The inspiration for the pentalobe plate and mollusk set came primarily from my direct experiences with the natural environment. As a child, I spent countless hours at the beach or in the bays at low tide collecting shells. As an adult, I’ve been an avid gardener and love to grow squash, gourds, and melons. Shells and gourds have historically been used as containers, they have a direct connection to food, and they have influenced pottery forms for millennia. Gourds have also been associated with longevity and good health, and mollusks have symbolized the creative force of the feminine and have been noted for their aphrodisiac quality.
The burnished clay on the bottom of the plate is like the hard exterior of a dried gourd, and the incised and carved patterns reference archetypal vegetation and growth. These marks also reveal a direct touch of the hand and the care and attention given to the work. The contrasting interior of the plate appears juicy and wet, alive with green radiating waves of lushness. The terra sigillata and satin interior glaze on the mollusks give them a tumbled and polished feeling that is lovely to hold and touch.
I’m drawn to making pots because of their role as intimate domestic objects. They’re part of the stage set of everyday meals and special occasions, framing the food and drink that we consume. In doing so, pottery helps to shape the way we think and feel, ultimately affecting who we become.
Making the Bisque Mold
I begin building many of my mold forms by drawing a rough outline of the clay object’s shape on a Masonite bat. To create a pentalobe plate mold, I use fat coils to build from the outline to the center (1), blending and pinching the clay with my fingers and paddling it to thin and shape the profile (2). Using a metal serrated rib allows me to further refine the form (3). Temporary props of clay support the underside as I work in and up. After stiffening sufficiently, the props are removed, the form is checked for levelness, and each side is smoothed (4). I think of the mold as having two options, building on the convex side for a hump mold or the concave side for a slump mold. The finished form is dried and bisque fired.
Beginning the Plate
To create the lobed plate, I first roll out a 1/2-inch-thick slab on a plaster bat using a rolling pin along with a throwing action to stretch and flatten it sufficiently (5). The slab is placed and pressed into the mold, the edge is trimmed with a knife, and a coil is added to thicken the rim (6). The surface is smoothed all over and when stiff enough, it’s pulled off of the mold form (7). Small pieces of foam support the piece while it dries and becomes firmer. After becoming leather hard, it’s burnished with a soft rib, and designs are incised and carved on the bottom (8).
Developing the Surface
The predominant material in the clay body I use for the plate is an iron-rich brick clay that I refine and process myself. A thick slip made from this clay body is applied onto the interior with a stiff bristle brush to create texture (9). After drying, white slip is brushed over the textured slip (10), the form is allowed to dry, then is bisque fired. I begin glazing by brushing a black stain into the incised and carved recesses on the bottom (11), then wiping the excess off with a sponge. The interior is brushed with several coats of glaze and the piece is fired to cone 5–6 in an electric kiln.
The mollusk dishes paired with the pentalobe plate are made with a mid-range, commercial white clay body. I begin with a very large coil that’s shaped so that the cross section is tapered like a teardrop. Using a wire, I cut thick slabs from this coil. Each slab is then rounded and flattened with my hands on a plaster bat (12).
After texturing the slabs with a series of combs and a few pieces of broken wood (13), I stretch them out by throwing them at an angle on the bat. I then fold the narrow end in on itself and use my fingers and thumbs to prod and open up the interior (14). A lug of clay is added and blended into the fold of the narrow end for filler and strength. The mollusk form is set aside to stiffen before further shaping with my hands into a more concave, vessel-like form. The pieces are then allowed to become bone dry.
Next, a white terra sigillata is brushed onto the exterior (15), and is burnished with my palms while it’s still slightly damp. After bisque firing the mollusk forms, an iron stain is brushed over the exteriors and wiped off of the surfaces to highlight the texture (16). Glaze is brushed on the interior and applied around the edge with a bulb syringe before firing the forms to cone 5–6 in an electric kiln.
I like that the finished set can function in different situations. It can be decorative or the plate and mollusks could be used together, individually, or mixed and matched for condiments, appetizers, or a variety of other uses around the home. The possibilities allow for a creative collaboration between maker and user.
Sean Scott is a ceramic artist living and working in rural Battle Lake, Minnesota. Since 2005, he and his wife have been operating Pomme de Terre Pottery. Scott exhibits and sells his work nationally and teaches workshops to clay lovers of all ages. To learn more, visit www.pommedeterrepottery.com or www.seanscottclay.com.