Ceramic bird and animal figurines
On this page: Lois Wakeman makes earthenware animals and birds, decorated with slips and underglaze colours. With their world-weary expressions, they're just begging you to take them home to live in your house.
My ceramic creatures: anteaters, penguins and more
Devon has a long tradition of slipware pottery, especially on the north coast. Animal figures (modelled or press-moulded) are more a Staffordshire tradition, but I have taken elements of the two and come up with my own very individual style of handbuilt figures. Made from rolled slabs of red or white clay with modelled additions for heads, tails, beaks, eyes and noses etc., they are decorated with clay slips, oxides and underglaze colours. I try to find the essential character of each creature, rather than making a lifelike representation.
Depending on what is currently selling well, I make anteaters, aardvarks, elephants, cats, dogs (hounds, dalmatians, terriers, wall-eyed collies, black/chocolate labradors), pigeons, fantail doves, gulls, hens and chicks, blackbirds, robins, puffins, white mice and rabbits, tapirs, sheep, cows, pigs, badgers, foxes, ... what next?
Inasmuch as I am known for anything, it's penguins! These are far and away the top sellers - mostly the smaller adults in blue-black and white with their bright yellow bills, and the chicks in grey-brown. I also make more elaborate larger adult models with wings and orange/yellow markings on their bibs. And for special occasions, I do sets: a king and queen, and wedding parties: bride, groom, and optional attendants. You really have to see these to get the idea!
Pricing and availability
Prices vary from £5 for tiny birds, to £250 for the sets of larger figures. Each animal is completely individual as I don't use any moulds. This is why there isn't a standard price for X or Y. Some people take ages to choose their favourite expression from a group! (The photo shows some rather apprehensive penguins and dalmatians waiting to be toasted in the kiln.)
You can currently buy these at the following galleries:
- Fisherton Mill Gallery in Salisbury, Wiltshire,
- Baxters' Gallery in Dartmouth, Devon,
- The Paragon Gallery in Exeter, Devon,
- Walford Mill Craft Centre, Wimborne Minster, Dorset,
- GreenStage Gallery, Bishop's Frome near Worcester, and the
- Savoy House Gallery, Churchtown, Mullion, Cornwall, TR12 7HQ. Tel 01326 241271. email@example.com (No web site)
I have occasionally sold things by mail order, but they are rather fragile and I'm always worried they will arrive sans noses or tails! Summer visitors are welcome to call into my pottery by prior arrangement. I sometimes have pieces in local exhibitions too.
I do take commissions, but bear in mind that you need to allow two and preferably three months, especially if you want me to develop something new or near Christmas time.
I am sometimes asked why the prices are set so high. I've put together a page that explains how the creatures are made so you can see that it's not a trivial process - and also bear in mind that the gallery takes between 40 and 50% of the price. Given that each one takes a couple of hours, on average, to make, then £20-25 retail (about £12-15 to me) is hardly exorbitant! You are getting a unique product with character - not a mass-produced import from the Far East.
More about me
I have a purpose-built pottery in the garden, with kiln, wheel, slab-roller and spray booth etc. This was built by my husband, and one of the best presents I ever had! It also has a wonderful view in case I am lacking in inspiration.
Although I first tried pottery evening classes in my late teens, it wasn't until about 1995 that I took it up again. After several years of learning and developing my skills, I was asked to put some penguins in a local gallery, and have been selling in a few outlets ever since. The income doesn't keep me, but has paid for all the materials and equipment with some to spare.
I have a small circle of potting friends with whom I make the occasional pot-related trip to visit exhibitions, demonstrations, and other working potters. We also have occasional raku days, which are great fun, and usually involve rather a lot of food and merriment, as well as a firing.