by Jessie Combe
Miranda Berrow (the woman) is charming, dreamy, playful and imaginative. She is authentic and honest, with a deep infatuation for her craft and her family. To me, it is fitting that her brand is eponymous as Miranda is the best representation of her Art. And so, rather than write about Miranda, I want to write about why…
I discovered Miranda Berrow (the brand), quite by accident, at the end of a day that felt thick and gloomy. The news had been on, and the news was not good. On this day, I was selfishly struggling to come to terms with what this Pandemic might mean for our little business, which was beginning to find its feet having launched just a couple of months before. Whilst I have always had faith in our mission of elevating the mind and the home through beauty, I felt wobbly and unsure as to whether our mission would continue to resonate when people were despairing. And yet, it was in my own relative despair, that I stumbled across Miranda and felt that familiar jolt of joy that I knew to be the restorative power of art and of the Beautiful. To inspire and to connect the heart and the mind.
As I hope you will come to read and to experience, Miranda Berrow’s pieces are hand-made, glorious objects of astonishing beauty. They are uplifting, happy and whimsical with a playful innocence that is tempered by a grown-up, intelligent practicality. Miranda’s world and words hum with the vitality of a woman who has lived a life as rich and colourful as the pieces she creates between Sri Lanka and her own home on the craggy coastline of Dorset. We are so incredibly spoilt to introduce you to Miranda Berrow, exquisitely, exclusively, for Love After Love.
Miranda, tell us the story of you! What was your childhood like?
I grew up on the go. We moved houses and schools and continents very often. I was born in Canada, educated in Madrid and at an English girl’s boarding school, A-level College in Oxford then to Paris for first year University where I lost my heart to a Piedmontese and moved to Turin.
I spent 3 blissful years there travelling and seeing all sorts of marvellous things and learnt Italian my favourite of all languages and to appreciate the abundance and delights of good food, so as English as I sound is not as English as I feel. I finally got a British citizenship last year. I returned to the UK to take my place at St Martins Art School in London where I spent 3 unforgettable years making all sorts of crazy bits and bobs in the fashion department and printing fabric and nearly took a job in Paris working for Balmain however just before leaving I met the man I would marry (a few years later.)
Together we travelled and worked relentlessly for about 4 years all over the world to the USA and India and Australia ..we set up a home in Paris and then stopped for a while in South Africa and built a really beautiful classic sailing boat “Bolero” on which we lived for a few years. Eventually we settled in West Dorset with our young family.
I set up a studio in the house and started selling at little local Art shows. I had done my fair share of pottery throwing and classes here and there. Pottery was something that always had remained high on my list of interests in the Arts, I had even applied to do Ceramics BA at Bristol at the same time as applying for fashion at St Martins, it was there firmly lodged in me, as are Textiles and printing..
What does storytelling mean to you? Is there a place for storytelling in your work?
Story telling is for me a source of wonder, a coming together of a stranger to a stranger to listen and share. I don’t only mean as a child being read to but as an activity that promotes cultural exchange, a way of firing the soul, unknowingly using ones imagination and travelling to places that are far and wide removed from our everyday situations.
I most often listen to books, lectures, stories, and poetry whilst at work in the studio. I am currently listening to a wondrous narrative about our universal connections to Nature and how much we can learn from it, given by an American-Indian professor of Botany, Robin Wall Kimmerere called Braiding Sweetgrass, and wish every person in the world to hear her exceptional story telling.
I know that as I coil and build a piece of clay I am aiming to create a place or person or meal, situation or pattern that has evoked a response in me, and with the person that later buys my work I have joined it and them to me, to be enjoyed and loved. I went through a stage when I was coiling a lot last summer of incising words or news headlines on the underside of vessels. One read “I should have been a teapot", the piece had dried too quickly and remained without its top half or spout or handle!
Who/What was your first great love? What does love look like to you?
My first great love is my family. They are spread all over the world, and many of us summered together year after year, gathering in the south of Spain back in the days when there were no developments, no postal deliveries, no marked rail crossings and the beaches were scorching hot dunes which you had to navigate stone by stone to get to the water because the sand was too hot. Donkeys and dusty roadside chiringuitos where you could buy a Fanta or a Chupa-Chup. Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, French, German, South Americans, Scots, Bull Fighters, Horse Riders, old and young alike. Sharing cartoon books and siesta-ing in the children’s garrets, whilst the "grown ups" finished their boozy noisy lunches late into the afternoon. That comradery and adventure together made a bond around my heart, one that I still hold close and have passed on to my children, the treasure that is the experience of inclusive open sharing meal times and quiet times, noisy times, with friends, family and strangers.
You live and work in the South West of England, in the Coastal town of Dorset…an area known for its dramatic, fossilised, and craggy coastline. Are you inspired by nature and the world around you? How has place influenced your work?
The Jurassic coast where I live is an unexpected place on this tiny island of ours. Nestled into the South Coast it is miles and miles of undeveloped coastal land all owned and shared with the National Trust.
It is ever-changing with occasional cliff falls and land slipping into the sea after dry summers and heavy rain. It a place where life is still at a pace that creates a community, it is far enough from a motorway or rail station that people hesitate to stop off, tourism is happy campers and few intrepid weekenders.
I deeply love the landscape, the miniature hilliness of the place, the twisty narrow roads, the unexpected plunging away of a vista, it is on a human scale, and most of all it is by the sea, my favourite place. A place of delight and joy and pleasure and a place to buffer the nonsense out of one’s busy head on a blustery afternoon and challenge ones complacency by braving the cold waters with a dip in January.
Can you tell us about your studio space?
My studio is nestled in the far west corner of a magnificent ancient courtyard of thatched barns which the owners have developed into a fairly low key wedding venue and an Art Gallery with a few shops.
Really as I am self-taught I only know what I know. Now I have been doing it successfully for long enough that I no longer doubt myself, I no longer feel like an imposter, or someone who is just toying with clay. The desire to make pots has been niggling away at me for years. I started when my 3 daughters were very young, I had a wheel but converted to coiling. I prefer the random development of an idea, than the controlled influence and discipline of the wheel.
I spent many months at the beginning asking myself why I was making and who would want these weird and wobbly looking things, talking myself out of the studio. When things really did take a turn for the worst in my life that is where I went....straight back to the studio, it was a place of solace and solitude, quiet, peace and profound distraction, and at the end of most days I am thrilled at what I have made, and return home in anticipation of what will come out of the kiln the following morning. A place to allow the clay to speak and a place to doodle to my heart's content.
I go most every day to the studio, not always for the whole day, I do not run my place as a shop it is my working studio. I might go at 5am if I am awake or stay late into the dark evening if I am too busy to leave.
Can you share a bit about your process?
Slowly I grew out of wanting to produce coiled mugs and bowls by myself. With 4 incredible guys who knew a lot more than I did, I made moulds of my work and world, producing batches of work in Stoke on Trent in a fabulous old unused Post Office in Burslem.
I did that for a good few years, until the quality of the work was too erratic and I needed a more professional forward-thinking organisation. By pure chance a friend showed me a small christening cup which they had recently bought as a gift which had hand painted animals on it and gold stars in the sky…made in Sri Lanka.
I finally tracked the factory down and have worked with them for 7 years. I go each year for a few weeks at least and add one or two new designs or colours or shapes and they send them back all boxed and ready to send out to shops and clients.
That is one side of my small business.
The other is coiling dreams by hand slowly and embellishing them with patterns and colours and handles, everything that I make is made with the intention of creating an object to make someone smile and to bring joy to the daily routines of eating and drinking and sharing beautiful things and delicious food.
Your pieces are so whimsical but also SO practical and ergonomical. They just feel so beautiful in the hand. How considered is this balance in your work? What comes first? Form or function?
The designs and shapes have slowly evolved over the last 8 years but changed fairly little, the handles were the crucial bit of design as I had watched my husband with beautiful large hands struggle with ridiculous handles that he could not even fit a finger through. They are super comfortable in the hand, even the large tea Mugs which hold 350ml. The patterns are all from the one Hake brush that I bought from our local treasure trove Art Store in Dorchester Herrings. It was for glazing and made of the softest goats hair but held the fullest brush full of heavy glaze and was pure pleasure to glide over the dusty underglaze colours, from this I bought them in many sizes and on their side the form the “Dash” pattern that decorates much of my work.
Your use of colour, lustre and texture is just exquisite. Can you tell us about your relationship to these elements? For instance, your use of metallic accents?
I am a lover of tone, colour, pattern, texture. Paintings by Vuillard or Anselm Kiefer, Turkish woven fabrics, baskets by Christiane Gunzi or Maggie Smith, Jewellery, knitting, colours from the earth rich reds and deep greens….I have learned to manipulate the underglaze colours that I inherited when I bought my very old electric kiln and old kick wheel , and a few cardboard boxes full of unknown substances and powders from an ad in our local magazine back in 1997. I have experimented with pots of things that no longer had labels and under glazes that looked black or mauve that turned out to be green or rich blue once fired, I have learned much from other potters and made colossal mistakes that have become systems which I use and continue to experiment with. The magic that is the application of colour or the brush stroke that became my signature mark are all part of the ongoing processes of discovery that entertain me and keep me hooked. I really enjoy the playful occupation that is mine and most of all the delight that it too seems to enchant people with.
If you weren’t a Ceramic Artist, what other medium would you choose to explore?
I’d be an architect, or product designer. I’d create and recreate houses, rooms and spaces . I am forever shifting things about in my home and my head. I could spend hours lost in reverie trawling through magazines on architecture, or Dezeen online.
Who/What inspires you?
The biggest influence on my life, the Sea . Living by the sea. I can walk to the sea from my tiny cottage in Symondsbury. I have lived by the sea in a few places, on a boat for a few years, and near the sea now. I have somehow absorbed and observed the ever-changing colours and whenever the weather changes I am down there taking in the colours. I have also collected pottery for years… bits that I found wandering around the ruined pagodas in Pagan Burma in 1982, finds in antique arcades in Paris and Bridport, my first ever serious buy was a small maquette of a “Nana” by Niki Saint Phalle. A few years later, a Ewen Henderson for adventurous texture and subtle colours and a volcanic glazed long necked Lucie Rie. I fell seriously for Hylton Nel when we lived in South Africa back in the 1980’s his humour and lightness of touch.
We always like to ask our guests to leave us with the name of their favourite book or a favourite line from a poem or song. Could you share yours with us? OR perhaps a favourite artist of yours?
- Love of Seven Dolls by Paul Gallico
- Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier
- Braiding SweetGrass by Robin Wall Kimmerere
- Miguel Barcelo, a Mallorcan painter and potter who we met when he was a student and loved.
- Kurt Jackson english west country painter and nature observer
- Harvest Moon - Neil Young
- Miriam Makeba- The Click Song
- Francoise Hardy - Tous les garcons et les filles