Passion For Pottery: Meet Mental Health Advocate + TV Star, Florence St. George

For Florence St. George, pottery is more than just a way to pass time. It’s a coping mechanism that has taken her all the way to “The Great Pottery Throw Down.” Turning to pottery has helped Florence through postpartum depression and anxiety, and she is an advocate for pottery as an outlet for people.

In 2014 after giving birth to her daughter, Iris, Florence developed postpartum depression and hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid gland resulting in depression, and can make someone feel tired and low in general.

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“During the crazy whirlwind of pregnancy, giving birth, giving up work as a model and actress, and traveling between London and a tiny island in the Bahamas (where my husband works) I quickly lost a sense of self and self worth, and was prescribed antidepressants. Shortly after this tricky time, I bought my first bag of clay. While being buried under a pile of nappies, I turned a corner of my kitchen into a studio and started hand building bowls, pots and vases; firing them at a local studio,” says Florence.

After she started creating bowls, pots, and vases, Florence fell in love with the feeling of making, building, and creating.

“I realized how important it was for me to use my hands, how kneading clay released a rush of endorphins, the mindless but mindfulness of making. As well as doing something for myself, learning a new craft, feeling like an artist and belonging to a community. I was left with this paradox that from post-natal depression came something wonderful (not as wonderful as motherhood but wonderful): a new life as an artist and potter,” she says.

Her favorite sculpture she has made to date is a conch shell bowl made with layers and layers of wafer thin clay, and is in the home of India Hicks, entrepreneur and interior designer.

“I like to apply the concept of ‘Wabi Sabi’ to my pieces, which is the perfect / imperfect. I like to push the clay to its limits and I have done just this in this sculpture; hairline line fractures and cracks simultaneously intentionally and unintentionally appear on the surface of the clay.  I love to see the cracks appear, allowing the light to seep through the thin porcelain. As Leonard Cohen remarked, ‘Everything has a crack in it and that’s how the light gets in’. In hindsight the fragility of my pots also conveyed the fragility of me as a young mother; maybe both just needed looking after.” Florence explains.

In season 3 of the UK competition show, The Great Pottery Throw Down, Florence made her TV debut.

“Initially, it seemed counterintuitive for me to apply to ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’ when they were originally casting in England because I had an intense period of intolerable scrutiny from the British paparazzi when I dated Prince Harry for a short time and I became paranoid about cameras and that’s not ideal when your day job is modeling and acting.”

She continued, “I really like to keep my personal life private and I shy away from cameras when it’s not work related and a return to being in front of the camera felt pretty scary.  The first day of filming was terrifying and being on a reality TV show is an entirely new experience and it’s hard getting used to cameras shooting from every angle, and at least 10 cameras on you at any given time.  The big difference this time around was it being my choice and people weren’t chasing me fanatically because of who I was dating.”

“I wanted to be part of this show and be proud of the pottery skills I’d learnt as a result of my post-natal depression and to tell my story how ceramics helped me overcome depression.  I learned from my fellow ceramicists on the show and we were all madly creative and competitive.  Luckily the production team were so nurturing and my fellow competitors were inspiring; we found our rhythm and gently got into the swing of it. I learnt so much. It was like a ceramic university on steroids.”

Florence suggests that people who are interested in getting started in the clay community find a local studio and pick up a piece of clay. If you can’t find a local studio buy a bag of air dry clay and just start feeling the mud in your hands. “How does it make you feel? Does it relieve stress? Does it take you away from your phone, computer, social media? Clay is magic and therapeutic for so many reasons; for me it’s about being in a mindful and mindless bliss.”

Florence shares her most important piece of advice, “When I was at my most vulnerable I was drawn to pottery as a human art form; pottery is about fragility and strength, vulnerability yet survival. The kiln is a harsh environment. A brittle piece of clay goes into the kiln and gets fired up to 2000 degrees; surviving and simultaneously turning into a strong, defiant, beautiful object. I am drawn to this concept, particularly right now with our Covid-19 reality and I feel hopeful that in spite of this darkness and disaster we are currently experiencing there will eventually be a story of rebirth, renewal and survival.”

“Never underestimate the strength of your immediate surrounding community/family/village. Social media when used in the wrong way can be a competitive and toxic space for motherhood and womanhood. I am always very open about my shortcomings with regards to my mental health and I feel I have been so lucky and have a story to tell which I hope in turn can benefit other women who may have experienced something similar.  Clay is so therapeutic, for me it works like a yoga practice, so my advice would be to just pick up a piece of clay! Quick! We all ‘need to knead’,” she concludes.

You can find Florence on Instagram @florencestgeorge or  www.florencestgeorge.com

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