Introduction to Fulby

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By Jorunn Veiteberg

The pottery that comes from Birgitte and Hans Börjeson’s studio is stamped ‘Fulby’, the name of the Zealand village where they have lived and worked since 1963. The name is a signal that there is no point asking which of them does what, or asking for a pot made by either one individually. They work closely together, whether they are developing ideas, finding solutions to technical and artistic problems or realizing a particular piece, although as a rule Hans deals with the most physically demanding throwing jobs and Birgitte with the decoration. Working together like this and calling the pottery after the place where it is produced is a practice with deep roots in the history of the craft. Ever since they met in one of England’s richest pottery regions in Cornwall, where they both worked at Crowan Pottery with Harry and May Davis, Birgitte and Hans Börjeson have been able to develop the best of this tradition even further.
Many people mainly associate Fulby pottery with salt-glazed stoneware.
Although they also make dishes and bowls in porcelain with celadon glazes, it is in salt-glazing that they have made their mark most strongly and won most recognition, for example taking prizes at the First World Ceramic Biennale in Korea in 2001.

Salt-glazed pottery is easily recognized by its knobbly surface, similar to the texture of orange peel. The technique was used in Germany from the fifteenth century on and is perhaps Germany’s most important contribution to ceramic art. It quickly became popular in the production of utility ware, since salt-glazing is a relatively inexpensive way of getting a durable surface. When ordinary kitchen salt is thrown into a hot kiln, it reacts chemically with the quartz in the clay during the evaporation process, thus forming a glaze. Variations in colour and texture can be achieved by using clays with different compositions – for instance in terms of iron content. This means you can choose whether the surface will be more matte or glossier, smooth or rough, or whether the colours will be brownish, bluish or reddish. You can also use slips, as Hans and Birgitte often do, to produce additional variations in colour.

Hans and Birgitte Börjeson fired their first salt-glazing kiln at the beginning of the eighties, and the special colours and textures that the salt technique offers have continued to fascinate them ever since. As in cooking, it is important to add just the right dose although what one sees as the right amount is also a matter of personal taste. The culinary parallel is more relevant than one might think: just as salt is necessary to the glaze, salt-glazed stoneware is ideal for cooking. The Fulby assortment is particularly rich in teapots, casseroles, cups and paté forms in various sizes. They are not only functional vessels for the food and liquids they contain; they are also a sensory stimulus to both eye and hand. In short, they help to give daily rituals an aesthetic boost.
The Fulby jugs are particularly worth noting. They have been part of the assortment right from the start. The oldest ones are clearly related to the rustic brown jugs of the French country kitchen. But over the years their functionality has receded ever more into the background in favour of a more expressive style. In parallel with this there has been a simplification where each of the parts that define a jug – spout, body and handle, as well as inside and outside – has been more clearly accentuated by contrasts in colour and form. Today’s jugs look like personalities. Some seem puffed up and arrogant, strutting with their spouts in the air; others look more aggressive, or round and jovial. There is a long tradition of interpreting pots as metaphors for different human types.

Our very language reveals this; when you describe a pot or jug you use words like neck, shoulder and body.  So it is not so strange that we easily associate the shapes of the pots with human emotions and characteristics.
The Börjesons’ dishes and large bowls should be mentioned too. The dishes are rectangular and their size indicates that they are decorative  rather than purely functional. The geometrical patterns stem from many sources – perhaps a detail from a floor or wall seen on one of their many journeys, and presented in a new context. In principle, a pattern on a flat surface has no clear beginning or end. The gaze can stray freely over it, but shifting the focus moves the centres of gravity and a visual dynamic arises. This way of creating patterns differs from the decoration on a series of large bowls with figures that can almost be read as a comic strip. These are dramatic stories. Peaceful bird people are attacked by aggressive predators. Around them are texts and signs referring to different historical epochs, religions and civilizations. Together they tell a tale of the human folly of war and violence. The struggle between good and evil is portrayed as an eternal process, from the beginning of time to the present.

Hans Börjeson has said that in their works they “try to preserve the structure of the clay and convey the genesis of the pot as it developed in the wet clay.” You can see this in the finished jugs and dishes as traces of the circular throwing movements and in the visibility of the joints and construction. And most of all, the character of the material is evident from the thin, uneven edges of the large bowls. The salt glaze emphasizes the process and accentuates the form. It does not work as a camouflaging layer, but rather as the skin of the pot transformed into a glaze.

Hans and Birgitte Börjeson´s practice as potters spans a multitude of idioms. In addition to those already mentioned, they have been responsible for public decorations, benches, tiles, pavings and not least columns. Six columns more than two and a half metres tall are to be shown in the exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Art in Copenhagen in June 2005. They are built up with salt-glazed modules differing in colour and form, one supporting another, edge to edge, without any use of mortar. The columns are decoration for an old people’s home in Vlissingen in Holland, where they will support a glass roof. The commission is the result of their many years of participation in the ceramics fair Keramisto in Milsbeek, Holland.

Birgitte and Hans Börjeson are often to be found at craft art and ceramics fairs around Europe, and more than twenty years ago they took the initiative for the fair that has become an annual tradition at Vor Frue Plads in Copenhagen. These fairs provide an opportunity for close encounters with both colleagues and buyers, but they are also a presentation venue that many people feel lies outside the framework of cultural institutions. As with all artistic disciplines, there is a hierarchy in the ceramics world too. Different techniques and idioms enjoy different statuses, and if you want to carve out a career as an artist there are a number of rules for what you should or shouldn’t do. In the trade journal Ceramic Review no. 197 (2002), the great master of functional ceramics and salt glazes, Walter Keeler, claims that the world of ceramics seems to be divided into two camps: one for potters and one for artists. This tiresome distinction has helped to establish oppositions between making ceramics for fairs and museums, pottery articles for everyday use and creating ceramic objects with no practical function. But as Keeler so rightly points out in the same article, the everyday utility article can reflect all aspects of life, including art. Similarly, it is a modernist myth that artistic renewal must mean a break with the traditions of the past. The Börjesons’ pottery is an example of this. The dialogue with the profession’s own traditions and the new currents of the age is an important platform for them. Yet the most important message that flows out of the studio in Fulby is that drawing a boundary between pottery and art is uninteresting.
Seeing a jug in a market stall can give you as great an artistic experience as seeing a column in the museum. The significance of things in our lives depends neither on their size nor on their status; it is related to the stories they carry with them – and the new stories we give them through our interpretation and use.

Jorunn Veiteberg

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