Friday, January 29, 2016

Pottery is Popular

I recently was given an article from the New York Times, last December 17th, "The Budding Ceramics-to-Table Movement". I keep finding it strange.

What is newly popular seems to be not individual pieces  --  artwork. Nor industrial products. Rather the in-between, what we call production pottery. This might be a batch of related dishes to supply a restaurant, or a line of vases that a gift shop could reorder and match. This is real craft work, like mass production before machine-made work. But dishes, yes, for daily use.

Certainly this is not a new kind of pottery nor production. Nor is it new for potters to try to make a living at the craft. It's just newly "in" for some people. To me, there is something odd about that, pottery being such a deeply rooted, ancient craft. But why not? Certain styles of pots have been "in" before. For some of the crazier versions of that, check out Edmund de Waal's The White Road.

And the article describes ceramics as the"craft du jour." That's a warning; it's a fad. It doesn't mean that we will all be commercial successes as potters from now on. But some of us will be, are now and perhaps can continue. A fad market grows fast, shrinks fast, and has a short bloom. What good is it? Besides temporary but bigger possibilities to earn money selling pots and lessons, it provides great exposure to something that is, sorry folks, a very niche interest. If lots of people, however faddish, see handmade pottery or try to make pots, some will continue to care and stick with the craft, as makers or buyers or admirers. All welcome. 

Two more odd aspects of this fad. The article quotes people reporting it (from Vogue, for example), as discovering more and more potters, as if we are appearing suddenly. No, the world is full of us, and has been full of spectacularly good makers of wonderful pots. Yes, some are artists and would not have the interest or patience or facilities or management skill to produce lines of work.

And, of course, dishes are tied to food. Should we have been able to predict that a widespread interest in craft food, and in locally sourced food, would expand to an interest in craft, and locally or identifiably sourced dishes? In retrospect, yes, but who knew it would be now? Craft people have long touted craft production as a stand against the sameness, machine-orientation, and excessive amount of industrial products. Robert Sullivan, from Vogue is quoted in  this article: "ceramics are popular now because they are "among the most obviously and literally handmade things.""

But why this year?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What Does it Take to Make a Good Pitcher?

Over the years I've been potting, I've made a large collection of clumsy pitchers. That's not hard. Making a good one, on the other hand... What I'd like is to make pitchers that functin well, for holding, carrying, pouring, and that are elegant as well. Setting out to improve, I'm using Lark Books' 500 Pitchers as a text. It's a 10 year old book, but new to me, and inspiring.

The clumsy ones:

It works, but. Rather shapeless, neither round nor tall. The handle actually works better set low like this one, than in many more usual positions, but doesn't look good. There are tradeoffs to be made, between function and looks here.

Oof, it's heavy, the neck makes no visual sense, the handle goes too far from the body of the pot for good balance in pouring, the spout leans out too far for it to look balanced.

Better. The spout is still out of proportion, the handle visually too big.

This one works, but looks like a mix of unrelated parts. So that's needed too  --all the parts relate, in shape and proportion. If it were taller, I think it would look better. There are lovely round pitchers, but I think they are usually more successful long and lean.

Much better, except for a tippy picture. Look at it with the table edge horizontal. (Can't fix it, the pitcher is long since sold. ) It's the long neck that makes it work.

But this one doesn't. Not a clearly defined neck. Not a clearly defined shape. It functions well.

Ah, yes, here we go. Perhaps the handle is still too wide, the balance is a bit off.

This version looks less good, I think, but works better.  That handle still is far from the pot. I'm not at all clear why it functions better. This is a hard question to answer: what does it take to make a good pitcher?

Here are the ones I'm trying now. Most pitchers that look good to me, in  500 Pitchers, have handles that come off the rim. I'm not sure that works, but we'll see.

This is by far the best proprtioned round one I've made.

 There's a wonderful old-fashioned shape called a Rebecca pitcher, with a handle that swings way up above the pot. I wonder how that balances.

Conclusions? First: it's hard. Second, there aren't as many parts as a teapot has, but pitchers have the same aesthetic problem: how he parts relate to make a unified whole. Third, handles are a problem, with visual success pretty different from functional success. Fourth? More learning to come, for sure. This is fun.