TOAST Magazine

Organic Shape | Ceramics with Cara Guthrie

STYLE & STORIES

Cara Guthrie, whose ceramics are part of our new House&Home Collection, works in a high-ceilinged, light-filled studio in Glasgow. The space is part of an old whisky factory, just by the river Clyde, and other artists and makers occupy the floors.

It is a sunny August day when I visit and the large skylight above is filled with cobalt blue. “Even on a grey day the studio is bright”, says Guthrie, making a pot of tea in the makeshift kitchen.

Guthrie is barefoot and clearly at ease in her surroundings, “I just can’t believe how lucky I am” she says, smiling. “To have this space, and to be a full time potter!” 

Though only thirty-one, Guthrie came to pottery relatively late. She began working as a project manager for an exhibition design company in London. “I worked on some amazing exhibitions”, she says, and tells me about various collaborations with the V&A and Somerset House. “But my heart was never fully in it. It was like I was always searching for something else.” When she started pottery four years ago – taking night classes at The Kiln Rooms in Peckham – she knew she’d found it.

Guthrie’s style is distinct. Petite forms that are elegant and sculptural, resembling organic shapes and the patina of rock formations. She looks to the landscape for inspiration and describes how she “needs the land” and will drive, each week, with a friend to a nearby loch. “I love the feeling of being in the water – I think part of me is aquatic,” she laughs.

In her short time as a potter Guthrie has amassed a great deal of experience. A few years ago she undertook a two-month apprenticeship at the Wurtz pottery in Horsens, Denmark. The large pottery – known for it’s strong, weighty forms and beautiful textures (they look like the surface of the moon) – sits between vast stretches of agricultural land, in a disused fire station.

During her apprenticeship Guthrie slept in the pottery itself, on a drop-down bed, amidst the whirring of gas kilns. Her first challenge came when the seasoned, and much respected, potter Aage Wurtz asked her to throw twenty of the same bowl.

“He placed one of their bowls in front of me”, recalls Guthrie, "and at first I thought it would be fine. I wedged up my clay to the right weights and began to throw.” She goes on to explain how she quickly realised the scale of the task. Guthrie had never tried to copy anyone’s form before, or to create twenty of anything that was exactly the same. “I’d always been making one offs, I hadn’t tried to be consistent.”

At the end of the day Aage Wurtz came to inspect her creations. After casting his eye over the majority of the bowls he picked up one, muttering promising noises. Then he rolled his finger along the top of the bowl and placed it back down with a quiet "No".

“I had to take all twenty to the skip at the back of the pottery, to be re-chugged,” says Guthrie, wincing a little at the memory. Guthrie describes how she was reassigned to the lowlier role of operating the jiggerjolly after that – pressing wet clay into moulds with a lever. But she was determined and would practise throwing in the evenings, when the other potters had gone home. 

Eventually she was taught how to throw plates and finally graduated onto bowls. “It was hard, but a huge achievement. I learnt an incredible amount - how to production throw, how to make a profit from what you're doing. I'm so grateful for the experience.” She still carries the mantra of Aage Wurtz with her: “I’ve never thrown a good pot. But tomorrow I might.”

Last year, while living in Cumbria, Guthrie undertook her second apprenticeship, this time with William Plumptre. “He was a wonderful person to learn from,” Guthrie enthuses. He had himself been taught by Tatsuzo Shimaokoa, one of the few potters to have been granted Living National Treasure status in Japan, and Plumptre’s own pottery studio resembled those in Mashiko, a town dedicated solely to ceramics. 

“I still talk to him regularly”, says Cara, “asking advice, discussing techniques. He knows so much and he is so generous with his knowledge.”

After watching Guthrie throw one of her bud vases in front of me – a quick, deft process which she says has become “so familiar” to her hands – we discuss why pottery is having such a renaissance, something she has clearly considered. 

“I think we’re all living in these worlds that are so automated. We’re saturated in tech. But many of us don’t know how to fix our everyday tools – our phones or laptops – or even how they work. I think we’re losing that sense of feeling able-bodied, and that’s why we’re intrigued by the older, slower processes. By what we can do with our hands.”

It becomes apparent that for Guthrie it is all about the process. “I used to be so precious about the finished object – and that was what motivated me. Now it is the process itself that I love, the actual making.”

Guthrie has, she says, always had “itchy feet”. She grew up in Stirlingshire – spending summers sailing on the west coast, “lots of wet summers, sandwiched between two bored brothers” – and has spent time living in India, Copenhagen, Stockholm, London and Cumbria. 

It seems fitting that, now Guthrie has found her calling, she has returned to her native Scotland. “Perhaps I’m settling”, she says, hesitantly, "I'm not sure. All I do know is that pottery is my life now.”

Words by Emily Mears. Images by Natalie Feather and Sandra Franco.

TOAST has commissioned Guthrie to create a set of unique works, to be displayed in our Edinburgh Shop. For this exhibition, Guthrie has been influenced by the pared-back works of Lucie Rie and a recent winter visit to the potteries of Japan. Each bowl is unique and hand thrown from an unmeasured weight of clay; all have tall feet and are glazed in a chalky white, coming together as a small family.

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