Fired with imagination

Wherever you look in Isabel Denyer’s home there are pots. Small ones, big ones, plain and fancy, and they all come with stories and fond memories. There are bowls, vases and various vessels by Margaret Frith, Peter Dick and Ilana Sulikova – and a host of other makers.

Isabel Denyer's home

“They are in every room. I have pots from all my friends,” says Isabel, a well-known potter. “We buy each other’s work and we enjoy sharing information.”

Potters, she observes, tend to be very grounded and generous people, which she believes is “something to do with working with clay. It’s from the earth.”

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Her own introduction to the art came when she was sent to board in England from the family home in Jamaica. The school art department was exceptional and tapped into her talents but it was a studio pottery course run by Mick Casson and Victor Margrie at Harrow School of Art in the mid 1960s that fired her ambition.

Isabel Denyer's home

“It was the first course of its kind for people who wanted to become potters and we had to do everything from throwing and firing the pots to making the glazes,” says Isabel.

“Throwing pots is quite a discipline and it takes a long time to develop the skill. What’s sad is that colleges now don’t have the time to devote to it.”

After working in America and Jamaica, the main conditions when she agreed to move to Yorkshire with her husband, Mark, were “space for a pottery” and “a place in the country”.

It was a house-hunting challenge but they found the perfect home in a gorgeous, late Georgian property in Wighill, near York. It’s full of period features and it’s roomy now that the couple, who have three grown-up daughters, have extended into a tiny former Methodist chapel at the rear.

Isabel Denyer's home

They also converted the potting shed and an old tack room into a pottery. Its higgledy-piggledy layout is perfect for its purpose, with a wheel at the front, a kiln in the middle and showroom at the back.

It looks set to be a favourite destination for visitors to York Open Studios later this month, when artists and makers open their workspaces to the public.

Isabel, who will be demonstrating at her wheel with a lump of clay, says: “The making of pots, centring the clay and throwing gives me a great sense of peace and also awe to be using a material that has been in the earth for aeons. I like the feeling of being part of a continuum of craftsmanship that has been making vessels for thousands of years.”

The showroom shelves are stacked with her stoneware and porcelain, which is functional as well as beautiful.

Isabel Denyer's home

“Form and function are absolutely integral to the work and my objective is to make pots to be handled, cherished and cooked in. It gives me enormous pleasure to see them being used, ” adds Isabel.

Her kitchen shelves are full of her own pieces, including a cherished shepherd’s pie pot. They are robust thanks to high temperature firing, which means they rarely chip, and the quiet glazes allow food to “sing”.

“I love cooking and I am interested in the presentation of food, so I want my pots to enhance it rather than overpower it. For instance, a salad in a dark green bowl looks stunning,” she says.

The cookware is complemented by Isabel’s collection of wooden spoons gathered from travels that have yielded handcrafted treasures from Africa, India, Afghanistan and Scandinavia. She also has a passion for India and the blue and orange utility room was inspired by her trips there.

Isabel Denyer's home

Her friend, the wood artist Nick Clarke, fitted it out with cabinets featuring domes and minarets. The top of the boiler is also decorated with a pot by David Lloyd-Jones, while the wall above hosts a Mark Hearld painting. Work by fellow artists and makers is everywhere, including at the front door, where visitors are greeted by two lanterns by York’s Sarah Hall. Pottery by Ben Arnup, Chris Utley and Ruth King, and a wooden bowl by Marcus Jacka adorn the drawing room.

“I love buying other people’s work. It makes me think of them when I look at it. So, for instance, when I drink out of a mug, it isn’t just a mug, it’s Jack Doherty’s,” says Isabel.

Some of the furniture, including her bed, is from her childhood home in Jamaica, where her father had mahogany plantations. The palm tree wallpaper in the hall was also put up as a reminder of the Caribbean and adds colour, as does a collection of textiles from across the globe.

It all adds up to a fascinating place that has evolved over 32 years of family life and the friendly, relaxed feel is partly down to pottery. “I am a maker and I love to throw pots and I am very happy when I am doing that,” says Isabel. “My family know that if I am kept away from my pottery for too long I get very ratty.”

Isabel Denyer's home
Isabel Denyer's home