In 2016, to celebrate the news that Lisa Hammond was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s recent Birthday Honours list, we made a studio tour looking at Lisa’s fantastic Maze Hill Pottery.
For our non-UK readers, an MBE – ‘Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ – is one of a number of awards given to an individual by the Queen for exceptional contributions to a field, craft, or community. Appointees to the order are nominated by the public before their achievements are assessed and formally acknowledged.
For anyone aware of Lisa’s extraordinary working ethos, it’s not difficult to see how she has received such deserved recognition. As if producing work for years at the very forefront of British ceramics from her London studio were not enough, Lisa tirelessly runs pottery courses for beginners and professionals alike, has taken on a growing number of successful apprentices over the years, and has even started up her own potting charity: ‘Adopt a potter’.
The craft of pottery has all but vanished from art college and university courses, with most ceramics teaching focusing on sculptural work in preference to the traditional techniques of throwing and firing. Though studio ceramics has recently begun to reassert its importance, it is still as difficult as ever for a budding studio potter to gain the experience and teaching they need to succeed.
The principle of Adopt a Potter is simple: helping young students of pottery find an experienced potter who can offer them an apprenticeship. If you’d like to find out more about the charity or make a donation, you can find the Adopt a Potter website by clicking here.
Huge congratulations to Lisa for her immense efforts. To find out where she works her magic, view our Maze Hill tour below.
Lisa Hammond first established her pottery workshop at Maze Hill in Greenwich, London, in 1994. The building originally housed a ticket office for the Maze Hill train station which was linked to the North Kent line. With the decline of the British railways in the latter half of the 20th century, the ticket office was eventually abandoned in the 1970s and remained empty until Lisa discovered it and decided to create her first studio work space there.
Dilapidated and overgrown, the site required heavy cosmetic work. Lisa recalls taking her first step into the abandoned buildings and her foot promptly falling through the floorboards. As well as a new floor, space needed to be made around the station for a new kiln, requiring the excavation of almost 8 lorry-loads of soil before the site could be cleared for construction.
With a refurbished building and the help of a technician colleague from Lisa’s teaching years at Goldsmiths ceramics department, Lisa built the UK’s first ever soda glaze trolley kiln and started producing her now celebrated soda glaze functional wares.
Today, Maze Hill remains the site of Lisa’s functional pot production, now with a second smaller active kiln too. Aided by a team of apprentices, both former and current, she continues to make a large range of everyday pieces – mugs, handled dishes, lidded jars, and her characteristic leaning jugs.
Adorning the external walls of her kilns, small clay rings used for testing glazes and the varying atmosphere of the kiln during a firing hang threaded like necklaces, historical evidence of over 20 years of onsite firings. Outside the workshop, pots from previous firings, vases and chawans, some past successes and others the victims of kiln deformation, are left like votive offerings on the surrounding walls amidst the scrawling greenery.
Inside the studio, apprentices stack pots from the most recent firing onto shelves beside unglazed and unfired successors for Lisa to examine. The sheer range of colours achieved by the soda firing contrast heavily with the dusty whites and oranges of pots yet to be put to the kiln.
As Lisa has noted, she does little by way of explicit decoration with tools or by hand; much of the drama of her pottery is the result of her firing and the volatile character of the soda – a different world of decoration altogether, but one that is richly rewarding when kiln and potter can cooperate.
As with almost any potter’s studio, throwing tools, brushes, sponges and wires fill shelves along the sides of the workshop. Studio ceramics on this scale and with this level of expertise is always busy, any precious time spent throwing being further squeezed by Lisa’s dedication to teaching and education and her constant stream of pottery courses (at last glance, all placements from May to July were fully booked).
Despite this hectic schedule, however, Lisa continues to find time to produce exceptional work, applying as much thought and attention to an everyday cream jug as a ceremonial chawan or her distinctive tsubo jars.
Here Lisa applies the finishing throwing touches to a leaning jug. As the clay dries and hardens, the form of each jug is pulled back upright slightly. To maintain their unusual backwards poise, the lean of the jug has to be exaggerated to compensate for this drying period and the warping of the clay.
Though Lisa has a separate studio space for making special exhibition works, the emphasis at Maze Hill is always on the functional. While in workshop rooms Lisa and her apprentices throw jugs, bowls and plates and form lids or handles for jars and dishes, food is served on plates from the pottery with tea in accompanying Maze Hill mugs.
Situated in the heart of the borough of Greenwich in east London, the Maze Hill kiln chimney stack marks an unusual site in the city suburbs. But just a few miles from Lisa’s workshop can be found the original site of the first salt glaze kiln in Woolwich where the Royal Doulton factory famously produced salt glaze wares until the mid-1950s, when it was shut down amidst fears of the potentially harmful chemicals each large-scale firing was releasing into the air. Lisa tells how she placed two bricks from that original site in the top of the Maze Hill chimney in homage to the history of their craft.
After a successful firing and when the kiln has sufficiently cooled, finished works are removed and cleaned, allowing time to assess the successes and failures of glaze experiments and to inspect the quality of the work.
Small wedges of wadding used to prevent pots from sticking to kiln shelves or each other are removed with the help of polishers and grinders, while other pieces are washed after building up residues of dirt from the fierce elements of the firing.
The extraordinary thought, time, and effort Lisa applies to her craft is reiterated every time new work from Greenwich arrives at our gallery doors. The life of a studio potter is far from easy, its difficulties compounded when someone is as generous with their expertise as Lisa has been with her short and long-term pupils.
The successes of Maze Hill and Lisa’s recent MBE now stand as testament to her tireless graft, to her passion for pots and for ensuring that a generation of craftsmen and women will have the chance to succeed too in the future. Long may the wonderful production of Maze Hill continue.