Clay Pots and Carvings

PUBLISHED: 11:08 18 August 2010 | UPDATED: 11:38 28 February 2013

Ken Luckhurst outside his pottery on the Lizard

Ken Luckhurst outside his pottery on the Lizard

In our July issue we visit Ken Luckhurst, a self-taught sculptor and woodcarver who has a studio on the Lizard, from where he makes small, smooth and tactile vases to large bowls.

Clay Pots and Carvings

Lesley Double visits self-taught sculptor and woodcarver Ken Luckhurst

Ken and Carol Luckhurst's little cottage on the Lizard is filled with beautiful things. Shelves hold vases and pots, display cabinets contain wooden carvings, there are sculptures on the dresser, sgraffito on the window ledge, a half-completed carving in the corner, even a sturdy axe-in-a-log doorstop. It is a treasure trove of art, and what is quite astonishing is that, apart from a few pieces collected on holiday, Ken has made everything himself.

From small, smooth and tactile vases to large bowls, all the ceramics are produced in the tiny shed at the bottom of the garden. There is just enough room for two people to squeeze inside the shed, and Ken seems to prefer working this way, with all his tools at arm's length - although the cat's cushion in a corner says that he is pleased to have her company while he works.

The Luckhursts moved to the Lizard from Sussex eight years ago when Ken was made redundant. "I was the gardener at a big estate that closed down," explains Ken. "We moved to where the work was. I got a gardening job on the Lizard, but left that after a while and now I'm a self-employed gardener. I still do gardening work as this brings in the money which allows me to enjoy my ceramics and woodcarving without the worry of it being my only income." He may not worry about how long it takes to produce his art, and there's certainly no pressure for him to keep up a constant flow of work, but this doesn't stop him being in his shed at all hours and he admitted that he often gets up early to spend time working on a vase before he goes gardening, and again after dinner in the evening.

"I'm self-taught," says Ken. "I went to a pottery class, but it was too free and easy, and so I read books and experimented until I was happy with the result." Ken certainly doesn't believe in making his art easy, and he likes to start from scratch. He doesn't buy clay to turn into a pot, but makes it from clay he takes from the ground. "When I lived in Sussex I became fascinated with the clay deposits I discovered near my home," he continues. "I was sure I could make a pot from it." Today he takes clay from wherever he can find it; most of the terracotta clay comes from Bedfordshire, for example. There is then a long and involved process, including drying, sieving, blending and kneading, before the clay can be used to make a work of art.

Over the years Ken has adapted many everyday objects into indispensable tools of his trade. He produces the most beautiful art using items such as a food mixer to blend wet clay, a hair dryer to speedily dry each coil on his pot, conveniently bent pieces of metal to smooth the coils and ensure the pot's correct thickness, plastic gardening labels which are cut to make a curve in the pot, and a modified sealant gun which produces coils with a uniform thickness.

"I work on one pot at a time," says Ken. "The large ones take about six hours to complete and the small ones, three hours. I'm a perfectionist and like the pots to be perfectly round." The pot is scraped smooth with the back of a spoon and fired in a kiln, after which patterns are created by smoke firing. "I put the pot in a dustbin, cover it with sawdust, dry leaves or paper shreddings and set it alight," explains Ken. "A cover extinguishes the flames and the pot is left to smoulder. The smoke penetrates the surface of the pot and leaves dark markings." Being aware of environmental concerns, Ken is currently working with ceramic pigments, stains and block clays, to try to achieve similar markings without the need to smoke fire.

Ken's sgraffito pots are made from red earthenware with a layer of white earthenware on top. The word sgraffito comes from the Italian word graffiare meaning 'to scratch', and a design is scratched through the white clay to reveal the red clay underneath. Here Ken can allow his imagination free rein and his sgraffito pots may include elaborate drawings of tin mines, intricate Celtic designs, or a scene of beautiful mermaids luring shipwrecked mariners to the deep.

Before taking up pottery, Ken's main pastime was woodcarving, and he still produces a few carvings each year. "Whenever I'm out pruning I look for pieces of wood that will be suitable, especially if they have a bend in them," says Ken. These he carves into axes in logs, and a display cabinet is full of these miniatures, each a different colour and texture as they come from different woods. The axes are smooth and polished, whilst the logs are left in their natural state, making it look as if one is stuck onto the other although it is all one piece of wood. Having started his working life as a groom, Ken's love of horses has never left him. Not surprisingly, he enjoys carving horses and no matter how small, the horses look perfectly real, even down to the ripple of their muscles.

As if this were not enough, Ken also makes small thumb pots and carves pictures into soft bricks. One side may look just like a brick, but turn it round and it is a bunch of flowers, or a figure practising karate. "I envy people who can do this all the time," concludes Ken, who would really like to spend all day in his shed making pots and vases, or carving pictures in bricks or axes in logs.

See Ken's work at Trelissick Garden Gallery, Trelowarren Gallery, and The Roundhouse and Capstan Gallery, Sennen Cove.

Ken Luckhurst, Primrose Ceramics,

2 Primrose Cottages, The Lizard, TR12 7NQ. 01326 291029

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