The Making of a Greek Pot
This month I’m going to discuss a tool that has captured my imagination for nearly 40 years: THE POTTER’S WHEEL. It started for me in Orange County California in 1976 at Irvine High School. For my P.E. class I was taking surfing and the instructor also taught Ceramics. It didn’t take me long to figure out that all the cool kids not only took surfing, but took Ceramics for second period, so if the waves were particularly good, the surf class would just stay and surf all the way through second period!
Thirty years later, I am still doing ceramics, primarily because of my fascination with the potter’s wheel, which is a relatively new invention in the history of pottery making. Originally functional vessels made of clay were constructed using a coiling technique. The artist would roll out “ropes” of clay and slowly, methodically, hand turn a small form by placing the coils on top of each other and pinching each coil into the one beneath it. Although this time honored method can be very slow and tedious in terms of production, there are still many cultures in the world that use this technique to create functional ceramic containers.
The potter’s wheel was born out of necessity. There are many theories, but all agree it was a matter of industrialization that brought about its creation. Recently I found a few video clips in my inbox that Brent (owner of Eye of the Day) had shot on the Island of Crete. They are an intimate look at the processes used in the production of the authentic Greek vessels Eye of the Day sells. The pieces are wheel thrown but on a wheel that is hand cranked by a potter’s assistant. The clay is made into fat coils, and added to the clay beneath it by pinching. Then the assistant spins the wheel faster and the potter begins to lift the clay into a form. It is particularly fascinating that Greece employs both old and new world techniques. They start with a slab of clay for the bottom, and work their way up by coiling, and pinching, and finally throwing the clay into shape. In the videos you see that there are multiple wheels working at once with vessels on each, in different stages of completion. When the clay needs to rest on one wheel,, the potters move in succession to each wheel down the line, until returning to the beginning to continue working toward a finished piece. These pieces are then fired and shipped directly to Eye of the Day.
We are very lucky to have this direct connection to handmade vessels for our garden design needs. The next time you are at Eye of the Day, remember what it takes for the artisans who build these vessels to deliver such an authentic and timeless piece of history for our own daily aesthetic.