Nic Collins remains one of the very best wood-firing potters in Britain, a member of a shrinking group of makers who suffer the volatile effects of traditional wood kilns to produce pots with spectacular surfaces and textures. In anticipation of our July 2017 show by Collins, we visited his Devon studio to photograph pots for the exhibition catalogue. Pictured below are some gorgeous images of the work, accompanied by older films of Nic talking about his favourite forms and the thought processes that go into producing them.
These enormous dishes are the largest pots Collins makes, a mammoth, week-long task of forming and firing. Produced as a kind of experiment in playing with flames, they are sat towards the front in the firebox, the hottest and most dangerous location within the kiln, and take four grown men to carry and slide them into position.
large dish from upcoming July 1st exhibition
Encrusted with fumed scallop shells and the remains of pots stacked on top which have sagged, cracked, and collapsed under the intense conditions of the fire, these huge pieces tell an extraordinary story of the wild processes involved in wood firing, as well as its often breathtaking rewards.
One of the smallest forms in Collins' repertoire, these small bottle vases reveal in miniature form the varying effects of his anagama kiln. Nic prefers to stack these pots on their sides to make the most of the fly ash whisked around by draughts in the kiln that then lands on top of the pot and pools in a glaze over its curved sides.
small bottle vase with scallop shell decoration from upcoming July 1st show
Frequently these poolings gather to create beautiful coloured beads of glass ranging from deep emerald greens and sapphire blues to purple and violet, contrasting with the intense orange of applied Shino glazes and the crusts of scorched shells.
Eminently functional, this traditional form has been in use in English pottery for over 500 years. Collins' Devonshire jugs are enlivened with an experimental, modern approach to firing his kiln in which the flame is coaxed around and between pots to create a range of colours, textures and surfaces.
medium Devonshire jug from upcoming July 1st exhibition
Where the flame has hit the belly of a jug and deposited wood ash against it, the surface is often darkened, while the sides sheltered between other pots reveal bright blushes of deep orange on the clay from the kiln's heavily reducing atmosphere. With glazed lips and throats to aid with the pouring of water, their use in the kitchen has been thought through too.
To use his momentum kick wheel most efficiently whilst throwing, Nic will often thrown smaller forms such as these bowls and guinomi 'off the hump', placing a large amount of clay onto the wheel, throwing an individual piece, then cutting it from the lump below and starting again (as demonstrated by master Japanese potter Ken Matsuzaki
Meeth clay bowl with impressed leaf decoration from upcoming July 1st show
This method of throwing not only makes for faster work; more importantly, it allows Collins to develop and contrast the shape of each subsequent bowl, altering slightly the angle of the wall or the depth of the interior to produce a series of forms that are not identical but which compliment and counter each other.
With their long, extended necks, these bottle vase forms are perfect for displaying flowers in the home. Their length lends itself to the changing path of the flame and the movement of ash within the kiln, catching a number of different effects from the fire along its body.
bottle vase from upcoming July 1st exhibition
Wood ash that lands on one side of a bottle and melts around its neck and belly gives the pot a distinct sense of the kiln's motion: when it is stood up, these drips of ash glaze appear to have hit and curled around the pot from the side on. Their shape means they can also fit between pots and kiln shelves in spaces that would go otherwise unoccupied, capturing small-scale, untold stories of their unusual positions within the kiln.
So named because of their resemblance to the gentle curve of a medieval balustrade, Baluster jugs were long used in public houses and inns to carry water between kitchens and ale to customers. Their height meant they could be stored with relative ease and carry large volumes of liquid without fear of spilling.
tall Baluster jug from upcoming July 1st exhibition
In the modern-day context of Collins' anagama kiln, this height offers a very different advantage in catching large amounts of ash from side-stoked embers along the jug's body. A difficult pot to throw, given their length and narrow shape, their proud standing figure marks them out as one of Nic's most elegant forms.