Jo Bunbury: ceramicist

Wirksworth is full of quirky little cottages and hidden narrow winding footpaths which you never seem to walk along the same direction twice. It is one of the things that makes the town’s annual festival such fun.

I thought I had been down most of them, but then Jo Bunbury invited me to her home in Bowling Green Lane. This tiny pathway had passed me by, and I had no idea it was there. Even if you did stumble across it and wander up the lane there would be little chance of spotting the ceramicist’s studio.

It is perched high up above the path surrounded by trees on the very edge of the town before the landscape descends into Dale Quarry.

Realising she hadn’t warned me there would be a mini trek up to the studio Jo glanced at my footwear, and was relieved to see I was wearing flat boots.

“Thank goodness for that,” she laughed as she led the way up a winding ivy clad path through the trees. “It’s a bit tricky so watch your step,” she advised.

All I could think was that it must have been a logistical nightmare getting a studio built up there in the first place.

Jo explained that she and her partner bought the plot of land from a neighbour after moving to their home, and when she first mooted the idea of having a studio at the top she was politely ignored. But with gentle persuasion over time she won him over.

“It is a perfect studio for me to escape to. It’s so peaceful and such a relaxing space, where I can really be inspired by the countryside around me,” she enthused.

Jo’s ceramics are unashamedly influenced by nature. Seed pods, , fruit, urchins and anemones feature in much of what she creates. 

The colourful organic forms have been turning heads of visitors to the Peak District Artisans’ fairs since she joined their ranks last year. 

Her stunning glazed ceramic spheres are especially eye-catching.

“Being accepted by the PDA has given me more confidence with my work. Being a part of a professional core of artists pushes you to develop what you do and focus on what you are making,” said Jo, who until a year or so ago was working as a ceramics lecturer at Chesterfield College.

“I had 20 years working there and I was never bored. There was so much creativity it was really buzzing, but I have decided that I want to focus on my own ceramics. It is my time now.”

It was at Chesterfield College that 55-year-old Jo learnt the art of ceramics back in the 1980s.

“I was fortunate to be on such a good course back then and I received a real grounding in how to make a strong pot. I went on to study studio ceramics and learnt about wheel-thrown forms,glaze effects and different firing techniques and what I learnt then still features in my work.”

Jo admits that in her school days she struggled to know what she was going to do and left with few qualifications. 

It was the participatory arts organisation Junction 28 (now Junction Arts) that was operating near her then-home in South Normanton that opened her eyes to the possibility of a creative life.

“I was among what was probably their first intake of young students and we had great fun working on projects such as making screen posters. 

“They were very encouraging and nurturing and it led to a few of us returning to our studies, where I gained further qualifications to study art foundation at Chesterfield College. I have them to thank for all this,” she said gesturing to her studio.