Digby and Xanthe outside the studio – with the kiln firing behind them
Digby Hoets has been teaching pottery and making his own pots since 1973.
Born in Johannesburg in 1949, Digby matriculated from King Edward VII, spent a year (compulsory call-up) in the South African Navy. He studied for a science degree at the Universities of Natal and Witwatersrand and taught himself to make pots in his mother, Dilys Hoets' studio during his vacations.
When the opportunity arose to buy John and Val Edwards' teaching studio in 1973, he gave up university, married Penny who he'd met at Natal University and became a full-time potter and pottery teacher.
Digby and his sister, Lesley-Ann, shared the studio, where Digby taught wheel / throwing and Lesley-Ann handwork, until she relocated to Cape Town.
In 1976 Digby and Penny moved their home and studio to a large property in Halfway House, half way between Johannesburg and Pretoria, where some large chicken sheds became his new studio. Digby built his first reduction kiln with the help of British potter Toff Milway who had been managing Kolonyama pottery in Lesotho and who spent a year with Digby and Penny providing invaluable studio and kiln experience. Toff is a product of the Harrow Studio Pottery Course in England which was run by Mick Casson and Vic Margrie. Digby benefited enormously from the discipline and skills Toff had acquired there.
Over the years Digby increasingly focused on making large pots, often in related groups, largely due to his decision to raw glaze his pots and exclude bisque-firing from his production.
In 1994 (the year of South Africa's first democratic election), Penny, Digby and their two children Adam and Harriet moved to their new, spacious, thatched home on a 2-hectare stand in Midrand's Carlswald valley, a tranquil, green enclave within an area now rather better known for high density housing developments, office blocks and shopping centres.
Digby built a second thatched house on the property which became his new studio and rebuilt his large oil-fired trolley kiln. His 200th firing in the 'new studio' was completed in May 2019.
Digby Hoets is a potter’s potter: his practice is one of dedicated iteration, a monthly process that produces a kiln full of pots that are fired. In that monthly rhythm, he consistently works towards subtle development of the pots over time – the lessons of one firing being the prompt for refined adjustments in the pots that follow. This process of working steadily day by day results in an intimate knowledge of how clay responds, and such patient practice gives rise to an authentic simplicity, an honesty that comes from looking and knowing: a subtle but certain adjustment to the volume of a series of pots, a slight nuance in the density of the colour of the glaze, variations that are there but too elusive for words.
Digby Hoets’s pots also appeal to people who are not potters, and who may have little or no idea of what actually goes into a pot’s making, but they will wonder – rightly – about what it takes to make such big pots, and to make them so consistently. They will take pleasure in the lustrous darkness of a glaze or its milky flow. They are able to imagine where such a pot may look really fine or where a row of three leading to an entrance would look perfect. Because the pots are timeless, people do not necessarily need to know how his work continues in the tradition of studio ceramicists of the likes of Leach, Bosch, Rabinowitz, for he creates the timeless tradition anew with each firing.
– Liz Burroughs (and Ann Marais)
Many South African potters and ceramists have started their careers in his studio and continue to work there.
Digby is also a competitive oarsman and cyclist (mountain-bikes). He has rowed in several FISA World Masters (The World Rowing Federation, FISA - from the French, Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron), including Hungary in September 2019, where he won a gold medal in the single sculls and South Africa in 2023 where he won gold in a quad. He rowed in the World Masters' Games in New Zealand in 2017. He has ridden many of South Africa's multi-stage mountain bike events including Sani2C, Imana Wild Ride, Swazi Frontier, Tour de Kruger, Tour de Tuli, Berg2Bush.
The photographs below were taken on the Tour de Tuli and in Vienna.
ARTICLES AND VIDEOS ABOUT DIGBY
'Objects of Consciousness and Experience. The (very) large pots of Digby Hoets' by Ronnie Watt 2014
Digby Hoets: Larger than Life by Gail de Klerk (National Ceramics Quarterly, Summer 2002)
'Digby Hoets: On a Grand Scale', by Wilma Cruise (from British Ceramic Review April 2002)
Digby Hoets: Larger than Life by Nigel GK Tharg (Gregory John Kerr) (National Ceramics Quarterly 1987)
Digby Hoets, Potter by Gregory John Kerr (Lantern 1984)
Digby Hoets by Wilma Cruise, (Sgraffiti no 26 1981)
View videos of Digby working:
ADAM AND HARRIET HOETS
Adam graduated as an architect from University of Cape Town. He practised architecture until he turned his three-dimensional skills into designing lights and is now the owner and chief designer of Cape Town-based Willowlamp, an internationally renowned lighting company specialising in unique, designer lighting.
Harriet trained as a graphic designer and worked in advertising in the UK until she and her husband Gregg returned to South Africa and Harriet decided to become a potter. She has her own studio at home in Scarborough, Cape Town where she makes her range of domestic-ware.
LESLEY-ANN AND GARTH HOETS
Lesley-Ann (Digby's sister) shared Digby's first studio before moving to Cape Town. She lives in Sedgefield in the Western Cape. She makes exquisite coiled, raku-fired pots as well as Hotart ceramic fireplaces.
Like Digby, his eldest brother Garth is a potter and runs pottery classes from his home/studio in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal.