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University of Brighton Craft MA: Featured Maker

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Each year Hove Museum & Art Gallery invites the talented makers from the University of Brighton’s Craft MA course to exhibit their final pieces, offering fresh insight into contemporary craft making.

As the university has had to close its doors due to Covid 19, we decided to do a Q & A with the students to showcase their work and see how they were keeping their creative flow going.

Our first interview is with Susan Ramsay-Smith. Susan is a member of Kent Potters and Sussex Arts Collective. She was Chairperson of Sussex Potters for many years and has exhibited with London Potters & Weald Crafts.

How would you describe yourself as a maker?

Susan Ramsay-Smith

I’m an ecological potter processing the Weald Clay from our farm in order to produce a unique, ferrous rich, textured, contemporary material which is a challenge to work with, but has produced some great surprises like firing to stoneware. I love to combine thrown and hand-built components to create large vessels or sculptural work.

What inspires you to create your work?

Recently I’ve been researching my rich, local iron heritage and creating pig iron cannons on wooden, wheeled carriages and ceramic gunstone sculptures based on a 32 pounder weight of shot found at Wimbles, near Heathfield. British wildlife like the Common toad Bufo bufo, captivate me each year when they emerge from their earth homes to migrate back to the lake. They often feature as a textured surface or mottled glaze.

Pig iron cannon on wooden, wheeled carriages by Susan Ramsey-Smith

Pig iron cannon on wooden, wheeled carriages by Susan Ramsay-Smith

Are there any particular artists/makers you are interested in or feel connected with?

Susan Ramsey Smith painting her map of walks taken around her farm

Susan Ramsay-Smith working on her ‘map of walks’

Anne Mette from Bornholm stimulated my interest in experimenting with using my own clay when I visited her studio in 2018 with Making Lewes. I feel connected with Charlotte Pack who is a wonderful animal sculpturist but also uses her skills to highlight the plight of elephants, killed for their tusks and other species that are on the endangered list. David Nash’s 200 series exhibition at the Towner Art Gallery inspired me to create a map of walks taken from our farm to the nearby clay and ironwork sites. The maps are painted using only found, ground minerals and earth slips.

Map of walks taken from Susan’s farm to the nearby clay and ironwork sites

Are there any pieces in our craft collection at Hove Museum that you are drawn to?

I remember being amazed at a wonderfully intricate, colourful, enamel vessel by Jane Short. I was practicing with enamelling on copper and steel in the University of Brighton metal workshops before they were abruptly closed. I wanted to incorporate mixed media in order to learn a new process.

Jane Short, Silver vessel formed by Anton Pruden with enamel & engraving

Jane Short, Silver vessel formed by Anton Pruden with enamel & engraving

What materials do you prefer to work with and what are the properties in those materials that you like?

I’ve been using clay as a medium for over 25 years and am still excited by its metamorphosis. It can be turned from a lump of earth into a variety of differently shaped objects which can be both delicate and strong, functional, architectural or sculptural. Their finish can be matt, shiny, smoked or salt glazed, smooth or textured. The finished product all depends on three key ingredients: the decisions and skills of the craft person handling the clay, some water and fire or heat – this is the magic of alchemy.

How are you working creatively during ‘lockdown’?

Luckily I have a pottery studio, so I’ve been able to finish glaze firing the cannon ball sculptures I’d started as part of my Craft MA course before we were told to stop making due to the Corona Virus pandemic. Another piece I’d started was painting a large canvas map of the farm with the surrounding clay test sites and ironwork locations marked. I wanted to use the natural colour of the slips I created from local sourced ground rock and clays as pigments, with no idea if this would adhere and last on this kind of surface. Luckily it has so far and I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of using large brushes with no expectation of the results.

Cannon ball structure by Susan Ramsey Smith

Cannon ball structure by Susan Ramsay-Smith

Cannon ball structure by Susan Ramsey-Smith

Cannon ball structure by Susan Ramsay-Smith

Do you have any tips/advice to give to other creatives out there who might be struggling to find their creative flow?

I find walking and observing the natural world always sparks another idea I’d like to try, initially maybe with a sketch or paints which helps to start the creative process and gives me time to think it through.

Discover more

You can find out more about Susan’s work and her tutoring by visiting the Experience Sussex website 

Follow her on Instagram: Susan Ramsay-Smith

Hove Museum & Art Gallery houses one of the best contemporary craft collections in the South East. The collection includes The South East Arts Collection and a collection of contemporary craft made by national makers. Learn more about the contemporary craft collection at Hove Museum & Art Gallery on the Museum’s contemporary craft webpage

Grace Brindle, Collections Assistant