Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ode to the Cheese Slicer

Last spring, while taking a class at the Baltimore Clayworks with Jim Dugan I learned how to use a cheese slicer in order to add texture to the exterior of a vessel. I know this sounds simple enough, but I'm absolutely fascinated with my cheese slicer, and am hooked on the results. How does this work, you might ask? I have included a video showing how I make spiral facets on a mug form. It is basically using the cheese slicer to remove sections of clay in a variety of patterns. This leaves texture on the surface of the piece, which works really well in wood-fired and salt-fired kilns.  Aside from a spiraled texture, the cheese slicer may also be used to take smooth sections away, "boxing" in the sides of the piece. This can be seen in the photos of pieces made during the Baltimore Clayworks class.

Mug made at Baltimore Clayworks Spring 2010
Historically, potters used numerous tools in order to make texture. The Thompson family potters of Morgantown, West Virginia in the 19th-century used ribs, both wooden and some ribs of animals (look for an upcoming article in Ceramics in America highlighting the tools and techniques of these potters). Their tools are in the collection of the Smithsonian. I once helped butcher a goat, kept the bones in the freezer, but never got around to using them! When I was in Höhr-Grenzhausen, Germany in 2007 I had the opportunity to meet Elisabeth Dietz-Bläsner who operates Töpferhof Mühlendyck, which was begun by Frau Dietz-Bläsner's grandfather. Dietz-Bläsner uses a technique which has been used on Höhr-Grenzhausen pottery for centuries.
By using a flat-sided tool Dietz-Bläsner made a rocking motion while slowly moving the tool from left to right. This created a zig-zag texture. She had numerous sizes for the same tool giving her a range of options for the designs she made. Below are images of wares from 16th-18th century Germany which also used this technique. All of the pieces below are in the collections of the Keramikmuseum Westerwald.  
Two different patterns created on the shoulder and neck of the jug using the same tool
This piece was textured in rows with a broader flat-sided tool


sjpots said...

I want that tool to do the bottom piece
What is it shaped like, It fills me with buring passion that I should be embaressed by. But I am not
Diaper cut is what the german stoneware books calls it.

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