“I’m a mudworker,” says the unassuming Mick Haigh during our interview about his new range of garden pots.
For those not familiar with Mick, here is a bit of background on the potter and owner of Nottingham Road’s Café Bloom.
Mick grew up in Durban, where he spent two years studying fine art at then Technikon Natal, before changing courses to horticulture.
Thereafter, he joined the family nursery and landscaping business, but the country called, so he and wife Sally moved to Dargle, where they started making textiles.
On a road trip to the Cape to sell their wares, they passed through Hogsback in the Eastern Cape, where they met award-winning potter Anton van der Merwe and put down roots for three years. It was with Anton that Mick honed his skills as a potter.
“Ït just felt effortless to me. Clay just fell out of my hands,” says Mick, mentioning ikigai, a Japanese term meaning “a reason for being”. He had found it.
By then Mick and Sally’s son, Joachim, had been born and the couple felt that, for his sake, they needed to return to the Midlands.
Mick also realised he needed to be more commercial.
“We were living in a shack on the side of a hill, surviving. It was five percent making pots and the rest just surviving.”
The couple returned in 2003, after which things got “very commercial”.
A friend suggested Mick exhibit at Design Indaba 2006 in Cape Town, where he was spotted by world-renowned Dutch trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort. She loved Mick’s work so much that he was soon off to Europe to exhibit his pieces, mainly tableware.
“I just got too busy. I was chasing export orders. We would get orders for 8000 handmade pieces with a six-week lead time. It was impractical. I was also getting design commissions. I am not a designer. They conceptualise. I make first and then think about design, or it happens simultaneously. I was also being copied as I had no trademark.”
So, in 2015, Mick stopped wholesaling tableware and began producing garden pots, something with which he had been dabbling.
“There is no shortage of clay in the Midlands, which is great from an ecological point of view, and it makes beautiful gardenware.”
The new range, which was launched at the end of last year, is based on classic Italian/Mediterranean pots of the post-Renaissance era. “My head and heart are here, but when it comes to the pots I am very Eurocentric; always have been,” he says with a chuckle.
Mick’s craft is very much a family affair, with he and Joachim processing the clay, eight-year-old Noah hanging on the pug mill while Mick gets creative, and Sally, an artist in her own right, focusing on finishes.
All of Mick’s pots are hand-thrown on a potter’s wheel he constructed himself.
“There isn’t a commercial wheel big enough to run 40 to 60kgs of clay, so I built my own. I used cast-iron wheels from a mealie-processing machine. They are perfectly round and strong enough to hold a sizeable concrete base. Two good bearings are also important,” he laughs.
Mick says he may return to wholesaling, but not on a commercial basis. “I want people to come to me. If you want a garden pot, go direct to the person making it.”
Mick’s ongoing range is available at Café Bloom or visit his website at www.mickhaigh.com. He also has a blog (mickhaighpots).
Mudworker? We think master craftsman is more appropriate.