Chris O’Donoghue, pottery expert, award-winning garden designer and more recently author of detective novels, began by telling his audience at Rye Museum on Thursday, March 8, that he hadn’t had the exam grades on leaving school to qualify for a degree course in art at Bournemouth Art College.
The rest of the story, a riveting presentation billed as From Pottery to Potting Shed was one which would inspire anyone feeling ‘left behind’ to set out ambitiously to ‘get way ahead’.
It was a fast-paced words-and-pictures journey – punctuated by a few gasps from the audience – illustrating how a habit of building on previous experience to develop the skills needed to follow interests can propel an unleashing of new talents and open up paths to innovation and creativity.
Evident to the audience, though unspecified by the speaker, were the roles a boundless supply of energy and an ability to reinvent after setbacks must have also played in building a series of successful careers (and along the way getting that degree – in Industrial Design.)
An early job throwing pots at Poole Pottery led in stages (e.g. making countless moulds of many types) to Rye and to running a ceramic business creating beautiful/amusing/collectable models in clay of, for example, outsized teapots with personality.
Ceramic thatched houses with miniature gardens (always with ‘authentic’ detail), were supplied to Fortnum & Mason and outlets in Japan, the USA and elsewhere, alongside acquiring a succession of eye-catching motorbikes and cars as well as a cottage which he rebuilt (while running the business) and taking more art classes covering what he’d like to know how to do for his next ambitions.
Those ceramic houses with their ‘authentic’ gardens played a part in his career switch in 2002 to the Chris O’Donoghue garden design and restoration business serving the South East – and then becoming a medal winner three years in succession at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
In the course of the story we also learned something about techniques of pottery production – moulds, jigger jolley machines, clays, slips and glazes, sculpting, styles of decoration, the vagaries of taste among consumers, the joys of sailing and of owning unusual vehicles.
In his ‘spare time’ Chris has recently begun a series of detective novels. Besides examples of his pottery he brought along copies of Blood on the Tide: An Inspector Sonny Russell mystery which has gathered reviews as ‘a cracking good read’. It is set on the south coast in the 1950s and features the sea and boats, murder and the Nazis. The second title, Blood on the Shrine, will be out shortly.
This was certainly another memorable evening at Rye Museum. Look out for details of the next talk on Thursday, April 12, when Cathy Walling, Curator of the Hastings Museum will present A History of Hastings in 66 Objects.
Photo: Chris O’Donoghue