After leaving Derby College in 1988 Nic Collins opened his first pottery at Postbridge in the middle of Dartmoor, Devon. It was on the site of a disused gunpowder manufacturing facility and was known as Powdermills Pottery.
He built a 60 cu ft wood fired kiln and produced one-off studio pieces and a range of domestic wares. Nic has now moved to Newton Abbot where he uses a smaller anagama kiln to facilitate multiple firings - some pots are fired up to seven times. He uses local materials for body clay and glazes and is one of the five anagama potters known as the Gnarly Dudes.
The Gnarly Dudes are five independent potters who share an interest in anagama firing.
Svend Bayer, Charles Bound, Nic Collins, Jon Fellows, Chuck Schwartz got together in 1997 to stage an exhibition of their anagama-fired work at Nic's Powdermills Pottery on Dartmoor in Devon. A brief description of anagama firing is necessary: An anagama kiln is wood-fired and based on the medieval Japanese kilns used at Bizen and Shigarki. The kiln is a tunnel, usually built on a bank, rising from the front to the back.
The chimney is at the back and the fire is at the front. The heat is drawn over the stacked pots, allowing smoke, ash and embers to freely come into contact with them. The pots themselves are not decorated prior to firing; the smoke, ash and embers interact with the clay to produce the beautiful gradations of colour and finish. Placement of the pots in the kiln is critical, as is the selection of wood and clay.
Recent research by Svend has shown that it is not essential for the chamber of the kiln to slope upwards towards the chimney, so long as the height of the chimney opening forms the correct angle with the fire.
The Gnarly Dudes exhibition is now an established annual event, and since Nic has moved to new premises in nearby Newton Abbot the show is now organised at Powdermill by Joss Hibbs who pots there. The gallery is a stone barn, originally used for making gunpowder.