Food is always on my mind. I grew up in a household that placed a high value on food. This value was reinforced during college. As an anthropology major, I learned how material culture sheds light on what a society values. I began my journey as a maker of utilitarian objects at the same time, while learning more about cooking and serving food in handmade containers.
The food we share nourishes us both physically and emotionally. It also feeds the social relationships that define who we are within a group. Mealtimes, from the perspective of anthropologists, are cultural sites for socialization. Eating and drinking from handmade pots causes us to slow down, creating the perfect opportunity for conversation.
I use a handful of basic handbuilding techniques to create my pottery forms. I often use soft-slab construction and then scrape the surface to highlight the unrefined qualities of my coarse earthenware clay body. In order to compliment the texture created during the forming process, I use a combination of slip and glaze to create subtle, weathered surfaces that suggest a history of use.
My pitcher form is based on an old tin pitcher that I once saw at an antique store. I used it as a starting point for how to approach the form but adjusted the proportions and shape according to how my clay behaves as a material.
Body and Base
Begin by rolling out a 3/8-inch thick slab (1). I use a series of paper patterns to make the following parts: a body, a base, a handle, a handle pocket, and a spout (2). Cut out all the parts and set aside the spout and handle parts, storing them under plastic.
Bevel the edge of the base slab at a 45° angle. Roll out a small coil and blend it into the base (3). This ramp of clay will be helpful in the next step when joining the base to the body.
Next, cut the one side edge of the body at a 45° angle while undercutting the second side edge in the opposite direction at a 45° angle so they line up properly when the body is assembled. Score and slip the angled side edges of the body and bend the slab around to complete the circle (4). Compress these seams together with a rib on both the inside and outside, while providing support with your opposite hand. Then, gently oval the body.
Bevel the bottom edge of the body at a 45° angle. Score and slip the bottom of the pitcher as well as around the base edge (5). Invert the body and place it on the base. While supporting the wall on the outside, use your fingers to gently blend the interior ramp of clay from the base into the wall to secure them together. Use a paddle along the edge of the base to gently reestablish the form (6). Set the body aside and allow it to stiffen up a bit.
To assemble the handle, start by compressing the handle slab with a rib to remove any texture. Then, place it between thin pieces of plastic and smooth it on both sides (7). This gives it a soft, rounded edge.
Now, take the slab that will be inset into the curve of the handle to create a pocket. Cut two grooves that are the width of the handle along the pocket slab; this allows you to fold the edges up into a bridge-like shape. Score and slip along the grooves before folding up and reinforcing the corner with a small coil for added strength. Next, place the handle on edge and bend it into the approximate curve while inserting the pocket into place. Lightly mark where these parts come together; then score and slip them together (8). Don’t poke a hole in the handle pocket at this point. Leaving it filled with air will help give it structure while it’s setting up and during the attachment of the handle. Set the assembled handle aside and allow it to firm up a bit while you work on attaching the spout to the body of pitcher.
Compress the spout with a rib to remove any texture. Then, place the spout inside a fold of thin plastic and gently swipe your finger along the long side of the spout. Flip it over and repeat this process on the other side to give your spout a nice tapered edge that will aid in pouring. Miter the top edge of the pitcher body to a 45° angle. Score and slip this edge as well as the short side of the spout and attach (9). The articulation of this seam on both the inside and the outside is very important to my pitcher form. Allow the clay to stiffen up before refining this detail.
After the handle has firmed up, cut away a slight divot from the top and the bottom of the handle so that it fits the curve of the pitcher. Check for fit and then lightly mark the body where it will be joined. Score and slip the handle as well as corresponding points on the body and press firmly to attach. Use a lug of wet clay to help prop up the handle while the joint sets up (10). It’s important for the visual strength of my pitcher that the line of the handle pocket is parallel to the line of the body, so adjust accordingly. Next, backfill the gaps between the handle and the body with small coils of clay to help strengthen the attachment as well as help make the handle look more visually substantial where it joins the body.
Once the handle and rim have set up to medium leather hard carefully refine the seams and transitions between the individual sections. Remember to prick a pinhole into the pocket of the handle to release the trapped air before it gets too hard. Turn the pitcher over on a thin piece of foam and trim away the center portion of the base to create a foot ring (11). This makes the bottom look more considered as well as help to make it sit flat on the table.
Scrape the exterior surface of the entire pitcher to bring out the texture in the grogged earthenware (12). Allow it to dry and bisque fire. Finally, brush three coats of a colored glaze, such as Hirsch Satin Matte and fire it to cone 03.
Joseph Pintz is currently an assistant professor at the University of Missouri and a studio artist. He received his MFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has completed numerous artist residencies including the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program and the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts.
Photos: Jeffrey Bruce.
View more images of Joe’s work here.