Meet The Maker – Rachel Whitfield – Ouessant Keeper and Potter

 
Rachel hard at work! 
 
My name is Rachel Whitfield, and I live with my husband and two daughters in the Yorkshire Dales. Though we are blessed to live in a farming community in the Dales near to where my husband grew up, I actually grew up in dairy farming in Western New York State (USA). Keeping sheep, however, was an entirely new farming experience for me.
 
 
We welcomed our first ouessant ewe lambs a couple of years ago to celebrate our daughter Sophie’s 7th birthday! During covid, we were able to keep some pet lambs (Mules) from farming friends in our garden – a really beautiful joyful way to spend a series of deeply worrying weeks! We enjoyed the experience so much that we did the same the following year during lambing time, but when we gave the lambs back that spring, our girls wanted to now when we would be able to have sheep that we wouldn’t have to give back. And so began a subconscious search for a small breed of sheep that our small girls could learn to handle without getting bowled over!
 
 
Sophie and her sheep
 
It was on a walk in the Dales with our younger daughter Lydia, then 3 years old, that I discovered ouessants. As we meandered along, Lydia was fascinated by a dinging bell, so we searched for the source and spotted the tiniest flock of sheep I’d ever seen with a tup wearing a bell weather! I got to chatting with the flock owner, we got permission from ‘Grandad’ to keep sheep in the farm croft, and 4 months later, we came away with our very own weaned ewe lambs: Cherry, Violet and Bramble. The littlest sheep with the biggest personalities – we love them!
 
Showing Ouessants!
 
Though farming is in my blood, I am a potter by trade, and came into pottery making by accident as well! Whilst completing my Spanish and Intercultural Studies degrees at university (in the States), I signed up for a ceramics course to fulfil my art requirement and fell in love with pottery-making. It wasn’t until after our first daughter Sophie was born, that I turned my love into a small business. One of the characteristics that I really wanted to define my ceramics was my passion for the Yorkshire Dales… ceramics that were a reflection of the landscape, hues of colour, flora and fauna. This desire fueled my journey in experimenting with and using homemade glazes created from local foraged natural materials, plant and mineral.
 
Ferns have been used to make this beautiful design 
 
I also began incorporating seasonal plant life by imprinting foliage into the clay bodies. Another delightful experiment has been in using the fleece of Swaledales, an iconic breed of the Yorkshire Dales, and the fleece of our own ouessant sheep! The fleece is soaked in a clay slip before being applied to the clay body, and when fired, the fleece is actually preserved in the clay!
 
Ouessant Fleece which is incorporated into a beautiful mug.
 
The ideas to experiment with what was plentiful in our geographic area were sparked by ceramicist Miranda Forrest and her book on Natural Glazes. It was a huge encouragement to me to be brave in trying new things and to not be afraid of failures. This process of experimenting with local natural materials has enabled me to create collections of pottery that are truly ‘made of this place’.
 
 
We would like to thank Rachel for sharing a little about her work and life with Ouessants and pottery. If you would like to share information about your craft and how it connects to sheep, please contact: michelle.mcillmurray.trustee@ouessantsheep.org.uk 
 
All Photographs and words remain copyright to Rachel Whitfield.