May 2019

In the sleepy village of Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire, ceramic artists John & Jude Jelfs have run their small pottery studio since 1973.

Specialising in hand-made, small-batch creations – ranging from kitchenware and teapots to figurative sculpture works – we asked the husband-and-wife duo to share their story and inspiration.

Let’s start from the beginning, how did the Cotswold Pottery start and where did you two meet? 

John & I met when we were both at Art School in Gloucestershire. When we left college, he wanted to be a full-time potter, and I wanted to continue to make sculpture in clay and bronze.

Your gallery and shop are located in the beautiful village of Bourton-on-the-Water in the heart of the Cotswolds, has this always been your place of work?

Yes. We started looking for a workshop right away, and found somewhere almost by accident which we thought would “do” for a couple of years. 40 or so years on, we are still on the same site, though it has evolved from a run-down shack to a working pottery with gallery, studio and house.

Your pottery is entirely hand-made on site, was this something you had established from the very beginning?

There was never any question of working in any other way than by hand. Making was, and still is, the driving force behind what we do. 

Do you share the same inspiration behind your collections?

In many ways, yes I think so. We look at different artists - John looks to the traditional ceramics of the east, both ancient and modern, as well as northern European potters, whereas I tend to look at 20th-century European painters and sculptors. What we have in common is a liking for simplicity, minimal decoration, strong form. And more and more I find that inspiration comes from one’s own imagination, and less from outside influences.

You both have very distinctive styles to your work, tell us about your process.

John makes most of his pots on the potters’ wheel. He is very disciplined, and every day makes a mixture of useful, affordable pots, together with his one-off pieces. Many of his one-off pieces are thrown (on the wheel) and altered while still soft: squashed, facetted, cut, textured. Glazing is just as important to him as making. He uses ingredients local to the studio wherever possible – woodash, local clays and limestone – to make a range of subtle stoneware glazes. My work all starts with drawing from life, from a model. I work with a drawing that I think might work as a pot (usually a jug – I like the jug form) and draw, redraw many times till it’s right. From there, I make paper patterns, and roll flat slabs of clay from which I cut out the shapes. From there on it’s a bit like tailoring.

Jude, you studied fine art and became a potter when you married John. What drew you to pottery?

Well initially it was a question of economic necessity! We had rent and bills to pay, and so it made sense for me to learn to throw pots. I did this for a number of years, making functional pots, learning my craft and how to work with clay. Slowly I returned to my fine art roots, combining pottery with painting and sculpture, which is where I still am.

Can you name some influential figures you are both inspired by?

John admires the late Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada as well as the late German maker Hans Coper. For me Matisse, Brancusi, Picasso.

Jude, your work has a sense whimsy and playfulness to it, especially as you apply a ‘sgraffito’ technique to your pottery – tell us a bit more about this.

I’ve always been interested in the figure, how through time it’s been represented – drawn, modelled. I’m also interested in the anthropomorphic qualities of pots; we talk about pottery forms – bowls, jugs, vases – having 'feet', 'bellies', 'shoulders', 'lips'. I like to play with these ideas. And as I said earlier, drawing is key to what I do. Sgraffito is drawing into the soft surface of clay, a wonderful drawing medium and something that humans have been doing for a very long time. My pieces are, I think, essentially drawings in space.

How have your designs developed since 1973, when you founded the studio?

Everything that we both make now looks very different from what we made in 1973! But in essence, actually not much has changed. The same interests and disciplines that were there from the start are still there.

What are you currently working on and what’s to come in 2019?

For me I’m developing new colours, new designs and John is doing the same with his work, so yes watch this space! 

Cotswold Pottery
Clapton Row
GL54 2DN 
Photography via Cotswold Pottery