1. International Folk Pottery: A Brief Primer

From: Global Clay

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10 1 | international folk pottery A Brief Primer White Ware of Siegburg. Red Brown Ware of Raeren. Brown or Mottled Ware of Frechen. Rusty, Dark Brown and Enameled Wares of Kreussen. Gray Ware of Grenzhausen, with Blue, Brown, and Purple Enamels. Brown and Gray Wares of Bouffioux. Ferruginous Ware of Bunzlau. Dark Red Ware of Dreyhausen. Color comparison of typical stonewares from different German, Belgian, and Polish production centers, E. A. Barber (1907)1 In this book I use the terms “folk” and “traditional” interchangeably to describe the potters and their products featured here. By folk potters I mean those who’ve learned their designs and handcrafting skills by observation and practice in a family or apprenticeship setting, and are thus human links in a chain of artistic transmission that can span many generations and centuries. Participating in a group-shared tradition doesn’t mean, however, that folk potters can’t interpret what they’ve learned to suit their individual needs and creative impulses, with each contributing to the tradition as it’s handed on. This understanding distinguishes folk pottery from the ceramics more familiar to many readers: machine-molded table and kitchen wares mass produced in factories and the work of school-trained studio potters guided by an aesthetic consciousness rooted in the mid-nineteenth century. Until the Industrial Revolution and subsequent Arts and Crafts movement, virtually all pottery making was folk; in many parts of the world it still is. I should point out, however, that the International Folk Pottery | 11 term “folk pottery,” adopted by American researchers and collectors in the 1970s, is not universally recognized; in Great Britain, for example, the equivalent term is “country pottery.”2 Although my focus here is on such wares, I’ll occasionally use industrial and studio examples for comparison. I’ll also be using “pottery” and “ceramics” interchangeably to mean any fired-clay object, while recognizing that in some circles the latter is a broader term that can encompass more than pots. A “pottery” can also refer to a production site or workshop. Despite the amazing diversity of the world’s ceramic traditions over time, space, and cultures, it is possible to break them down in a simplified way into types based largely on fabric (clay body) and surface treatment (glaze and decoration) as a touchstone for the variety of wares I’ll be discussing. And an understanding of the nature of clay is a good place to begin. Clay is a pliable earth composed largely of silica and alumina—the two most abundant minerals in the earth’s crust—broken down from stone over millions of years. When mixed with water, the platelike particles slide against each other, and this plasticity allows clay to be shaped into virtually any form imaginable. Most clays include other elements, such as iron, as well as organic material (but not nearly so much as soil or dirt). To be usable as pottery, the clay must be hardened by firing, after which it will retain its shape even when wet.3 Much of the typology laid out below will be familiar to pottery enthusiasts, but the nonspecialist reader should find it helpful for explaining terminology used in the following chapters. Earthenware Earthenware is pottery composed of coarse-grained clay that fires at a relatively low temperature (up to 2,000°F/1,093°C, but often lower). The resulting product is at best only partly vitrified, with the spaces between the grains not filled with glass melted from the silica, and is therefore porous and relatively soft. There is much variation in the fired color, but the most characteristic is reddish brown, with a significant amount of iron in the clay. Unglazed earthenware, sometimes called terracotta, is the world’s oldest pottery (fig. 1.1), dating to even before the Neolithic period (the New Stone Age) when pottery making became widespread, and is still being made today. Early potters developed several ways of strengthening their pots. To decrease shrinkage and cracking while drying and firing, a temper such as sand or crushed stone, grog (crushed potsherds), shell, or organic material (e.g., straw) would be added to the clay. To smooth the surface of pots and make them less likely to leak, the exterior 12 | Global Clay could be burnished with a stone and/or coated with refined slip (liquid clay) before firing. Decorative techniques include incising, stamping, modeling the damp clay, and painting before or after firing. Glaze is the glassy coating that...