In the Potter’s Kitchen: People Feeder

When you are attending a party or public gathering, do you ever feel a bit dubious about eating treats like M&Ms or nuts from an open bowl? You never know who has been digging unwashed hands into the bowl. Perhaps you just like to keep snacks available in your own home, but you would like to keep them covered and protected from dust and dirt in the air. The people feeder is a great way to make such treats available, but protected from contaminants. It works just like a bird feeder or cat-treat dispenser—you fill the central tube, then a few morsels at a time come out of the portals at the bottom to fill the saucer.

Forming the Feeder

Use 3 pounds of clay for the body and 1 pound for the lid. Starting with the body, center the 3-pound lump on a bat and bring it out to about 6 inches wide at the base. Use the side of your hand to push down the outer edge of the cone of clay, separating clay for the saucer from the mass (1). Next, open up the center and pull out to about 4 inches across the floor, leaving the floor only ¼ inch thick. Push a finger into the thickened edge to form the saucer, pushing down far enough to leave the floor of the saucer ¼ inch thick. Now you have a thick cylinder rising from the center of a thick ring (2). Don’t finish the saucer yet—pull up the cylinder, taking care to thin it adequately at the base. You won’t be able to trim this area, so do your best to pull up all the clay. The cylinder should end up about 6 inches tall and 4 inches wide, although the exact dimensions are not critical.

1 Center 3 pounds of clay and use the edge of your hand to push down the outer edge of the cone of clay.

2 Open the center of the clay and form a 1/4-inch-thick floor about 4 inches wide.

The next step is to finish the saucer. Make the trough where the treats will gather a good inch wide—imagine your finger and thumb reaching into it to pick up a nut, and make sure you leave enough space. Pull up the outer edge of the saucer, making sure it’s at least an inch high (3), so the treats don’t just spill out onto the table. Wire under the feeder and set it aside to stiffen up for a couple of hours or overnight, loosely covered so the rim doesn’t dry too fast.

Forming the Lid

Now you’ll make the lid. This simple lid is flat, with no need for a knob since you’ll just grasp the edges of the lid to lift it. It’s thrown upside down, so give it a flange to hold it in place. Measure the cylinder rim’s inside diameter with calipers (4). Center the 1-pound lump of clay on a bat and flatten it out to a disk about an inch wider than your caliper setting. Open up in the center of the disk, again leaving just ¼ inch of clay for the floor. I like to use a sponge for this step to spread out the pressure of my fingers and make a wider opening. Pull across the floor, leaving it ¼ inch thick all the way across and creating a ridge of clay that will become the flange. Stop when the flange gets to the caliper setting (5)—keep in mind that it needs to fit inside the cylinder’s rim. If you’re using double-ended calipers such as the Lid Master, one end will fit inside the rim and the other end will fit outside the flange on the lid. To finish the lid, thin the outer edge, which will rest on the rim of the people feeder. Slide a wooden tool just under the edge of the lid to lift it slightly. This allows you to use a needle tool to trim it narrower if it’s more than ½ inch wide, and to smooth the trimmed edge with a sponge or chamois. The outer edge of the lid should just be lifted a fraction of an inch (6), you don’t need it to curl around the edge of the cylinder. Wire under the lid once you finish it.

3 After pulling up the wall of the central cylinder, finish the saucer, making it at least an inch wide and an inch tall.

4 Measure inside the rim of the cylinder with calipers so you can make a lid that fits.

5 Check the diameter of the flange with the calipers and adjust the width if needed.

6 Use a wood tool to slightly lift the edge of the lid and trim away any excess.

Final Touches

Finishing involves very little trimming on either piece—perhaps a tiny bit around the base of the people feeder, and just enough across the top of the lid to smooth the place where you lifted the outer edge. This is simple to do if the lid is placed on the feeder while the feeder is still centered on the bat (7).

Next, cut three holes at the base of the feeder, as low on the cylinder wall as you can so the treats don’t hang up at the threshold. You want the base of the people feeder to be at a soft leather-hard state, so you can cut easily without distorting the form. I use a 1½-inch-round cookie cutter that I flattened out to an oval about 1¾ inch wide. Place the feeder on a MKM Decorating Disk to make three evenly spaced marks where you’ll cut the holes. From the inside, with the hole cutter flush with the floor of the feeder, push the cutter straight through the wall (8), supporting with your fingers on the outside so you don’t distort the wall. Use a sponge to soften the edges of the three holes.

7 Once both parts are leather hard, place the lid on the base and lightly trim across the top.

8 Cut 3 equally spaced holes at the base of the cylinder using a 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter that has been flattened into an oval.

When glazing this piece, you may choose to fire the lid in place on the feeder, or if you prefer to glaze the top edge of the feeder, the lid can be waxed on the flange and fired separately. If the fit is very tight, you’ll want to fire it in place, waxing the top edge of the feeder and the edge of the lid where it sits on the feeder.

To use, lift the lid to fill the cylinder with treats such as M&Ms, pistachios, or mixed nuts. They’ll spill out the openings and into the trough a few at a time, preventing guests from digging their hands into an entire bowl of snacks. Or if you’re an indulgent pet owner, you can use it for kibble or treats.

Sumi von Dassow is an artist, instructor, and regular contributor to Pottery Making Illustrated. She lives in Golden, Colorado. Check out Sumi’s book, In the Potter’s Kitchen, available in the Ceramic Arts Network Shop, http://ceramicartsnetwork.org/store/in-the-potters-kitchen.

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