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  • Writer's pictureKate Hopkins-Searle

Living Crafts at Hatfield Park

I was invited to be in the Masterclass Pavillion demonstrating my work at the Living Crafts show at Hatfield Park this year. Various reasons, not least covid, meant that I hadn't exhibited for a long time, so I thought it would, at the very least, mean an opportunity to meet other artists and get a reaction from the public. And a very lovely reaction it was too. There were lots of "Wow!" and "Those shoes are amazing" and "I've never seen anything like them" and "They make me smile" and "These are real works of art." There was also the usual number of people (women) who said "I just wish I could wear them" I had this comment so often that in the end I started to reply with "But where would you wear them and what would you wear them with?" Because surely even those of us with the wildest social lives can't have that many opportunities to wear shoes of such outrageous ornament. The wearable shoes would then remain for most of their 'life' shut away in a box in a wardrobe. Far better to have beautiful ornamental ceramic shoes displayed to be seen and ejoyed all the time.

People would look at the case and try to decide which were their favourite pair of shoes. And then along came a lovely woman who couldn't decide which pair were her favourites and so bought both Adele and Marie. How lovely that they have gone off into the world to be admired.

I made a shoe and a half while at the show - in really quite difficult contitions - it was often so warm in the tent that the clay dried out very quickly. When I was making some of the very fiddly decorations I would prepare the clay, cut out the shapes, then someone would come and ask me a question and by the time I got back to my clay it had dried out and I'd have to start all over again to make that particular element. Some parts I ended up making 5 or 6 times. In the end the two shoes had to be scrapped as there was no way they'd survive the drive home, plus they'd been drying out and then sprayed with water so often that they would very likely have cracked badly in the first firing. Back in my studio I like to give the shoes several weeks wrapped in plastic to dry out very slowly.

Most Frequently Asked Question: .How long does it take you to make a shoe? That's a very difficult question. The short answer is that each pair takes a day to design and then 4 days to make a pair of shoes. I would aim to make 6 pairs of shoes, as this is the number that will fit in my kiln. They are then, as I said previously, given weeks to dry out before the bisc firing. Then the soles are coloured and the shoes are fired again, followed by the edges of the soles being coloured and fired. Then the process of decorating the upper parts of the shoes would start with underglaze colours and glazes. Sometimes the shoes are fired 4 or more times if, for example, I want to avoid two glazes running together or if I feel that more coats of the glaze are needed to get the right depth of colour. The final firing is to 800⁰C and is to melt the enamel decals (if I'm using them) and real gold and platinum lustres into the surface of the glaze. The whole process takes months and months - and even then I might lose one or two pairs if, perhaps, a glaze decides to misbehave and doesn't fire like my test pieces - Sigh!

Working alongside me in the Masterclass Pavillion was Wendy Lawrence who makes the most amazing stoneware garden sculptures - so lovely in fact that I bought the one in the photo on the right & this is it in my garden. (A closer photograph might have shown the gorgeous glazes better.) It took me a while to find the right position, which is slightly raised and with the sun on it rather than behind. I shall be planting up the tub with lobelia when Amazon delivers my 'garden ready' plants this weekend.

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