Patrick Sargent wood-firing potter

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Patrick Sargent - Switzerland early 1990s
Patrick Sargent – Switzerland early 1990s. With kind permission of Alex McErlain.
Patrick Sargent was the first modern wood-firing potter, inspired by the ancient techniques of Japan and especially those of Shigaraki, that came to my attention. I have to admit that when I first saw his work I wasn’t immediately impressed, as looking back I didn’t have any knowledge or understanding of what lay behind “the damaged pots” he was exhibiting in one of his solo Harlequin Gallery exhibitions in the mid-1990s. This was before I had taken over the gallery in 1999 by which time I had come to recognise Patrick Sargent as a special exciting talent, sadly too late to have the opportunity to show any of his work during his lifetime.

Born in Northampton England in 1956, Patrick Sargent studied ceramics at West Surrey College of Art and Design, Farnham from 1977 to 1980 under the guidance of Paul Barron and Henry Hammond. There he was encouraged to pursue his own ideas and experiment with local dug clays and to investigate various kiln construction and firings, and explored the use of natural glazes. He gained a 1st Class Honours degree and Paul Barron was to famously say that Patrick would be “one of the last out of Farnham to make pots like this”.

Patrick Sargent large teabowl with ash glazes
Patrick Sargent large teabowl with ash glazes.

After establishing two workshops in England, Patrick travelled and worked in Germany, France and Switzerland for two years from 1986 before settling down in Switzerland, the home of his second wife, in 1989. There he built a single chambered anagama kiln with a capacity of around five cubic metres that took 10 weeks of serious work on his part to fill. This he did using a momentum wheel, turned with his foot, to produce stoneware in his own iconoclastic style that showed influences from both Japanese teaware and medieval English pottery.
Pot making to Patrick was an important cycle of actual making, carefully placing the various pots in his kiln, The Mule, as he called it, then firing for several days before allowing it to cool down for a similar period before opening and discovering its contents. As in the Old Kilns of Japan at Shigaraki, Bizen and Iga, where pots are placed in the kiln is crucial in trying to achieve the greatest possible interplay of the flame, the stoneware body of the pots and the wood ash from the fuel. It may appear to be down to chance but it really is a sophisticated process and one that you never finish learning, although Patrick managed to learn much during the relatively short time that he was active as a wood-firer.

He continued to live and work in Switzerland until his death, exhibiting both here and on the continent and in 1991 demonstrated at the Aberystwyth International Potters Festival. Although I believe deep down Patrick was a shy man, once given a stage to perform on he knew how to do that. I’ll always remember seeing him wedge clay on the floor using his bare feet, with his long blond hair, beard and ear piercings adding to the “show”. His major UK exhibitions were solo ones at Contemporary Ceramics and two at the Harlequin Gallery that took place in 1994 and 1996.
For Patrick’s last exhibition at the Harlequin Gallery in 1996 he supplied a statement, which I feel is worth repeating here. “Most days I take an early morning walk in the forest. It is just one part of my way of being. I like it when my pots give me the same feeling as that forest walk. I certainly seek to capture qualities of directness, freedom and rhythm that I only find in nature. Neither the pot nor the forest walk is the final statement, merely a small part of a long road.”

Patrick Sargent wood-fired charger with shell marks
Patrick Sargent wood-fired charger with shell marks.

Sadly, the “road” was not anywhere near as long as it should have been, as Patrick passed away on 4th September 1998 but we do have the legacy of Patrick’s pots to continue to cherish and enjoy.

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