Do you have a favorite mountain or mountain range? My favorite range is the Berkshires where I grew up. They are the foothills to the Appalachian Mountains in Connecticut. Now that I live on the very flat Midwestern plains, I find myself missing the Berkshires’ rolling hills and winding roads. So, I decided to make myself some mountains—tiny ones.
Mountain vases are a series of coordinated small vases that can be used individually or arranged (and rearranged) in a series. The best part of this project is that each person making these vases creates their own unique mountain range.
Creating the Pattern
On a piece of 8½×11-inch paper, along the 11-inch side, draw a profile of the mountains you love or imagine. Draw 3 or 4 mountain tops and valleys across the entire length of the paper. Be sure that the valleys between your mountains are at least two inches above the 11-inch edge (1).
Cut the paper along the curves in the drawing to make the pattern for your mountain range. Roll out a ¼-inch-thick slab of clay that is more than twice as tall as the pattern. Be sure to compress your clay slab on both sides using a firm rib. Place the straight edge of the pattern toward the middle of the clay slab, being sure to leave room to make the second side of the mountain. Cut the clay around the pattern. Now, flip the pattern over to create the mirror image of the first mountain piece on the remainder of the slab. Line the pattern up along the straight edge of the clay shape you just created and cut out the mirrored shape. You will now have two complementary clay pieces of your mountain range that will form the front and back of your mountain vases (2, 3).
If you choose to add texture to the mountain range, create the texture before cutting the range into individual mountain vases (4). Decide where you want to divide your mountain range into individual mountain vases. With the two cut pieces stacked together, use a ruler to make 3 or 4 vertical cuts through both clay slabs. You can make cuts anywhere. There is no need to only cut in the valleys (5).
Cutting the Mountain Range
Carefully separate the cut pieces, keeping the mirror-image pairs beside one another. These are the front and back sides of each mountain vase. With your finger, gently press perpendicularly against the edges of each piece to compress and smooth them. Do this on all the edges, then flip the pieces over and repeat. This compression reduces the likelihood of cracks and finishes the edges of these pieces.
Measuring the Bases and Sides
Each mountain vase in your mountain range will have unique bases and side pieces, due to the differing heights and lengths of the sections.
To determine the size of the base slab, measure the straight edge of one of the mountain pairs and add ½ inch to your measurement (6). This will be the length of the base for that specific mountain piece. Repeat this for each individual pair. The straight edges of each mountain piece will attach to the base. If the straight edge of each slab section has distorted from texturing or handling, press the wide side of a wooden ruler against it until it is straight again.
Decide how wide you want your vases to be. They can range from 1 inch to 3 inches, depending on what you feel is proportional to the height of the mountain pieces you created. The length of the base will be your measurement from step 6 (plus the ½ inch) and the width of the base will be the width you have selected (1–3 inches). Cut a rectangle of these dimensions. This will be your base for this mountain. Repeat the process for the other pairs, using the different lengths measured for each, and the same width (1–3 inches). Compress the edges of each base and set them aside.
Now measure the cut sides of the same mountain to create the side pieces. The length of each side piece will be the height of each side of your mountain front or back piece. The width of each side will be the measurement you chose for the width of the base. Because the chances are that the height of each side of each mountain will differ, the two side pieces will be different lengths. Use these measurements to cut two rectangular slabs for the sides of the mountain-vase section. If you care to texture these side pieces, do it now. If your texturing distorts the side pieces, be sure to re-measure and make sure they are the correct length and width. Repeat the process of cutting and texturing rectangular slabs, using the measurements for the sides for each mountain in your series. Compress the edges of all the side pieces. Now you are ready to assemble your mountain range vases.
Assemble the Vases
Prepare the pieces of each vase for assembly by scoring along the outer edges of the top side of the base, the bottom and side edges of both the front and back slabs of each mountain, the bottom edge of the narrow side pieces, and along the lengths of the non-textured side of the narrow side pieces (7, 8).
It is easiest to assemble the mountains when the pieces are soft leather hard. If the clay is very soft, it will be more challenging. Add slip or water to the scored area of the base. Take the mountain-shaped piece (texture facing outward), add slip to the scored straight bottom, and set it on the scored area along the length of the base, leaving approximately ¼ inch of the base on either end open (9). Next, attach a thin side piece, adding slip to the scored areas on both pieces (the base, thin side, and mountain side). Then, add the second mountain-shaped piece, placing it (texture facing outward) on the base and abutting the scored area of the thin side. Lastly add the second thin side to the vessel, abutting both mountain-shaped pieces. Adding pieces in this circular fashion gives more stability to the piece as you build it (10). To give each mountain more dimension, reach inside each vase and subtly push out the front and back pieces a bit (11).
Two other options: If you wish to give the mountains even more dimension, you can make curved bases (12). If you wish, you can also add a top to each mountain; use the same dimensions as the base, then create a smaller opening at the top for flower stems, as shown in the image of the 8-part mountain range above.
You can use longer paper to make a pattern for a larger mountain range vase set. One of my friends, who owns an 8-part mountain range vase, changes the flowers and arrangement of the vases with each season and holiday. It is interesting to see the many different ways she rearranges her mountains.
Marion Angelica is a studio artist and teacher at the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. To see more of her work, visit her