restricted access 4. Process: Production Methods in Choiseul

From: Creole Clay

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69 4 Process Production Methods in Choiseul Clay is ubiquitous. If you gathered it all up and spread it evenly over the surface of the earth like peanut butter, you would create a mud layer a mile in thickness. Certainly, there are places in the world where there is no clay—deserts, some mountain ranges—but in most areas of the world, it is readily available, often plentiful. —Suzanne Staubach, Clay: The History and Evolution of Humankind’s Relationship with Earth’s Most Primal Element (2005) Every coalpot, kannawi, chòdyè, and flowerpot made by the women potters of Saint Lucia begins with the sticky, grainy clays found in the volcanic landscape of Choiseul. If the buyer has a critical role in defining which forms are produced, it is the maker who controls how the pots are shaped, finished, and fired. Pottery methods are learned by observation in traditional communities, and passed from generation to generation through the direct engagement of hand to clay. In Saint Lucia the potters all use the same production methods, including the digging and preparation of the clay, the forming and finishing of the vessels in multiple stages, and the final completion of the pots in open bonfires. Some techniques have been adapted or enhanced as a result of exposure to a broader spectrum of ceramic information , but the traditional skill set remains the established practice among the potters in Choiseul. This chapter will focus on the specifics of process, on how pots are made in Saint Lucia. Documenting these skills while they are still actively practiced expands our understanding of heritage ceramics, and provides a basis for comparison to related traditions in the Caribbean. In the context of the complex demographics of the Caribbean region, a close analysis of ceramic technique can Figure 4.1. Catty Osman in Morne Sion with a large pile of freshly dug clay showing the combination of the smoother, more plastic brown clay with the sandy, red clay found deeper in the pit. Once carried to the workshop, the clay will be progressively wet down over several days until it reaches the desired consistency. 70 Creole Clay also provide important keys to cultural continuity. And from a potter’s perspective , the intricate and mysterious process of transforming wet mud to fired vessel is inherently fascinating. It is the interface that connects people, materials, and technology, the application of an intimate knowledge of the earth to the needs of human society. For a potter, the ways of making are the essential foundation for a productive life. Clay Most people do not differentiate clay from other types of earthy materials, excepting those with occupational interests such as potters, farmers, or geologists. Clay is actually rock in a different form, entirely mineral in nature and composed largely of alumina and silica that has been ground down, moved around, and remixed over a long geologic time span. Dirt, or soil, is a complex aerated blend of minerals, decomposed plants, and bacteria that provides a nutrient-rich growing medium, and by its very nature only loosely binds to itself. “Mud” is an acceptably vague term that even potters often use, and while clay may be mud, it is definitely not dirt. What all clays have in common is plasticity, a term used to describe the fundamental chemical and mechanical capacity of the material to bind tightly to itself and retain new shapes. In short, clay sticks together, and this makes it possible to turn a wet lump of mud into a hollow, symmetrical form that can then be fired into permanence and utility. As a result of the geological weathering process that creates this material, there can be dramatic differences in the final composition of any particular clay, and not all clays are suitable for use by potters. Traditional potters depend on locally sourced clays, and proximity to substantial deposits of appropriate and accessible clay is the invisible determining factor in the location and establishment of traditional pottery communities worldwide. In Choiseul the potters call their clay tè gwa, a patois version of the French terre gras, which translates literally as “fat earth.” With typical directness, this name captures the origin and density of the material as well as the ability of wet clay to progressively bind to itself; St. Lucian clay definitely deserves its own name because it is functionally quite different from many other clays. The island of Saint Lucia was formed from the explosive upheavals of the volcanoes that lie along...


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