John Warren – My life in making.

I have always made things. When young, guns to play with from wood, bags from fabric and leather, crude sandals from rope, models from card and found materials, knitted jumpers.  I even made a tent out of an old sheet when I was 11 or 12 using mum’s old treadle sewing machine. This was my first lesson in sourcing appropriate materials when it ripped as I tightened the guy rope. Inevitable really, because it was an OLD sheet! I also became the chief household maintenance operative for a rather ramshackle Victorian house as my father left the family when I was 12 or 13.

So, when I went to Art School in 1962, I couldn’t believe that I was expected to invent and make stuff all the time. I was in my element.  At Art School, in the foundation year, my first love was jewellery & silversmithing, taught by the inspirational Brian M. Wood, though I also found throwing pots, welding and lithography fascinating. But when I went to my higher 3Ddesign course I changed my allegiance to ceramics, because the atmosphere was more friendly and the workshops warmer, as it was first on the central heating circuit. A complete irony as every workshop I have had since has tended to be cold and damp, though the fact that potters are friendly has held true.

I missed the last three weeks of term at Loughborough College of Art & Design, because I married Helen on 1st July 1967 before the end of term and set off into wildest Warwickshire to start a pottery whilst Helen earned the money as a teacher. For five years I was a kept man as my friend and business partner and I tried very hard to make a go of it. Unfortunately we were young and naïve, not yet good enough, and probably made every mistake and misjudgement possible. We carried on trying to make a go of it until Helen started to have children and I had to get a proper job to keep our growing family.

John Warren at a potters wheel
John Warren's colourful socks

I taught pottery techniques part time in evening classes in Stratford on Avon and had fun teaching young students to be teachers at the Birmingham College of Education, which I found very amusing because I had not actually been taught how to be a teacher myself!  I finally ended up at Eastbourne College of Art in Eastbourne running an HND Vocational Pottery course, the content of which being basically all the things I wish I had known when we had tried to start a pottery in 1967. I was able to develop my own skills as I taught the students how to throw, hand-build, mix glazes, make kilns, and generally try to become potters.

I first became associated with The Sussex Guild when I applied for membership in 1996-97 after I had taken early retirement from teaching and started to make pots again at home. An ex-student of mine, Nikki Dann, was on the selection committee and told me that she had been really surprised that I was actually able to do what I had been teaching, as she was quite prepared to refuse me membership but had voted for acceptance instead. She even took one of my decorated bowls as a wedding present when she later married Guild Chair Phil Marr.

I attended every show that I could for the next eight years or so and was astounded that my sales of pots exceeded the level of my final salary. If only I had had that success back in the Sixties. Since then, I have continued to make and show, but I am slowing down, and tend to make mainly for commission now. However, I do still make work to exhibit, and I display these finished ceramic pieces in the Sussex Guild shop in Lewes.

Other activities I enjoy include knitting socks for the children and grandchildren, which I knit on four needles. And a real favourite has been a fort made of wood, ply and card tubes, with a spiral-stairs made from repurposed Magnum bar sticks. The grandchildren love it, and it is modular, with the wooden bricks I had as a child as well as the blocks I made for our boys when infants.                            

I enjoy all that almost as much as the pots!

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