Dec 14 2015
Sheffield artist Penny Withers talks about her work, creative processes and selling in this year’s Handmade for Christmas showcase at the Millennium Gallery:
The Millennium Gallery has opened its doors on an annual showcase of handmade artefacts; a solution hopefully, to those hunting down very personal Christmas gifts. It is the time of year when Museums Sheffield’s Craft and Design gallery is transformed into Handmade for Christmas, selling the very best in handmade contemporary British craft and design. The result is that a wider variety of affordable artists’ work is shown to a wider audience who may not otherwise visit galleries. Museums Sheffield actively supports local artists and makers and as Sheffield has such a lively arts scene many of the exhibition labels pronounce, ‘Made in Sheffield’ or ‘Made in Yorkshire’. In fact a lot of the work comes from around the country, keeping standards on a national level. Makers are carefully selected for their quality of design and manufacture.
I am a potter and studio holder at Yorkshire Artspace/Persistence Works. I already show selections of my work at The Cupola Gallery, Middlewood Road and All Good Stuff on Arundle Street.
My initial contact with Museums Sheffield was in April, when I submitted digital images of proposed pieces by email. With the reply came an attached letter of confirmation listing the items they had selected and a contract to be signed. At the end of August there came a reminder to submit a final list of exhibits and a delivery date in October. Eventually I took my boxed up pots into the sorting room where a team of staff were carefully unwrapping, cataloguing and labelling the hundreds of craft items.
Everything I make is thrown on a potter’s wheel. It is a great joy and the crux of my motivation. It is meditation. It is personal unity with primal forces and materials. The firing process also is an elemental manipulation. I use stoneware and porcelain clays and take them up to the highest temperatures that I dare, holding them at top temperatures so that the minerals in the glazes melt and flow together as though they were at the heart of a volcano. Of course this has a harrowing effect on the kiln, which can become temperamental but usually rises to the challenge.
At Handmade this year I am selling two versions of my Landscape pots – Mist Pocket and Blue Mountain vases. I also have some candlesticks in crackle glaze that I have been developing, with lotus bowls that can sit on the top. There are also some porcelain mugs based on the shape of the historic M1 cooling towers.
Handmade for Christmas runs from 31st October to 11th January 2016. It includes work from 104 makers. Each one has supplied a limited quantity of each design. Which will be the most popular we can only guess but be assured that they will sell out quickly.
Top: Throwing hands. Image © Nigel Barker
Bottom: Artist Penny Withers. Image © Andrew Heath