Tessa Gehringer Monk

In 2018 Tessa Gehringer Monk made the journey all the way from America and is now living in Benbecula running her business, North Ford Ceramics.

You can find and buy her work at her studio in Gransdale, from Etsy or from local markets. After graduating from university in the states she decided to visit a friend and do some further studies in Scotland. That friend of hers is now her husband.

I decided to go to Dundee, and I was there for a year. My friend and I ended up dating and then getting married and obviously he’s from here, so I ended up here, and I absolutely love it.

How’s that for good luck!

Tessa studied a masters where she focused on art in society and in public and is mainly a photographer and a potter. She would collect local clay from the sea in Uist. She would refine it and make stone and earth kilns on the croft for firing clay.

I’m originally a photographer, and I kind of fell into ceramics by accident. I was in my last year of university for photography, and I had to take one more art credit and I think the only choice left was ceramics.


I was actually kind of irritated when I had to take it. On day one, our first assignment was to make a bird sculpture out of clay and having never worked in 3D before, I found it really difficult. Something about the challenge of it just totally invested my conscience into it and I was just hooked. 

From that point, I’ve just been obsessed with that a little bit. 

My husband’s a fisherman, and when you are fishing for prawns, the creels will come up with this sea clay on them. He was collecting it for me, and I was also collecting some clay from along the shore, and I was basically straining it and making it into something that was usable.

After that I was making little forms and firing them in earth and kilns, which is a very ancient way of firing ceramics. I did that over a few journeys to Uist and then when I graduated I moved here. 

Tessa began making more artistic pieces before she then went onto more functional pieces for your kitchen cupboard. One of the more artistic pieces was inspired by the old tale of the Benbecula mermaid and was made with unfired clay. This piece was left on the beach in Culla Bay. As the water would come in, the sculpture would just wash her away.

Right now, I’m working on a series of selkies but they’re not a traditional selkie where it’s an image of a beautiful, magical woman. It’s women in all different stages of life. Kind of a real look at what a selkie would be like if they were real in different stages of life. 


I didn’t want them all to be young, beautiful, mermaid style selkies. The first one I did is an old woman, and, yeah, I think I’ll do quite a bit of them. 

When Tessa is making her pieces, be that a mug or a selkie, she takes the clay and then she has to fire it before adding a floss.

I’m using regular terracotta, but basically, I’m making a form, and then I’m hollowing it out so that it’s completely hollow inside, putting it back together. Then I add the details, and put it into an electric kiln. So I put it in there and bisque fire it, which is just making clay into ceramic. Then I take it and I apply glazes and put it through another fire to turn the glaze into glass. And done. 

Part of the color is the color of the clay that I’m using, which is a red clay. So it changes the way that the glazes look. So there’s quite a bit of experimenting there to get the right colors. I try to replicate colors from nature, especially from the islands. A lot of what I do is inspired from the different colors of the sea. I like having fun with all of the colors and beauty that we’re given here on the island. 

In future Tessa would like to focus on more fine art sculpture, eventually doing some really large scale sculpture.

I’d like to do a large outdoor sculpture. I would either have to make a large sculpture and break it into very small pieces and fire each piece individually to exactly the same temperature with the same time and kind of hope they all the same rate and so they fit back together, or I would have to use someone else’s kiln, large kiln, probably on the mainland. I don’t think anyone on that island actually has a kiln of that kind of size.

In a final note, Tessa speaks of her life and work in Benbecula. 

I will say this is probably one of the most unique places to work in general. Not just in art, but with having a real community. I’m so interested in community and human relations, like what it means to be human, what it means to be happy, and have meaning.

A lot of that has to do with having an active community, actually feeling like you belong both to other people and to the place and the environment that you live in. I think that for me, it’s the perfect place to explore what I’m interested in artistically.