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Totem (Weatherproof)

by Diana Barraclough

I work mainly in stoneware, firing the kiln with propane gas in a reducing atmosphere – which means restricting the amount of oxygen in the kiln. I use a hand building body which is very strong, stays flat and seldom cracks. To add texture and contrast and give the surface a “paintily” feel, I add slips, grog and sand. I also add pieces of clay, rolled and cut up into leaves or waves for example which are applied to the unfired piece.


An interesting corner of my studioCornwall supplies not only driftwood but much of my inspiration. The coast and its sea birds, the lush sub-tropical gardens and the strange ancient landscape of Penwith with its field systems and standing stones and sense of mystery, are all themes that occur constantly in my work, which tends to be colourful, but I also enjoy working with a neutral palette.

Now, my work has moved further towards garden sculpture. Ceramic totems inspired by two visits to Canada and Gaudi’s extravagant work in Barcelona have always fascinated me. They appear in many cultures, but especially amongst the American Indians. Some totems depict clan legends, others honour the dead or describe a way of life, with revered animals both hunted and worshipped.

My totems are thrown in pieces (typically 5 or 6), turned and then joined to allow me to decorate the whole piece as one, using layered clays, coloured stains and applied relief.

The decorated piece is then split back into 2 or 3 pieces for biscuit firing after which glazes are applied. The final stoneware firing is to ~1280°C. Recently I have found the designs for the totems and tiles are becoming intertwined......

My studio is in the basement of my house; much warmer than the draughty stable I started in many years ago.

Whilst studying ceramics at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art under David Ballantyne, I won a travelling scholarship to Sweden and also worked with David Leach in Devon. After qualifying, I worked for Mary Rich in Cornwall, gaining valuable experience in running a workshop before setting up my own studio in Berkshire. This was a time of growing demand for handmade, domestic pots and for many years I did a great deal of repetitive throwing, selling mainly to craft shops and galleries in the South of England.

In the 1980s I returned to making the individual ceramic tiles that I had loved so much at college and also completed more than 50 commissions for tile murals set in kitchens and bathrooms. All the tiles are hand rolled and decorated using relief, stains and glazes to depict gardens, woods and English wildlife.