Pots of Terroir


Terroir is a central pillar of so many crafts.  The source of raw materials are integral to the final products’ appearance, taste, scent or performance; the nuances in material will ultimately affect the final piece. Ceramics are a visually obvious example of this – notoriously fickle in production, the slightest of variations in their raw state tell loudly once they’re out of the kiln.

Brakspear full set

Rupert Brakspear began his journey to Islay after discussions with his father-in-law, who worked for Chivas, in Dalmuir (Clydebank), prompted him to take his ceramic explorations to the home of his favourite whisky. A ceramicist from Worcester, his work looks at encompassing the notion of place, people, environment, history and purpose. The idea of terroir is one that weaves its way through his work. “It’s a feature of our age that we are disconnected from so much of the stuff that surrounds us. We don’t know where objects, food, or clothing are made or sourced, don’t know the stories behind the things that we use everyday. It’s really important for me to build those connections, celebrating the place that they come from.  And also to make things that people can enjoy using.” Music to our ears.

In spite of a common (mis)conception that there is no decent clay for making pots in the Hebrides, he discovered there had been a 19th century brick and tile-works on the island, at Foreland Estate nearby the distillery.  So was born the idea of searching for clay he might work with on Islay. He contacted a number of people to find out more, and after some time, and a visit, he was given permission to extract a small sample of the clay from the estate. Continuing his Islay recce, through a number of fortuitous conversations and connections, he came into contact with James Brown of Octomore Farm and local digger man, Danny Mather. Together they discovered areas of boulder clay on Octomore farm itself. It’s a difficult type of clay to process and work, it tends to distort at normal stoneware firing temperatures; fortunately, like us, especially when it comes to Octomore, Rupert seems to relish a challenge.

Rupert, chez Bruichladdich recently

From three pockets of clay – Foreland, Octomore Farm and Octomore Spring aka ‘The Well of the True Water’  (all on the Rhinns of Islay), material was dug by hand and then carefully transported back to the studio, where Rupert embarked on months of experimentation. The notion was to create his own version of the traditional cups and jugs of the western islands.

He begins the process by separately drying each single-source clay, followed by breaking these batches down with a hammer, soaking and then mixing (“blunging”) the clay in water, and passing the resulting slip though a series of sieves to breakdown and purify the clay. The tumblers and jugs he has created using these clays are glazed with glazes made from rock dusts, peat and draff (the waste from the whisky mash) ash; all researched and found across the island. It’s a vital feature of his work that the collection of materials has minimal impact on the local environment, for example with clay being shaved off ditches or taken from building sites (where possible), and some glaze materials being sourced as by-products or waste from the whisky making.

He admits it has been a long sequence of painstaking trial and error. “It’s a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack, trying to find which combinations of glaze materials will “fit” which clays, providing colour and safe. smooth surfaces for daily use. Hundreds of small test tiles showed me clearly what would not work – but thankfully, there were a few that pointed the way to combinations that create colours, textures, and surfaces that I feel work well for holding a dram.” The underside of each pot is stamped with the clay source, date and maker’s mark.

glaze tests

There are handle-less, tactile jugs, palm-sized textured faceted cups -which after consultation with an archaeologist and Islay’s Gaelic College, Rupert has decided should be called ‘Cuach’ – the Irish and Scottish Gaelic word for a cup or drinking bowl, and root of the more familiar whisky word ‘quaich’.

This month Rupert brought his precious cargo up to Islay, the first load of 42 pieces to be sold in the Laddieshop. Get in touch with the Laddieshop team via +44 1496850190 if you are interested in purchasing a jug, cuach, or a set. Each is unique, stocks are limited. The shop team will be able to guide you about choice of glaze and availability.

Below is some information on each of the batches of earthen and stoneware Rupert has created:

Octomore clay stoneware tumblers with an ‘Aubergine’ glaze. Made from Octomore Farm clay these cuachan are glazed in a combination of metamorphic sandstone, rock dust from ‘Granny’s Rock’ at the far end of Kilchoman beach, peat ash and clay. ( The weathered rock dust is sourced from the gullies in the cliff face, where it gathers after rain has washed it down over the years. And where it has been excavated by rabbits making burrows. Thereby not involving the disturbance of plants, mosses and lichens that are part of this unique ecosystem.)

Octomore clay stoneware tumblers made with with the ‘Rhinns’ glaze. This glaze is a mix of peat ash, metadiorite rock (formed 1600-2500 million years ago) from Cnoc Mor near Portnahaven. This rock dust comes from outcrops along the edges of the track leading to the summit, which have been disturbed in the making of the road. Rupert has experimented with Bruichladdich draff ash too here, with half of the tumblers being dipped in a draff ash solution creating a blue wavy line around the rims.

Octomore Clay stoneware tumblers and jug, with ‘Peat Ash’ glaze. The peat ash comes from the ‘peating’ of barley as part of the whisky making process.

‘Well of the true water’ clay earthenware tumblers with Rupert’s homemade ‘blue’ Chün effect glaze

Foreland Estate clay stoneware tumblers and jug, glazed with Ballygrant (Islay) limestone and bog iron (limonite) glaze sourced from The Oa, on the south of the island.

More clay please

This trip, the Worcestershire potter also leaves with van springs a little tighter as he, Danny and James have come across another source of clay at Octomore Farm. The blue tinged clay, Rupert shows me, is very workable as it is. Taking some in his hand he smoothes and squeezes it into a sausage shape, then wraps it around his finger with minimal cracking, a good sign for a potter at this early stage. He’s very pleased with this result, it seems he has struck into something exciting again and I can tell he’s itching to get back to the studio.

For more detail re:the making of, see Rupert’s own potters’ blog: https://rbrakspear.com/category/islay-clay/


+44 1496850190


Aubergine glaze

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