The comforts of home, food, and family are indivisible from one another, and dinners with family and friends bring a refuge of food and good conversation. The experience often starts before most of the company shows up, when our family is in the kitchen preparing the meal—snacking, drinking coffee, and taste-testing the food together. Having hand-made objects to prepare and cook in enhances the experience (even if they may include some clunky things I made in high school) by introducing the vessel as a new, or maybe long-forgotten, friend.
I grew up in Northern Utah in an area known for its orchard fruit. Making various desserts and drinks from the always-plentiful peaches, apricots, apples, and cherries is why I always look forward to late summer. Fruit cobblers have always been my favorite part of the season, and, while the fruit is the real star of the show, you need a delicious crust mixed in a hand-made batter bowl to tie everything together.
Beginning the Bowl Form
To begin, start by centering 4 pounds of clay and pulling a cylinder with a dished/rounded floor into a “V” shape, slightly taller than it is wide (mine are about 9 inches tall and 7–8 inches wide). Keep the walls straight and make sure there’s a good bead of clay (½ inch thick) at the rim. Don’t give the cylinder any rounded shape yet, or it will collapse when you try to split the rim.
Splitting the Rim
Compress the rim with the side of your finger to flatten it. Moisten the rim and with a chamois use your thumbnail to push the center of the rim down (1). This is very similar to creating a gallery in your rim to hold a lid, only it’s on the outside of the rim. Compress the rim this way until a ¼-inch ledge and a ¼-inch upright section are formed.
When you’re finished splitting the rim, shape the form. Make sure the interior curve is consistent so it’s easy to use.
Scalloping the Rim
Divide the rim into your desired amount of scallops. Place a decorating disc on top of your form, making sure that it’s centered, and mark the outside of the rim at the appropriate numbers (2). I use a tapered hardwood dowel to do this—don’t use anything sharp (like a needle tool); the rim will tear.
After you remove your decorating disc, pinch the shelf of the rim into the upright section at each of your marks. Working now on the left side of the form with your dowel in your right hand, pull the dowel into the side of the form and lift a little. Simultaneously as you do this, take your left index finger and thumb and squeeze the clay on both sides lightly toward the dowel (3). This creates the peak of the scallop.
Next, with your left index finger and thumb supporting the peaks, use the side of your right index finger to stretch the upright section onto the ledge (4). Repeat for five of the six sections. This process also will stretch the rim out a little.
Creating the Pour Spout
On the sixth, un-scalloped area, lightly pinch the shelf up into the wall of the split rim—don’t blend it yet. Working with this area on the other side of the wheel from you, pull the rim straight up (not out) until you get a nicely arched spout (5). Try not to pinch your fingers together as they leave the clay. With your wheel turning slowly, use a chamois to smooth out the ragged edges. Now, with the spout pointing to the right, use the side of your right index finger to shape the spout outward while your left index finger and thumb support the outside of the rim. Bring it out to about 45°. Leave it wide enough so that a thick batter will pour out easily.
Finishing the Form
When ready, trim the batter bowl on a soft- to leather-hard chuck (6). The chuck is just narrow enough to fit inside the scalloped rim, and at least 1 inch thick. If it’s a fresh chuck, scrape all of the slip off of the surface with a metal rib, and make sure the top is bulky, has the same curve as the inside of the bowl, and it’s supporting the area where your foot will be. A good rule for bowl chucks is to use 11⁄3–1½ times more clay than you used in the original form—this way you have enough clay to make it tall and sturdy enough.
I pull a handle for the bowl by first rolling out 12–14 ounces of clay into an elongated bow-tie shape, flattening it, then pulling from both ends. When I get it to the right thickness and taper, I cut it asymmetrically so that there’s a bit more width on one end (the top of the handle), and a smaller amount on the bottom connection (7). When it sets up, I use a 1¼–inch dowel to bulk up, round, and cup the end that’s attaching to the scallop (the beefier end) (8). I use a small paddle on the other end to bulk up the lower attachment, then score, add slip, and attach (9). Check the negative space, and make sure the handle is straight up and down, and then you’re done!
Nolan Baumgartner is currently an Artist in Residence at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago, Illinois. He received his MFA in ceramics from Cranbrook Art Academy in 2004 and taught at the University of Utah from 2006–15 as an Assistant Professor/Lecturer in ceramics and 3D foundations.