Earlier this year, the fourth series of The Great Pottery Throw Down was aired on Channel 4 and Peter White was part of the line-up of contestants reaching the final alongside Adam and Jodie, after winning Potter of the Week for his Acoma Pot in Episode 8. Since filming The Great Pottery Throw Down, Peter started his business Woburn Sands Clay with family members including his wife Gill, which, after a career as a teacher, sees him use his teaching experience when they run workshops and lessons. Recently, Peter attended the Celebrating Ceramics event in Oxford and he will also be attending upcoming events including Art in Clay in Windsor from the 20th to the 22nd of this month. Peter speaks to us about being a contestant on The Great Pottery Throw Down, starting Woburn Sands Clay and his upcoming events.
What encouraged you to be a contestant on the fourth series of The Great Pottery Throw Down?
Well, my family to be honest. I’ve never been particularly confident, and at my age (the tender age of 70 years young) I was rather apprehensive when a family friend suggested that I apply to go on The Great Pottery Throw Down. However, I bit the bullet and listened to what I always tell others which is ‘it’s never too late’. My family are my biggest inspiration and my biggest fans, and after going through the application and interview process, to being offered a spot in the final twelve, with the love and support of my family I had built my confidence and I thought ‘you only live once, what an adventure this may be’ and oh my, what an adventure it has been!
How did you find the experience being a contestant and filming the series?
It was an amazing experience. Challenging at times, but completely exciting at every turn. The film crew, contestants and judges were an absolute pleasure and some of the most incredible people I have had the joy of knowing. It was also exceptionally cold at times, but blankets were my best friend!
It was long days and having never experienced anything like this there were a lot of learning curves for us all. I think the thing that made this year so special was the fact that we had to all leave our families and loved ones to form a bubble which meant the bond between us was formed very quickly.
Did you watch the series when it aired and how did it feel reaching the final?
Yes, I watched the series with my wife and mother-in-law at home but had all the children and grandchildren on Zoom at the same time as we were in lockdown. Reaching the final was just amazing. I was ecstatic and it boosted my confidence no end. It was a long road to get there, with many ups and downs, and many points where I thought I’d be packing my bags to go home. But I held on in there, and it really does go to show that age is just a number. I was thrilled to be a part of such a wonderful experience, start to finish.
Did you have a most challenging episode to do and which was your favourite item to make?
The most challenging was the sink and pedestal simply because of the sheer size of the item and the precision required to ensure the taps fitted correctly so it was able to function as a working sink. The time restraints on the makes always meant things were challenging, but that is part of the show and as contestants we very quickly learnt to embrace the challenge.
My favourite item to make was the Acoma Pot, where I won Potter of the Week. Everything came together for me that week, right from the conception of design to decoration; it just felt really good the whole way through this make. I’d really started to find my feet with my confidence that week, and that really came out in what I produced. The Acoma Pot was definitely my favourite.
Why would you recommend applying for The Great Pottery Throw Down and what advice would you give someone going on the show?
I would absolutely recommend anyone to apply for The Great Pottery Throw Down because it is an all-round, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience no matter what your background. It is an amazing opportunity to showcase clay craft and your ability and the whole experience is just unexplainable. I have made friends for life and gained knowledge and skill that I never thought would be possible.
The best piece of advice I can offer to anyone applying would be to just go for it and be yourself. It really is as simple as that!
What do you think you learnt from taking part in the series?
You are never too old to accomplish your dreams. I learnt to believe in myself and my ability, and to see any barriers as simply a way of finding a different approach.
Can you tell us about Woburn Sands Clay and how did it come about?
Woburn Sands Clay was born after The Great Pottery Throw Down had been filmed. It was always mine and my wife’s dream to retire and work with clay, and since appearing on the Throw Down we, along with family members, have been able to create a successful business doing what we love; making, creating and teaching others through workshops and lessons. It is a business born from a lifetime of experience, love and creativity. I will always be curiously creative, and the products we produce, make and sell reflect that.
What do you enjoy most about hosting workshops and lessons?
The opportunity to pass on knowledge and skill as well as offer others the chance to experience the joy of clay. Having been a teacher, it is very natural to want to pass on knowledge and it has always been my passion to share creativity, inspire others and show that anyone is able to achieve their goal.
How often do you work in the pottery studio and how long does it roughly take to complete an item from start to finish?
I’m in the studio every day, because pottery needs attention at different points. For example, if I throw mugs one day then the next day, I have to turn them down. They then have to dry, go in for a bisque firing and then glazed and fired again. On the most part, many items would take about a week from start to finish, but every item is unique in its own right and much depends on the size and detail required for the item. Up until just recently I was still teaching in a school two days a week, and I have now traded that in for seven days a week in the studio, and I am loving every minute.
Where do you get the inspiration from for your pieces and how do you come up with the designs?
Predominantly from art and engineering movements in history. Much of my inspiration stems from my love of Art Deco and Cubism, with Art Deco being my favourite style of, well, almost anything to be honest. I also draw inspiration from nature and the rural and the rustic energy of engineering.
How I come up with the designs varies with each make; sometimes I can spend hours researching different styles, patterns and drawing inspiration from there, other times I simply have an image in my mind and recreate that. There are many occasions where the process of the make itself gives the inspiration for what the final piece becomes; I could be halfway through making a sculpture for example, that I had planned and had an intended finished piece and then when looking at what I had produced so far find something else in the clay.
Have you always been interested in pottery and how did you start?
Yes, always. For as long as I can remember. In school my head of art, Mrs Brown, introduced me to clay and she worked with me 1:1 at break, lunchtimes and after school to build my skill and clay craft. She inspired and encouraged me to follow my passion; little did I know it would be 50 plus years after Mrs Brown’s lessons that my dreams became reality. It wasn’t through lack of trying though. I have always dipped in and out of working with clay throughout my life, it was just other things took priority and in hindsight I am grateful to have the skills and knowledge from my engineering career and a life full of experience to channel into to build, create and make now.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
My absolute favourite thing to do is spend time with my family. Before COVID, I would spend as much time as I could in the air flying as a private pilot, along with my wife Gill. I love the theatre and galleries and, of course, travelling… although it has been a while since I last left the English shores, like most of us at the moment.
Do you enjoy watching any other talent competition shows or what TV shows do you enjoy watching?
I enjoy shows like The Great British Bake Off and Bake Off: The Professionals. Almost any Art and Craft TV show you will catch me watching and I do like a good thriller. Gill and I are currently making our way through The Handmaid’s Tale and Prodigal Son on Now TV (I also have a bit of a ‘guilty pleasure’ interest in dystopian dramas).
You recently attended the Celebrating Ceramics event in Oxford, what was this like and do you have any other events coming up?
Celebrating Ceramics was the first event I had ever exhibited at and it was a great experience, one I am looking forward to repeating when I exhibit at Art in Clay in Windsor on 20th-22nd August. I will also be exhibiting at Hever Castle in Kent in September and have a number of Christmas Fayres and events in the pipeline. What I love most about events such as this is the opportunity to not only continue to showcase your work, but it is the face-to-face contact with the public. I have always taken pride in my passion to ensure there is a personal approach in all I do, and events such as Celebrating Ceramic and Art in Clay not only offer that, but offer the opportunity to meet like-minded people and talk all things clay – what is there to not love about that.
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