John Jelfs’s pottery
I am one of The Foodie Bugle Reporter pack, and there are three little words that during the course of my life have created palpitations in my heart, a tingling in my soul and a dent in my wallet. Artisanal stoneware pottery. I love cooking, entertaining and decorating my home and for many years I have been a huge fan of John Jelfs’s work, and have seen his exhibits at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
John Jelfs established his Bourton-on-the-Water studio in a quaint town where tourism, tack and throngs jostle together jarringly. Take yourself away from the bustling thoroughfare and make your way to quiet Clapton Row, where, past narrow lanes, little houses, trim gardens and rose covered dry stone walls, you will find yourself in a magical place: The Cotswold Pottery.
From the moment you enter you will be struck with the simplicity of John Jelfs’s work. Cups, mugs, plates, bowls, teapots and vases: the form is very simple and pure, quite rustic. The colours are very muted, the glazes (celadon, ochre and shino, made from wood ash and clay) are quite matt, soft and subtle. You will note small iron spots, inherent in the clay, making the pottery look organic. Everything about the work is pleasing, harmonious and stylish. Less is more: functionality and a sense of purpose and usefulness imbue the work. Every piece is completely unique. You will be struck by the warmth and quietness of this room, it is like a still shrine.
If I could draw back the hands of time, I would probably re-write my wedding gift list and hand it all over to this room. I would ask for one of everything. I would then line the pieces on a dining room dresser, or along a window shelf, or even an alcove or mantelpiece in the main living room. I would use the pottery, as the prices are extremely reasonable, but I would be very careful indeed. A pottery breakage, to me, is heart breakage.
The gallery shop has been laid out really effectively. Many artisans let themselves down by presenting their work in cluttered, often dirty and disorganised spaces, where nothing is marked with a price and the visitor (and buyer) is very unclear what is for sale, what is for show and which of the pieces go together. Here, instead, the shelving is very organised and systematic. There are brochures which tell you about the artisan and his modus operandi. There is a table with paper sheets for wrapping, and a window where you can see through into the workshop.
You will also see the work of John’s wife, Jude. She is a very talented sculptor, and her pots are inspired from life drawing and observation.
In the photos you can see that we were allowed into pottery studio itself. John’s production is fired to 1300 degrees Celsius in a very large kiln that is wood fired.
I would recommend a visit to this marvellous place to anyone visiting the area. For lunch, why not visit nearby Moreton-in Marsh, Burford or Stow-on-the-Wold. You will have a thoroughly enjoyable day out.
John Jelfs was born in 1946 and studied ceramics at Cheltenham College of Art. His pots are all hand-thrown, and the focus has always been on pure form. He says, “I am excited most by the work of Bernard Leach, Hamada Shoji and the Eastern School of pottery. The strength of their pots lies, I feel, in their quietness. A newly built kiln has enabled me to start soda-firing.”
John’s work has been widely exhibited in leading galleries including Gallerie Besson, Contemporary Ceramics and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Alpha House in Sherborne, Primavera in Cambridge, Rufford Ceramics Centre in Nottingham, as well as other important galleries. It is included in many collections at home and abroad. John is a Fellow of the Craft Potters’ Association (CPA), and a member of the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen.