independent

Friday 19 September 2014

Jenny all fired up about pottery

Published 02/08/2014 | 00:00

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Jenny Kelly Pottery, Wicklow.

Working the craft industry was an easy decision to make for local potter Jenny Kelly.

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The Dunganstown native has been honing her skills for more than half of her life, starting her apprenticeship at the tender age of 15.

'I was home-educated by my parents, predominantly my mother, so after I spent one year in secondary school to see what it was all about, and hated it, they told me I had to either continue in education, get an apprenticeship or a job. They didn't want me to sit around all day and they allowed me to make the decision for myself,' Jenny explained.

'I was always interested in art and crafts and we did a lot at home. I did a pottery class at about the age of 11 or 12 and loved it. I approached Brian Keogh who had a studio in Mount Usher Gardens at the time and he took me on. It was a wonderful experience and our personalities worked well together. I didn't mind working in silence and doing the same piece over and over again until I got it right,' she added.

'I remember I would spend the day doing a board of pots and at the end of the day Brian would come along and smash them all – so I had to start all over again and keep going until I mastered the shape.'

Her patience and interest in getting each piece correct is what Jenny, now 33, says helped her to succeed.

'There is a repetitiveness that can drive people mad. You can't expect to get it right straight away. You have to keep doing it over and over again.'

From early on, Jenny's love for the craft was clear and she knew she had made the right decision.

'I just loved it from the word go, the feel of the clay and getting my hands dirty. I loved the whole process of creating something new and unique from a piece of clay.'

Jenny's in-house training lasted three years and from there she commenced a Pottery Skills Course in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, where she honed her throwing and glazing skills further.

Stints working in various pottery studios, including the former Badger Hill near Enniscorthy and with Colm Doris in Dublin, ensured that Jenny got plenty more experience before setting off on a three-year travelling trip that would see her turn her hand to pottery in Australia for a time.

It was when she returned home to Dunganstown that she set up her first studio from home. There she designed her first collections, which are easily recognised by their vibrant red, purple and turquoise shades.

'I was always drawn to vibrant, bright colours and wanted to work with them, especially red, and while I was training I was always trying out different reds. Glazing is not like painting in terms of picking a shade and being certain how it will come out. It all depends on the clay used and the temperature of the kiln.'

Working from her private studio allowed Jenny to explore the wholesale option and began supplying her products to a variety of gift and craft retailers but soon the challenge of opening her own craft business would call to her.

She took the plunge and opened Jenny Kelly Pottery in the Market Square in Wicklow Town in November 2013.

'I wanted to open my own space as a place to showcase my work and the work of other craftspeople. It also allowed me to hold introductory classes, longer courses and birthday parties which have become a big part of the business,' she said.

Despite having what, on the outside, is a modern and contemporary product, Jenny is proud to be doing a job that has been done in Ireland for generations.

As a young craftsperson it intrigues her to take the art of pottery and make it her own in terms of style and design.

'I think it is very important to keep old traditions alive. I don't even know when the first pot was created in Ireland but it was centuries ago. While the equipment and designs might have changed over the years, the basic technique is still the same and there is something lovely about that. It is nice to have that tie with the past.'

Jenny explained that while the clay used today might be slightly more manufactured to make it compatible with modern kilns, it is still essentially clay from the ground that goes into making her pottery creations.

'Years ago potters would have dug up a handful of clay and, depending on where it was from, it would determine the colour, for example terracotta, stoneware or earthenware.'

Jenny's own clay of choice is stoneware which, she says, is hard-wearing and practical yet suits her design styles.

While there might not be as many pottery workshops in Ireland today as in times of old, Jenny says consumers are much more discerning when it comes to parting with their hard-earned money.

She believes that, during the Celtic Tiger, money was no object for a lot of people which at times resulted in less consideration about the actual product itself.

'People think about what it is they are buying and they put much more thought into buying gifts. They loved to know if something is made in Ireland so I always stamp the underside of each piece with 'Ireland' to show this.'

As if running her own shop wasn't enough to keep her busy, Jenny is also in the middle of producing a new range.

This will take flight in November though, after she takes some well-earned time off to focus her attentions on another role as old as time – being a mother to her new baby girl, Lucy.

Wicklow People

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