Focus on Cornish makers: Dor and Tan
Photographs John Hersey
Ceramics studio Dor & Tan – who appear as part of the Design Frontier show for the British Craft Pavilion, curated by Hole & Corner – on the power of collaboration…
Design Frontier is a new initiative for showcasing exceptional design and craft from Cornwall. This launching showcase at British Craft Pavilion is part of the Cultivator Programme, and was made possible through funding from European Structural and Investment Funds, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council.
What do you do?
We are Peter, Sharron, Matt, and Viola and we run Dor & Tan, a ceramics studio based in St Ives, Cornwall. Our work focuses on minimal, contemporary forms with strong purpose and function. In this way, we hope to produce items that will last the test of time and earn their place in people’s lives, becoming cherished memories. We create our pieces using traditional techniques, with some small changes made with sustainability in mind.
We try to source items from as close to home as possible, reducing our carbon footprint but also supporting local business. We throw using primarily kick wheels, powered by human kinesis – and we fire our kilns using green energy from renewables.
What materials do you like to work with, and why?
At the moment, we only use stoneware clays in the studio fired at high temperature in an oxidised environment. These parameters were semi-enforced by our worries about sustainability. The claysavailable locally to us in Cornwall are mainly stoneware. The oxidised kiln environment is due to our green energy powered electric kilns, which are much more efficient and cleaner than their fossil fuel equivalent.
Although the decisions we made regarding materials and our making process were largely influenced by the purpose we wanted to promote as a studio; those constraints have given us some very interesting design problems to overcome.
We experiment all the time to create new glaze effects, using natural elements. Going back to the raw materials like this allows us a lot more freedom and control in the process, but there is always a degree of uncertainty and it isn’t until you open the kiln that you really know how a glaze is going to come out. In a lot of ways it is similar to developing camera film; and always has the ability to surprise and delight.
How would you describe your working relationship?
Between us we have an eclectic bunch of skills, but when put together they have made our project possible. Sharron is our head potter (with a design degree from Loughborough), versed in the art of running a professional pottery studio. She designs all our ceramics, throws most of them, and acts as mentor of the team in our development of ceramics skills.
Our whole team helps out and gets their hands dirty in the studio. Taking care of glazing, wedging and the throwing of smaller items. This alleviates some of the pressure on Sharron as a maker and allows her some extra time to get creative.
As well as helping out in the studio, Matt runs our website and works hard to keep the whole project ticking over. As a trained scientist he is also able to help out with glaze development.
Peter has extensive knowledge of finance and business strategy. His experience has been vital in getting things moving in the right direction. Viola creates the front end of Dor & Tan, she captures us in her photos and branding. If the role had a title, it would probably be ‘creative translator’.
What have been your favourite collaborations?
It’s hard to pick a favourite: two that we’ve really enjoyed are those with Origin Coffee Roasters and Eco-Chef Tom Hunt. We’ve recently been working with Origin Coffee Roasters to produce the tableware for their new cafés in Southwark and Penryn. It has been a great project because of the freedom that they allowed us when designing the range. Their preference was for more rustic forms than our standardware; which gave us an interesting and fun starting point. With both cafés, they required nearly 200 pieces. Making a limited run on this scale to be delivered at the same time meant that we had a lovely installation in the middle of the pottery, with this growing pile of handmade plates and bowls.
Last year we collaborated with Eco-Chef, Tom Hunt to put together a feast. We set out to create a culinary experience, enhanced by handmade ceramics designed specifically for each dish. The inspiration for this collaboration was the Chinese five elements. Each course embodied an element but also an associated sense. These are Water (taste), Fire (smell), Earth (hearing), Metal (touch) and Wood (sight).
This was an interesting design problem. Usually our work focuses on refined minimalism, but for this event we made some more unusual and rustic forms that focused more on the aesthetic and sensory stimulus. We also have a few collaborations lined up for next year that we’re very excited to get started on.
Do you think in this digital age it is important to have handmade, tactile objects in our lives?
The way we communicate is becoming increasingly more impersonal. Factory made items are created by machines and are in a way reflective of the impersonal digital age. Thousands of identical objects are produced at high speeds without a human ever becoming involved. Handmade objects are an oasis of the personal in this environment. Items are made with love and attention to detail by skilled human hands. The softness and character bedded into these pieces gives them their tactility; but also a closer connection to those that made them.
Do you sense that people’s attitudes towards mass-produced objects are changing?
We believe people are beginning to seek a more personal connection with what they buy and consume. There’s something quite reassuring knowing an item is made by the hands of another person, it adds warmth to a space. Unlike manufactured goods which to us seem to make a room feel more cold and over-refined to the state of making life feel monotonous. Personally we think people are edging towards the idea of minimalism in the way they live, less needless objects and more thoughtful considered items they know they’ll use and enjoy for years to come.
We’ve seen this year, with the Who Made My Clothes movement, that people are becoming far more interested in where things are made and the conditions the people who are making them have to work in. It would be lovely to see a resurgence of skilled craftspeople making beautiful functional objects from locally sourced materials.
Dor & Tan is taking part in British Craft Pavilion as part of Design Frontier, a new initiative for showcasing exceptional design and craft from Cornwall. This launching showcase is part of the Cultivator Programme, and was made possible through funding from European Structural and Investment Funds, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council. cultivatorcornwall.org.uk; dorandtan.com