Stoke on Trent Artist, Gillie Nicholls: Performer, Ceramist, Sculptor
From early childhood beginnings in Northwood Hanley, artist, Gillie Nicholls has sought to capture the essence of what it is to live in and around the Six Towns. Her family worked in the pottery industry—she grew up with the smell of clay and the sight of bottle kilns, the dragon fires of Stoke, indelibly etched in her imagination. She captures the spirit of the area in her work, work that includes songs, pottery and sculpture.
For the last 25 years, alongside potting, Gillie Nicholls has been performing and recording her own songs. She released her first solo album, Spirit Talk, prior to joining the Albion Band. Whilst with this band, Gillie wrote songs with Ashley Hutchings and recorded two albums. (Hutchings is widely acknowledged as the creator of folk-rock and founder member of Fairport Convention; Steeleye Span and the Albion Band).
"Maybe it’s the uniquely sensual voice - completely identifiable as Gillie's, maybe the heartbreakingly lovely tune, or maybe the glorious spare poetry that touches the heart of the matter; most likely all of these together have moved you so.”
After leaving the Albion Band to pursue a solo career along came her second album, Vital Signs. The song, 'Free' from this album, was taken up and used by the Body Shop. She now writes and performs as part of local alt folk trio, The Idioms www.theidioms.org They perform original songs by both Gillie and Gary Hurlstone, songs that explore local Staffordshire culture and events. The Potter’s Dream, (Before us Stands Yesterday – The Albion Band) is one of her compositions, a piece that reflects upon changes undergone in the years following the diminution of Stoke on Trent’s traditional industrial base.
Bricks Unlaid, is a song co-written with Neil Simpson, (Roy Wood, Climax Blues Band) about Northwood where Gillie was born:
“Those paves of moss framed diamonds now have all gone away. It must be an air that this place is breathing, I can sense the crease of its veil. They've pulled down the streets around here, but my home remains…”
Still passionate about what she does, Gillie continues to promote and provide performance platforms for new, aspiring musicians as well as supporting her music therapy work with Arts for Health.
Her other driving interest, that of a ceramics artist, grew out of her ambition to work with clay, an ambition nurtured and realised after she completed a BA degree in Multi-Disciplinary Design at Staffordshire University. This led her to life as a self-employed potter, ceramic sculptor and maker of her own hand thrown ware.
Gillie’s pottery is identifiable by its unique design features—symbolic signature decoration that harks back to the local landscape and geology. The marbling effect on her pots is a representation of what she discovered whilst spending time studying the early pottery industry (c1600-1750) whilst preparing her thesis. This involved closely examining geological maps and the sub strata detail that lies beneath our feet. This detail is captured in her work: the intricate cross compositions of clay, coal and silt, the raison d'être for the pottery industry to locate in Staffordshire in the first place.
Her distinguishing, ‘hare’ motif, a Celtic mythological symbol with connections to the Otherworld, of creativity and fertility, is a representation linking together her various creative strands, strands that reappear in her much-loved song, Dancing with the Hare, written as a tribute to the spirit of two of Staffordshire’s finest musicians.
Gillie produces pottery from her home in Stafford in a studio that rests at the bottom of her garden. Here she throws, decorates and fires her ware. She exports her uniquely crafted pottery to the USA and Europe but is still focussed upon producing pieces for the local market and for collectors.
Gillie can be contacted at email@example.com or through The Idioms website (where you can hear her work) www.theidioms.org
Photographs with permission:
Gillie Studio: Chen Zhuo https://www.zenarts8.com/