As you walk into Gallery 1611 in Alston, you will find a striking panel of different types of ceramic pottery made up of a collage of the couple's ceramic work from the last 50 years telling the story of their lives through their passion. Spotlight discovers more........

sylSyl Macro first discovered her passion for clay at the age of 16 while she was a student at Newcastle College of Art. She tells me how over the next 50 years she became addicted to clay. Making her way as a potter has been a long and slow process for Syl "I have worked my way through thousands of tonnes of clay" she smiles. Syl's work has developed over the years and you can see this within the ceramic panel which stands centre stage in Gallery 1611. As we sit and talk in the gallery, surrounded by the locally inspired work of the Macros, Syl tells me she feels this is exactly where she has always wanted to be. 

The bottom left hand corner of the ceramic panel shows Syl's work from when she was a student and as your eye wanders up you can see Syl's work from her first shop, which was in a craft unit housed within Black Friars Monastery in the centre of Newcastle.  The mosaic shows the style of the commemorative mugs which Syl made thousands of over a 15 year period and next to these are representations of pots, depicting Newcastle buildings, which were very popular at the time with the wives of Japanese workers at the newly founded Nissan factory in Sunderland. Ray and Syl believe most of the Japanese wives probably took one of those pots back to Japan with them.

Syl and Ray Macro first came to Alston in 1990 by chance when an advert in a ceramic magazine, offering a cottage and pottery to let in Alston at the Old Brewery, caught their eye. Syl tells me how it sounded idyllic, so the couple went for it. Up to this time Ray had been working as an architect for 25 years but having envied his wife's way of working, liking the immediacy of it, "you don't have to wait for building regulations approval to make a pot" he quips, Ray decided to turn his hand to clay. He decided to go in a different direction to his wife and discovered a passion for creating light features which he found he could create by using a hollow extrusion technique to achieve extended forms, which are then cut and pierced to create a localised ambience of light. His unique light features are inspired by the individual character of the growth pattern of mature trees and you can see these represented in the top right of the panel. Over the next 2 years the couple lived and worked in Alston and totally fell in love with the place, "we thought Alston was a magical place" Syl smiles. The move to Alston also gave Syl the inspiration to take her work in a new direction, Syl tells me how she was very inspired by the changing colours of the landscape and trees, which is still an inspiration which you can see throughout Syl's current creations. 

 One day when the couple were on a recce around Alston  looking for a building for their own pottery in the town, they stumbled across Stokoe House, a 17th century property in the centre of Alston, which was to be sold at auction within 5 days.  The couple rushed to get to the auction and on an impulse bought the house, Syl tells me how it was very unlike them to be so impulsive but it turned out to be a very good decision indeed. Over the next few years the couple developed the house to suit their needs, allowing them to live, create and sell their imaginative pieces of work in the heart of the town they loved. Syl tells me how they found Alston to be a great place to make and sell pots as they fitted in well with the many other craft workers in the town, they found they sold so much more of their work directly than they ever did in Newcastle.

pottery lampIn 2009 the couple felt they were ready for a new challenge and decided to sell Stokoe House, allowing them to set up Gallery 1611 just across the road. They opened the new gallery in May 2010 and  are happy the gallery is going so well .The gallery is seasonal in its opening times, opening from Easter to October.  The couple tell me how they use the winter months to really get stuck into what they love to do which is making pots. Displayed throughout the well lit gallery is a selection of Ray's striking lamps and Syl's current work which includes ceramic wall panels, vase forms and bowls which Syl makes using her original technique of coloured clay assemblage, which she has developed and perfected over many years, starting with her work in Alston Brewery.

Syl and Ray also have a keen interest in the creations of other potters and every year the couple attend Potfest the international ceramics festival based at Penrith. Syl tells me how the festival has been going for 17 years and they are proud to have attended every year since it began. The festival exhibits the work of a 100 potters from all over the UK, Europe and even from as far away as Australia. Syl tells me how it's brilliant to exhibit and meet other potters "it's very inspiring to see what others are doing; you wouldn't' believe all the wonderful things you can make from mud".Within Gallery 1611 Syl and Ray have a window dedicated to the work of other potters,  these displays are entitled " POTTER IN THE WINDOW" and the featured potter  changes  each month.

Finally I asked what advice the couple would give to others setting out to create a business."If you have got an idea of something you love, which you want to make work, try and deal with one problem at a time, but don't lose sight of your end vision". 

Syl and Ray have clearly been on a wandering journey together in discovering and developing their passion for working with clay and if this summer you call into Gallery 1611 you can see Ray and Syl Macro's story through clay for yourself.



For more information on Syl and Ray Macro visit the Gallery 1611 website

Article by our Spotlight reporter Samantha Ridley



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