How this ceramicist turned part of her Leeds home into a pottery studio

Ceramicist Kit Hemsley has turned part of her Leeds home into a pottery studio after following a long-held dream.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 8th September 2018, 7:15 am
PICS: Tony Johnson
PICS: Tony Johnson

There’s an inspirational Facebook post that has been shared thousands of times because its message resonates.

It says: “Whatever your dream, it is not too late to achieve it. Never tell yourself you’re too old to make it. Never tell yourself you missed your chance. Never tell yourself that you aren’t good enough.”

It features a list of people who have achieved their goals later in life and Kit Hemsley could legitimately add her name to it.

It took more than 30 years for her to finally follow her calling. Now, after buying a kiln and turning her garden shed into a pottery studio, she is one of the ceramic world’s most exciting new talents.

“I did ceramics at A-level and was taught by the wonderful and inspirational potter Mal Magson. I loved it and I really wanted to pursue it but I was talked into doing a geography degree instead,” she says.

That led to a job as a transport planner and when parenthood took over, she became a full-time mum to her three children, now aged between 15 and 20.

“I took a few pottery courses but that was frustrating because visiting someone else’s studio once a week wasn’t enough and restricted what I could experiment with.

“It wasn’t until I got my own kiln in 2015 that I was able to really start exploring my love of ceramics and now it’s taken over my world and I enjoy everything about it. I love clay and I love the other potters I’ve met. They are fabulous,” says Kit.

The pent-up potter in her has been unleashed and now every spare moment is spent on building her sculptural ceramics.

You can see them at the Great North Art Show at Ripon Cathedral, which runs until September 23. They also feature at the Staithes Festival this weekend, September 8 and 9.

Much of her work is inspired by the Yorkshire coast that she knows and loves so well. She grew up in Lythe, near Whitby, and has recently bought a holiday cottage by the sea. Her rip curl sculptures, pictured here, are mesmerising wave forms that are notoriously difficult to achieve.

They are made from delicate porcelain, rolled thin so it is semi-translucent and can crack and warp during the making and firing process. She colours it with oxides, stains and underglazes, sometimes marking it with the imprint of shells and fossils before forming the shapes over rollers, cardboard or moulds.

“The secret is in the timing and it’s not easy but I love experimenting and pushing boundaries,” says Kit, who also uses raku clay that is burnished, sawdust fired and waxed.

This earthier work has a different patina and texture and is based on shapes in nature and neolithic stone carvings often imprinted with leaves, driftwood and seaweed.

Anything less than perfect, she keeps for herself, and anything obviously damaged is placed in the “pottery graveyard” in her garden.

The garden and her home were outlets for her creativity before she found her way back to ceramics. She and her husband, Richard, an IT specialist, bought the property 12 years ago. It’s a huge, hidden away house in a village on the edge of Leeds.

The architecture is less than conventional as the property began life as a small 1930s bungalow. In 1981, an enormous extension was added and features everything from Art Deco-inspired decorative plasterwork to arches wouldn’t look out place in a Spanish villa.

The aim of the extension was to create staff quarters on the ground floor and owners’ accommodation on the first floor.

“There was even a dumb waiter in the kitchen and for some reason there were 13 sets of patio doors. It was crazy but it gave us lots more room and we have whittled the number of patio doors down to nine,” says Kit.

She and Richard have gradually redecorated and remodelled the property to suit their needs. One of the first jobs was to replace the pink carpets and the coloured bathroom suites. They also turned one of the two double garages into a ground-floor sitting room.

“There is one upstairs too but we felt a ground-floor sitting room suited family life better,” says Kit, who changed the kitchen units but retained the big red Aga.

All the rooms in the house are supersize and the hall is 43 ft long so furnishing the property has been a challenge that has been largely met by eBay with a little help from Ikea.

Kit prefixes her eBay searches with “large” and “huge” and it has worked a treat. She has found everything from giant console tables to super king size beds on the auction site.

“The furniture isn’t any one style. It’s a mix of period and modern but we buy what we like and it seems to work,” she says.

One of her best buys was the huge extending table and 10 vintage chairs. The sought-after retro swivel chair was another eBay bargain and cost just £10.

The house is filled with work by other artists and makers. They include some of her favourite potters: Albert Montserrat, who is based in Yorkshire and sells through Bils and Rye gallery in Kirkbymoorside; James Oughtibridge; Terry Shone and Dameon Lynn.

Outside, the south-facing walled garden now features everything from palm trees to mimosa and a fig tree along with a flagged terrace. They will soon be joined by a sawdust pit, which will replace the metal bins she uses for firing some of her pottery.

“I don’t spend as much time on the garden as I used to,” says Kit. “I’d rather be in the shed working on my ceramics. I’m making up for lost time and I’d happily be in there all day if I could.”

Kit Hemsley’s ceramics are on display at the Great North Art Show in Ripon Cathedral.

The event features hundreds of artworks and runs until September 23.

The exhibition is a chance to view and buy from some of finest contemporary Northern artists.

Entry to the Cathedral and exhibition is free and all artworks are for

Kit is also showing her work at Staithes Festival on September 8 and 9. She and three other artists/makers will be at 2 Browns

Yorkshire galleries stocking her ceramics include Ramsgill Gallery, Nidderdale, and Blandcliff Gallery, Scarborough.

Prices range from £50 to £500,