Emerge 2022 - Part 1


Joshua Williams is a potter based in Newton Stewart, Galloway, making functional earthenware. Currently developing clays and glazes from materials found throughout the local landscape, he is one of two recipients of this year’s Emerge Bursary programme and is currently writing a series of articles based on the experience.

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I moved back to Galloway in 2019 with my wife and our young family, to settle and open our own studio pottery. We had been away from the area for a few years while I was training at Whichford Pottery, one of Britain’s last remaining production potteries, but I had long been eager to return. I’d always been passionate about the creative opportunities Galloway has to offer to the potter in terms of inspiration and materials, and we were ready to put down roots.

We bought our studio; an old butcher’s shop near the centre of town. It still has the butchers table and the old meat hooks still hang from the wall. In the months that followed I worked hard to create the perfect space I had envisioned for making and selling my work. I ran my first course for students after months of grind, at which point all we had to talk about was the impact of Covid 19 on Italy, and what the chances were that it could possibly impact us here in the UK! Four weeks later we were in lockdown and everything we had worked so hard for was put on hold. Although it provided a chance to take a breath after a very full year, it also meant that the creative and communal development we needed ceased abruptly.

I carried on as I could throughout 2020 and 2021, and at the end of that year was selected by Upland as one of their Emerge recipients for 2022. This, combined with the easing of restrictions has seen a resurgence in our ability to settle and grow here, and the mentoring I’ve received through the scheme has stood as a symbol for me, of the opportunities which are now starting to emerge in a post-covid environment. The reality of being a developing artist in the current climate is not an easy one, and I think back to those early days of relative ideal and innocence when setting up the studio with some amusement! However 2022 has brought with it increased ability to connect with other artists and makers both locally and outwith the region, bringing with them a breath of fresh air into my practice and my work. The opportunity to travel throughout Dumfries and Galloway and to be mentored by a wide variety of creative folk has been of incalculable benefit for the development of my business as well as my creative practice. It has also been a great inspiration to see how other makers work, and to gaining their invaluable insights into my work.

The majority of my mentoring time has been spent with Chris Taylor from Clayworks in Dumfries. Chris trained at the Royal College of Art and now makes his own work as well as running a makers space at the Crichton. Our time together has been a challenge for me to be more self-aware in how I assess my work, and to fully understand the meaning I give to that which I make. Chris has encouraged me to look beyond pre-conceived ideas of making and to work out for myself what I think the values and concepts of making are. The benefit of my production training is that my skills are good and I’m confident in my ability to further develop any skills I lack. However, there is less emphasis on the nature of design and the impact of craft. To be able to develop ideas and express them through my chosen craft confidently and clearly has been the main focus of my time with Chris. I am able to visit other artists for mentoring sessions, before going back and discussing these sessions with him in order to develop certain discussions or ideas I’ve picked up from these other artists.

One of these would be Lizzie Farey from Kirkcudbright. I first came across Lizzie’s work in Designs Gallery in Castle Douglas around seven years ago and was instantly struck by her ability to  use natural materials with simplicity and clarity to portray great feeling and sense of movement. The chance to learn from her, and to discuss making from the perspective of rural artists has been especially beneficial. Lizzie has the experience to know very clearly who she is as a maker, making contemporary artwork in a local setting that is accepted and relevant at both a national and international level.

These are all features I want to build in my own work, and it is wonderful to see how others have incorporated the things which make Galloway unique into their art. Lizzie and I have also been working on the marks I impress and carve into my work, considering the inspiration for these and the practice needed to work fluently. We discuss the meaning derived from mark making, and the ways to find a voice through this which is uniquely my own.

I’ve also been fortunate to work with Colin Tennant, who has worked with both Upland and the Wigtown Book Festival (which is run from their shop and offices just a few doors down from where I live, another inspirational source of creative success!) as photographer and Filmographer. As a maker working in a contemporary setting I find it vital to not only be able to express myself through  my work but also through written and visual mediums. To be a maker in a setting such as Galloway is to consider the topography, geology, and aesthetic nature of the region and to work out how to best portray those features for those who interact with my work. As a result Colin and I have been working on the story telling aspects of both my everyday working life in the studio and the landscape in which I live and work.

As I test new glazes, and clays made from samples collected throughout the River Cree and the Merse at Wigtown, I continue making work for the upcoming 20th anniversary Spring Fling, considering everything I have learned throughout the Emerge Mentoring Programme. All the wisdom and experience I have benefited from has reinforced how vital it is for creative communities to learn from and support each other. To be a maker is to stand on a limb, aiming to find unique expression based on the values and ideals which feel important enough to stand up for, all the while hoping to find an audience who feels the same. Without the backing of such organisations as Upland, and the willingness of other makers to give their time and experience, that whole process becomes many degrees harder.