Spring 2005. A tough time for Hazle Ceramics. Four years of difficult trading, along with the whole giftware industry. Codham Hall Workshop was isolated and security measures after a spate of farm burglaries were putting off visitors. Moving to Barleylands Craft Centre might help, but there were no guarantees. And then the move itself took its toll.
With all this in mind Chris wrote on 17th April 2005:
I am interested in what goes on behind the scenes - what goes into producing these things. In the form of VAT at 17.5% the government takes an initial slice of what we pay in the UK. After that I think about the box (about 50p I believe), the tissue paper, the printed label, the certificate, the allocation of numbers from the numbering book. I think about what the business costs to run - what the rent for the old workshop was, what the increased rent is at Barleylands. I think about the cost of all the building work and electrics getting the new facility ready. I wonder what it costs to shift a kiln, let alone filing cabinets, computers, shelving and so on. And I can’t help wondering how much got broken in the move.
I start thinking about all the manufacturing overheads. I wonder about Royal Theatre bisques coming out of the casting mould without their knobs. Accidents occur at every stage of the production process. I saw a painted bisque fall on the floor once - after all the painter’s loving work. I wonder how often that happens. When a ceramic cracks in the kiln it is usually during the second firing after all the painting. We saw a ceramic that had spontaneously broken into two around its girth while in its box - the cleanness of the break meant it was unlikely to have been an impact crack.
Then I think about the painters. The research that must go into each design. From books, magazines, catalogues and on the internet. I remember all those prototypes for the Varsity Shop, Fireworks and now Old Father Time - just to get it right. For some colours the underglaze paints look completely different after the ceramic has been fired. So what the painters paint is not always what we get. It’s amazing they come out so wonderfully when the painters cannot always see the end product. And all those little touches that I only notice later - like the different time zones on Keyboard Friends.
I also think about Hazle and all the things that go into creating a new ceramic - the research, the history, photographs, sketches, scale drawings and modelling before the model is sent off to Stoke-on-Trent for the master and working moulds to be made. Apparently clay doesn’t like being made into these unevenly shaped buildings - it wants to be a pot or a vase. So as part of the process, Hazle has to make sure there are no sharp edges to tear the fragile greenware apart when it comes out of the mould. Ceramic buildings by other companies are usually small. The long and wide surfaces of Hazle Ceramics, so important to portray the detail, actually put stress on the molecular structure. That may be why cracking in the kiln is relatively frequent.
There must be so much I am not aware of but based on what I do know, the very existence of each ceramic seems a miracle to me. How do they do it? For £47.50, for £95 or even £125. I know I couldn’t do it. I know I wouldn’t do it. In the summer of 1989 while still a teacher, Hazle worked her six week holiday for free at Stoke, the UK pottery capital, learning about clay and ceramics. The experts there said her plans weren’t viable. Some 15 years and thousands of ceramics later they clearly underestimated Hazle’s passion, commitment and tenacity. I don’t know whether someone else will take over Hazle’s business one day, but if that were to happen economic reality dictates that much of the quality and appeal is bound to be lost.
Especially at Barleylands some production activities are more easily done after the hobby painters have left. Whenever we visit, long after anyone else has gone home Hazle and Stephen will still be there. They often work as late as 9 or 10pm - which is when we departed last Tuesday - on Stephen’s birthday! You might expect that when building up a business - but not after 15 years. Maybe that is how they keep prices of the standard range so low. It doesn’t seem fair that it should be this way. And such a shame that Hazle’s time cannot be fully devoted to the creative aspects of her work.
Each ceramic is a small piece of history in many ways. In the future I think Hazle Ceramics itself will be a unique piece of history, in the making before our very eyes.
Footnote in March 2008: Hazle's Hobby Painting really took off in 2005. Then in 2006 the owners of Barleylands decided to expand the Craft Centre. The building works resulted in a lot of mess and noise - and for a long time parking space was greatly reduced. During this period many people stopped visiting Barleylands. Along with everyone else there, Hazle's trade was much affected. The new craft workshops and cafe were finished early this year and business has just started recovering...
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2 June, 2021
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