Porthmelgan sideboard

It was the coldest, bleakest part of this last winter. That was when my right arm was gripped with such intense pain that I had to stop working with the clay. I was not happy! The medical advice was to take a break for a month, but what was I going to do?  It turned out that this was an opportunity to completely rethink my making process. 

All my forms up to this point had been made by honing them into shape using a metal scraper held in my right hand, and it was the tension in doing that that had led to the pain. I loved that process, and I felt that the gradual refinement of the firms over many days was part of what people perceived in them. I thought that, in some way, it was the source of their calmness and what they communicated. So to be deprived of access to that process was a challenge to what I had come to believe the work was about.

But my commitment is not to the outcome of the making process, it is to the process itself – to try to find a rightness in the making process and see what that quality leads to in the finished pieces. Clearly the scraping that I enjoyed was not right for my arm, so could there be a new way of making that would involve less tension and more balance in my body? 

For some reason I had also been reflecting on my early days of recording wildlife sounds which eventually led to my first career in natural history radio. Thinking back to the child who stuck a microphone out of his bedroom window to record the garden bird song I realised how long I have had a fascination with recording the natural world in one way or another. I was thinking how clay also keeps a record of everything that happens to it until it is fired, at which point the story of its making is locked into its form and surface. Maybe thinking of the clay as a recording medium could lead to a new way of working.  And so it did. 

A sideboard in native brown, pale and tiger oak, inspired by the rock strata at Porthmelgan, Pembrokeshire. It was is inspired by the layered rock formations at the little bay that sits under the rocky outcrop of Carn Llidi just a couple of miles from my workshop.

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The first time I walked down into the bay the sun was catching the iron in the rocks and they were glowing orange in the evening light.  I knew I wanted to make something that captured the richness of colour and dramatic shape of these rocks and it was when I tried to imagine what it would be like to slide the rocks apart and see what lay behind them that I had the idea of making a sideboard with sliding doors where you could do just that.

central door open revealing the drawers

The Porthmelgan sideboard has three sliding doors made of some extroardinary tiger oak which you can read about on the blog.  They are made of thin layers like the strata in the rocks themselves and each edge is shaped to catch the light.

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Behind the central door, at the heart of the piece, are three traditionally-made dovetailed drawers with richly figured fronts that you have to reach in and pull out like treasures from inside the rock face.

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and grounding the whole piece, the pale sandy base and legs recall the sandy floor of the bay.

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This is furniture inspired by a landscape and built in that landscape, so it’s a particular pleasure to be able to take the clients who commissioned it to see the origin of the sideboard that is now in their home….. and, curiously, a storm the day before we visited had washed away the sand of Porthmelgan to reveal a jumble of boulders. This is a wild and dynamic landscape!

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