Jenny Hopps: “Working with clay keeps me grounded”
PUBLISHED: 17:20 23 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:37 24 September 2020
Celebrate the autumn season by meeting a Berkshire maker of beautiful home decor
“I discovered clay and ceramics when I was experiencing a really difficult time in my life,” says mum of three Jenny Hopps, owner at JH Pottery. “Our middle child, Mathilda, was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer in 2017, called Langerhans cell histiocytosis. Thankfully, she is doing well now and we are so grateful to Great Ormond Street for continuing to monitor and care for her.
“I started to experiment with clay as an outlet for my anxiety and worry the year after her diagnosis. I’d also just had our third child and life seemed so unsettled and fraught with worry. Clay gave me something tactile to focus on. I used to sit down and create with clay when the baby was napping and the two older girls were occupied with their own crafting. When the kids were in bed, I watched hundreds of videos on YouTube and read lots of books on ceramics. I decided to purchase a second-hand wheel on ebay and my love affair with clay officially began.”
Once Jenny had mastered the basics, she enrolled on a course at Turning Earth in East London, and she now has her own garden studio at her home near the villages of Beedon and Chieveley and sells her contemporary homewares online.
“I grew up in Berkshire but have lived and worked in London for the last 16 years,” Jenny says. “My husband, Robert, and I relocated our family back to the countryside last year to find some space and to follow our dream of renovating an old property with lots of greenery around us.
“I have happy memories of growing up in Newbury and Hungerford, and now I am rediscovering Berkshire all over again. It is such a breath of fresh air after spending so much time in the city. The countryside is stunning and we are enjoying family walks around the local area, in particular Snelsmore Common with its wild ponies. The sense of freedom is wonderful for the children and we are looking forward to making the most of our National Trust memberhsip again once things continue to normalise with the coronavirus.”
One very special place to the couple is Stoke Place Hotel, near Slough, where they got married in the autumn of 2010. “It is beautiful,” says Jenny.
“We also live close to Saddleback Farm Shop, which sells fresh produce, flowers and meats with a fabulous delicatessen. In the summer, the children can enjoy the huge sandpit and small play area while my husband and I have a coffee and gaze at the green scenery all around. We have a great local pub, The Fox in Peasemore. Not only does it serve delicious food but during lockdown they opened a community shop and takeaway service, which was so helpful.
“The Blackbird in Bagnor is a great local Michelin star pub and restaurant with a really inventive tasting menu. Post lockdown they have a pizza cabin, Paloma Pizza, complete with a woodfired oven in the garden and they are also right next to The Watermill Theatre.”
As an independent maker herself, Jenny admits she is always drawn to independent shops, especially B the Lifestyle in Newbury’s Bartholomew Street - a boutique selling womenswear, jewellery and homeware items. “It is my absolute favourite place to shop when I get time alone,” she says. “Emma, who owns it, has such an eye for detail and stocks really interesting brands. I can’t leave empty-handed!”
Before Jenny began her ceramics business and became a mum, she originally trained in theatre and also completed a Masters Degree at Goldsmiths University. “As well as working on theatre projects in my twenties I landed a job in the fashion industry and spent three years travelling across the world attending trade shows to sell luxury handbags and shoes to wholesale clients,” Jenny says. “I loved the travel and excitement but towards the end of my twenties I decided that I wanted to work independently.”
Jenny retrained as a Pilates teacher and taught people privately in their homes. But fast-forward to 2020 and three kids, three houses, a few bumps along the road later, she is now an up-and-coming ceramicist. She says her signature nesting bowls are her most popular items and her aqua turquoise glaze also sells out very quickly.
So what is Jenny’s technique? “I work on the pottery wheel with stoneware clay and I also create some forms that are hand-built. Everything is then trimmed and dried in my studio for a few days and fired in my kiln. Each piece is then glazed and left to dry again before being fired for a second time. Pottery is a long process and it has taught me a great deal of patience,” she says. “I also love the photography and marketing side of my work. In my photographs I use a mixture of dried and fresh flowers alongside produce from our cottage garden. The soulful music of Lianne La Havas is always on in my studio and her music is really important to my creative process. I am always inspired by the work of artist Georgia O’Keeffe and her use of colour and form and I have a very special book of her work that resides in my studio.
“It is strange how through trauma with our daughter’s illness we have found something wonderful at the other end. Not only have we seen her nurtured back to health but we have all grown stronger as a family,” says Jenny. “Discovering and working with clay has given me a great sense of grounding, creativity and accomplishment. I want to continue to push myself on my learning journey as a ceramicist and further my ongoing training and experimentation. I would also like to get a second kiln so I can increase production in 2021. We don’t know what the future holds but we continue to try to take each week as it comes.”