Every ceramicist has to be willing to dig their hands in the mud and get dirty, but, for most, that creative messiness usually occurs within the relatively civilised context of a studio or classroom. For its latest collection, The New Craftsmen has taken a group of its makers out of their typical surroundings and led them knee-deep into the mud of the River Thames. 

Ceramic jug, part of Claylarks collection of objects, from The New Craftsmen, inspired by mudlarking
‘Company of Beard Pullers‘ jug by Fitch & McAndrew for ‘Claylarks’ collection

Earlier this year, 15 craftspeople were invited by The New Craftsmen’s creative director Catherine Lock to join a mudlarking expedition in London’s River Thames. Intertidal archaeologist Mike Webber led the group in the practice of scavenging the river bed for artefacts of historical value; teaching them how to spot shards of pottery or other small objects among the debris and explaining the significance of what they discovered.  

Participants include names familiar to devotees of The New Craftsmen – 1690 (Sophie Wilson), Aude van Ryn, Bibbings & Hensby, Fitch & McAndrew, Rich Miller, James Rigler, Joe Hartley, John Wheeldon, Matthew Foster, Matthew Raw, Michael Ruh, Viv Lee, and Emma Witter — all of whom used the objects they found to inspire their works for ‘Claylarks’. 

Coloured glass vessels, part of a collection for The New Craftsmen
Michael Ruh’s collection for ‘Claylarks’. Photography by Gareth Hacker.

Works include 20 pieces of tableware inspired by the gluttony and debauchery of Tudor feasts, created by ceramicist Matthew Foster. He produced large platters, jugs, decorative lidded jars and vessels with animal motifs – as well as limited-edition salt-glazed vessels made with fellow ceramicist Matthew Raw – using his typographical ‘sprig’ technique, whereby low relief shapes are applied to pottery before firing. 

Also inspired by Tudor decadence, artist Emma Witter (a new addition to The New Craftsmen family) has created chandeliers out of electroplated oyster shells and ‘Thames bone’ rendered in bone china. Meanwhile, Bibbings & Hensby made a Welsh dresser designed to showcase ceramic pieces collected and curated over time. The work was inspired by several hand-forged nails the furniture-making duo found while mudlarking, which galvanised them to research historic forms of nailed furniture. 

Various vessels on sculptural low stools
Viv Lee’s collection for ’Claylarks’. Photography by Gareth Hacker.

The many other works that make up the collection are just as innovative and diverse in their realisation of mudlarking treasures. Lock says of the collection: ‘Ever since our early ancestors’ dexterous hands formed the materials surrounding us into items required for everyday life, adorned the environments we inhabited and helped us make sense of wondrous worlds around (and within) us, the “craft baton” has been passed from generation to generation. The resonance of the conversation, steeped with deep wisdom, child-like curiosity and ambition, has reverberated within communities of makers and their patrons, across the ages.’ 

‘Clayworks’ will be exhibited at The New Craftsmen’s Mayfair showroom as part of London Design Festival 2022. §