An interview with: Jacqueline Leighton Boyce

Jacqueline Leighton Boyce is a Devon-based ceramics artist who makes beautiful Exmoor-inspired china and rather interesting clay jars and vases. Here, she chats about her fascination with wild deer, her favourite Devonshire haunts and why she can never work for the man again.

Two Moors Festival (2MF): What inspires you when making your pots and china?

Jacqueline Leighton Boyce (JLB): I can’t help but be influenced by my environment. When I lived in London my work was completely different, it was more focused on the home. When I lived in Cornwall, it was very inspired by Cornish landscapes. I moved down to Devon in 2003. I managed to acquire a kiln for free and it took about a year before Exmoor appeared in my work. I’m always walking on Exmoor. I’ve got this particular thing about the deer. I think it’s the fact they’re so wild. The ponies are so lovely to look at but they lose their romance in a way, munching by the roadside. My grandmother loved the deer as well, so it runs in my family. I don’t like to see them in parks. I firmly believe they should be as wild as possible.

2MF: Have you always been fascinated by Exmoor?

JLB: I grew up on Exmoor just outside of Dulverton, it was idyllic really. I don’t really remember school days, I just remember my whole childhood was up the moors with a pony. We’re not that close to the moors but you took a little packed lunch and spent the whole day up there. I used to do a lot of riding but I got very ill when i  was 14. I just suddenly got arthritis in my spine. I was taken away from school and my pony was sold.

When I reached my early 20s, I’d got used to handling my life so i went to Falmouth school of art. I had to have both my hips replaced when i was a student so my course was quite badly disrupted. I moved to London, which I found very hard to enjoy at first but then I loved it – I lived there for four years. I moved to seattle when I got married but then my marriage failed and I came back to England.

I had no money in London, so I learned how to use computers and worked as an administrator and then I managed to get this free kiln and moved back down to Devon. I moved down here for a quiet life. Then I found out I had an infection so had to have another hip replacement. I lived in Exeter working for the police and then the town planners and then I was made redundant. I was actually really pleased because I was so busy with my ceramics! I went self-employed just before the recession kicked in, it’s a very different life. I love it. I don’t think I could work for anyone again.

2MF: Why did you make the move from your clay pots to your china bowls and plates?

JLB: Because of the recession, because it’s easier to sell a mug. I was selling my work in galleries around the country and sales just dropped off. It’s ceramics – if people are going to buy art, they’re going to buy paintings. Lot of people have a problem with ceramics, they don’t look at it as real art but more like a craft and not a respectable art form in itself. I rented this huge industrial unit in Dulverton. A friend in Stoke on Trent suggested that I try doing china designs, which I only started doing in October last year. I started because of the recession but I really enjoy it. I’m not doing my usual work at all. I have a bit of a break and come back to the clay with a new viewpoint, it’s quite refreshing. I do still sell my work in galleries around the country and I do still make sculptural ceramics, however I have slowed this down and allowed the china designs to dominate until the recession has lifted.

2MF: How does your new work differ from your old?

JLB: My china is more decorative, with a story line being drawn directly onto the surface. They all have a moor theme. The hunt fascinates me – there are spots on Exmoor where there are ghosts, with the moor haunted by the past hunts. Cow Castle, for instance, with a stag drowning in the pool and the hounds swimming after it.

2MF: What kind of scenes can we expect to see on your china in the future?

JLB: I’d love to do a tea set of a hunting scene, with each piece of crockery being a different way of life and ending up with the kill. It’s perhaps a little bit shocking, most people would think it’s quite shocking! With farming, because the animals aren’t really wild they don’t really inspire me. The wildness of animals doing their own thing, just wandering where they want, is what interests me. Exmoor belongs to them.

2MF: How did the foot and mouth disaster in 2001 affect you, given your close affinity with the Devon countryside?

JLB: I was in London when it happened but I remember speaking to my mother and she was saying how horrific it really was, all the animals being killed. I was really worried about the deer. Coming from a farming background and knowing what a hard time farmers have, it just seemed like a horror to me.

2MF: Where are your favourite places on Exmoor?

JLB: I love going up from Castle Bridge, walking up the Danesbrook river towards Hawkridge. During the rutting season even if I don’t see the deer, I can hear them in the valley, hiding among the trees. They’re so hard to spot. That’s my favourite walk. Anstey Stone, Comber’s Gate, and the Punchbowl Walk have lots of combs where there are lots of deer. There’s a deer wallow around there, where they stomp and stomp on the ground and roll around in it. I’ve not seen it but I can just imagine a stag doing it.

Jacqueline’s work is creating quite a buzz at the moment – she’s also being featured in Somerset Life this year. If you’re keen to invest in some of her pieces, make your way to her website

You can also purchase her ceramics at various outlets across the UK, including:

Gallery 41, Watchet, Somerset

Dorothy Wightman Interior Design, Lancashire

The Art Shop, Abergavenny

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