Saturday, January 17, 2015

Is it still hand made?

I belong to a couple of online groups where the conversation can get rather lively. Mention the words "jigger" or "ram pressed" and the conversation gets heated! Many potters believe that those two terms and "handmade", can never be said in the same sentence. I happen to disagree. There are small production potteries that utilize these techniques for some items, and their wares can still be considered handmade.


 This is one of my all time favorite dishes. It's a ram pressed baking dish created in a production pottery that JZ had worked at. It's quite small, the perfect size for one can of refried beans, or half a dozen baked stuffed shrimp.


Typically this dish would have been slip trailed by hand, with a blue traditional design, and salt glazed. JZ acquired this one prior to the decorating, and fired it in a wood kiln. The shino glaze on the interior has some beautiful crazing which would make some say it isn't food safe. It's high-fired, the clay is vitrified, and it gets washed in hot water. I haven't gotten sick and (obviously) haven't died from using it yet. Perhaps that's an argument for another post!

Is there really any difference from ram pressing a piece or using a slump mold? Some would state that ram pressing involves a machine... but we can also argue that all potters incorporate some machinery to make the work easier on our bodies, and to save time. My little baker was ram pressed, but all the trimming and finish work was done by hand. 

Wheel thrown plate by John Zentner - pork quesadilla with re-fried beans by Meesh
I believe that there are many manufacturers that are creating some very nice products, utilizing beautiful design. Those designs started somewhere, from within someone's imagination. As long as they are produced ethically, I will continue to enjoy using them.


UPDATE!
I thought I would add a photo of what this company's pots look like when decorated and glazed in their salt kiln. This one was thrown and handled by Jz. His stamp is just underneath, where the handle attaches at the bottom of the pot. 

11 comments:

  1. I was talking about this yesterday, in terms of large studios like JZ and Jeffy worked at, where artists work making the company product in a combined effort. Yes, it is all handmade, but I stand where Bernard Leach and other pottery purists stand: one potter acting on their own ideas using raw materials to make their own work, which is theirs in every way, start to finish. That is the studio potter ideal. Of course, then there are the even bigger purists, digging clay and glaze supplies out of the ground and wood firing--those guys look at my bagged clay and electric kiln and sniff at me ;) So, basically, what I consider an artistic ideal is my business, not mine to judge elsewhere :)

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    1. I agree with you Gary. I couldn't work for a production pottery, for one thing they would fire because I would be too darn slow!
      Most of the potters that work at this factory also do their own work in their own studios. They take these jobs to get insurance and support their families with a more steady income.

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  2. nice to be able to use pots made by JZ so long ago, what irks me is when I walk through the dinnerware section in wally world and see the words hand crafted on their mugs and plates

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    1. Jz only glazed and fired the baker. He never worked the ram press, he was a thrower for this company. But like the plate, I have lots and lots of his pots!

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  3. I turned on the TV at 6 AM and saw an infomercial from Keith Urban, He is selling fine "handcrafted" guitars with a CD instructional set for $299.You even see video of someone doing some hand carving on a headstock. Come on folks, too good to be true, No F 'in way. What ever you buy, you should have an honest understanding of how it was made. Given that, it doesn't matter too much what you call it

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    1. and it's amazing to think that some people believe at $299 that guitar is handcrafted! When you visit this particular pottery's retail store, there is a glass window to the production room. Visitors can see potters throwing pots, ram pressers at work and decorators doing slip trailing.

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  4. What comes up in my brain is the "no 2 alike" thought...which a hand crafted series will definitely show...and then there's the difference between a "studio potter" and a "production potter."

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    1. The majority of this company's work is wheel thrown. Each potter stamps the pot with his or her own chop, along with the company stamp. Jeff can go through the pots we have here and can almost always identify who the decorators where.

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  5. I updated the post this morning, to include a photo of a thrown pot from this company.

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  6. Super nice dish.
    We all have different ways of making. I wouldn't down anyone for using tools of the trade. However I do feel that disclosure to the buyer is only fair. If the piece is slip cast, wheel thrown, hand-built or ram pressed, say so. If a maker is proud of what they do, maybe they should offer more information than just a word like "handmade" or "handcrafted". Just my opinion.

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  7. Good topic. I now of a pottery that uses a ram press for some of their pieces and I have heard comments, both good and bad about that, but it can make sense from a time stand point. So, yes, disclosure might be the best answer.

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