In 1990 Geoff and Christine Cox exhibited at their first Continental potters’ market, the International Ceramics Festival in Eindhoven, Holland. It came as a revelation – potters of international repute away from galleries, selling their work in the heart of the community. Why didn’t this happen in the UK?
They soon realised that if it were to happen back home they would have to organise it themselves. They decided on a large undercover cattle market in Penrith as a venue and in early June 1994 Potfest in the Pens was born – the first potters’ market of any size in the UK.
In 1997 the first Potfest Scotland took place in Perth – the ancient capital of the country – where the Highlands meet the Lowlands. Borrowing from the Potfest in the Pens model, over 80 potters transformed the town’s enormous cattle market into a vibrant three-day ceramics show.
Reaching a new audience
With growing popularity and a limited amount of space at the Penrith Pens, in 2001 Potfest in the Park was held at Hutton-in-the-Forest, an old country house 4 miles north of Penrith.
This new show was held under canvas on the parkland in front of the big house where the open aspect and landscape setting would allow the work to be displayed on a scale not possible at the Pens. This was to become Potfest’s flagship event, a show of excellence attracting exhibitors from all over the world.
In 2002, in order to find more time for their own ceramics, Geoff and Christine decided to concentrate their energies on developing the content of the existing festivals in Penrith. Matthew, their son, continued the development Potfest Scotland.
Over the next two decades, Potfest events were held in Bristol, Bakewell, Shrewsbury and Frome in Somerset. In 2010 with the closure of the Agricultural Mart in Perth, Potfest Scotland moved to the lawns of Scone Palace mirroring the format of Potfest in the Park by allowing the exhibitors to show in open-sided marquees.
In 2019 both Chris and Geoff retired from organising and stepped away from the shows.
Covid-19 meant that 2020 was a difficult year for everyone, lockdowns, event cancelations, restrictions and new rules meant the cancellation of all of most other, major ceramics events. Through the luck of timing, a lot of extra planning and shear bloody mindedness, all three Potfests were able to take place.
Being the only organisation that managed to run ceramics markets during the first year of the pandemic brought a new audience to the shows, people that would usually visit shows in the Midlands and the South headed North to get their annual ceramics fix.
Wanting to continue to build on the success of the shows in 2020 and 2021, with a building appetite from both exhibitors and public alike for more Potfest events, we decided to expand the Potfest calendar and our geographical coverage in 2022 with new shows in the East Sussex and Leicestershire.
The shows are now split into three categories:
The original ethos of Potfest in the Pens holds firm and everyone gets the chance to take part. Those wanting to exhibit are entered into a ballot with the first 90-100 names drawn being allocated a space. The same applies for the October dates in Penrith but those who were successful in the June ballot have their names taken out (you can only exhibit at one of the Penrith shows each year). Likewise, the new Pens event in Melton Mowbray is unselected and operated from a ballot.
Next up we have the shows at Glynde Place and Scone Palace. Both of these shows are selected but the work is chosen to represent what we believe is a good representation of the diversity in form, function and budget.
Finally, we have our two flagship events, Potfest by the Lake at Compton Verney and Potfest in the Park at Hutton-in-the-Forest. Both of these events showcase the very best work being produced in the UK. We also try to welcome a few of our continental colleagues and occasionally those from further afield
Across the Potfest events this year we will put the work of almost 400 ceramic artists in front of approximately 20,000 visiting members of the public.