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Maker profile: Carson Culp + This Tea Bowl

Carson Culp, an apprentice at The Leach Pottery in St. Ives, Cornwall, created this teabowl. It has been selected to be part of a juried exhibition in Montana, and Ceramic Review featured it on their Instagram account as work from an emerging maker. I interviewed Carson to learn more about what went into this piece.


What led you to make this teabowl? What did it feel like to pull it out of the kiln?

We had ordered a bunch of raw materials and put them in the troughs that Bernard Leach used to put his clay in outside. It was for an exhibition to show these really large mounds of clay. One of the troughs was filled with China clay from Cornwall. I was curious - this china clay is very porcelaneous - and I love celadon and porcelain, and I was going for the crunchy kind of look, so I just wedged that with some porcelain. The first piece I made was just that simple teabowl. I just wanted to see how it was going to look. The second it came out of the kiln, I knew I was onto something.

Phil Rogers, one of the biggest UK potters, came down to the Leach. We were talking pots and he was telling the studio how after 40 years, how much he still loves it. But probably only six pieces out of the whole year he really likes. And that teabowl is probably one of the pieces that I really like this year. Because I know it’s going to go somewhere. I have a really good feeling.

Was it different than what you had expected?

It was honestly kindly exactly what I was looking for, but I didn’t think that I was going to get that. I like the purity of celadon and porcelain but also crunch, rough, and showing material more than anything. It’s how I incorporate being in Cornwall in my work.

What has your Leach apprenticeship been like?

It’s been great. It’s been the best time of my life so far. I’m really happy here. You’re studying a craft under someone who’s very skilled at the craft. They fly me here, they fly me back. They house me. They give me a small stipend. I’m not allowed to sell my work here because of my visa, otherwise I wouldn’t be so broke. But it’s really nice. The house is on site. I live with two other studio workers and one other resident artist, who’s always changing. I work Monday through Friday, 9-5. We work as a collective. One day I’ll throw a bunch of mugs, but I won’t handle them. The next day I’ll glaze them or just working with the team. Orders come in. We do functional wares and statement forms.

Are these all forms that Bernard Leach made and you’re currently making them?

No, the lead potter designed a range that we currently have now, but it is based off of older Leach standard ranges. The leach handle has always been kind of the same, it goes down like a soft seven. There are similarities in the bowls and plates as well. All the glazes are the same - pretty much the same glazes that they used when they started.

After 5, you can work on your own work?

Yes, five o'clock hits and you can do what you want or stay as late as you want. We all kind of feed off of each other - we all have similar works - but each person has their own way of using those materials. I recently got into brushwork because of an apprentice here - Matt Foster - he gave me a personal workshop. So my work has become more decorative here. My forms have become more defined. The past couple years of me working has been so much of me trying so many different things - firing processes, glazing. Just throwing different forms. I do now, but I didn’t know what I wanted to make before I came here. I was thinking today - coming here is kind of the start of my career.

How did you discover your talent with clay and decide this is what you wanted to do?

I started in high school. I really liked it and I was good. My teacher would let me stay after school and at lunch. When I left, I just really needed it. I didn’t realize how much I needed it so I just wanted to get involved. I took some classes at Portland community college and started volunteering everywhere. Portland children’s museum, MOMA arts center, working for potters. Then I got a job at Mudsharks slipcasting studio - worked there for a couple years. Did an apprenticeship with Steve Kelly - Kelly Pottery - for a year. The more I got immersed, the more I really loved the communal aspect of it. I was really into woodfiring and that’s very communal as well and it was kind of like a second family that I have.

What are you hoping to create next?

Currently, I’m doing a simple standard range. I have a full month of making work. Bowls, cups, mugs. I’m getting that out of the way, then I’ll make a bunch of teabowls - probably 100. I’m having a show here in November and then leaving all my works here to sell.

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