One of the marvelous things about the studio expansion is that we can accommodate larger numbers of people for classes and events. This make crazy ideas like throwing a pottery party possible. This winter we hosted a group of great potters to make 125 bowls for the upcoming Berkshire Food Project Empty Bowl Dinner 2018 which will be held on May 4th, with multiple seatings at 5:30pm and 7:00pm at at the First Congregational Church In WIlliamstwon, Ma. Although Mother Nature gave us a run for our money, we scheduled and rescheduled Mason Hill Clay Studio Pot-a-Thon and were able to make our goal.
To host an event like this, we had to plan ahead a bit. There are number of steps involved in making a bowl. Have you ever wondered how a bowl is made on the potter's wheel?
First we weigh the desired amount of clay, usually between 1-2 lbs for an average soup bowl. The next step is called wedging; the goal is to make sure there is no air in the form of bubbles in the clay body before you begin to form the bowl. It looks a lot like kneading bread dough but we're trying for the opposite effect. Our clay comes from 25 lb bags which were purchased from our local distributor, Sheffield Pottery. Can you imagine 125 lumps of malleable, soft clay as finished, colorful bowls that will serve soup? Pretty cool, right?
Next we sit down at the potter's wheel and begin to form our bowls. This step is called throwing. One might wonder from where the term "throwing" comes. The easiest answer is from the Old English word thrawan from which to throw comes, means to twist or turn. This activity is the first in many steps that requires some practice; from here, the clay is stretched and coaxed upward, a continuing, gentle spiral which becomes a vessel. It's difficult to explain in words the feeling of well-being that comes with this activity. This looks easier than it is and it's one of my favorite things to teach. It requires a kind of quiet concentration that we don't get to practice very often in our daily life. It causes the participant to slow down, to focus. When you're learning to center clay you can't really be thinking about anything else. It can be challenging but once it's learned can be blissful.
Once the clay is centered, the next step is to make an opening from the top to almost the bottom on the inside of your clay. From here, the clay is stretched and coaxed upward, a continuing, gentle spiral which becomes a vessel. It's difficult to explain in words the feeling of well-being that comes with this activity.
Once the basic form is thrown, the piece must be allowed to become firm - a stage called "leather hard". This usually takes a day or so. When the bowl is firm enough, it is put back on the wheel head upside down and trimmed using (often) tools made especially for removing clay in "leathery" strips. This is an important step in that it removes unwanted clay from the bottom of the pot and gives the bowl its final form and particular profile.
Now it's time to allow the bowl to completely dry. This phase is the "greenware" phase. The piece must be completely dry before it is fired in what is the first of two firings. This firing is called the bisque firing. The purpose of the bisque firing is to prepare the clay body for glaze immersion and eventually the second and final firing called, you guessed it, the glaze firing. It's kind of a half way firing; it solidifies the bowl but allows the clay to stay responsive to the glaze that will be applied.
The next step is what we hope will be a final firing in the kiln; the glaze firing. This firing is hotter than the bisque fire. It melts the glaze and adheres it to the clay body. There's a lot of chemistry involved in glazes vitrifying, or melting, and clay bodies maturing just the right amount, together, to make a successful surface/body interaction.
The kiln needs a cooling period after the firing, usually a day or so for electric kiln firing. This requires patience on the part of the artist... it's difficult to wait. Every kiln opening is like Christmas and your birthday all rolled into one. All the work, all the anticipation is in this 17cu ft. space. What will my bowls look like?
Come on May 4th when you'll be able to see and take home the work of many potters who put their love and time into making bowls to share with the public to raise awareness and funds for the Berkshire Food Project.
Many thanks to following potters for their contributions through the studio: