by Becky Brown

February 12, 2001

Breathe deeply earthy smell of wet clay
Aroma of every potter's workshop.
Hold turned wood tools
Let fingers caress rounded shapes
Smooth as skin.
Walk around workshop.
Touch plaster bats. Are they dry?
Measure powdered clay into bucket.
Add feldspar, alumina, boric acid, flux
Water, according to clay body needed.
Start electric stirring rod.
Watch clay become smooth creamy liquid.
Dip fingers in, feel texture.
Pour onto plaster bat to dry.
Later, handroll into ball.
Pinch ball. Feel texture, stickiness.
Throw heavy ball of clay onto wedging table.
Knead it like a loaf of bread.
Knead and throw, throw and knead, develop a rhythm.
Slice through with wire.
Are air bubbles gone?
Is clay pliable? Does it have strength?

Throw ball of wedged clay onto potter's wheel.
Turn on electricity. Dip hands into creamy slurry.
Place around clay ball, pressing thumb deeply
To form center opening. With loving fingers
Coax clay to form willing shape
As it turns round and round on the potter's wheel.
Cut soft piece free with taught, wet wire.
Take two metal supports. Wet them carefully.
Slip under piece. Lift it. Carry to table.
Set on dry plaster bat. Pull out supports.
Leave thrown pot to dry. Slowly the piece grows firm.
Move it back onto wheel head. Turn on electricity.
As wheel moves hypnotically place a sharp metal tool
At bottom of foot. Is footrim too thin?
Or too thick to hold pot gracefully?
Press sharp tool under footrim to shape perfectly.
Wet fingers. Smooth lip to a more perfect shape.
Again set pot to dry - completely.
If damp during the firing it will blow up.

Stack pots into kiln. Consider height, weight,
Shape. It costs to fire. No space can be wasted.
Potter's equipment is expensive and must be handled
With skill. When kiln is stacked, every hole must
Be closed excepting peepholes. Close them
With fireclay chocks.

Place cone by each peephole. A cone is a triangular
Shaped piece of clay about two and a half inches long.
Cone should be dry and hard. Stick each cone upright
Into soft clay base. A cone is made to begin bending
At chosen temperature. Take chocks out now and then
During firing. Look in to see if cones begin to curve.
Hours will pass before cone gets hot enough to bend.
2300o Fahrenheit is moderate temperature.
Firing is intensive. The potter on edge. Success is
Crucial. If not done right every piece in kiln can
Be lost. Clay and glazes must be composed for
Perfection when last cone comes down. Did glaze
Formula turn glassy, but not run off pot?

Cool kiln slowly. Kiln or pieces could crack from
Sudden cold. After several hours lift out a pot,
Best to remove with bare hands. But potter may be
So eager he takes it out with gloves. Look all around
Pot. Is it awkward? Ungainly? Is form beautiful?
Heft weight. Is pot pleasant to hold? If a teapot
Will it be too heavy to lift when full of water?
Look inside its mysterious hollow.

This magic process comes to us from distant time
Linking us to forbearers whose hands
Were as skilled as ours in 5000 B.C.
Visit the Art Museum. Look carefully at the pottery
From 5000 B.C. Those ancient pots sit in their glass
Case untouchable. Made with no electricity, no pyrometers,
No computers. Yet their shapes are beautiful as ours.
Lovely vessels in which ancient peoples stored wine or
Oil are relatives to the bowls we hold in our hands.
We see marks left by those early potters' fingers.

Imagine one of them standing opposite this modern
Potter. Each holds a bowl of hot tea. They raise tea
To lips. Eyes meet as lips taste, sharing the long
Experience of handmade pottery.