I have recently visited Münsterland, the area around the city of Münster in Germany, and, in particular, a triangle of prosperous villages, Havixbeck, Billerbeck and Nottuln, all associated since mediaeval times with sandstone carving, and the latter with a characteristic blue-glazed pottery. Being lovers of individual, hand-crafted products and of clayware, my husband and I tried in vain by car to find a contemporary artisan in the district, as we had seen examples locally; yet it wasn’t until, on a bike ride towards the end of our stay, we happened upon a glass display case fixed to the wall of a Nottuln hotel that we could locate the potter. The case contained some examples of the work, some photographs and, tucked away at the top, some cards with a name and an address, out in a rural hamlet called Stevern.
Good luck happened twice, as, when we found the pottery itself, Monica Stüttgen had only two hours before returned from a holiday in the Black Forest. She showed us into her house and invited us also to look around the garden, both of which are a treasure trove of beautiful examples of her handiwork. The whole of the ground floor of the house is given over to a studio and rooms displaying a remarkable range of artefacts, quite a few of them carrying her trademark, a flying bird with a fanning tail.
Monica says that she regards herself as a craftswoman, rather than an artist (coincidentally, this is also how the many generations of sandstone sculptors also viewed themselves) and feels particularly strongly that her pottery should be used, not just put on display; it is well glazed, using modern processes, and, she adds, will stand both frost and the dishwasher! Though it accords with traditional designs, it plainly reveals much of her individuality and considerable artistry.
I’ve included in this post some photographs of some of her work, from both inside the studio and out in the garden. She obviously draws some of her inspiration from Nottuln, of which she is a native, although she told me that she spent ten years making and selling pottery in France. Like many artisans – indeed many writers – that I have met, her chief problem is obtaining publicity for her work. Once people have seen it, they love it and want to come back for more, but she is struggling to find a wider public; at the moment, she does have an arrangement with the local restaurant, Gasthaus Stevertal, to display examples of her pottery (Stevertal is a fine traditional German restaurant with a menu that features the local cuisine – we ate here twice… and twice missed her display!) and the showcase in Nottuln, but these are not enough.
I found both Monica and her work fascinating and I am full of admiration for what she is trying to achieve. I suggested that she should try to extend her customer base by developing a blog for her website and new contacts via social networking; I also promised to write a blog-post myself as my own, very small, contribution to try to help. So here it is.
We bought a fruit bowl, a fish plate and two eggcups and Monica very generously also gave us a kitchen tidy in one of the traditional Nottuln designs. I’m delighted with them and doubt that I shall be taking any risk on the dishwasher front! As our daughter-in-law also comes from this area, we shall certainly visit the pottery again: there are many other pieces that we should like to buy. For example, we were particularly taken with the ceramic garden labels for herbs.
I feel very strongly that the skills of an artisan should be encouraged and supported, especially one with Monica’s obvious talent. If you happen to visit this area, you won’t be disappointed by an hour or two in her lovely studio and garden. You may like to know that she is also prepared to send items by post!