Potting passion in the Dargle

2010-01-22 15:35

THE thought of controlling 55 kilograms of wet, slippery terracotta clay on a potter's wheel is a mind-boggling one.

“It's heavier than a bag of cement,” says potter Ian Glenny cheerfully as he explains that lifting the thrown pots into his biggest kiln, which can only hold two at a time, is no mean feat either. And then they have to be fired, slowly, for around 24 hours.

Glenny, working at his Dargle Valley Pottery, where he has been living for the past 31 years, has made 20 of the monster pots, as well as another 20 which weighed 45 kilograms wet - not that much smaller, or easier to work with.

The pots were a special order, from a friend of a friend, for a nursery in Johannesburg and are designed to be garden features. The nursery ordered 16 of them and Glenny made a few extra, just in case of cracking in the kiln.

The clay for the terracotta that is a major feature of Glenny's work is dug on the property and then processed by the potter. Even the parking area at Dargle Valley Pottery is an outdoor showroom for his terracotta pots - chunky, tactile, an enticing warm orange-red colour and in all shapes and sizes. And enter Glenny's gallery, and there are more and more pots, both glazed and unglazed.

Some of Glenny's most popular lines these days are his fireplaces, his tagines (flat-based clay pots with a cone shaped lid, used for slow cooking on top of a stove) and his pizza ovens.

“Obviously, you have to add something to the clay to make them flame resistant or they would crack. There was quite a bit of trial and error to get it right, but now they work like a dream.”

Glenny is not giving away his secret ingredient - there are plenty of imitators around and he knows that they would love to get their hands on his recipe for making his clay impervious to breaking under heat, but he is not telling.

He also makes ibashis - originally a Japanese idea, but Glenny describes it as being like a clay Weber braai.

“You just put the charcoal in, light it and leave it for an hour, and off you go.”

He describes a recent meal he cooked in one - fish, with potatoes in foil - and while he and his guests were eating that, he put in bananas, apples and pears, and served them with fresh cream. It certainly sounds delicious.

“Not long ago, we took one to the beach and while we were cooking our lunch, I sold two more,” he says. “People who were walking past stopped to have a look and were hooked.”

Glenny has been part of the Midlands Meander since its foundation and was one of the leading lights in its creation.

Besides selling from his own studio, he also owns the old station master's house in Lion's River.

Built in 1880, it is a listed building. When he bought the house, it was in terrible condition, particularly the surrounding land that goes with the house where bugweed, wattle and brambles had taken over. There were times when, says Glenny, he had several nervous breakdowns wondering what he had done. But now it is a gallery selling the work of around 40 crafters, including Glenny, with room for more. But he still reckons 70% of his sales are made in his studio, a cavernous but friendly space, filled with pots of all kinds and innumerable welcoming dogs.

* Glenny's Dargle Valley Pottery is number 315 on the Midlands Meander Map. The telephone number is 033 234 4377.

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