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Greenwich: How Made By Manos offers everyone the chance to make ceramics

Manos Kalamenios hosts taster and workshop sessions at his Design District studio space

Manos Kalamenios of Made By Manos on Greenwich Peninsula

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The world of ceramicist, alchemist and experimental creator Manos Kalamenios is filled with impossible things.

I was going to use the word littered, but thanks to a relentless focus on sustainability, there’s practically no rubbish in his bin.

His sink even has a filter that allows him to recover particles of clay for recycling in future projects.

And what projects they are. Made By Manos, his ground floor studio space at Design District on Greenwich Peninsula, is filled with finished pieces.

Its shelves are strewn with exotic vessels in bone china, porcelain and earthenware – pieces that light up and even ones made from ceramic foam, shaped and then solidified to give the appearance of a fossilised sponge.

There are improbably thin pieces, delicate as paper, and shards of material that seem perfectly solid until light shines through their translucent forms, radically altering their appearance.

When I arrive, the table is filled with ghostly white Christmas baubles which are just being removed from their moulds.

Everywhere there are trial pieces, innovation and work – either Manos’ own creations or those of his students. It’s much more than just a showroom.

Manos’ studio is on the ground floor at Design District

“Experimentation is paramount for me because it keeps me sane,” he said.

“It would drive me mad if I had to do the same thing for the rest of my life, so that’s why everything is different.

“Of course, if someone really likes something then I will make another one and I’m always happy to try new colours or textures. I never say no to anything.”

A Greek who grew up in Athens, Manos originally came to the UK in pursuit of his dream to become a chef at a Four Seasons hotel.

Working first in Greece, then Spain, he achieved his aim, cooking at the brand’s Canary Wharf hotel from 2003 to 2005.

But the long hours took their toll and he left hospitality, initially to live with friends in the Isle Of Man.

With the intention of pursuing a career as an artist (having never touched clay) he enrolled on a foundation course where he first encountered ceramics and a new passion. 

Further study led to a degree in fine art and then an MA in ceramics and glass at the Royal College Of Art as well as the chance to collaborate with an old friend.

One of the pieces Manos created for Lima

“When doing my MA, I met up with a man I used to work with at the Four Seasons in Canary Wharf – Robert Ortiz – who had become head chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Lima, in Fitzrovia,” said Manos

“We decided to do this collaboration with the restaurant’s menu on my tableware and it was magical.

“When I was a chef I was always excited by using unusual plates, so it’s nice to see pieces designed for food and not the other way around.”

Having worked out of a studio locally, Manos saw a sign on the door of Design District – Knight Dragon’s project to fill a plot with workspaces created by numerous architects – and applied for a studio.

Manos removes a Christmas decoration from a mould

“In the past, I was making work for myself, for clients and commissions,” he said.

“But when I moved here, I found the potential was not just for me.

“My aim would be to see this place buzzing – I have the space to offer workshops, to teach and to help people with their projects.

“My tag line for Made By Manos is: ‘If you can’t find it, come and make it’.

“I want people who live or work locally to come because using clay is so nice, so relaxing – you can just get away from stress.

“It’s great to have something you’ve made or to give it as a gift – I want people to come here and to feel happy at that feeling of achievement.

“You can be a complete beginner, someone who has never touched the material before, and then leave with something you have made.

“For me, it’s amazing to pass something on and to give back to the community.

“This isn’t that old mentality of not sharing a secret glaze or something.

“I think you can only make progress by sharing what you know.”

Tiles made by participants on a taster session

Manos is constantly developing his own practice, blending ingredients in different ways to create new materials and approaches. 

His pieces have been widely exhibited and used, including pieces for Canary Wharf’s Winter Lights Festival in 2018, tableware for Tate Modern’s members club and work for Four Seasons Hotels And Resorts in Athens.

“About 99% of my work is slip casting, so I don’t have the mess with a wheel spraying the clay everywhere,” he said.

“I also find the wheel very restricting because everything you make has to be round.

“With slip, I have the ability to get any shape I want, any size, any height and any finish.

“I love lighting and working on a big scale – I also like collaborating, doing things outside my comfort zone with glass, jewellery and metal.

“My favourite is probably working with bone china – I’ve even found a way to make it into a foam by adding extra air.

“As a student I was taught air was imperfection and my instinct is always to go completely the other way. That’s the most exciting thing to do.

“When I was making the foam, I was told I was looking for trouble but once you know the limits you can adapt it to what you want.

“I was also told never to add glass and I wound up making pieces for James Dyson after doing that, so I think you should listen to your gut and go with it.”

For those who want to have a go themselves, Manos offers one-hour taster sessions at his studio for £30 per person, where small groups learn ancient techniques to hand-build vessels in stoneware clay. 

He also offers three-hour themed workshops for £80, where participants in groups of five work on specific projects such as building mugs or cups or making Christmas decorations such as paper porcelain baubles for the tree.

One-to-one coaching and mentoring are also available on an hourly basis as well as a firing service for people who have made pieces but lack a kiln to finish them.

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Hackney Wick: How Potters Thumb gives people the chance to play with clay

Potter Mark Ciavola talks ceramics, education and creating a new kind of porcelain out of waste glass

Pottery classes and services are offered by Potters Thumb -
Pottery classes and services are offered by Potters Thumb – image Matt Grayson

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I don’t immediately realise it, but as I raise the cup of tea to my lips at zero waste restaurant Silo in Hackney Wick, they’re touching an object conceived and created by the man sitting beside me.

Mark Ciavola is the ceramicist behind Potters Thumb, which offers clay-based classes and memberships at its studio space above the zero waste venue.

He also supplies it with its hand-thrown cups, from which we’re drinking and that’s not the only reciprocity, but more of that later.

Lamenting the shrinking presence of pottery in schools, he is determined to pass on the knowledge he’s accrued from a lifetime spent around ceramics.

“At a very early age I showed signs of interest and my parents saw that and guided me,” said Mark. In fact, it was his mother, Anna, who sadly died last year, who had the biggest influence on Mark.

“She forged a career as a potter at a time when the craft was dominated by men, teaching, nurturing and inspiring numerous others in their native Malta and seeing her work enter the island’s National Collection.

“I was fortunate to travel a lot with her, visiting potteries across the world, but mostly in Europe,” he said.

“So I had the pleasure of meeting all these potters in Greece, the UK and Italy.

“That included Phil Rogers in Wales who, along with my mother, took me under his wing. He’s been hugely influential in the contemporary ceramics world and has pieces in the British Museum and collections all over the world. 

“He suggested courses for me, so I went to Harrogate College where I did my national diploma, and then to Cardiff to do my degree.

“I’ve been so lucky to be able to learn new techniques and skills from potters such as Michael Casson and Terry and Beverly Bell-Hughes.”

Mark Ciavola of Potters Thumb in Hackney Wick
Mark Ciavola of Potters Thumb in Hackney Wick- image Matt Grayson

Having originally set up shop in Brighton, a lack of empathy from his landlord during the pandemic saw him return to Malta rather than take up the Government’s generous invitation to re-train in cyber.

His relocation to Hackney Wick came via a message from Silo owner Douglas McMaster, who he’d met and supplied when the restaurant was also based in Brighton. 

Offered the chance to create a new material in partnership with the restaurant (look left for more on this), he moved back to the UK, plugged the potters wheels and opened the doors.

“When I was working in Brighton I didn’t want to make pottery that was exclusive and unattainable for the general public,” said Mark.

“I wanted to get my work out to the people as quickly as possible and in abundance. 

“I was thinking of who would use crockery like that and that’s how I met Doug, through creating ceramics for Silo.

“I’ve been doing that ever since and for other restaurants and it’s snowballed from there. 

“Giving lessons is very important for me. It is part of the structure of pottery and keeps us sustainable as well so we can keep doing what we’re doing.

“Obviously we have a responsibility to spread this craft around – it’s a dying trade unless it is encouraged and there’s not much of that coming from the state at the moment, so it’s an uphill struggle. Nevertheless, I am determined to pursue it.” 

Mark works some clay on a wheel at Potters Thumb
Mark works some clay on a wheel at Potters Thumb – image Matt Grayson

Part of Mark’s drive to get more people handling clay is down to his belief in its wider benefits.

These, he said, extended beyond the creation of ceramics and spoke to fundamental things about what it means to be human.

“Personally it’s been doing me the world of good for about 37 years,” said Mark.

“I believe that in contrast to the fast-paced world that we live in now and, because we are more aware of our mental health and other sensitive topics which affect us, ceramics, clay, pottery is art therapy.

“It transports you, because working with clay involves so many of your senses – with your hand-eye coordination you’ve got this vision of the future, imagining your finished item while you’re still making it, the clay catching up with the line you’re seeing in the air, and all the while you’re touching and manipulating the material.

“It cuts you off and gives you that space that we all need. Today, humanity deliberately and consciously deprives itself of mental states that preserve our mental health.

“Crafts and art are slowly being cut from the curriculum of our schools, colleges and universities and there are cuts in funding because the Government doesn’t have any faith in the creative industries.

Cups ready for firing with Mark's mark
Cups ready for firing with Mark’s mark – image Matt Grayson

“Cooking, for example, used to involve 30 or 40 minutes of preparation and then the savouring of the food you’d made.

“Now it’s two and a half minutes in the microwave and a plate in front of the laptop.

“With pottery, people feel they’ve missed out and they want to come and experience it and practise it.

“As children, no-one teaches us how to play with playdough – it’s just given to us and instinctively we know what to do. It’s something in our DNA and, even as adults, our primal instincts are alive and kicking. 

“Pottery gives us a sense of satisfaction that we’re able to do something and this gives us energy to pursue other goals.

“That’s why we’re giving lessons here with heart, in a creative comfortable spot where you don’t need to invest heavily in machinery in kilns or materials.

“You can come here and use them. I really want to share my experiences, help develop other people’s creativity and pass on this dying craft to others.

“Thankfully ceramics is getting more publicity with TV shows like The Great Pottery Throw Down and an increasing number of people are getting interested in it as it becomes more mainstream.

“But the best thing about it is that it’s a great way to escape the madness we’re living in today.”

Potters Thumb offers a variety of classes and workshops at its studio, based in the White Building at Hackney Wick. These include sessions on hand building techniques (from £35) and wheel throwing (from £55).

Memberships to use the studio are also available (from £150), with kiln firing services also available.

Silo's Doug McMaster with Mark of Potters Thumb
Silo’s Doug McMaster with Mark of Potters Thumb – image Matt Grayson

Finding a greener way to deal with glass

Douglas founded Silo with the premise that the restaurant would operate without a bin, producing no waste.

So he’s enlisted Mark’s help in a project to create a new material from the single-use glass that flows through the venue to improve its environmental impact.

He said: “From day one that was always the headache.

Even when recycling it you need pure silica to make new bottles and that’s the best case scenario. 

“The other problem is that systemically used glass doesn’t end up where it should – getting into parks, canals and landfill, where it takes thousands of years to break down and does a whole lot of environmental damage.

But there isn’t really a better way to get all these wonderful liquids here, so I approached Mark about using it as a raw material.”

Mark said: “No good potter would ever throw away decent material – clay is a gift from Mother Nature so we treat it with respect.

I looked at this problem with a ceramacist’s hat on, rather than as a glassmaker.

There’s silica in both glass and clay and that was the catalyst to find a solution and marry up these two materials. 

“We crush the bottles, pound them until the particles are the size we can manipulate and then mould it as glass porcelain.

There’s lots of experimenting, but we can turn this into something useful. We’re working on flat objects at the moment like tiles and plates.”

Watch this space.

A piece made in the new material by Mark – image Matt Grayson

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