My blog was established in conjunction with my participation in FOLK-F121 "World's Arts and Cultures" at Indiana University, Fall 2007.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Pottery making

Over the weekend I had the perfect opportunity to be able to watch my uncle make a clay pot from scratch. It’s something he’s been doing for about thirty years. He learned when he was ten years old from watching his father. Back then they lived in Illinois on a farm where clay was very plentiful. About one time out of the year, my grandfather and my uncle would walk out to the edge of the farm where the clay was, dig it up, and come back to my grandfather’s workshop to make the pots. It was only a hobby for my uncle and grandfather, not a way they made a living. It was just something fun for them to do together about one or two times a year. This weekend, I went to Illinois with my family to visit my grandparents for their fiftieth anniversary party. While we were there, my uncle decided that he wanted to make a clay pot as a gift to them. I realized that this would be the perfect opportunity to watch someone make something from scratch for the encounter project that has to do with material culture. I asked my uncle if I could follow him around while he made the pot.

The first thing we did was walk to the edge of their plot of land where the clay is prominent. It had just rained their, and according to my uncle that was a good thing because it made it easier to dig the clay out of the ground. We only took about 1/4th of a wheelbarrow worth of clay back to my grandfather’s workshop to make the pot. The first thing he did was put the clay in this huge tub of warm water. My uncle explained to me that it helps soften the clay, making it easier to mold. He said the key was to not leave it in there for too long, otherwise it would get too soft, and be unable to be sturdy. The next step was to put the clay through a machine that my uncle called the wedger. This mixes the clay to give it the same consistency.

The next thing my uncle did was take the clay out of the wedger and play with it. He was trying to make sure that it was the perfect consistency it needed to be for his next step, which is molding the pot. He took the clay he wanted to use and put it on the electric spinner. He said that when he and my grandfather made pots, they had to use a manual spinner that they had to keep spinning by pushing on a pedal at the bottom, but now they make electric spinners that you plug in and can control how fast they spin by turning a knob. Needless to say he likes the electric spinner better. He uses water and the spinner to mold the shape of the pot he wants. In this case, he just wanted a simple pot, so it didn’t take him any time at all to mold it. Once the pot was formed, my uncle glazed it with a formula that he and my grandfather made up to help keep the in the pot form. Finally, he put the pot in this storage heater overnight. The next day, we came back out and the pot was finished. I asked if he was going to color it, but my uncle said that he and my grandfather were never interested in dying the clay to make it nice colors. They just liked the process of making a pot.

I asked if they ever sold the pots or jars they made, and my uncle said no. He said that they didn’t do this often, and that when they were done making pots, they wanted to keep them for sentimental value. So, in my grandfather’s workshop there is a collection of pots, jars, and milk jugs.