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This month's feature...



Bermuda Clayworks
Sundée Faulkner, Owner


Whether arriving by air or sea, visitors to the island of Bermuda are struck by the smallness and remoteness of this British Overseas Territory located 640 miles off the coast of North Carolina in the Atlantic Ocean. From the sky, the island appears as a tiny dot surrounded by vast seas. Cruise passengers spot a dark strip of land on the horizon after days of watching deep waters undulate in all directions. The many blues of sea and sky envelop the island, creating a background that inspires its artists and figures prominently in their work. The island’s galleries feature a wealth of paintings of local scenes, but another medium is featured at Bermuda Clayworks, a collective of local ceramic artists and potters who incorporate the resources of earth and sea in beautiful works of clay art.

Native Bermudian Sundée Faulkner is the proprietor of Bermuda Clayworks, an entity that encompasses the works of several local potters. The studio began in the early 1990s when English potter Jon Faulkner settled in Bermuda after studying with several British artists. At the time, Sundée was working as a travel agent and independent artist. Jon began working at a local pottery studio. The two met and eventually decided to open their own studio in a small, one-room space. Sundée continued working as a travel agent during the day and helped at the studio in the evenings. She applied her background in drawing and painting to decorating the clay pieces. Working together, she and Jon built a successful business and eventually married. In 1997 they moved the business to its current location in the Royal Naval Dockyard, the island’s main port for cruise ship debarkation. Located in an open-beamed 200-year-old Naval building that was once used for sail repairs for the British fleet, the two-story studio features a large gallery and studio space for Sundée and Jon on its first floor. Upstairs, there are two more studios and workspaces that are used by independent on-site artists, as well as a loft gallery and the production area for the Bermuda Clayworks tableware line. Though Sundée and Jon’s marriage ended over ten years ago, their professional relationship continues to thrive. Sundée is now the sole owner of the business, with Jon operating independently as a full-time studio production potter.

The studio’s most popular seller is Sundée’s iconic Bermudian house signs. Intricately painted in custom designs

Sample house signs by Sundée Faulkner

in underglaze, the plaques range in size and shape. “I do an extra firing after I paint, to really affix the underglaze and prevent bleeding,” she explains. From a house number with a simple border to elaborate representations of houses, shells and sea creatures, Sundée’s plaques capture the colors of the island. Her tableware is jolleyed and slip cast, using Standard’s moist and dry slip clays, and then hand painted in underglazes. Over the years, she has become self-taught in sculpting and throwing.
Turtle design serving bowl and sculptural piece by Sundée Faulkner

Jon’s wheel-thrown pottery is made from a high-fire custom clay that is mixed for him at Standard Ceramic. He fires in his custom-built downdraft salt glaze kiln that is fueled with recycled vegetable oil from local restaurants.
Jon Faulkner stands by his custom-designed downdraft salt glaze kiln.
His salt-glazing technique traces its roots to 15th century Germany, where it was developed for its robust and durable qualities. Jon uses regular table salt, introduced to the kiln during firing. A chemical reaction causes the glaze to mottle in a bead-like surface that suggests the textures of rock and sand so common on the island. The pieces are completely functional and non-porous. Jon says, “Without the responsibilities of business-ownership, I have been able to return to employing the skills and creativity of studio pottery.” The long maritime history of Bermuda inspired a series of “Bartmann” jugs.
Bartmann jugs by Jon Faulkner /em>
Made in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, these vessels were used to store and transport liquid goods on ships. Many shards have been found on the island. The jugs are characterized by the image of a bearded man (Bartmann translated from the German) on the vessel’s neck. Jon’s pieces are replicas of archived jugs in the National Museum that were found on the 1609 shipwreck of the vessel Sea Venture, a voyage that brought the island its first settlers.

With over 360,000 cruise passengers disembarking on the island each year, there would seem to be a readily available market of customers for Bermuda Clayworks. Yet, Sundée says that island living creates some challenges for her business. “The biggest difficulty here is expense,” she explains. The cost of raw materials is practically doubled by the shipping costs. Electricity is extremely expensive on the island. Even water, ironically, is scarce. And, says, Sundée, “the typical tourist is looking for a small, inexpensive memento to take home and does not understand the complexities of a hand-built piece of art.” Nevertheless, many customers appreciate the artistic value of the works for sale in the gallery and are willing to pay the higher prices they command. The greatest portion of sales is to tourists, but the studio has many local buyers and collectors.

 
Vessel by Aubrey Hardy 
Bermuda Clayworks stands as the locus of serious work in clay on the island. Sundée encourages the promotion of local ceramic art by including other potters and artists. Currently, Aubrey Hardy and Suzie Lowe are full-time studio artists on-site. Aubrey works in a mid-fire white stoneware from Standard to create thrown and altered functional pieces that evoke shells and the colors of Bermuda’s pink blush beaches. Suzie’s African-inspired masks and wall hangings are formed from terra cotta and use mixed media as adornments. Her bright colored fish mobiles are made from Bermuda Clayworks’ reclaimed white earthenware. Another potter who works from her home studio also sells her work in the gallery. During the cooler months of January, February and March workshops and
 
Mask by Suzie Lowe 
private lessons are offered in the evenings. The workshops usually consist of three classes each week, with four to six students in each session. Sundée says that the off-season doesn’t bring a rest for the potters, as work to build inventory goes on throughout the year. The shop is open year-round, seven days a week, except for Christmas and Good Friday.

Bermuda Clayworks has evolved into an island within an island, a place where creativity is nourished and developed within a community of artists who share a common love of clay.

For more information, visit www.bermudaclayworks.com
View Jon Faulkner’s work at www.jonfaulknerpottery.com.


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