Story of Hannu

I sat down hesitantly and timidly on the potter’s wheel, not knowing what I should have done. 

Regardless, my interest towards the wheel had woken little by little as I had watched a few sophomores in the Department of hard materials in Savonlinna School of Craftsmanship prefer working clay with the wheel to metalworks that they were primarily studying.

When most of the students went on a trip to Leningrad in 1982, free of most of the fear I had,  I decided to try using the wheel myself.  I let the clay spin between my fingers and with some advice, I was able to shape my first cup. This sparked an enormous sense of excitement and going forward I used all possible free time in between studying to use the wheel whenever I could. There wasn’t any primary teaching to ceramics but that didn’t temper my excitement, which was also fed by my metalworks teacher Seppo Salmi.

The following year and a half passed by rapidly at the student apartment in front of my own potter’s wheel and working on a ceramic kiln as my diploma work. When our teacher Salmi handed us our graduation diplomas in the Spring of 1984, my classmates received congratulations for completing their blacksmith degrees. To me he said entirely something else: Congratulations, CLAYSMITH (saviseppä)! That utterance would shape my path for the upcoming decades.

After finishing my studies, I took a 9-month course in entrepreneurship in Lahti with the goal of starting my own business. By the summer of ‘85 I was already deep into making ceramics. My own company was founded in autumn of the same year - SAVISEPPÄ, owner Hannu Sairanen. 

The first few months in an old little barn I had rented to work from went by rejoicing for the sheer opportunity to be able to do what I had wanted the most. In the spring of 1986, as the summer approached, I had to think about how I would be able to sell the winter’s production and keep my business afloat. By autumn, to my surprise, I had been successful in selling most of my works at the Suurenkylä countryman society house on Highway 6 in Kesälahti, inspired to continue with my business!

In November 1986, I rented a vacated train station in Putikko from VR (government-owned railway company in Finland) as living and working space, which I ended up buying in 1997.

Now, 35 years and about 70,000 kilos of clay later, I feel like I have learned something about myself. Clay has been a ruthless trainer, and after making nearly every mistake you could possibly make, something has also gone into my head. You can’t give up, since  every piece of work can be repeated and polished, while doing the best you can.

Since the beginning, I have used stoneware clay as a raw material (firing temperature of 1250 C°) in order to ensure quality and durability of the products. For the glazing of the pottery, I have experimented and mixed myself since the beginning, except for the first year. In the late 80’s, there were very cold winters, reaching as low as -42 C°, which caused the apple trees to die, and as such the branches from the dead trees were utilized for heating purposes of a sauna. The branches were burned in the hearth of the sauna, and the remaining ashes I mixed with basic pottery glazing. After years of experimenting, apple tree ash glazing has formed into my own trade mark. The ash glazing is poured and wagged on the sides of my cups – in random patters. The shapes and patterns I implement using the wheel, because I don’t trust my drawing skills, as much as designing real objects by intuition as a result of eye-hand coordination.  I also listen to my customers, of course, and some of my best works have been created due to discussions, requests and experiments. 

My typical working day lasts for 5-7 hours. From experience, my muscles get tired if I work longer than that, which hurts efficiency and removes the joy of freedom as a craftsman. Diligence and discipline are absolute requirements in my work. The work week always starts from a clean slate on Monday and usually ends on the glazing of the products on Friday.

My yearly cycle of work begins in mid-August, when the exhibition season ends at the warehouse of Putikko station. About 10 months later in early June, I start preparing for the next summer's exhibition. All the products I make are directly sold to the customers, who may tell about my products to three of their acquaintances, where one of those three people might become a new customer. Well, that is at least what the possible outcome is, according to American studies decades ago.

I feel accomplished, when a product I have made stands the test of time – even after several years a cup is in the everyday use of a customer. The work and the products are made for the end user.

The work as a ceramist is physically draining (neck, shoulders, back) and solitary. As a ceramics manufacturer, I achieved financial security in about 9 years, and I still can’t think of doing anything else for a living. 

Due to the consumptive nature of the work, the direction of Saviseppä is to always produce less with better quality – a stop-down enterprise.

In Putikko, 2020 Hannu Sairanen