White slip landscapes of pillowy snow; dappled salt-glaze frostings on claret red fields; each square bottle by Anne Mette Hjortshøj becomes a potter’s canvas, reflecting the ethereal beauty of her island surroundings.
Born on the Danish mainland, Anne Mette now pots from her studio workshop just a few miles from the west coast of Bornholm, a small island in the Baltic Sea renowned for its history of individual and industrial potteries and its natural clay deposits. A potter’s island since the 17th century, the call of Bornholm has persuaded some of Denmark’s most celebrated ceramic artists to dig clay from its native cliffs and beaches.
Amongst her many beautiful forms, drawing inspiration from native Scandinavian ceramics to traditions as far flung as Japan and Korea, it is her square bottles that receive perhaps the most attention. As fellow potter and former mentor Phil Rogers has written of her work, Though all her pots exhibit her desire to challenge herself in glaze and form, her slab bottles are certainly Anne Mette’s tour de force.
To Anne Mette, these strong yet quiet forms offer new perspectives on the visual communion between clay, glaze, and decoration: I don’t usually invent shapes or techniques: I like to understand those that people have made in generations before me. I think that’s what keeps me going, why I am still working as a potter.
I spend most of my time in the studio working on my wheel, and I like the process, but sometimes it’s nice to get away from the wheel and do something different. So I started making these square bottles, in which you have a flat canvas that you can work on and that can show off the glazes.
I see the materials in a different way when I see this canvas, when I see a picture more than I see a three-dimensional object.
Formed by shaping clay between custom handmade moulds, each bottle is pried from its casing when leather-hard. Subtle changes in the final shape are achieved by coaxing slight changes in the angles of walls, scraping excess clay from the sides of the bottle, and are enhanced by choice of an accompanying neck.
The resulting square bottle offers a blank canvas for experimentation with glaze, slip, and decorative marks: from abstract shapes to loosely drawn wheat husks, patchwork fields to rows of smoked fish dangling from their lines, each new ceramic canvas evocatively captures the essence of life on this calm, rural island.
Modern, proud, yet gentle and generous of form, Anne Mette’s square bottles demonstrate just why she remains one of our most popular makers among collectors and newcomers alike.