John Rivers is a potter, he has built his own gas kiln and digs his own clay locally. John pots to show and sell, alongside Pat he runs weekend pottery courses.
John was an English teacher for decades. Gradually he has taught himself to pot through trials and many errors until now he sells widely through his own shows, at The Edinburgh Festival every summer, and at high profile events such as ‘COUNTRY LIVING’ or the Scottish POTFEST.
He gets his own clay from an opencast site, where it has lain undisturbed for 300 million years under a coal-seam, to emerge into the light compressed and rocklike. A year later it softens so he can clean and refine it into a primary stoneware firing to cone 9/10.
He has used an electric kiln over the years but in 1998 built a natural gas kiln from reclaimed bricks, burners and bits, with a ceramic fibre door. It’s no architectural beauty but it works: 12 cubic feet of working chamber for about £750.
“I struggled to find anyone to ask about atmospheres, flame-paths and firing cycles and so on,” he says, “I’ll be delighted to talk to any intending builders so others can in turn grapple with the processes. What I love about potting is the balance between heavy-duty labouring, theorising, craftsmanship, hands-on experiment, and creativity: doing the whole process from digging the raw mud to selling the finished pieces.”
Of course no-one is wholly self-taught and everyone is partly self-taught. After many years of working alone, John went on a residential course with master-potter David Frith where a great many malpractices were ironed out and new insights gained, so he knows how exciting the learning process can be. And through David he met one of pottery’s ‘eminences gris’ – the late Derek Emms – who was also very generous with time and tips.