Throwing shapes with owner of Dunbeacon Pottery Helen Ennis

Aileen Lee profiles ceramicist Helen Ennis.

What’s your background?

I was born and bred in Dublin. After school, I did a couple of art and craft courses, and I decided that it was functional ceramics I wanted to get into.

I knew I had an aptitude for throwing so I decided to get an apprenticeship and I was lucky to get one with Stephen Pearse Pottery in East Cork. There was a big team of throwers and glazers.

I got to see how everything happened, from start to finish. I also got a good training in throwing consistently every single day of the week on the wheel. I did three years there.

I was looking for work then in other potteries, and my predecessor who ran Dunbeacon Pottery was looking to sell the business and retire.

It felt early in my life to take on a small business, but it was too good an opportunity to turn down. I have been running Dunbeacon Pottery since 2000.

What’s a typical workday like for you?

I’ll try and be in the pottery by 9am and get some throwing done, get some clay processed, get handles made and then maybe in the afternoon I’ll do glazing or for orders that have come in online, I’ll get them packed up. I do every single part of the process.

Customers coming into the studio will dictate the day as well, especially during the tourist season. We’re down on the Mizen Peninsula so every day I’ll have people coming in to have a browse of my showroom.

They can also have a look into my studio while I’m working away and see the process and interact as much as they like.

Tell us about a recent project or design/favourite project or design you have worked on?

There are three Michelin-starred restaurants in Cork and two of them have Dunbeacon Pottery in them, so that’s something special for me.

That would be the Mews down in Baltimore and the Chestnut in Ballydehob. I also supply Budds in Ballydehob and the Glebe in Skibbereen.

It’s nice that they’re sourcing local for their tableware, I really appreciate it, because I get a lot of knock-on business from that.

What’s your design style?

Style-wise for me, it’s got to function right and then it’s got to feel right in the hand.

What/who inspires your work?

Living here in West Cork inspires me.

When I first moved here, I had ideas of ranges I wanted to make and they were probably more architectural-influenced but as soon as I was living here, I had to throw that out the window and just sit and let West Cork do its thing with me.

What’s your favourite trend at the moment (if you have any)?

I don’t pay much heed to current trends because in my work, it takes so many years to develop a range and get it out there that there’s not much point in me knowing that, let’s say, orange is going to be the top colour next year. That means nothing to me.

What’s your most treasured possession?

There’s no one thing, to be honest. I am very happy that I’m healthy, and happy to get up to go to work in the morning, that means a lot to me.

Who is your favourite designer, or style inspiration?

Helena Brennan is a potter that I would admire — she was a mentor I worked with in Dublin before. It’s nice to have a connection to people whose work you admire.

Even though I have been working on my own for nearly 20 years here, most days the voices of my former teachers or mentors will come through my mind.

What would be a dream project for you to work on?

There’s always more to do and other glazes I’m working away on in the background, so maybe it would be to get some space to develop more glazes. On the other hand, I’m very happy creating what I create — so long as there is a demand for what I’m making, then I’ll be happy to sell it.

Have you any design tips for us?

Keep it simple; sometimes less is definitely more, but always keep function to the fore.

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