Friday 18 October 2013

Walter Keeler

Walter Keeler at the Ashmolean, part of the Clay Live series of events.

A lecture, a demonstration and a visit to Keeler's exhibition at the Oxford Ceramics Gallery.

The lecture:

Walter Keeler talked about his interest in pottery that started very early on when he was a boy and would go to the Thames and dig in the mud excavating bits of pottery. When he went to art college they had to do craft on Fridays and he chose pottery. Bernard Leach's 'A Potter's Book' became a favourite, not for the pots which he did not like, as he felt that Leach had a narrow view of pottery, but because of the process outlined in the book.  Hans Coper and Lucie Rie were influences as was Mediterranean pottery.

He was very pleased with the cubist cruet set he made for his first assessment, but the examiner was a 'Leach man', who failed him. He had to repeat that year.

He started working with salt glaze in the 1970s, making 'strange one-off pieces' and then decided to make pots that people could use. The handles of his pots of that period are reminiscent of  Mediterranean amphorae. Just as he was about to abandon pottery, as he was not making a living out of it, he had his major breakthrough when he got a scholarship of £5,000 from the Arts Council, and this resulted in an increase in confidence and his work started selling.

Two main concerns throughout his career: the relationship between forms and bringing sculptural considerations into functional pots.  'It's important for objects to have a life'.

'I find it quite a wrench to separate the design from the making'.

'Skill isn't just skill, it opens up possibilities for the mind'.

'I want these pots to be acts of nature, not a product of fumbling hands'.

'If the pots couldn't be used, I wouldn't be making them'.

'People are increasingly detached from materials and the process of making things which is sad because it's such a vital part of communicating - materials speak to us'.

The demonstration:

Starting with an extruded piece

working on the spout

adding the bottom part of the jug

the 'posture' has to be right


not too upright

the handle is now on

elegant and stylish.

After glazing and firing, as seen in the Gallery.

Second demonstration. Starting with an extursion again,

adding the spout which has been press-moulded. (By the way, Walter Keeler does not score)

The handle's been added. Using slurry, but no scoring

Isn't this elegant? Stylish? Minimalist? Absolutely gorgeous?

And then something unexpected happened. I wanted to stand up and shout 'stop, stop right here!

More and more 'branches' were added and the jug lost the simplicity, the clean lines that made it so gorgeous. And I stopped taking photographs - it was too painful.

But then, this is just my opinion. I love Walter Keeler's work, but this new work that is full of branches and thorns is not to my liking at all. In fact, I avoided photographing any of the latest work that was on display at the exhibition.

The exhibition:

at the Oxford Ceramics Gallery

Bowl with extrusions - salt glaze



cream jugs

Cylindrical jug - salt ware

Lathe turned cream jug

Offset-lid teapot - salt glaze

Pill-box tea pot - salt glaze

Cut-rim dish - salt glaze

Fruit teapot - earthenware

Pseudo-engine turned jug


Platform server - salt glaze

Fruit box - earthenware

Pseudo engine turned teapot

Yellow teapot - earthenware

Super charger - salt glaze

Jugs - salt glaze

Inkwash teapot


  1. I want to own the yellow teapot! It was a great day.

    1. It was a great day indeed! I enjoyed it enormously.

      I want to own one of the jugs from the first demonstration - I just love them. The second demonstration one would do as well, minus branches, of course. I also like the pill-box teapot.

  2. Oh I am so in agreement with you about the extra arms! I love the elegant lines of the jugs, those tall ones as well as the broad based ones, the simple understated forms of the dishes like the cut rim one, .... I do not have any Walter Keeler, but I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a Steve Harrison salt glaze jug at the Chelsea Craft Fair years ago. Not sculptural like Walter Keeler, but honestly simple. The glaze had come out the wrong colour - a slightly turquoise-y blue - which was the right colour for me!

    1. The jug in question had a thorn growing on the side of the spout! All of his latest work has all these branches growing in the most unlikely places. Odd. I don't understand it - the majority of his work is so simple, so beautiful.

      I looked up Steve Harrison - some lovely stuff. Lucky you.