Story and photographs by Roz Skinner
The actions of our predecessors can have far-reaching effects. For instance, if 17th century Caisteal Uisdean (Hugh’s Castle) was fitted with a door, then David Taylor’s life could have turned out very differently.
The Castle, which sits broodingly on the edge of Loch Snizort,
was previously accessed by means of a ladder to the upper floor. Today, visitors to the ruins squeeze themselves through a window. For David, this unusual building changed his whole life.
“My wife and I went for a walk with our friends,” explains David. “We climbed up and into the Castle, but, after we had explored, we wondered how to get down. The ladies sat down on the wall and then slithered off, but my friend jumped straight off. I thought I would do the same to save face. So I jumped off, landed badly on my ankle and broke it.”
This one event plunged David into inactivity, rendering him unable to go very far away from home. “My wife works at Uig Pottery and one day she said: ‘Come into work with me, otherwise you will go crazy sitting at home’,” says David. “They had me making small Highland cows and I absolutely hated it.
“‘Never again!’ I thought. However, it was better than sitting doing nothing, so I ended up making more from home.”
By the end of 2014, David had started his business – Quirky Clay. Using clay to celebrate all things Scottish, David currently specialises in creating Highland cows. Despite his vow never to make another cow, David now makes around 20 a day, each lovingly crafted by hand. Every cow comes with a name tag and an individual personality. “I try to make each one different,” David says. “I change the head angles, the tilt of the horns and the expression on their faces. I also make them in different sizes - either a small one of around seven centimetres or one that is five times that size.”
The process of making the cows is intriguing. To capture the Highland cows’ distinctive hide, David inserts the clay in a tube, which then oozes out spaghetti- like strands. “I make the basic form, then they are fired, then painted, then fired again,” David explains. The final result is a quirky, expressive sculpture of one of Scotland’s best-loved creatures.
David admits to loving his job. “Once you know that people like your work, that changes everything,” he reveals. “I listen to audio books when I make the cows, so the process itself is more enjoyable, and when I see people buying them, it’s very flattering.” Quirky Clay designs are currently sold in 30 different outlets in Scotland, including Uig Pottery and Portree’s Crocks & Rocks.
Quirky Clay will be adding a new range of animals to the production line. In 2017, David hopes to add sheep to the Quirky Clay menagerie. Tiny balls of clay form their woolly coats, giving them an incredibly life-like appearance.
The start of every new business requires a leap. Perhaps one day Quirky Clay will produce miniatures of Caisteal Uisdean to commemorate David’s jump, both literally and metaphorically, into his new business!