activities. Well done everybody!

Josh Schoeman, Pottery Tutor