From craft and care to form and function, here at the Harris Distillery we love beautiful things, and appreciate the skills that lie behind their making. Visitors to our distillery in Tarbert will confirm our attention to design and detail, as will anyone who owns a bottle of Isle of Harris Gin.
When we collaborate to make new products we try to work with the best, those who love and understand our island and ethos, and who can turn their hands to creating something rather special.
So, we’re pleased to have connected with ceramicist Rupert Blamire and his painting partner Hope, in recent years. Their artistic talents are only matched by their enthusiasm for our Outer Hebridean home.
Since first spinning a potter’s wheel at the age of six, Rupert’s path has taken him from his Dad’s kitchen as a child and on to a master's degree in three-dimensional design at London’s Royal College of Art.
“I spent my school days playing with clay, made ashtrays, dragons, I threw the stuff at my fellow students (a red card offence). But, my patient art teacher was superb, he was a great mentor, so eventually, I realised that clay was the way to go.”
“At the tender age of 21 I went to the RCA to study and I was the youngest there, surrounded by famous faces dropping in to visit, David Bowie, Gianni Versace, assorted royalty, and of course all the best ceramics and world-class designers one could imagine. It was a fun place to perfect my throwing.”
Following a sold-out private viewing night, and with all manner of awards to his name, the real world awaited Rupert as he set up his own workshop, a bare studio with nothing but a dusty floor and a big bag of clay to build upon.
“A bag of clay is nothing to look at, it is solid and unfancy, cold, dark, and wet. It can be most foreboding when it comes to using it creatively, to make something, to make it work. It is also a very dirty profession to be involved in, nothing stays clean, and I am always surprised that I can create nice things from what is, mainly, just earth.”
It was Rupert’s wife we can thank for first bringing him to our shores after introducing him to the west coast of Scotland and visiting its many scattered islands. He tells us…
“Hope had been many times before and, boy did I not hear the end of it...’Oh, you really must go, the island is just incredible!' So, I went begrudgingly, following my many outbursts of ‘Well, it's bloody miles away!’ We eventually arrived in a campervan after 16 hours on the road with two sugar-filled young boys, drove off the jetty at Tarbert to see the gleaming towers of the Harris Distillery and found such a happy team inside…”
He goes on…
“I really loved the island, it has some of the most spectacular views and scenery in the world. So, that was it, Hope 1 - Rupert 0.”
After leaving, he spent many days inventing, practicing and perfecting designs in clay inspired by our Harris Gin bottle, and finally arrived at his island-influenced mug. After months of glaze tests and many bodged attempts, he produced something he felt he could be proud of.
“I'm no ‘arty-farty bellow-bellow, I will paint my trousers yellow’ sort of a bloke, I say it how it is. I’m northern, I'm honest, I'm open, so there is no description of my work, the pieces can speak for themselves. But, it has been an honour to create something influenced by a bottle that I truly admire.”
Making the mug was apparently rather fun, but the process of reproducing our iconic rippled pattern proved to be a challenge. Removing the tool at a precise time, while spinning at countless revolutions per minute on the wheel was difficult, but ultimately very satisfying.
“It is delicate yet strong, repeating and rhythmical, a hard pattern to reproduce with only hands and some ancient equipment. Pottery uses incredibly basic tools, a sponge, some bamboo flutes for smoothing the edge, we use bits of wood to create a rolled curve foot. And, we use water. Spinning the wheel with water on clay is a sensation, and quite therapeutic.”
But, perhaps the most important tool is the artist’s hands, probably the oldest tool in the world, and when coupled with centrifugal force, capable of creating some of the most sensual, useful and practical pieces.
Rupert sums things up by saying…
"The Harris mug is tactile, it fits well in the hand, it has a texture and we all like textures right? They feel good, they ask you questions through touch, they have a dimension...it is round, it feels happy, it is easy yet complicated, it is a great mug. And it holds tea…we all like tea...drink more tea!”
Indeed, and with his beautiful handiwork and our own Isle of Harris Gin Tea to pour, we have even more of an excuse to drink to that.
We plan to share more of Rupert’s work and story soon, as our favourite potter’s progress continues. Meantime, a limited number of his new mugs presented in pairs with distillery tea infusers, are available from us online on a first-come, first-served basis.