Hand crafted pottery wares in the traditional style for ordinary domestic use.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • HANDMADE: Terracotta, Earthenware, Stoneware or Porcelain clay, glazed, decorated or plain, wheel thrown, and hand-built. Fired in a kiln.

  • CRAFTSPERSON: Made by a potter, or potters, amateur, hobbyist, artisan or professional, artist craftsperson, in a small scale operation, like a home workshop, studio or cottage industry. Not pottery made by an industrial manufacturing process in a factory or industrial operation.

  • FUNCTIONAL: Serviceable, utilitarian, functional wares normally found in daily use in the home.

  • FORMS: Typical forms are cups, saucers, mugs, bowls, plates, platters, jugs, teapots, lidded bowls, lidded containers, bread crocks, vases, casseroles, colanders, steamer pots, lidded storage vessels, cook and bake pottery wares, oil burners, flower pots and trays, etc.

  • EXCEPTION: Some things which might not be suitable in this category are religious, devotional, or iconic pieces, very big vessels which were made for ceremonial, commercial, industrial, and formal or prestigious use, like large urns, very large bowls and platters, very large vases.

  • ART: Obvious extreme variations to the form of the standard utilitarian wares for personal expression, for embellishment, for artistry, are immediately not within the scope of pottery considered here to be in a traditional style. The use of extraordinary construction, materials, shaping or sizing of otherwise normal home wares, renders them art objects.

  • WARES: Pottery wares does not include art objects, figurines, sculpture, or wares not functional or made representational, not actual. Some items of a special nature such as Raku, are not for ordinary use. There are other wares which are perfectly good, like Majolica, but not strictly food safe.

  • SAFE: The domestic pottery wares, being serviceable, utilitarian, functional wares normally found in daily use in the home, would be pottery clay fired to a high temperature approx. 1120C to 1280C , with or without decoration and glaze, not be unhygienic or unsafe to use, not difficult to clean, not too fragile, nor easily damaged, and perform an intended utilitarian function well.



 

民芸陶器 Mingei - touki   and  小代焼  Shoudaiyaki.

The term mingei, 民芸 (folk art) was coined by Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961) in 1926 to refer to common crafts that had been brushed aside and overlooked by the industrial revolution. Yanagi's book "The Unknown Craftsman" has since become a classic. Mingei is an abbreviation of “minshu-teki kogei” which means “hand-crafted art of ordinary people.” The Mingei products are mostly ordinary and utilitarian objects.

In the wake of the great tide of industrialism in the early part of the last century, something of the human touch and spirit was lost in everyday articles of use. It was with a sense of urgency that Yanagi and his lifelong companions, the potters Bernard Leach, Hamada Shoji, Tomimoto Kenkichi (who later left the Mingei group) and Kawai Kanjiro sought to counteract the desire for cheap, mass-produced products by pointing to the works of ordinary craftsmen that spoke to the spiritual and practical needs of life. The mingei movement is responsible for keeping alive many traditions.

Another style that can be grouped with Mingei is Shodai-yaki,
小代焼. Shodai employs iron-rich clay, over which a dark brown iron glaze is applied, and then over it rice-straw ash-glaze is either ladled or dramatically dripped on. It is also referred to as Koshiro-yaki

Made from a local iron rich clay, a particular feature of this ware is its bold and yet simple rustic character. By modifying the blend of glazes and by utilizing the changes which take place at different firing temperatures, delicate control is exercised over the production of colors for the blue, yellow and white Shodai-yaki. In addition, the dribbled, extravagant patterns and the depth of color of the glazes harmonize with the forms of the pieces, to produce this sense of bold simplicity.

(mostly from The Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery)

teacup, teapot, pottery, gift
teacup, teapot, teaset, pottery, gift
1000 cups, teacups, pottery, gift

BACKGROUND NOTES:

  • The word traditional is used to define the time honored, long-established, domestic pottery shapes and forms and the process of manufacture. It does not mean a psychological conformity or limitation of skill and ability for the potter.
  • In drawing attention to the small scale maker of domestic utilitarian pottery, the local maker of pottery, it is not prescribing design, aesthetic direction or purpose, or industry development, good or bad.
  • The understanding of what kind of pottery this may refer to, is not limited to what I have described. Essentially it is about the hand-maker, and anyone is open to make a contribution.
  • The emphasis for this kind of pottery is not intended to be comparative, nor exclusive. It is looking only at this pottery in particular, for its merits. General schemes and broad perceptions, which take in the many and diverse, invariably do not see the relevance or merit of actually working attentively as the individual craftsperson.
  • The craft potter may want to express themselves as amateur, because it is a love of craft production, and not merely commercial, but this should not be thought of as unskilled, unprofessional, or without high standards.

 


Notes on Kiln Firing.

A pottery firing changes the plastic clay body irreversibly into a hard ceramic body. Bisque fires to about 950 -1000° C . It still has some porosity and so will absorb water. Over 1000° C the body will start to become vitrified, glassy, and impervious to water. Usually for ease of handling the pottery there are two firings, first the bisque, also called biscuit, and then after the pots have been glazed, the glost or glaze firing. To change the plastic clay pots, greenware, into a bisque, heat is applied by electricity or by burning a fuel such as gas. The rate of temperature rise is modified by the ability of the clay to withstand the increase of temperature. And also by the need for the clay to be properly developed at the molecular level to provide structural strength, resistance to wear, and hygienic use.

To achieve this you need to be aware of the progress of the firing, taking in to account the following;

  • What kiln firing is It? Is it Earthenware, Mid-fire, or Stoneware and Porcelain?

  • Are there some glazes which perform better at the bottom, at the top, and so on?

  • How much pottery, volume of material, is in the kiln. That is, the density of the packing. Generally kilns work better with a light packing at the bottom. For reduction firings pack very closely.

  • Are there firing cones set and are they visible through the port?

  • What is the condition of the kiln and its capacity to reach temperature in good time. Older kilns with old electric elements take longer.

  • The amount of available time. There may be set time limits for the use of the kiln, due to a buildings opening hours, community restrictions, or fire regulations.

  • The fuel and resources available. You don't want to run out of gas.

  • Do you know how to operate the various instruments and apparatus, as well as adjusting the burners and flues, to fine tune the firing, for reduction, or not for reduction, and for temperature?

  • Your timetable. A kiln can not be left unattended nor can the responsibility be casually undefined leaving no one in attendance. Any other commitments need to be reorganized.

Generally the firing procedure is straight forward. Increase the fuel via the burner, or turn up the electric controllers. A digital kiln controller can automatically fire an electric kiln and is now very common. But the settings in the controller need to reflect these same considerations. The overall purpose is to give the clay and glaze a strong, beautiful finish. A fast rate of increase, a quick firing, is possible, but this leads to many problems, such as cracking of the ware, glaze imperfections, and poor body strength which shortens the life of the ceramic. So we need to consider the reasons for adjusting the various controls and why a controlled temperature rise is necessary.

Think of a lump of clay. The heat has to penetrate deep within the lump evenly through to the center. During this time the changes to the clay have been taking place gradually from the outside in. The release of water and other combustion gases, the burning out of carbonaceous matter, is not complete unless the heat is given time to penetrate right into the clay. At the same time the heat is making molecular changes to the clay. Too much heat too fast and surface molecular changes will take place, sealing the outside, before any expulsions have had time to get out, and trapping volatile materials inside. Such an uneven and impure body is structurally weak.

This is all from a technical standpoint. There is much about ceramics which has a beauty, a liveliness, perhaps achieved pragmatically, not knowing or applying anything about all this. But to avoid, cracks, crazing, underdeveloped glazes, glazes running onto shelves, clay over-fired and brittle, there are fundamentals worth knowing. The major points of transition are;

  • 100° C. Water boils and turns into steam.

  • 200° C. Vegetable matter, such as grass and paper, combust into smoke.

  • 300-500° C. Chemically combined water is released.

  • 573° C. Quartz inversion in both heating and cooling.

  • 700-800° C. Carbon and sulphur are burnt off and a strong smell is evident.

  • 900° C. Clay begins to vitrify.

  • For Reduction Glost firing, begin reduction. Strong reduction evident by flickering orange/red flame.

  • 1000° C. Bisque firing end point.

  • For Glost firing continue. 

  • 1100-1300° C. Variable reduction, light/medium, depending on time table.

  • 1250-1300° C. Reduction soak in the heating cycle to improve stoneware glazes.+

  • down - 1300-1250° C. Oxidising soak in the cooling cycle to improve stoneware glazes.* +

  • At end of firing close all exit ports and flues. Turn off gas supply.

  • down - 1100-1000° C. Oxidising soak in the cooling cycle to improve glazes. *

  • down - 250-200° C. Crystabolite inversion on cooling. Do not open kiln door or vents.

  • Under 200° C , you can open kiln very slightly to hasten cooling.

    • * a matter of preference.

    • + for any other level of maturity it is a similar range of about 50°C to soak .

The ordinary impulse in a kiln firing is to clamp the kiln, that is to block all the exits and outlets such as the holes in the top of an electric kiln, or the flue in a gas kiln. The idea I suppose is to keep the heat in the kiln. In the early stages of the kiln firing this is a mistake. As the kiln heats up it is giving off steam and is burning off materials, producing smoke and other gases. These gases have to be vented otherwise they will affect the clay and glazes. Perhaps most importantly is when sulphur is burnt off starting at about 700°C it mixes with water vapour to produce sulphuric acid and this attacks the metals. You can see the corrosion around the doors on many older kilns. This is completely unnecessary. Leave the ports open until above 800°C, or more.

Although 1300° C is mostly given to be the ideal high temperature firing, the preference for firing to 1300° C is not really a standard, and in a lot of places it is 1250° C. It is said this preference arose from the historical search many centuries ago in Europe looking for the secret of Chinese Porcelain. The required high temperatures were unknown at that time in Europe and it was a quest to develop the skills and kilns to get higher and higher temperatures. Today this quest is pointless, and clay and glazes are easily developed to mature at 1250° C, saving time, effort and energy.


 

A technique for lifting the wall of the pot.

When throwing, lifting the wall of the pot, is very difficult to get right. One way I was shown which made it much easier, was after the basic form is thrown, place the finger inside and thin out the wall at the base, wiggling the finger at one point. Right from the start, thin it out as thin as you want the wall to be in the end product. On the outside using the crook of the finger placed under the bulging ridge, get a feel for the clay with the finger under the ridge, and feel the motion of the turning clay running over the crooked finger.  It is not so much as lifting as moving upwards with the ridge running ahead. You can repeat this, while an experienced potter can do it in one. It may be that you come up a short distance, and restart from this new point. 

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