My History

My background and education is a big part of who i am and how i work. As i get older and reflect on the influences in my work i have to acknowledge the opportunities i have had. This section will include images of pots by artists i have met along the way as they will all have had some kind of influence on me – good and bad.

I was born in 1964 in London and moved to Tewin Wood, Welwyn Garden City as a young child before moving north a few years later to Leek in Staffordshire which was where my father was from. Both my parents are artists and retired Art Lecturers. I was brought up surrounded by art and really knew no different. Friends found it odd coming to my parents house because of all the work everywhere and i found it equally hard to see other people living in spaces with nothing on the walls! Now it is my house that is full of art! My father was a furniture designer and maker and a graduate of the Royal College of Art.

John Owen – Origional design for relief wood carving

I was always had the greatest respect for my father and his work even though he has always been very modest about his work and achievements. One of my wifes favourite buildings is Coventry Cathedral and my Father was part of Sir Basil Spence‘s team who designed and built some of the furniture in the Cathedral. He also worked as a designer for ICI before moving into teaching at Leek School of Art and becoming Principal for a while.

John Owen – carved fruit

My mother taught life drawing and sculpture and i have to say i have never met anyone as good as she was (but perhaps i am biased!). From an early age i remember going with my dad when he took his work to Galleries and was always able to see the best work around. One of his regular visits was to see Gill Wyatt-Smith at the Yew Tree Gallery which has now re-located to Cornwall. Here i bought a pot by Robin Welch which is still one of my prize possessions.  It was an early thrown peice where he used a very rough clay with holes broken through it. Very different to the way i was being taught how to throw on my Saturday morning class!

Brenda Owen

As a student my mother also studied ceramics and was a friend (and still is!) of John Maltby while at college in  Leicester so i presume this is where my love of ceramics came from.

While at school i thought of nothing other than art and saw no other future. Perhaps this was not the best idea as my other subjects did suffer a bit!

Crispin Owen

Leek School of Art – Class of ’82

Crispin Owen

My time studying my foundation at Leek School of Art let me really discover what subject i really wanted to do. At the time Art Schools really did let you try all areas including ceramics. One of our ceramics tutors was the potter Robin Hansell who had his own pottery near Macclesfield. I also took extra evening classes at the  Newcastle-under-Lyme College with Claire Heath a friend of the family and very enthusiastic tutor! This is where i felt i was starting to find some freedom and individuality with my work.

Leek School of Art

My first love was always sculpture but i wanted to study a subject where i could learn some skills! I initially wanted to do Glassmaking (after buying a blown tulip goblet by George Elliot) but the more i worked with clay the more i was drawn to ceramics.

West Surrey College of Art and Design in 1982

Farnham kiln site

I chose to study 3D Design at Farnham (West Surrey College of Art and Design) because i had the opportunity to do glass and metals as well as ceramics and started the course in 1982. The Head of 3D Design was James Kirkwood and it also had an important history with ceramics under Henry Hammond and Paul Barron.

Duncan Ross

Sebastian Blackie

Crispin Owen

Although i enjoyed my first experience of working with Glass i felt that it would be a difficult discipline to continue with after leaving my Degree. It was still a worthwhile experience studying under Ray Flavel and Stephen Proctor. I also enjoyed working with metals especially fine metals and remember Ian Dumelow trying to persuade me to transfer into the Metals department. Looking back now on my time at Farnham we were spoilt by the wealth of staff we had working with us. In terms of permanent staff we had Sebastian Blackie, Gemma Bontempo, Gary Standidge, Paul Barron and our Chief Technician was Duncan Ross. We all new that we were privileged to be there and that we had to make the best use of the opportunity we had been given. We had Takashi Yasuda for throwing,

John Maltby

John Maltby for slip decoration, Peter Starky for salt glazing, Magdelane Onduno, John Ablitt

John Ablitt

and

Siddig el Nigoumi

Siddig El Nigoumi for burnishing ( a very talented and modest man).  What it did give us all was a sound understanding of ceramics in all its forms. For our ceramic theory lectures we had Nigel Wood who i believe is now a Professor at Westminster College and a fellow of the RCA. I vividly remember talking to a student when i started who advised me that whatever you do you should not miss any of Nigel’s lectures or you would miss something really important!. At Farnham there was also an experimental outside kiln site with all manner of kilns  of various designs- good and bad!

Hand made bricks- Farnham kiln site

This had the advantage of being directly on a seam of clay which meant we could dig the clay, make our own bricks and with these build and fire our own kilns. Because of the clay the area around Farnham had a history of pottery and the most important was the Farnham Pottery based in Wrecclesham. The extruded bricks that were used to build the pottery were made and fired on site

Crispin Owen

Richard Launder

I was also lucky enough to have an exchange with a student from Norway and so studied ceramics at the Kunsthandverkschole in Bergen (now the Bergen National Academy of Art) as well as visiting Oslo.  At this time Rick Launder was a visiting professor in Norway as well as teaching kiln building skills at Farnham. We were also able to have a short stay in Amsterdam organised and led by a Dutch ex-student. We visited the Ceramics collections at the Gemeentelijk Museum het Princessehof in Leeuwarden. We also had a tour of the De Porceleyne Fles (The Porcelain Jar) in Delft which is one of the Netherlands most famous Delftware factory’s.

Also potters who were students while i was there included Rupert Spira, Peter Ting and Mohamed Hamid who worked with Alan Caiger-Smith for a number of years. Peter Ting also became a professor at Uclan when i worked there later on.

Crispin Owen

Cumbria College of Art & Design

My time after finishing my Degree was spent at Cumbria College of Art and Design as Ceramic Technician and later as Resource Manager. The HND pottery course at the time was set up and run by Mike Dodd and Jim Malone. In a way what this taught me was in some ways how little i knew! The type of pottery being taught was very alien to the way i worked but the years of watching and listening to Jim had a big influence on me. Now i find that when i turn pots it is Jim who i seem to copy. The course was primarily studio pottery and the students were taught throwing skills and an understanding of their materials. I soon learned how to wash ash to make glazes when Jim would bring in bins full of the remains of farmers fires (after hedge layering). The students would also use granite dust collected from the beams of quarries in Shap, Cumbria. We also fired a number of outside kilns including a japanese climbing kiln. At this time we had some very important potters as visiting lecturers such as William Marshall (who worked with Bernard Leach) and Jason Shackleton (who turned up in an old-fashioned London black cab!). We also had John Maltby David Frith and later Paul Scott and Christine Constant

Jim Malone

William Marshall

Gary Wood

Russel Gibbs

The course became less of a studio pottery course after Jim and Mike left as there were fewer students choosing this direction of work and the course developed its slipcasting provision under Steve Ogden. There are still potters working who were taught at this period such as Gary Wood and Russel Gibbs who also both worked as production throwers at Wetheriggs Pottery near Penrith Cumbria. This was at the time when Pete Strong took over the pottery. Previously Pete had operated from the Soil Hill Pottery which had belonged to Issac Button. I can clearly remember seeing Pete demonstrate how to make a large one-piece strawberry jar (i think) which he took off the wheel by sealing the top with a bat and supporting the front of the pot with a cows rib balanced on his arms. This is the same technique used by Issac Button which can be seen in the film about Soil Hill Pottery.

Crispin Owen

Throughout this time i was still able to continue making and developing my ideas.

Crispin Owen

A mixture of my hand-built work as well as thrown ware such as vases and bowls. I also managed to make a range of plantpots and wall pots as well as a Ceramic bowl for a wooden font in a church in Manchester. I also managed to complete my teacher training certificate while in Carlisle teaching part-time on the Design Crafts course as well as some adult education classes in the evenings. The other good thing to come out of my time in Carlisle was meeting and marrying my wife Katharine who is a textile artist and now works at Uclan.

Moving down to Preston to work as a Principal Technician at Uclan did put a stop to my own ceramic work unfortunately. A mixture of work commitments and a young family left time at a premium. Now that my family is growing up i feel that the time is right to start my own work again which has led me to undertaking my MA – no more excuses!

To bring this up to date i have now completed by Masters and passed with Distinction which was pleasing after all the work i put into it. The really important thing was to start making again and to regain the passion for the material. There are a few exhibitions lined up so there are plenty of reasons to continue to design and make.

The opportunity to change job and live closer to family has now meant that I am living and working in Derby. I am now University Technical Manager at the University of Derby managing staff who cover all areas of Art & Design, Engineering, Performance and Media. This has meant putting my work on hold again as I will have to establish a new pottery in Derby. This may take some time but I hope to be making again in the new year!

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Crispin Owen

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Crispin Owen

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11 Responses to My History

  1. Ayeisha says:

    very interessting list of influences andnice to read a bit of your history!

  2. Hi there Crispin, I came across this article as I was wondering what had happened to my old art teachers from Macclesfield, Robin and Jane Hansell! How lovely to find someone else who has fond memories! Robin and Jane were both very kind to me whilst I was at Macclesfield and without their help I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to attend college (which I did in 92-94). We all had some great times as I remember, especially the very smoky raku kiln sessions in the back yard. I turned out some real monstrosities but had a lot of fun in the process!!
    Your ceramic pieces are beautiful, by the way.
    Kind regards
    Joey

  3. Oh my God!!!!! Crispin Owen! I was trying to find the pottery teacher Robin from my Saturday morning classes at Leek when I came across your blog. Your blog is so well written. Robin and both of your parents taught me more than any other teachers I ever had. How are they? How are you doing? I don’t even know if you remember me Jane d’Albert. I think I was the class behind you at Leek. I’m in America now being a painter. Please send my very best regards to your parents, we all loved them so.

    • Hi Jane

      Thank you for your comments which i have passed on to my Dad. Unfortunately we lost my Mum in February which has been really difficult but knowing she made a difference to so many peoples lives helps a great deal.
      The last we heard Robin was in Ireland and we assume he is still there.

      Hope things are good for you in America, best wishes
      Crispin

      • I’m so sorry to hear about your Mum. She treated us all like her own kids and we always wondered how you (her own kids) felt about that. She had such a big heart for everyone. With all the love and mothering she gave I know she is in a good place now. Don’t think of her as gone, she is just in a different place. You will still feel her influence, so don’t forget to talk to her still, it does not matter if the world thinks your crazy if you do so.

        Does your Dad still make those wonderful carved art Deco mirrors? Does he have a website? I’d love to buy one of his carved pieces. My parents gave me money for my 50th birthday which is sitting in my Scottish bank account and I can’t think of anything that would be more meaningful as one of your Dad’s pieces. I remember once being taken to your house to see a huge rocking horse he had just completed. It was incredible and magical! I’ll be in Scotland visiting my folks this summer from July 11th until 31st so if he has any art, it can be mailed to my parents home in Scotland.

        One thing your Dad did for me that shows what a wonderful perceptive teacher he is and something that I have never forgot, is that he allowed me to take “O Level Design” without me even knowing I was taking an exam. I suffer from debilitating test anxiety, so what your Dad did was ask if I would help him try out an exam paper he was writing for the examination board. This test run had to be done under strict examination conditions and he asked if I was up for that, as I would be the only one he was asking to do this. I was more than happy to help out and felt very honored to be asked. So he made the rest of the students in his sculpture class go to other departments and he had me do the test. Needless to say as this was not a “real test”, I got an “A” and a lot of newly found self confidence as well. So please remind him of this and tell him what a difference he made in my life. Your parents were quite a team.

      • Jane

        Thank you for your thoughts, i always knew how important they were in helping to encourage students but i still think John is not fully aware of the influence they had. They are still in contact with students they taught before you and i were there which speaks for itself. Dad is always making things but really just to keep himself busy, especially at the moment. As i now work at the University of Derby i spend time with him during the week which helps and i was able to spend time with Mum while she was ill.
        My new job is keeping me busy but when i get get chance i still make pots which you can see on my website (just google my name and you will find me!). In terms of Dad having a website that would be almost impossible as he has difficulty even using a mobile phone, but at 78 i think he is just stuck in his ways.
        I will let him know about your request just in case he can help.

        best wishes
        Crispin

        owencrispin@yahoo.co.uk

  4. Evie says:

    hello! I’m a current art and design student at Leek college, and i find it weird that you once were except a few years ago haha, just had to mention 🙂 keep up the lovely art work

  5. Jill Mumford says:

    Hi Crispin, I came across your fascinating reflective blog when I was researching our Tutors work from Farnham. I was in your year and thoroughly enjoyed my time in ceramics and printed textiles. I went on to run a pottery and art studio in a large psychiatric hospital,which was a wonderful experience.There were some famous people there at times.
    I have enjoyed many years of working as a Senior Lecturer in Additional Learning Support and working in my own studio at home in Cheshire. I gained my MA in 2008.
    I also found Sebastian and Jim Kirkwood to be extremely supportive and I was on the interview panel in the third year. I am still very close to Julia Dixon who has an amazing studio in Clifton,Bristol.
    Your work is wonderful. All the very best for the future. Jill

  6. SHEILA WRIGHT says:

    Hi I was also at WSCAD 1983-86 studying glass, I visited the Ceramics department frequently and still ‘meddle’ with it and love it passionately. It great to read your account, it brought back memories of Takeshi Yashuda and Gordon Baldwin who visited and gave a great workshop. Thank fully Jim was always supportive and allowed me to join in with such things. I was heavily supported in building a top hat kiln to Raku fire some large pieces I made. I work in Cyprus now, teaching Art at the most prestigious school on the island. I just finished a human figure project to introduce clay sculpture to 14 year olds, they love clay as much as I do. I have students who have gone on to UCA, as it is now called; it makes me proud.

    • Hi Sheila, good to hear that you valued your time at WSCAD as much as i did. I work at the University of Derby now but i still find time to keep my own work going. Looking back i feel extremely privileged to have been at Farnham working with some inspirational artists. I still see Sebastian Blackie as he works at Derby Uni as well!

  7. SHEILA WRIGHT says:

    I found your link via research about Mike Dodd incidentally.

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