Clay and home made dye and ink are mediums I find inspiring. I always mean to master the use of such materials. When I was at university I created 25 ceramic wings, many of which I have since let erode back into the earth in my own back garden. I was never brave or sure enough to spend a long time in the ceramics workshop getting to know my material but I have been fascinated by the work that can be made from the earthy substance. If you scroll down on my various blog posts you will see the original project to inspire my posts was one involving natural pigment and dye.
With this in mind, I can now tell you that I was genuinely excited to see The 17th Century Kiln Firing Day advertised in ‘Primary Times’ magazine.
Little Woodham: A 17th Century village
We ended up missing the kiln firing day but visited instead, the following weekend: Rural Craft Day.
It can take alot for us to manage a family day out and on this one, we were not disapointed. Set in The Alver Valley, The 17th Century replica buildings are delight to wonder into. The volunteers in their period costume and their eagerness to answer questions and share knowledge make the experience educational as well as fun.
From previous visits I recall the acting skills of the folk in the village made for an authentic atmosphere. So authentic infact, that one of my early childhood memories involves a family visit to the Village where the believable fear and passion in some of the villagers’ anti witchcraft talk had me in tears. This however was craft day – everyone was very friendly, I was no longer 5 and had somewhat of a clearer understanding of what it was all about.
We were able to admire the fired wares of the kiln- a kiln which boasts to be the only replica 17th century kiln of its kind. We spoke to the potter who was happy to demonstrate & share his skills. I was a happy lass and may even get the chance to go back for a turn on the wheel myself.
We spoke to a young man tuning 17th Century style stringed instruments. My son got a nice helping of ‘Horrible Histories’ upon learning about catgut strings. (Not actual cat gut, silly. But not any nicer than that really either – I dare you to look it up!)
My partner was excited to learn some history of long bow archery from the archer who had small audiences fully engaged in learning, and able to handle some of the weapons and armour.
I don’t do the place justice, as I know there will be trades people that I will have left out. There were some we were not able to talk to between toilet runs and chasing after our two year old, who was excited about the village and playing in the surrounding woodland, in equal measure. To name a few there was a seamstress, some weavers, a sawyer and blacksmiths. On a visit prior to this one, we met the village scribe who told of the method of ink making. Although he was not in character this time round we managed to meet him out of character, by chance and he imparted his knowledge once more.
On this particular visit I ended up accidentally networking too. (Networking- a term I still struggle to use without feeling pretentiously pompous and a bit silly. I’m trying to go with it.) The artist Di Alexander was in one of the cottages painting some beautiful work from purposefully blurry photographs. (“Photographs in the 17th Century?” I hear you cry! This lady was not part of the village as such but was still invol ed in the craft day and painting work that portrayed an essence of the time.) We swapped details and chatted briefly until toddler chasing became priority.
I’m not sure what it is that excites me about traditional craft. It might be the idea that things don’t have to be made en masse with contemporary materials and there is an awesomeness in the craftsmanship. It might be the sense of satisfaction from the texture and natural appearance of clay and wood. Or perhaps it is a misplaced nostalgia from the sepia tones I associate from old dye and ink. Whatever it is, an occasional visit to Little Woodham is a welcome temporary escape from moden life. Now, instead of tears, I find myself smiling and content as I wonder round.