Peak District-based ceramic artist Rosalind Smith
PUBLISHED: 09:00 13 June 2014
Janet Reeder meets Rosalind Smith who has embraced a new and rewarding career as a ceramic artist
Many people dream of a change of career in mid-life but few get the chance to make it a reality. However the same can’t be said for Peak District-based Rosalind Smith who is carving out a career as one of the most exciting art potters in the UK.
Former model Ros has swapped the catwalk for the potter’s wheel after what can only be described as a fateful encounter with one of the most elusive and respected ceramicists working today Geoff Fuller – and it all happened by accident just a few years ago.
‘Pottery was something I had never even thought about I suppose,’ admits Ros who lives with husband Paddy in a stunning 18th century farm in Peak Forest. ‘I started taking it seriously when I saw Geoff’s pots. He and his wife Pat have a pub called the Three Stags’ Heads in Wardlow Mires with their studio attached to it and that’s where I first saw his work.
‘I was so smitten by it that they asked if I fancied having a go. On reflection they are quite open to people they take a liking to going into their pottery but at the time it was a private side of their life I didn’t want to invade. They asked three or four times and I finally plucked up the courage to say yes.
‘And I remember it well. I was quite nervous because I didn’t really know what to expect. I sort of crept in, made coffees and watched and then Pat put me on her momentum wheel and with a little bit of her help I did throw a cylinder, which I still have now as my utensil jar at home.’
From that moment on, Ros was hooked. She discovered a talent she never knew she had. After school she had ‘drifted into catering college’ and adored cooking, which she says is a kind of art. Once her children were a little older, Ros retrained as a chiropodist and ran her own private clinic for 15 years. A horse riding accident led to early retirement, but with time on her hands Ros was itching for a new career. ‘Working with clay has become both an obsession and a passion,’ she says.
‘And having somebody like Geoff to guide and mentor me is like a budding golfer having Tiger Woods by your side. I am so privileged and so lucky.
‘I suppose it happened very quickly from then on. I spent a few afternoons with Geoff just watching him work and then one day I went in and Geoff said “Come over here”. He gave me a board and a lump of clay. I’d no idea what were going to do but Pat sat down and watched and said, “Oh – I think he’s going to show you how to make a whippet” which he did. He just stuck a pencil into a piece of clay and said “open it out” – at first I wondered what he was talking about but I followed him and kept up with him for the whole exercise which took about 20 minutes (it was about keeping up really).
I was both surprised and pleased with the result but couldn’t help fiddling with the finished work. In the end Geoff just picked up the board in front of me and walked out of the room and that was his lesson to me – leave it.’
‘I hear potters citing many sources for their inspiration and I know a lot of them are inspired by their environment. I feel very lucky to have all this around me and work where I do, but I just love early English Earthenware because, let’s face it, few of us are ever going to own any early pieces because most are in museums but their beauty and simplicity is still relevant today. I like the results I get from using those traditional basic techniques, slips and glazes. Simple shapes and earthy colours are an important part of my work but whether that comes from the landscape or not, I’m not sure.’
Nor does Ros she wish she had started earlier in life – before boarding school in Africa, children, two marriages and a whole load of adventures.
‘I am glad I didn’t go to art college – my relationship with Geoff has allowed me to concentrate on the work I want to create, without any distractions. It certainly hasn’t been a traditional education but Geoff is a fantastic teacher, and even though Geoff’s work is naive, he still strives for perfection.
‘I’ll ask him a question and he won’t say anything but some time later he will come in with a book for me to borrow, or show me a piece from his collection of pots. If I look hard enough I can usually find the answer to my question.
‘Creating one of my figurative pieces is a really time consuming process, and that is why I think very few potters are prepared to create work the way I do. Every piece of my art is different and can take many weeks to complete – cracks and damage during making or firing happen frequently, but I think this fragility during the making process adds greatly to their beauty and value as art.’
‘Someone once asked me if I’d ever had any life changing experiences. I told him, “I’ve been having life changing experiences ever since I was tiny.”’