Creating Pots in Poitou Charentes

Tel & Katie TurnbullLike many people, Katie and Tel Turnbull moved to France for a better quality of life and to fulfil their dreams. Tel, a potter and sculptor, wanted to create his own pottery and Katie planned on growing their produce. They found a property in Vasles, Deux-Sevres, which met all their requirements, and moved across La Manche in May 2007. It was only by chance, when they were at the Notaire’s office to sign the Compromis de Vente that they learnt the history of their new home. The great grandfather of the ownerhad been a potter on the same site 200 years ago, and he used the clay from the bottom of their lake in his trade, which Tel is now doing.

Tel was born in the industrial Midlands and some of his first recollections were of the smoking bottle kilns – sadly they took the dinosaur route to extinction.

Tel Turnbull at workHe explains how his training as a potter began. ‘My training began officially in Rye, Sussex, where I apprenticed from the depths of frozen glazes to the blistering heat of electric trolley kilns. Those days working alongside craftsmen potters were instrumental in shaping my future, absorbing years of expertise without realizing it.’

His tutor and mentor was world famous potter Yan Masied, who took Tel on a journey from the mass production of the commercial pottery to the fledgling throwing at night and so the magic of the wheel was conjured for him.

Some years later Tel moved to Wendfordbridge, Cornwall, where Seth Cardew, son of yet another famous potter Michael Cardew, expanded his  horizons. He continues the story. ‘It was here that I was introduced to the mysteries of wood firing in a kiln not dissimilar to those of my youth. Once bitten, ‘pyromania’ becomes part of your life! The primeval spell of clay, wood and fire echoes down the years and captures potters young and old.

Great potters, such as my friend Nick Collins, take their firings to extraordinary limits, two, three and four-day firings are common. Colours and textures deriving from tons of fly ash and the scorching flames are my inspiration.’

Angama kilnAngama kiln & Tel

Verrinette is now Tel’s home, where he has built a Japanese Angama cave kiln, which is wood-fired and therefore uses sustainable fuel. This type of kiln produces heavily ‘ashed’ pots, and consumes 1 ton of wood every 2 hours.

An Angama kiln takes anything from 24-80 hours or more to fire, lasts a minimum of 12 hours and, once the kiln has cooled and is opened, the effects of burning 6 tons of wood at temperatures reaching 1320 degrees centigrade are revealed! Tel plans on doing 4 firings a year.

All types of ash are used in glazes ranging from oak, rose and chestnut, each giving their own individual colour, and the high temperatures cause blistering and bloating effects.

The couple plan on creating a pottery community at Verrinette. Tel is happy to share his pottery skills in teaching people of all ages and abilities, and visitors have the choice of staying in the farmhouse, their Mongolian yurt, which can sleep 8 adults, or they can bring their own tents. There is basic eco-type
toilets, showers and washing facilities, and BBQ and pizzas from their bread/pizza oven.

Tel Turnbull - potTel says ‘I believe clay offers itself to create the body, and the wood gives its energy to create the fire, the potter being the privileged intermediary who owes respect to his medium. I see this more as a sharing of ideas,information and expertise, rather than straight teaching. The emphasis is on the individual to self-explore as a maker, in a truly magical setting. An opportunity for both mind and body to experience the inner peace and tranquillity creating with clay can offer.’

If you would like to find out more about the Angama kiln and Tel’s pottery, tel 0033 (0)5 49 69 27 47 email [email protected]

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