Published Apr 6, 2022
Pitchers are a challenging form because they are designed to hold a lot of liquid and, therefore, the vessel itself must be lightweight or it would be too cumbersome to use. Then again, if it is too light, it might break easily. It’s a delicate balance.
In today’s post, an excerpt from the Ceramics Monthly archive, Julia Walther shares how she creates wheel thrown pitchers that are functional and easy to use, but sturdy enough to last. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor
We all bring our unique interests and aesthetics to the table when creating our variations on particular forms. I have a great love for the swelling forms of German salt-glazed pottery and of historical fashion, especially the Victorian era and Dior’s New Look from the late 1940s and 50s. The exaggerated waists and skirts that both define and conceal comprise a silhouette that, given pottery’s strong relationship with the human form, beg to be captured in clay. This is one of the reasons I enjoy making pitchers.
As I see it, the main challenge of making a pitcher is that it has to be large enough to contain, yet light enough to carry, and still durable enough to feel safe in use. It’s also nice if it pours well. My earlier pitchers tended to have handles that were attached quite close to the mouth of the pot with a high center of gravity. In using them, I realized that wasn’t particularly conducive to holding a pitcher full of liquid and have since moved my handles down toward the waist of the pot.
Creating the Pitcher
Using about 3½ pounds of clay, I begin by throwing a tall, narrow cylinder. I then carefully swell out the belly and neck until there is a curvaceous fullness to the form, especially on the lower half (1). I create the foot of my pitcher with a small notched rib (2). This leaves a coil shape behind, providing a logical place to end glazing and a small amount of shadow underneath the form, while eliminating the need to trim the piece. As much as I love making work, the fewer times I have to put it on the wheel, the better. Once the clay enters the soft leather-hard state (moveable, but not creating fingerprints when touched), I get my hands wet and pinch about a quarter of the mouth’s circumference with my thumb and forefinger. Using my other hand, I run my index finger from side to side on the inside of the pinch, beveling the spreading clay outward (3). Once I feel the spout is thinned and shaped, I pinch my two anchor points a little closer together to plump it up. At this point I pull a long tapered handle with rounded edges and set it on a board to stiffen.
When it is at the point where I can touch it without leaving a mark, I make a diagonal cut on the fat end and I bend it into a loop, working the clay from the skinny end into the fat end, sealing them together (4). I outline and score the two attachment points for the handle on the pitcher (5), and then work the seams between handle and pitcher with a chamois until they are well integrated. I then wait for the entire piece to approach the slightly stiffer side of leather hard.
I try to keep my edges on all parts of the piece rounded and generous, especially handles, an example of how John Glick’s practical approach continues to influence me. After working with him in his studio for two years, it’s hard not to hear his voice in my head, saying “One knock on the kitchen counter and that’s done for!” There’s a time and a place for every possible kind of ceramic expression and sharp edge, but I want people to adopt my pots into their cupboards free of worry, so I make them round and hearty.
The other major challenge of a pitcher, especially a pitcher just a little prettier than necessary, is the large vertical surface—the terrifying abyss of a blank canvas.