Maker in Focus at The Guild at 51

As the doors open on Stroud International Textile’s inaugural Maker in Focus showcase at The Guild at 51, SIT’s resident blogger Charlotte Abrahams sits down with the very talented Joseph Hartley.

Joseph Hartley photography by Emily Dennison
Joseph Hartley
photography by Emily Dennison

Who are you – designer-maker, ceramicist or potter?

Definitely a designer-maker. I avoid both ceramicist and potter as titles because making clay objects is not all I do: I also work with wood and textiles and I’m always trying to push my practice in other ways.

Why are you a maker?

Because I have to be. Making things with my hands is the only thing that satisfies me but that doesn’t mean that I have to make objects. I’ve also worked as a butcher, a baker and a cook and, in my head, there’s no difference between making food and making objects as I do now.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

Stripped back and lean. All my work is to do with the materials that it’s made from so I try not to tamper with that too much. I leave my clay pieces unglazed, fabric is left raw and wood goes unvarnished.

What interests you – form or function?

Both. I’m infinitely more interested in making things that are used rather than shut away behind glass and a lot of my work is inspired by day to day activities. However, I’m not interested in problem solving. I approach my work from a craft or art perspective rather than as a product designer so I am prepared to sacrifice practicality slightly in favour of a story. For example, with my Coffee Dripper I’m not trying to make the best cup of coffee, I’m trying to make an interesting object that’s hand-made here in Manchester and also makes a good cup of coffee.

Coffee Drippers by Joseph Hartley
Coffee Drippers by Joseph Hartley

Can you talk us through your making process?

I work mainly in clay and wood and my inspiration is nearly always the materials themselves. For example, I’ve just got back from Spain with a horde of materials that I’ve gathered – almond wood, cork and clay – which will become a collection of objects at some point. I make everything by hand – that’s really important to me. Designing on a computer and emailing the design to China wouldn’t satisfy me as a maker. I throw all my ceramic work but I like to throw it so that looks industrially made. I like the idea of people not knowing that an object has been made by hand.

Where do you work?

From a studio in Manchester which I share with furniture designer Tim Denton and jeweller Eleanor Simms.

What are you showing at Maker in Focus?

A collection of kitchen objects – cups, coffee drippers and three more  ambiguous pieces including the bottle with the peg-on lid,  which I  first  made for my degree show in 2012.


Bottle with Peg-on Lid by Joseph Hartley
Bottle with Peg-on Lid by Joseph Hartley


What piece of work are you most proud of?

I’d probably say the bottle with peg-on lid because I’m always pleased when I make objects that include non-clay elements.  (I’ve made things in clay for so long that it’s not really a challenge anymore.) I’ve always been fascinated by pegs and I harvested the wood for the cherry wood lid myself. It’s also been really popular with the public which is nice.

At the end of your first year as professional Designer/Maker, what tips can you pass on to emerging talent?

1. Engage with as many different people as you can.

2. Don’t dismiss anything – you never know where things might lead.

3. Don’t wait to put yourself out there until you’ve graduated. Colleges have amazing connections and resources.

4. Don’t just make. I teach, work as a technician and even help an archaeologist with her research project. These activities not only bring in extra money, they also take your practice in different directions.

Maker in Focus featuring Joseph Hartley runs at The Guild at 51, 51 Clarence St, Cheltenham GL50 3JT from 5th November – 31st December 2013. Open Tuesday – Sunday 10am-5pm. Contact 01242 245215;


Joseph Hartley Studio
Joseph Hartley Studio

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