Interview - Victoria Baker of Little Wren Pottery
The charmingly named Little Wren Pottery is a ceramics studio run by Victoria Baker in Sunderland, a coastal city in the north east of England known for its industrial past. The handmade rustic stoneware ceramics Victoria makes and sells through her Etsy shop are simultaneously steeped in tradition and skills passed down through the generations and perfect for the modern home. Her delightful blog is full of beautiful images of her studio space and insights into the processes she uses. I asked Victoria to tell me a little about her work and some of her influences.
"At the University of Dundee I studied to be a designer rather than a pottery and I always try and think about how each piece will function not just for it’s purpose but the aesthetics of living with something everyday," she says. "It wasn’t until 2008 that I started making pottery and pretty much everything I know was taught to me by my Dad. Sunderland has a rich history of ceramics and in some small way I feel like I'm carrying on the tradition."
Can you tell us a little more about how local heritage and family traditions have influenced your work?
At one time there were 25 potteries all along the River Wear which cuts through the Sunderland. The city is probably best know for 'lustreware' which gives a pink iridescent sheen to pots and usually features images of boats and notable landmarks. It was chosen for it's abundance of two raw materials vital in producing pottery; clay and heat in the form of coal.
Although I'm apprenticed to my Dad I don't think his interest in pottery has overly influenced my path in life but I do think it can inform and contribute to your future. My great grandfather was a glassblower for the Pyrex factory also in Sunderland, obviously as a maker he never really got to leave his mark but I'd have loved to have seen him at work.
You do see small tributes to the past in my pots, particularly the Sunderland Frog Mugs which were inspired by ones made on Wearside in the 1800's. Each mug has a tiny frog inside designed to startle the drinker!
In recent years we have seen difficult times for the UK ceramics industry with many of the old established pottery companies closing or moving production abroad. Do you think there are signs of green shoots emerging within the industry from the surviving heritage brands and independent designer makers like yourself selling their work on Etsy?
I think British manufacturing in general has been hit quite badly in the last few years but I do think that people are starting to see benefits in shopping local. It's a complex issue but it brings jobs, money, creativity and other benefits down the whole of the supply chain.
There's also a loss of skills particularly with ceramics as older more experienced potters move on and retire their knowledge is lost and keeping these traditional skills alive is part of our cultural heritage. It's also really nice to know the person who made whatever it is your buying be it a mug or piece of jewellery and of course every piece is unique, there will never be two quite the same.
Which 3 words best describe your style?
Traditional, rustic, functional.
What's your favourite piece in your Etsy shop right now?
It has to be the set of tea, coffee and sugar jars. I think I may end up just keeping them but I don't like coffee and I don't use sugar either so they might just become tea, tea and tea jars!
I'm also of course influenced by other potters I think my favourite has to be Michael Cardew, I love his mixture of function and tradition - there's just something so undeniably 'British' about his work which I admire. To me each of his pieces exudes his character rather than creating fashion pieces, there's a timeless rustic character there.