Cider-drinking around the apple tree is a common part of a conventional wassail ceremony. A bowl is often passed around the crowd to share cider, or to decant into individual cups; in some cases a bespoke vessel is used – such as the elaborate ones made by Ewenny Pottery in South Wales, or examples from the 17th century, made from lignum vitae. This project adapts the conventional aspects of the apple tree wassail, giving it a new focus on the ways that microbes and people come together through the process of cidermaking. Communal-drinking, in this project, needed to play into both the practice of shared-drinking – as intrinsic to the "social cohesion" function of many contemporary wassails – as well as bring into close proximity the people and microbial life that take part in cidermaking. We turned to Dartmoor-based ceramic artist Abigail North to explore how to make a drinking vessel that would generate this kind of person-to-person, as well as human-microbe, interactions. §
Abigail experimented with the clay from Halstow's oldest orchard, (which first appears in historical records c. 1795). This resulted in vessels with differing levels of porosity and texture, with more or less "inclusions" within them according to the extent to which they were processed. We learned from conversations with microbial ecologists Dan Bebber and Ben Temperton, during our workshops at Halstow, that lichen provided the ideal habitat for a diverse range of microbes. Early experiments with firing unglazed pots aimed to replicate this kind of complex surface, encouraging microbial life to inhabit the bowl's surface. The final version, though containing less obvious "inclusions," retains this pro-biotic, microbe-friendly surface. §
Various bowls were made in the months leading up to the first wassail at Halstow in January 2020. Working in her studio, Abigail experimented with various forms, that could be passed-around between guests during the wassail. At one of our song-writing sessions at Abigail's studios we drank from a shallow unglazed bisque-fired bowl. §
The same bowl, fired to high-temperature, unglazed, 2019.