About Paul

Mug shot Paul Bohanna holding tower of souls celebration vase. 2023. Photo by Kieran Bohanna.

My name is Paul Bohanna. I was born in Manchester, England, in 1967. I’ve had a complex life, having had six different surnames, attending around 20 different schools, and even experiencing periods of homelessness, which gives some hint of the complexity. I have also been vegetarian, and now vegan, since I was 5 years old.
I became self-employed when I was 19 (as an artist) and since then I have had many small businesses, including manufacturing candle moulds, juggling equipment, and silk screen printing equipment, as well as dealing in antique ceramics and specialist books about ceramics. But there is no doubt that ceramics have always been my true passion, my ambition, my expression, and I have worked hard for many years to achieve this dream.

I gave my first pottery class when I was 8 years old. I spotted some reddish clay at the bottom of a road-works trench and grabbed the biggest lump I could carry back to the ‘Refuge’ I was then living in. I hid in the empty garage and, without any previous knowledge of clay or potting, I began making pots. First they were crude thumb pots and then coil pots. When they had dried, I painted them with discarded tins of old house paint. When the other kids in the ‘Refuge’ eventually discovered my secret activities, I expected the worst, but to my surprise they instead let me show them where to find clay and how to make their own pots. So, that was my first pottery class, and a life lesson in how clay can touch the souls of the most unexpected people at any time.

I became involved with archaeology in Bristol in the early 1980s, at age 14, gaining invaluable experience working in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. I carried out excavations on many sites including the kiln waste sites of the Bristol Pottery from various periods. An experience which brought to life the reality of early industrial pottery manufacture, and a deep appreciation of the incredible human skill that it depended upon.

Kiln furniture (trivits / stilts / saggar sealers). Which I excavated in 1988 next to the site of the Bristol Pottery, Water Lane. These were from the Pountney & Co. phase c.1870-1880.

The methods of production of the C18th and C19th British potters, as well as many others from the past, have been a major influence on my own work. Not in the sense of slavish copying of designs, but rather inspiration from the techniques used, as well as the social context. The idea of assembling pots from a multitude of interchangeable parts, which can be reproduced in small scale production runs, but so that every pot is also unique, much like using Lego or Meccano, appeals deeply to the inventor within me. My degree dissertation was titled: ‘Births, Deaths, Marriages and Pots’, which reflected my deep interest in how ceramics have functioned as social documents, and even sometimes almost as family shrines.

Glaze test tiles with metal oxide strips. Earthenware. Paul Bohanna.
Glaze test tiles with metal oxide strips. Earthenware. Paul Bohanna.

I learned to throw pots on a potter’s kick wheel when I was 14 whilst taking part in the Bickley Kiln Project (early 1980s), in which we built a C17th style up-draught kiln using clay dug on site, and then fired it with gathered wood. My thanks go to Oliver Kent who gave me my first lesson on the wheel, in a field. I stayed there alone for many hours into the darkness after everyone else had left, until I finally threw a pot.

Over the years I attended many pottery classes. I will always remember my first pottery teacher Mr. Miller, who allowed me to attend the adult evening classes at the school when I was 11 – even after I had left the school. A true art teacher. Thank you Mr. Miller. And of course the wonderful Jilly whose surname I never knew, who was so kind to me and others. She taught a tiny evening class from her tiny studio in a lock-up garage in Picton Street, Bristol. Thank you Jilly. I’ve also had some truly awful art and pottery teachers, but they are best forgotten, possibly even buried and concreted over.

I studied for my degree at Cheltenham as a mature student and graduated in 2000 with a first class BSc Hons Combined Degree (Business Computer Systems combined with Visual Arts Ceramics). For this I owe a big debt of gratitude to my ceramics lecturer Jerry Fryman, who saw my potential and gave me a real chance (despite our many differences regarding the merits, or lack of, of the Leach domination…).

Since as early as 1982 I have been collecting antique ceramics and now have considerable collections of ceramics and (to a lesser extent) glass. I have amassed a large personal library of ceramics books (over 900 titles and constantly growing) whilst researching many branches of ceramics history. One day I may even publish some of my research.  I am also a specialist dealer in antique ceramics and ceramics books. And as such, I have sold to authors, researchers, museums, collectors and other dealers around the world. You can visit my sister site here (www.ceramicsbooks.com).