Discover the world of clay

Heather Large meets a ceramic artist who is sharing her passion by offering clay-modelling classes and taster sessions.
From encouraging mindfulness to inspiring creativity, working with clay has many known benefits. As a ceramic artist, this ancient and versatile material has been a huge part of Rachel Swift’s life for more than 30 years.
And now she is sharing her passion with others and bringing like-minded enthusiasts together at her new studio, The Claypit, in Oswestry.
Designed just for clay, it offers adult taster sessions, classes and courses to suit all abilities from the complete beginners to those with experience.
There is also a membership scheme that gives fellow artists, including those just starting out in their careers, the chance to work in a shared space where they can gather support from others who have a new-found or long-time love of clay.
Rachel, who is the lead tutor at The Claypit, began honing her skills from an early age. “I’ve been involved with ceramics since I was tiny. My dad was a potter. I’ve done nothing else but work with clay,” she explains.
She went on to study for a BA degree in ceramics at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff.
After graduating in 2001, she completed a postgraduate degree course in the conservation and restoration of ceramics, glass and related materials at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation followed by a master’s degree in conservation studies.
During her career, she has worked at the British Museum specialising in conserving and restoring ancient and modern ceramics from all over the world.
“Clay is something that’s been constant in the evolution of humans over the last 20,000 years. You can look back at any period of time and see some sort of clay. There are not many cultures in the world that don’t use clay,” explains Rachel.
She has also exhibited her own ceramic work across the UK, worked behind the scenes on exhibitions and spent many summers on archaeological excavations.

Ten years ago, Rachel, who has also worked at National Trust and English Heritage sites, moved to Shropshire and set up her own studio where she worked alongside another artist.

“Working on your own is really rubbish but when you work alongside other people, your creative cup gets refilled,” says Rachel.

This experience and a desire to support recent graduates helped to inspire the membership scheme at The Claypit.
“When you graduate, you are you cast out on your own. There was a period after I graduated where I had interest in my work but I had no support,” explains Rachel.
“As well as creating a space where everybody could come to learn about clay, I wanted it to be a creative hub for people to work only with clay where they could make and share skills and creative ideas in a supportive environment.
“Hopefully we can bring in people who have recently graduated and it can act as a stepping stone for them. I’ve had quite a lot of interest already,” explains Rachel.
Since opening the doors of The Claypit for the first time just last month, Rachel has been “overwhelmed” by the response from the local community.
“I didn’t really know what to expect but it’s been very positive,” she says. “This is only the start. I have not set in stone what we will do as I know things will change and evolve.”
Workshops at The Claypit aim to give everyone who takes part the foundation skills they need to make everything from useful mugs and bowls to amusing or thought provoking sculpture and beautiful fine works of art.
The creations can be made on a potter’s wheel – or by hand as people have been doing for thousands of years – at the studio.
Classes have a maximum of eight people so everyone can feel the benefit of individual guidance from Rachel.
There is a range of clay making experiences including Saturday Throwdown, where participants can have a go on a potter’s wheel and make their own pot, and Sunday Workshops, which have a different focus each month.
Also on offer are longer clay making courses, which have new start dates six times a year, and groups, including family and friends, can arrange a unique Claypit experience with gift vouchers available.
Work made in the studio, which is located on the ground floor of The Cambrian Buildings in Coney Green, is fired to over 1,000°C in the on-site kiln.
Once fired, the clay turns into ceramic which is hard and strong.

As part of The Claypit’s commitment to working in environmentally conscious ways, people will be encouraged to keep and fire only what they truly love.

Before it is fired, clay can be recycled. All creations made at The Claypit that don’t end up in the kiln will be made soft again and the clay reused by someone else.
Rachel has been enjoying sharing her passion for ceramics with others and providing people of all abilities with the opportunity to have a go with clay for the first time or practice existing clay skills.
“At The Claypit people share the joy, successes and mishaps of making with clay in a welcoming, supportive environment,” she says. “Working with clay has so many benefits. It can encourage mindfulness, quiet and calm. It can be thrilling and joyful.
There are no boundaries in terms of who can work with clay. Clay is for everyone.”
For more information visit the website or contact Rachel

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