Nestled down a lane, just off Pump Street, in an area now being labelled the ‘Cathedral Quarter’, is ceramicist Deirdre O’Callaghn, working under the name DocPot.
It’s a one-woman show, and the workshop is filled to bursting with everything you would associate with someone working with pottery.
Surprisingly the potter’s wheel takes up little space, with the floor, shelves and tables overflowing with pieces of pottery in various stages of finish, display stands packed with tea sets ready to be shipped off to clients, and as it’s nearly Christmas, boxes filled with handmade decorations.
Deirdre ensures that she works in the workshop three days a week - “I need to discipline myself to work on the products, so on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays I try and be based at the workshop” - but the work can be lonely, so she also uses her talents to teach others.
“I work closely with the Beacon Centre and CALMS, working with those battling mental health problems, depression and stress. I think the hands-on work with the clay is incredibly calming.
“The classes also get me out and about. While I was a student I worked with in old people’s homes, and if I hadn’t become an artist I think I would have been a nurse. So I guess I’m doing that work through pottery now.”
Deirdre was always interested in art - “I think I wanted to be an artist from the age of five” - but it wasn’t until she got to university that she specialised in the ceramic side.
“I didn’t relish the fine art side of the course, where you are inevitably left to work alone. Instead I wanted to be taught hands-on skills and so I fell into glass and ceramics. It was actually more centred around slip-casting which is mould making but once I graduated I ventured into voluntary work which was more pottery based.”
Then, through an apprenticeship from the Crafts Council of Ireland, Deirdre found herself in Thomastown in Co. Kilkenny.
“It was a chance to really learn at the wheel. But it was tough going too. I sat at a potter’s wheel from 9am to 5pm every day. And for the first three months everything we made went straight in the bin. It was a great learning experience, and we were taught how to repeat the same item over and over again, and for them all to look exactly the same. That consistency has served me well.
“It was also a chance to learn all the basic structures needed to make ceramics. For instance, to make a teapot, you need to know how to make the lid, the spout, the body - and to put them together correctly.
“Despite the hard work, it was an idyllic year. There’s a really lovely community of artists based there and the locals are very welcoming.
“It also trained me well and once I left I was able to go straight into full-time employment with Michael Kennedy, making his shapes. It was also a learning experience to see just how to run and manage a workshop. I was there for three years before I moved back home to Derry in 2000.
“It’s quite sad but there are very few people from my degree course who are making a living at art full-time. It’s definitely a vocation as it can be hard to make a living out of it.”
Yet, over 14 years later Deirdre continues to work full-time as a ceramicist.
“I really enjoy making items that are functional. That’s why my initial ranges were all tea-sets. They continue to be popular but when I started people would order full sets. That kept me really busy and I just kept getting them made and shipping them out.
“But then the recession hit and there wasn’t as many people ordering full sets. It was a chance for me to catch my breath and work on other ideas that I had had at the back of my mind, but hadn’t the time to work on.
“I really enjoy that creative side of my work; taking a piece of nothing and changing it into something usable.
“Pottery is a harder sell than many of the other creative arts, as it’s not the most accessible, so there’s no denying it has been tough going at times but I enjoy it.”
Deirdre also likes to see her pieces being used.
“If someone has bought a mug then I like to know they actually drink tea out of it! I used to only make pieces that were functional but this year I’ve started to branch out into more ornamental pieces and they are proving to be popular.
“I also make a lot of little Christmas decorations which sell well at craft fairs.”
And last year’s City of Culture year proved a success for the local artist too.
“I definitely sold more of my work, especially the City of Culture mug that I created.
“The crafts industry in the city have also been lucky to have been appointed a Craft Development Officer - Deirdre Harte - at Derry City Council, so local craft artists can keep up the momentum of 2013.
“I’m also involved with the Craft Village Collective which is a group of about 20 craft artists.
“We all have different skills and it’s great to be a part of that pool of talent and experience.
“We had a pop-up shop during 2013 which we have decided to keep open. It’s a great place for us all to showcase original work.”