My work celebrates the relationships that shape my life. I combine my experience as a sculptor, potter, and cook with influences from myriad teachers who’ve nurtured my work.
My cuisine is rooted in New Mexican agriculture and the practice of food as medicine. The Ginger Turmeric Tonic recipe shown on page 45 will bolster your immune system and help balance your digestive tract. My cup and stand are designed to foster contemplation of the connections between our bodies, our ecosystems, and our communities.
Pinching the Cup Stand
I start with 1 pound of clay and a bisque-fired template of my general cup shape. I use a cone-6 porcelain clay body and it requires a good bit of coaxing throughout the process, including time to rest in between steps to set up. I form a pinch pot upside down atop the template (1). Once the form stiffens up, I remove it from the template and continue working over foam. I use coils to shape the form, being careful to keep the edges of my work soft and pliable (2). I continue building in this way until the form is fully closed. Then, I let it rest until it’s almost leather hard (3).
Combing over a new clay form with a serrated rib is one of the most satisfying steps in my process. For years, I smoothed my work with a metal rib throughout the process but I’d still find imperfections in the contour of the finished piece. I have to credit two distinct groups of potters for convincing me to add this effective step. In 2002 and 2003, I traveled to Tanzania to study with potters in the Usambara Mountains and in Ikombe. In both cases, these potters used a groggy clay harvested from the mountainsides and ground into a smooth paste. Then they used dried mango seeds to even out the walls of their pots before using banana leaves to smooth the final surface. In 2006 I took a workshop with Hector Gallegos and Graciela Garcia Gallegos in Mata Ortiz, Mexico. Graciela used a piece of broken saw blade to perfect forms before smoothing the surfaces in preparation for Hector’s painting. Graciela had me practice this step with her and I fell in love with it.
Now, I make two complete passes around my form with a serrated rib, switching directions to perfect the contour of the form (4). I smooth the form with a metal rib and finish the surface with a plastic rib. Afterward, I carve a hole at the top to hold the swizzle stick and to allow air to easily escape the form as it shrinks 24% from start to finish (5).
Throwing the Cup
In the meantime, I throw and trim a cup from 12 ounces of clay (6). When the cup is bone dry, I apply slip and carve back through it as soon as it’s no longer tacky (7). I started experimenting with interior slip carving while teaching ceramics at the University of New Mexico. I formulated and tested slips in our shop so that students could follow the process.
Once my stand is bone dry, I apply black terra sigillata one layer at a time. I burnish each layer with a thin plastic grocery bag and repeat until the surface is opaque and satin (8).
After drawing the carving pattern in my sketchbook, I take a test run on the top of my form where it’s flat and easier to carve. I carefully work around the rest of the form (9). I love this slow, meditative step in my process; often my mind wanders to time spent outdoors and to landscapes, sunsets, and moonrises I’ve enjoyed. I add black terra sigillata to my cup exterior and carve into that as well (10).
After a cone 010 bisque firing, I fire this work again to cone 6 with minimal glazing, using a palette inspired by my first favorite artist, Alexander Calder.
Jen DePaolo is an artist and community organizer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She integrates food and pottery through Gathered, a series of pop-up celebrations in partnership with Edible Magazine and local growers, chefs, and artists. Together with ceramic artist Jane Gordon she co-founded the What Becomes project. To learn more about her studio practice and collaborative projects visit www.jenndepaolo.com.