Molly Attrill... on her life as a studio potter

Molly Attrill one of the most highly revered studio potters on the Island, if not in the UK, is based in her studio on the Garlic Farm in Newchurch. Highly commended in the Enterprising Rural Women Awards in 2001, Molly’s work often features animals and has been covered in countless magazines, many books and her mackerel plates were even exhibited in the Natural History Museum in Tring.

Molly talks to myIsleofWight about growing up on the Island, how she came to start her studio on the Garlic Farm and her lifelong passion for pottery.

“I was born in at Knowles Farm and grew up roaming around the landslip and the beach. It used to shift then, and it does now, so it’s always slightly different. There was a lake that formed and it was rather beautiful - Magical. Now I live in a very small cottage in Niton village that was owned by my family.

“I always wanted to go to art school but it was considered locally to be off this planet. Instead I worked for Steve Ross before he became an MP and then I got very bored and I read these books about Bernard Leach who was a major mover in the studio pottery movement. I was so carried away by him – he wrote as well as made pots – this visionary stuff, and so I drove down to Cornwall and talked myself into working for his son in North Devon.“Bernard was pretty ancient by that time. His two sons had gone to Devon and set up their own pottery.

“Then I got a place on this very prestigious course run by Henry Hammond at the West Surrey Institute College of Art in Farnham. It was a three year full time course, which was absolutely wonderful – it was like Christmas every days and Michael Leach showed me how to throw, in return for cleaning his studio. I was paid £5 a week and he took back £2.50 for the room. But people used to turn up from all over the world in deference to the Leach name. He taught me repetition throwing.“Afterwards I worked for Steve Ross again. I did a few weeks in Westminster helping type a draft for his Homeless Housing Bill. I had my pass to get into the Houses of Parliament. He asked me to make all of these commemorative mugs with the election dates and his majority. I said “Who is going to buy these?” I think I made about a hundred. I had these transfers made – it was a rather wonderful swirly gold transfer. He probably had an attic full of them. He used to throw things at me when I got things wrong – typing mistakes. It was all very volatile.

“After college I used to go regularly to do repetition throwing for an English person who had a Leach style pottery in SW France and helped a friend from Farnham set up a pottery in Ontario. Then I was here (on the Garlic Farm) doing seasonal work for Colin and that’s how I got to be offered the tenancy of the big old grain barn up the road (now converted into a holiday cottage).

 “I was there for 26 years and then I moved here (in front of the Education Centre) in 2007. It’s bliss here – it was freezing cold up in the barn and there were rather a lot of rodents. I used to sit huddled by this stove – it was a big stove but it went out overnight and it took all morning to get it going.

“I’ve always liked the hustle and bustle of industry on the farm and the community. It is my own business but I’m closely associated with them – I like that bit. I make the terracotta storage jars for the Garlic Farm shop.

“I wouldn’t say I was the first (studio potter) on the Island because there was quite a little thing going on here, but I was one of the first. I use a kick wheel. I do have an electric one that I use for porcelain but I quite like the kick wheel because it’s like part of your body when you’re on it. I’ve worn a ridge in the wheel head.

“I made tile panels for the kitchens at St Mary’s Hospital and decorated tiles for the kitchen at the Quay Arts.”

Molly’s work has been featured in ‘Twentieth Century Decorative British Tiles’ by Chris Blanchett, ‘The Potter’s Guide to Ceramic Surfaces’ by Jo Connell and the How to Do ‘Maiolica’ handbook by Daphne Carnegy. “She’s the doyenne of Maiolica,” said Molly of Daphne. “I got told off for pronouncing it wrongly.

“I’ve done sets of plates for people with slightly different things. I made a lot of stuff 25 to 26 years ago for a couple who had a holiday home in Bembridge with different animals on different plates and they had great fun deciding who had which ones. Last summer I found that their sons had taken over all of the pottery and were still using it.

“Last year I had a couple visit here who I’d made stuff for at the outset and they were thrilled to see that I was still operating. Their daughter, who by this time was a mother herself, said part of her childhood was using my pots.”