Skip to main content
Read page text


What If...

Exhibition Art In Clay: 17th Pottery and Ceramics Festival, Hatfield House, Hatfield, 5-7 August 2011 Email Photography Peter Bunting

Karen Bunting reflects on the critical encounters that led to chairing the CPA.

I’m not sure what sort of response I would have got at my school if it had ever occurred to me to suggest to anyone there that I might become a potter. It was a very academic school and I suspect the staff had as little idea that this could be a career choice as I did. The most able students were encouraged to apply for Oxbridge. The highest possible acclaim was given to those achieving in the sports, especially rugby. Music was considered all right as a pastime, but only the performing of it, and only if classical. Artistic excellence was understood to be confined to those able to draw a horse from memory.

o I went off to university in London to study chemistry, gained my degree, and entered the world of gainful employment. After several jobs, all of which seemed equally dull if well paid, I saw my working life stretching ahead in endless days of time-watching and realised that I needed to think again.

I always had made things as a child and young adult, including sewing my own clothes, but when I was growing up, these skills were not seen as anything remarkable in a girl. I regarded them more as a natural part of my life, like reading or walking. I had made one pot at school during a session in the art room, but it was only a recreational treat for good behaviour one wet afternoon.

Quite where the decision to become a potter came from, I’m still not clear. I didn’t just want to do pottery, I wanted to become a potter, in much the same way that someone might have decided to become a doctor or an engineer. The first book I got out of the library was Philip Rawson’s Ceramics, which encouraged me to understand that this could be an activity that satisfied my intellectual interests as well as my need to make.

In order to achieve my goal I found part-time work, enrolled in adult education classes, and embarked on learning my career. I’m not sure where this approach would have led me had not this particular course of action been interrupted by my father’s untimely death. I moved with my partner to Whitby in order to be closer to my mother for a while, and it was here that I knocked on the door of one of the few potters in the area. He had just returned from a month’s holiday and was up to his ears in dry clay and general studio mess. He needed someone to help him clear up and do odd jobs, and I jumped at the chance to work with a potter.

Various steps led me back to London and eventually a home and studio in Hackney. I continued making and learning, asking questions of anyone who could answer them, gaining skills and learning from mistakes as I went along.

In 1993 I became involved with the group Hackney Contemporaries, which was set up to help improve the image of the London Borough of Hackney, at that time one of the poorest areas in Britain and generally considered to be home primarily to gangsters and ne’er-do-wells. I became chair of this mixed craft group and helped set up the Hidden Art open studio annual event amongst other things.

‘What if’ is one of those ideas I have tried to keep out of my life. The phrase implies infinite parallel universes where different decisions have been made, and I’m never sure of the wisdom of thinking that way, leading as it can to what Dylan aptly calls the ‘highway of regret’…and anyway, living in one universe is more than enough for me. There are of course, for all of us, serendipitous encounters or opportunities. And I have had my fair share.

What if I hadn’t decided to visit friends in Cambridge one weekend in 1971 and met my husband? I wouldn’t have found my best friend and might not have had the audacity to think of a career in a creative area. Peter was studying philosophy, but wanted to continue developing his painting and thought of himself primarily as an artist.

What if I hadn’t met a young American potter, Paco Sutera, on New Year’s Eve shortly after my decision to take up pottery, and discovered that he too had become a potter after being educated for a very different future? This seemed to be a sign that I was being encouraged to give it a try and not think it too late for me to start at the, as I saw it, ripe old age of twenty-five.

What if John Egerton hadn’t just come back from his Australian holiday to a studio in desperate need of some serious sorting and cleaning? His was a very generous sharing of information, space, and time, which enabled me to get a firm foundation in my new endeavour.

What if I hadn’t answered the invitation to join the Hackney Contemporaries. I wouldn’t then have discovered that I was rather good at organising things and gone on to set up Ceramics in the City, amongst other things. Nor would I have thought myself capable of taking over the chair of the CPA at a time of such crisis.

What if I hadn’t agreed to take over as Chair of the CPA after only one year on council? Who knows… but one thing is certain, I would have made a lot more pots in the last three years!

I have been making pots for over thirty years now and cannot imagine a life without that. I think making is a fundamental part of being human and I feel very fortunate that I have been able to spend so much of my life with this activity as a central part of it.


CERAMIC REVIEW 250 July/August 2 011

My Bookmarks

Skip to main content