Svend Bayer

Svend in his pottery at Duckpool Cottage

Svend in his pottery at Duckpool Cottage

Svend was born on2 January 1946 in Uganda to Danish parents. He was raised in Tanganyika and had an idyllic, privileged colonial childhood. It became less idyllic when he went to boarding school at ten. From 1956 to 1962 he attended six different schools in four different countries (Tanganyika, Kenya, Denmark and England). When he was fifteen, childhood lost its shine completely. His parents’ marriage fell apart and he was sent to boarding school in England.

He studied Geography and Economics at the University of Exeter from 1965 to 1968. While he was at Exeter his girlfriend gave him A Potter’s Book, by Bernard Leach, one of the most influential potters of the 20th century. This was the turning point – Svend knew that he’d found what he wanted to do. He was going to be a potter.

The book featured the work of the potter Michael Cardew, one of Leach’s first apprentices. When he graduated, Svend wrote to Michael Cardew and asked to be taken on as an apprentice potter. He began work at Wenford Bridge Pottery, (which was at St Breward, near Bodmin) with Michael Cardew in 1969. Svend says that Michael Cardew’s influence on him was immense and going to Wenford was like coming home. Making pots came naturally to Svend, and Michael praised and encouraged him.

After three years with Michael Cardew, and six months as a thrower at Brannam Pottery in Barnstaple, Svend and his wife Jane travelled to Japan, South Korea and South East Asia to see work produced with the simple technology of large wood-fired kilns. What he saw and experienced has influenced all of his work since.

Svend and Jane returned to England in 1975 and bought Duckpool Cottage, Sheepwash, an ideal location with enough land to build the pottery and kilns, close to the Peters Marland ball clay deposits, and with good supplies of wood for firing. Their two sons, Olaf and Björn were born shortly after Svend and Jane moved to Sheepwash.

Svend’s approach is based on South East Asian village pottery practices – where there is a potter throwing big pots, another throwing small pots, a glazing expert, a kiln builder, a kiln stacker, a firing expert, and a person responsible for wood stacking. The difference is that at Svend’s pottery there is one person doing all of these things. This makes for hard work, but great variety.

He estimates that he spends about 20% of his time throwing, and most likes throwing large pots, but wouldn’t want to do that all of the time. He is renowned for his kilns, and not only builds them for himself, but also for friends and as commissions. He says that he loves the shape of a good kiln every bit as much as that of a good pot, and for him their beauty is as important as their function – fortunately the two things seem to be related.

A lot of time is spent preparing and stacking wood for firing the kilns. The wood is delivered as six-foot logs. Being accident prone when it comes to chain saws, Svend has someone less accident prone saw it into two-foot lengths, and he then splits the logs to the firing size. The wood piles are a joy to see, stacked with precision and adding to the charm of Duckpool Cottage.

When he was producing his greatest number of pots, Svend was using about sixteen tonnes of clay a year. Now he uses about two to three tonnes. This is still a lot of clay! Until recently he had his own mix of clay delivered from the clay works at Peters Marland, two miles up the road. Now, “progress” means that he has to order it from the company headquarters, in the Midlands, and it is then delivered from Newton Abbott.

At this time, late September 2010, Svend is building a new 225 cubic foot kiln and stacking pots in his other kiln (only 100 cubic feet!) in preparation for a firing. He is producing a lot of new work for a big exhibition. As he normally works alone, this month is unusual as he has Scott, an aspiring young potter, assisting him with this workload.

Svend used to sell all of his pots himself. After a firing he would load up his van and travel to about thirty shops and galleries across the country. Now he produces for one shop only – David Mellor, a kitchenware shop in Sloane Square(with a country shop in Derbyshire). Svend has a price list that he gives to the shop and receives about six orders a year from them.

He attends four craft fairs a year – Bovey Tracey, Rufford in Nottingham, Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, and Ceramics in the City in London.

Svend now produces for one or two exhibitions a year. The exhibition that he is currently preparing for is at the Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham. Galleries normally take a fee of about 50% of the price a work is sold for. Unlike many galleries, Goldmark are very proactive and earn their 50% – producing wonderful hard copy and online catalogues, videos of Svend at work, and articles about his life and approach to his art.

Svend’s other means of selling is his annual pre-Christmas sale at Duckpool Cottage. This is primarily for local people, and this year will be the 35th sale! Everyone is welcome.

Alison Ansell

October 2010 (Autumn issue)

Based on conversations with Svend Bayer, a monograph by Mark Hewitt with thoughts from Svend Bayer for the Goldmark Gallery, October 2007 and an article from the North Devon Journal by Anne Tattersall, 10 December 2009.