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Peak District Artisans - Thomas Petit, Rachel Evans and Kathryn Watson

PUBLISHED: 00:00 01 November 2019

Thomas Petit trailing on the colour

Thomas Petit trailing on the colour

© Ian Daisley

Three members of Peak District Artisans reveal some of the painstaking work that goes on behind the scenes to create beautiful pieces for the Winter Artisan Fair on 9th-10th November at the Whitworth Centre, Darley Dale

Thomas Petit at workThomas Petit at work

Thomas Petit

Thomas creates elegant glass vessels - bottles and vases - in his studio in Lumsdale near Matlock. His process begins by gathering clear molten glass from a furnace onto a blowing iron and rolling it in a series of crushed glass powdered colours. This is then reheated in a cabinet called a 'gloryhole' so that the colours melt onto the surface. Further applications of colour involve trailing coloured gathers of glass onto the main piece. Thomas applies bands of colour in this way to create his land and seascapes. Once all the colour is applied, the making process begins. The glass has a short working life so needs to be reheated frequently in the gloryhole.

The glass is shaped and centred by rolling the blowing iron up and down the bench while a wet paper pad is pressed against the glass. Various metal and wooden tools are used to cut in the neck or flatten the sides. Once Thomas is happy with the shape, he transfers the piece to a 'punty iron' which is attached to the opposite end. The neck can now be filed off and the blowing iron detached. This whole process can take between 40 and 80 minutes depending on size and intricacy.

Working the glassWorking the glass

Finally the piece is chipped off the punty iron and placed in an annealing oven, which will cool it down very slowly overnight to remove all the stresses.

Once the pieces are cold, a selection of grinding wheels is used to flatten the base or grind down stoppers. The work is then taken to a sandblasting cabinet to create the final matt surface that is typical of much of Thomas's work.

Thomas is inspired by land and seascapes and his most recent range - Sea Shore, is influenced by his childhood walks over the South Downs, along estuaries and across the pebbled beaches of East Sussex.

Rachel making a basket in her workshop, surrounded by her raw materialsRachel making a basket in her workshop, surrounded by her raw materials

Rachel Evans

Rachel of Wheatcroftwillow makes both traditional and contemporary willow baskets, vessels and sculptures. She specialises in robust, functional work, using British grown willow and incorporating her own Staffordshire-grown willow to introduce colour and texture to her vessels.

Examples of Rachels baskets showing a Welsh Cyntell shopping basket and a pod sculptureExamples of Rachels baskets showing a Welsh Cyntell shopping basket and a pod sculpture

The willow is cut and gathered in the winter when the leaves have fallen, and then bundled and left to dry. When Rachel is planning a new piece, she carefully estimates how much willow she'll need, then soaks the willow (in an old cattle trough) for 1-4 weeks. The soaked willow is then wrapped in a blanket to 'mellow' - essentially, soften-up ready for weaving. Each product requires a specific approach, from using a made-to-measure 'form' for some baskets, to working more spontaneously with the character of the willow in free-form sculptures. The pattern of weaving employed also varies from piece to piece, some using traditional methods established over hundreds of years.

It gives Rachel great pleasure to see her baskets being used and lasting long enough to pass on to future generations. Each decade of use will add a patina from handling, stains from the contents and slight bumps and bashes to add to the story. This is echoed by a sideline to her work in repairing older baskets, sharing and learning techniques from historical basketmakers, now passed, by deconstructing and reconstructing the work. Recently she has added coffins to her order books, making beautiful, natural coloured, flowing shapes that families can personalise and even help to weave.

What started as a hobby in 1995, became her career in 2005, and in 2010 she was awarded a training bursary from the Basketmakers Association and undertook an apprenticeship in traditional making in Norfolk with Adrian Charlton. She has since been awarded a further bursary from the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers to study the Welsh Cyntell, a frame basket once common in Wales and used for agriculture and in the home.

Scraping the clay to define the form. This will become the base for a new Tor pieceScraping the clay to define the form. This will become the base for a new Tor piece

Her clients have included the National Trust, the Wildlife Trust and she has made a basket that was presented to HM The Queen. In 2013 she assisted Spencer Jenkins and several other willow artists to produce six huge willow arches for installation at Windsor Castle.

Kathryn Watson

Urn III  red, white and black stonewareUrn III  red, white and black stoneware

Kathryn has been making sculptural ceramics for both indoor and outdoor spaces from her Sheffield studio since 2012. All her work is hand built, using coils or slabs of clay. She intuitively responds to the clay as it spirals and twists to create unique organic forms. She especially enjoys working with soft, malleable clay that can be moulded and allowed to distort from the intended form. As the clay dries it is carved, scraped and sometimes burnished.

Kathryn uses white, red and black stoneware clay, which is rarely glazed and sometimes combined in one piece. The process begins with an image in mind and a small maquette is made. This is then enlarged and its form can alter as the clay dictates what is possible.

The ceramic artworks work alone but are often grouped together where they complement and contrast with each other. Larger pieces are often made of small components that can be arranged in various ways on a metal rod.

Structures of both the man-made and natural world are referenced in her work. City centre architecture, prehistoric carvings, millstones and rock formations on the edges of the Peak District and the flora and fauna of her garden all inspire.

You can meet Thomas, Rachel and Kathryn along with around 20 other artists and makers at the Peak District Artisan Winter Fair, 9th and 10th November at the Whitworth Centre, Darley Dale DE4 2EQ. With ample parking (small charge), the show will be open 10am-4pm on both days.

For the artists' details see thomaspetitglass.com; wheatcroftwillow.co.uk; kathrynwatson.co.uk.

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