Dave Partington is a man close to my own heart, he in fact was my pottery teacher from 2012-2014, so to find myself interviewing him and asking more in depth questions was quite warming to the heart. He is truly a wonderful, open person who has developed his own trade alongside teaching others exactly how to do it too!
Dave is a skilled industrial stoneware potter who has been working on his craft for 20 years now. From making pots for himself and friends to collaborating with John Lewis. If you look hard enough you can see his work whether you're having a brew at North Tea Power, skating at Projekts Skatepark or having a gourmet meal at James Martin's' restaurant.
Listen, watch or read our chat. I'd say listen in because he's got too much charisma for me to put into words!
He left university and set up a pottery -woking in Stoneware pottery- straight away with funding from Bolton Council, in his own words, “I’ve always done it, I’ve had little breaks, but nothing major. I had moderate success with bigger companies and yeah.” Over 20 years since the inception of Partington’s Pots in 2001 Dave has always “worked for clients rather than himself”, meaning that he can actually make a living and a functional practise.
“Recently I’ve been working directly with restaurants, making bespoke products for them, chefs are who I’ve been working with closest recently, they tell me what they need and I’ll make it. It’s all to order, so then there’s no waste. Whether that be classic simple designs or even if they want some fancy blue wash on their pots.
I do markets and that where you can buy some individual pots, but really it’s always for clients.
I always wanted my practise to be an affordable thing and to produce loads of stuff for loads of people. I want it to be accessible, I want people to use the work and come back and get more of it.
Since university I didn’t want to make art pieces, I wanted to make something functional. I’m not motivated by the idea of something being arty, it needs to have a purpose and be used. I’m much more of a crafter than an artist.
I do like theory and thinking of why things are, I could talk for hours about a particular bowl or a particular pot, but it is just a bowl or a pot.”
To me, Dave has such a specific looking type of pottery, with deep indentations throughout all the surfaces of his work, I always thought that was a stylistic part to his practise, but he told me otherwise.
“It’s because I produce stuff really quickly. When you are learning you end up labouring for ages over a single pot and you need it to be perfect, using different smoothing tools etcetera. When I make pots I do it at such a fast speed that I don’t get that time to think. It’s about doing! When I worked with John Lewis I had to make 3000 pots in a very short amount of time, so when you’ve got that many to make, I just think about speed instead. Because my pots are affordable, they have to be done quickly and this is just the way they are.
People seem to like them?
I love the idea of capturing that exact moment you make something and then you look up a short while later and you’ve made 50 bowls. It’s like taking a photograph , it’s an exact moment in my day and life.
Going back to how I was taught, my tutor was a real production maker and just got us to make more and more, really that’s the only way to get better! He would philosophise on your work and chop your bowls in half and say start again the next day, so that has mentality made me not precious about the work, you can always make another one.
All that really reflects in my work.
I do love different ways of working, like with slipware pottery, it’s something I love, but it just feels strange for me to do it, I know what I do and it's not that. You don’t really realise that you have a brand until someone tells you that you do and people tell me that I do!? People tell me they were sat in a restaurant eating out one of my bowls or using one of my mugs and I always ask ‘how do you know?’ and they just do. You don’t always realise that, it’s literally got your fingerprints all over it, but you just don’t think about it.”
So Dave has got about a bit, Partington’s Pots are everywhere, but if we actually went looking where could we find them?
“James Martin has got a few of my bits, Great North Pie I’ve worked with, North Tea Power have some of my stuff in there, there’s quite a few places dotted about. Oooh! Projekts Skatepark is another!
I started skating about 3 years ago, I kept walking past Projekts and hearing it and thinking it sounded great. I never did it as a kid, it was so expensive that you couldn’t just do it, unless you got a crap board. So I tentatively started going to Projekts and learnt how to skate. I was chatting to one of the guys and he asked me to make him a mug and that’s where it started. That’s the stuff I love doing the most, as more of a charitable thing. I mean I gave them all the pots for free, but now I get free skating for life hahah. But now people that skate know me and know my stuff which is really nice, I might not be great at skateboarding but in some small way I’m now part of that skate culture in Manchester.”
As we mentioned at the start, Dave has had his practise alongside teaching others about pottery so of course I wanted to know more.
“I’ve done lots of workshops, working with scouts, brownies, Nexus Art Cafe, taking my wheel over to schools, I love the idea of giving something back. I work really hard, but I am super lucky that I’ve got a skill I can transfer. It took ages to get it, but it’s cool that I can now give it to other people, which is a gift. Working at MMU has been a strange one because a lot of the students aren’t getting the same feeling from the clay that I got, I’m trying to introduce that fun aspect to workshops. Before lockdown the ceramics workshops were hammered, people enjoying it again. Fine art students are loving clay again, instead of being put off because they don’t know what they are doing, they are embracing it. They might not use clay in the same way as I do but that’s the great thing!
It’s much better when things are shared around and there’s a vibrant community, especially around clay. It drives me mad, but it’s sustained me.
I was at college and I wasn’t good at anything, left school with nothing and one teacher noticed I was good at clay. That was that, I wasn’t good at anything, usually causing shit, but I enjoyed clay. Since then its formed my life, I’ve been able to travel because of pots and its exciting.
Then being able to see students develop and grow is amazing, some people I taught have gone onto be potters and the stuff they have done is really amazing! I mean I’ve been teaching for 20 years, starting at Bury College and it’s been a journey”
But how did Dave’s story with Islington Mill begin?
“I was at Artwork Atelier in Green Gate, which is across from the cathedral and across the river, it was just old car parks with one warehouse. I originally had a workshop at home, but I needed somewhere better, my wife , who is a photographer, also needed somewhere. So we set up a private colour darkroom and it was one of the only ones in the north west and I had a pottery too.
Then Artwork Atelier was going to get knocked down to make way for new buildings and Islington Mill and Salford Council didn’t want to lose that creative hub, the council have been great at recognising creativity in the city. So whoever wanted to move from the Atelier then moved over to Unit 4 at Islington Mill. I’d always come here, going to events and knew people here, so I was quite happy to move over, the mill has got this warm bubble around it. However, Atelier was like the wild west, it was great because it was like having a very edgy studio, it was managed, but wasn’t really. It sort of ended up imploding on itself, if you wanted to do everyday making it was really hard.
That was only a few years ago now. There was so much interesting stuff in there, art everywhere!
When you’re in certain places you are always scared of the future, you never know what will happen, Salford is getting more expensive and people are getting pushed out. But with Islington Mill it is a part of the art world and of Salford, so it's good to have that comfort. That's how I ended up here!”
As always, we ask everyone for three recommendations of what else we should know about in Manchester!
“Well of course I’ll have to say my partner, Helen McGhie, great photographer!
I do like Nicola Fernandes who is a great illustrator and resident at Islington Mill.
Meg who works at Seven Spot! She’s called Meg Beamish Pottery, she does lots of slip pottery. At the minute she’s working with Platt Fields, digging up clay, her work is lovely and I really like slipware haha.”
So if you need some great pottery go buy some of Dave’s work. Or alternatively keep an eye out for when physical workshops can begin again because he’s a great teacher and I can vouch for that!