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Alan Birchall

As a child I was fascinated by watching the BBC intermission film of a potter throwing on a wheel. This may have been when the seeds leading me to become a potter were sown. Following evening classes in my early twenties I became a great lover of ceramics and avidly collected until by my early 50’s the urge to make pots became irresistible. I retired early from being a GP in order to learn the art of pottery studying for City & Guilds and University diplomas in ceramics and attending workshops with renowned British and Japanese potters.

Excited and inspired by Japanese ceramics and by the natural world, especially geological formations and the colour and form of primitive plants, my own distinctive style gradually developed.

I make individual functional and decorative stoneware pieces by combining throwing and hand-building to create pots that reflect both Oriental styles and the natural origins of the materials I use. My work is carved, incised or rouletted to achieve surface effects which are enhanced by glaze pooling.

Coloured slips create a warm base layer for my own wood ash glazes and firing to approx 1280°C with a naked flame from gas or wood ensures an endless variety in the finished surfaces. Various wood species are used to create the glazes including apple, oak, sycamore, cedar and hawthorn. I love the wonderful effects natural ash and the raw flame can produce. The resulting pots have a rustic appearance and a tactile quality begging to be handled and used.

At the moment I am focussing on making tea bowls, slab-built dishes and wedding cogs. The cogs have become my signature pieces.

Tea bowls are made either on a wheel, or as I prefer, by the rather primitive method of pinching a ball of clay into a cup and then scraping and carving using wooden ribs and metal scrapers, so creating a form that nestles nicely in the hands.

My slabbed dishes are made by cutting pieces of rolled out clay using preformed wooden templates. These are then carefully joined using semi-liquid clay slip and thin rolls of soft clay. Patterns are applied to the various panels by impressing scallop shells into the semi hard clay. The edges are then upturned at the corners to create an oriental effect.

My Wedding cogs are ceramic cups inspired by the Orkney wedding feast drinking vessels known as wedding or bride’s cogs. Traditionally they are hand-crafted from wood, with upright handles allowing the bride and the groom to carry the cog from guest to guest. Wedding cogs were originally presented to the best man, the priest and the bride. After the wedding breakfast the bride's cog was filled with an alcoholic mix usually consisting of gin, brandy, whiskey and warm ale together with eggs and pepper. The bride was the first to drink from the cog before it was passed to her new husband and then taken  repeatedly round all the guests. There were few clear heads the following day!
My cogs are made by throwing a cup form and then hand-building upright supports for handles  that are made from clay strips or carved from apple, oak, ash or rose wood.

I presented the first cog I made to my daughter at her wedding and I now make a number of different styles but each one is individual and has its own distinctive features so it becomes more personal. They make unusual and unique wedding and anniversary presents.

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"So long, and thanks for all the fish"

After very many years of craft&design we've decided that we'd like to retire and so in 7 days we will close the craft&design website, including craft&design Online and the craft&design Selected Makers and Craft and Design Month websites. We've had a brilliant 35 years and would like to thank all our readers, advertisers, writers, contributors and website visitors for their support throughout that time. Our very best wishes to you all for the future - Angie and Paul.