Paul Vincent, Studio Pottery Apr/May 1993

 

Micki Schloessingk is a domestic potter in more than one sense. Her pots are stoneware, mainly table wares, wood-fired in a 27 C ft kiln and salt-glazed. Her formal training was on the notable Harrow Studio Pottery Course from 1970-72. Schloessingk is in fact an excellent example of the type of potter that has emerged from this course over the last twenty-five years, and particularly representative of that period in the early seventies when the course under Mick Casson and Victor Margrie was well-established and enjoyed generous funding. The prime objective of the two-year course (considered by most of its mostly mature students as vocational) was to provide a thorough training and preparation for a career as a self-sufficient professional potter. The means to achieving this was learning to make domestic pottery, mostly wheel-thrown, at considerable speed, and incorporating all the associated skills such as building kilns, and including essential built-in design projects. The staff included Wally Keeler ("teaching kilnbuilding and enthusing about salt-glaze") and Mo Jupp ("a hand-builder with a questioning, quizzical human approach"). Among other visiting teachers with considerably varying approaches to ceramics were Bryan Newman, Danny Killick (subsequently Head of the course), Cohn Pearson and Gwyn Hanssen. An intense energetic atmosphere prevailed.
 
There is, it may be argued, a recognisable Harrow 'look' about work produced by graduates of the course. Shared by many of these ex-students is a commitment to the making of good functional pots - each piece consciously finished to a high craft standard. The pots, in part because of the personality and applied design sense of their individual makers, and in part due to market-place encouragement to evolve visually distinctive work, can usually be readily identified as their makers' own, although they may share with others many strictly functional characteristics. One might contrast this with potters whose training was in a workshop tradition where as apprentices they learnt the particular shapes and techniques belonging to the workshop. The 'Harrow pot' does not have much in common either with the product of most other art school courses. Some courses quite simply look down in disdain at the manufacture of domestic pottery. And for the most part colleges today are inclined to treat ceramics as an expressive medium not related to functional requirements. (The closest parallel to Harrow - in the seventies and early eighties - was the course at Farnham, now part of West Surrey College of Art & Design. Under the late Henry Hammond, however, there the ethos of Leach, Staite Murray and Hamada predominated, resulting in a rather different flavour to the product.) Harrow, with its metropolitan taste, looked apparently to no tradition but instead to the question of how to fulfil the pragmatic demands of function and marketability in such a way as not to restrict the maker's own self-expression.
 
Schloessingk's own pots, influenced by the circumstances of bringing up a family, are modest and understated in their character, at least in relation to the work of some of her contemporaries. In their gentle shapes and calm colouring, in browns, deep salt-glaze blues and bluey-grey, they are well designed for table use, both from the visual aspect and in their handling - important attributes both. Although in size and form they do not dominate a gallery plinth, their relative unassumingness is a good reason to seek them out. In the domestic context they are far from unnoticeable.Born in 1949 of a German father and Irish mother, Schloessingk first became interested in pots - cheap functional vessels - while travelling in India in the late t960s. She has at different times worked at potterics in Ireland, France and Spain. During the Harrow course, she spent a vacation working at Gwyn Hanssen's workshop at La Borne (the pottery village near Bourges in central France). For ten years she worked under the name of Michelle Doherty at Bentham, North Yorkshire.
 
In 1976 her first son was born. Against this date her printed CV reads "combine potting with mothering." Visiting her home in the scenic Gower penninsula outside Swansea--an old house, with workshop adjoining and over-looking a walled garden--the combination of potting with family life seems, in Schloessingk's case, to be as benefacial for the family and Schloessingk herself, as it is for the pots. While many people may practise pottery as a professional career, or alternatively as a hobby, in either case distinct from the other activities of life, Schloessingk's achievement, not without considerable searching, is to integrate the different strands. Given the excellent training which provided the clay-handling skills and, perhaps even more crucially, mastery over construction and firing of kilns, other domestic potters might usefully adopt her sensitive approach.