Simon Peter Thorborn (potter 1968- 2021)
Simon was born in the mining town of Ashington in Northumberland.
During his last year at high school, a local potter, Hilary Town, advertised for a young person to work with her in her studio as part of the YTS programme. With Hilary, Simon learned the basics of pottery including how to throw on a potter's wheel.
Two months after he started with Hilary, she announced that she was relocating to the Isle of Arran, to a pottery in the north of the island, The Craw pottery, between Catacol and Pirnmill. Simon had holidayed on Arran regularly with his grandparents and knew the island well. He made the decision to relocate with Hilary at the age of 17 and worked at the Craw from 1985. He developed into a superb thrower.
The Craw was sold, and Hilary moved the pottery to Thunderguy in Pirnmill, taking Simon with her. It was then known as Arran Pottery. When she closed the pottery in 1997 and left the island, Simon decided to set up on his own.
During the following year, he spent time with artist Vicki Hudson of Castlekirk Arthouse, Lochranza, learning how to make Raku pots. Raku is a low firing method inspired by traditional Japanese Raku firing and dates back to the 1500s. The vessels made were used by Zen Buddhist masters in their traditional tea ceremonies. It is notable for its simplicity and naturalness, in that the firing includes all of nature’s elements, earth, fire, air and water. The name Raku translates as enjoyment, happiness, or comfort.
Simon was a thrower without much experience in glazing or decorating other than what he had observed while working with Hilary. In order to develop his own range to sell and have the chance to experiment with different decorating techniques, he asked Vicki Hudson if he could use her equipment at Castlekirk over the winter. Vicki had bought all of Lamlash potter Sally Brown’s equipment, so it was all set up at Castlekirk. It was during this time Vicki showed him how to do Raku. She had attended a small art school in Redruth, where Bernard Leach had previously tutored and both he and Janet Leach were governors. The association of Leach with Shoji Hamada had sparked Vicki’s interest in Raku, she passed this on to Simon.
‘I think Simon took the process and made it his own, he was very much a self-made man, and developed the process of Raku way beyond what I taught him’
In 1998 Simon went out on his own at the Balmichael Visitor Centre in Shiskine. At this point, he began using horsehair from Cairnhouse stables and peacock feathers from Imacher farm, in his raku work.
He moved his pottery to the Old Byre at Machrie C 2012 and in
2017 to Homefarm, Brodick.
It was at this time that Simon had a film created of himself involved in the process of Raku. The film went viral and resulted in massive attention to his work with orders and commissions pouring in from all over the world.
Sadly, Simon was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2020 and lost his battle with cancer in 2021. He was coming into his prime as a potter and sadly this ended far too soon.
Simon will also be remembered for contributing a lot to the Arran community, often making prize plates for community events, notably for the Duck Derby and the Brodick Golf Club sunflower competition. He occasionally did workshops for Arran Visual Arts and took on Arran High School students for work experience.
His more functional domestic stoneware can be seen being used in various cafes and restaurants around the island.
Thank you to Innis (Simon’s son) and Gina Thorborn for support with this bio and also to Vicki Hudson artist, Castlekirk Art house Lochranza.