Mini Reunion - Devon, England - 9th June 2011
Mini Reunion - Devon, England - 9th June 2011 |
Photos & text supplied by Brian McIntosh
L-R: Svend Bayer (Nicholson 1959-61) and Brian McIntosh (Rhodes 1953-9)
Brian McIntosh, writes from his home in Reading, Pennsylvania, “On a recent tour of England and Scotland with my
twenty-four year old son, Cameron, we had the great pleasure of meeting long lost Old Cambrian, Svend Bayer.
Svend Bayer was born in Uganda and he attended the Prince of Wales School for three years before his family went
back to Denmark in 1961. After graduating from Exeter University in 1968, he worked with the renowned potter,
Michael Cardew at Wenford Bridge for several years. He then travelled extensively to observe village potteries
in Japan, South Korea and South East Asia before settling down in 1975 at his present North Devon location.
Over the years, he has carved a niche as one of the leading practitioners of wood-fired, functional pottery
in Europe and America, if not in the world.
Our meeting with Svend in June, 2011 was a particularly significant occasion for Cameron, who had just graduated
with a Degree in Fine Art and who hopes to make pottery his life’s work. For my part, I had shamelessly used my
Old Cambrian link to Svend Bayer as a means to get his permission for a visit. Svend and I overlapped at school
by only one year in 1959 and neither of us remembered the other. Nevertheless, I dearly wanted Cameron to get a
chance to meet him. It seemed doubtful at first that this would happen. Recognized in his field as ‘a force of
nature,’ Svend is also known to be something of a recluse. As it turned out, he did agree to see us but warned
that, “having always worked alone, I have become a crusty old fart with diminishing social skills.”
We met Svend Bayer in the garden of his lovely thatched cottage home on a cool morning with light summer rain.
Giant pots, each with its own personality, formed a stately semi-circle on the lawn. I was nervous about meeting
the venerable potter but the ice was broken as soon as we started talking about the old days at the Prince of Wales
School in Nairobi, Kenya. (An attentive and discriminating listener, Svend said he could still hear a trace of the
clipped Kenya accent in my speech; his observation was a surprise to me, given my almost thirty years of continuous
residence in the USA.)
After giving us a tour, Svend announced he had work to do: we were welcome to watch or we could wander around
on our own. Cam sat with Svend for over an hour, observing him throw at the potter’s wheel. As I left them to it,
I was happy to hear them chatting away.
In a garden studio housing a magnificent display of Svend Bayer pottery, I mentally picked out the pieces I wanted
to buy, only to learn later that they were ordered by clients and not for sale. Fortunately for me, I found another
display above the production studio where purchases could be made.
Behind the workshop where Svend throws pots, there is an open-ended shed where he fires his ceramic ware. He
builds enormous, cave-like kilns in the traditional Japanese ‘anagama’ style; like everything else he touches,
the one we saw is a thing of beauty. All around it, long rows of firewood are lined up with regimental precision.
Every piece of wood is split and meticulously stacked by Svend himself. (He asserts that to endlessly throw pots
would drive him crazy; stacking firewood, however, provides him with welcome physical and mental release.)
The wood is the fuel that feeds the voracious cross-draft kiln in a firing process requiring three people working
in shifts around the clock for four straight days!
A work of art in itself, a beautiful new kiln built by Svend Bayer
stands ready to be filled with pots and fired for four straight days
Of course, the real magic is what comes out of the kiln after firing. We were not there when the kiln was
unloaded, but this is how Svend describes the process in his own (published) words:
‘If you look for perfection in my pots you will not find it. Look at them as you would on survivors, or maybe
your oldest and dearest friends. Like them they have scars and blemishes, the signs of a life lived. In my pots
these scars come from the firing process. To get the surfaces and colours I am looking for, my pots are subjected
to the extremes of a four day wood-firing. For days they are repeatedly covered in burning wood and embers,
re-emerging only to be covered again and again. Some get knocked over, some broken, others end up sticking to
each other. Occasionally a pot will explode, showering shards over its neighbours. Many do not survive, but
some of those that do have a story to tell. My pots have to be picked up, felt, turned over and around and
examined. Every time you look closely at them, they will tell you something new ....... I am aware that this
firing technique produces pots at the extreme of the ceramic taste spectrum, but once acquired, nothing else
quite hits the spot any more. The losses can be dauntingly high but like an addicted gambler, I get just enough
exciting pots to keep me coming back for more.’
Svend Bayer (Nicholson, 1959-61) with Cameron McIntosh,
discussing the art of throwing and firing large ceramic pots.
In the evening of the day of our visit, Svend joined us for dinner at the Half Moon pub in Sheepwash, North Devon,
where Cameron and I were staying. Besides pottery, we talked a lot more about school and our respective
childhood days in East Africa. (I lived mostly at Kabete and Kakamega in Kenya; Svend lived at different
times in Kampala, Arusha and Mombasa.)
Cameron and I left the next day with several gorgeous Svend Bayer pieces in our luggage for gifts back home.
As we said our farewells, Svend’s parting advice to Cameron was:
“All that's needed is a passion for what you do. The rest will take care of itself.”
What more could a father ask for his son than help and encouragement from a fellow Old Cambrian, especially one who
has reached the top of his chosen field?
Postscript: Svend’s artistic talent and keen eye were already evident at the Prince of Wales school. As a
‘rabble’ in form 1a, he drew a wickedly accurate cartoon of two teachers which appeared in the 1959 Impala Magazine -
albeit incorrectly attributed to C.D. Beyer.
Martin Langley (Nicholson, 1956-61) writes, “I didn't realize making pots was such hard work - kneading
the clay, shaping it on the wheel, maintaining the kiln fire twenty-four hours a day for four days, stacking the wood,
and so on. This is a very interesting piece which I think will be enjoyed by Old Cambrians. Svend’s reputation as
a cartoonist was well established at school, and I remember clearly when we invited him into the Nicholson House
prefects’ common room in 1960 to sketch a cartoon of each of us. He was a pleasant, fair, gangly youth, with skinny
legs clad in ‘Suth-Efrican’ style 'kort broekies' (short shorts). It’s good to see Old Cambrians do so well in life;
it makes one feel proud. And what a treat for Cameron; Svend must have been quite taken with you both to have agreed
to have dinner with you! There are some very good shots of his work on the you tube video. I'd love to have one of
those big pots in my garden.... His pottery has so much character ... lovely.”
Martin Langley by Svend Bayer 1960
To learn more about Svend Bayer’s philosophy and artistry as a famous potter, see