The Pestle and Mortar – An Enduring Love

How Julian discovered the appeal of the Pestle and Mortar.

My interest and love for pestles and mortars began several years ago while I was living with a chef. Watching her preparing food and the relationship she had with her tools as well as the food itself, was a joy. She was constantly using the pestle and mortar for preparing almost any dish. For her it seemed to be the most important tool in the kitchen after the knife.

As a sculptor, it was a fascinating object to explore. It is not only another craftsman’s tool, but it is rich in symbolism and aesthetic. To make an object that will be used and has the ability to stimulate all the senses was an opportunity too good to miss.

Grinding and crushing tools are some of the earliest and most basic. Pestles and mortars have been used in most cultures up to the present day. They reached their zenith during the Renaissance when the hunger for knowledge and scientific progress gave such tools a noble status. During this time, they became incredibly ornate.

They come in many different forms and materials, depending on what’s available to individual cultures and what ingredients they use. I wanted to start at the beginning with the most basic (two flat stones that you rub together) and then explore different materials and forms from there.

Stone carving felt like the natural place to start and my exploration led me to India which still has a strong tradition with carving granite, as well as a cuisine rich in spices.

I worked with stone masons and sculptors in Mamallapuram just south of Chennai; traditional craftsmen used to working on architectural pieces and sculptures for their temples. I started carving pestle and mortars out of granite and the design evolved over time.

When I returned to the UK, I began to experiment with hand thrown pestles and mortars in porcelain. It was a material that I was drawn to and something I had worked with in the past. It is a common misconception that porcelain is fragile. In fact porcelain is durable and hard, often used in medical and industrial applications. The strength comes from firing it at an extremely high temperature. Traditionally medicinal pestle & mortars were made in porcelain for the durability.  I created my designs in granite and porcelain with the granite to be carved in India. In 2019 we took the decision to focus on porcelain and stop commissioning the granite so that everything could be made at our workshop in Wiltshire, UK.

The complete collection at John Julian has been my personal exploration of this fascinating tool.