Just north of Bath on Freezing Hill is Willow Pottery, in an outbuilding on an old farm that looks out over to Bristol and the Cotswolds. Beside the studio is a covered area where stacks of outdoor pots are exposed to the weather, developing a pleasing patina before they are sold. “The building used to house pigs. Farmers are diversifying a lot now – there are also carpenters and tree surgeons here,” says Matt Pasmore, who has led Willow Pottery since 2009, but has been orbiting the business much longer. As a teenager, he began working at the pottery on Saturdays. “I was never really involved in the throwing or making at the beginning,” he explains, instead packing kilns and helping out with odd jobs. “I never knew I was going to be a potter.”
A creative pursuit of some sort was arguably in his blood. His grandfather was pioneering abstract painter Victor Pasmore, and as a boy, he moved from London to Somerset with his mother, a photographer. She worked from influential studio potter Hans Coper’s former studio in Frome; as he grew older, Matt helped his mother in the studio, printing pieces for her. “She was working among all of these incredible pots, and it made me want to become more involved with throwing,” he says. A common thread running through Coper’s pots and Willow’s is an architectural quality; but where Coper’s are abstract in composition, Willow’s are functional. Each decisive, clean line is utterly essential.
Various creative endeavours followed – Matt studied guitar at college, before becoming a theatre lighting technician – but he continued to help out at the pottery from time to time. Bill Donaldson, who founded Willow in 1987, eventually sought a successor. With a young family, Matt was seeking a different pace of life; he took up the challenge of leading the company in 2009. “It took a few months for me to really get back into the throwing,” he says. Now, he works with his small team – Sarah, Tim, James and Steven. Sarah is throwing scalloped pots on the wheel as we walk through the studio, with her loyal dog beside her.
When he took over Willow, Matt introduced a shift in strategy. The company began to move gently away from solely creating pots for nurseries and exhibiting at flower shows such as Chelsea and Hampton Court, to making pieces for smaller clients. Large garden pots are still an intrinsic part of what Willow Pottery creates, and have a particular market in Japan. “We send a lot of traditional garden pots there, those that you’ll find in a quintessential English garden,” Matt says. But alongside making these bread-and-butter pots, Matt now enjoys collaborating with small companies to create new pieces, particularly those for interior use, such as the salad bowls and nesting bowls that they are making for TOAST. The latter, a trio, are finished with a rich ochre glaze, the result of experimentation and multiple rounds of sampling.
“The pot is similar to one we’ve made before, but because they are nesting, we had to work out the sizes precisely so they fit perfectly,” Matt says. After being thrown from terracotta clay from Stoke-on-Trent, they are bisque fired inside each other in the kiln, separated by specific blocks Matt created to save space, creating sculptural towers. “It took a lot of experimenting to have this packing system, so we can fire them together for consistency,” he says, turning over one of the bowls in his hands. After they are glazed, they are fired again. “Because of the stacking, the base toasts a bit more, feeding off the glaze. It’s created a beautiful tonal difference that we really love. I really enjoy collaborating as it allows us to explore new ideas, particularly with new colours and glazes, which can turn out unexpectedly.”
Interview by Alice Simkins Vyce.
Photographs by Marco Kesseler.
Matt wears our Monty Japanese Denim Jacket.