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Cultural and Material Adoption and Adaptation, Tin Glazes from East to West and back again.

A few years ago, I found myself on a very long flight from Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates returning home from a project. Tired of reading I put on my headphones and proceeded to watch Mad Men. In the scene pictured I noticed the ceramic coffee cups. Having been trained as a potter from an early age, and familiar with that type of ware, I was reminded of the first time I became curious about ceramics, and design, and how these seemingly common objects connect us to a larger world, and to human history. As a boy, I would sit with my family at the kitchen table and reach out to take a sip from a brightly colored ceramic cup that I’d drank from countless times. The bottom was an earthy red/brown and the body, the surface was glazed white and decorated in yellows, ocher and a floral pattern. There was an outline scratching through the white ground to reveal the clay body below. I found myself fascinated by this seemingly banal “every day” object that I’d never given much thought to before. Turning over the cup, I discovered it had been made in Trenton, NJ. A place not too far from where I grew up; a town whose slogan had been “Trenton Makes and the World Takes.”

Stangl famous for a type of Faience dinnerware, was America's first open stock solid-color dinnerware manufacturer. Stangl went so far as to Patent their “invention”, in spite of it being based on a tin glaze method that according to scholars like Alan Caiger-Smith, is based on innovations by 9th century Persian potters who added tin oxide to their glazes to opacify them and then paint over-glaze decorations with cobalt, iron, and copper. For over one thousand years, this technique influenced ceramic glaze methods and styles in maiolica, faience and delftware from the Islamic world and Europe across the Atlantic to the Americas.

According to the late potter and scholar Alan Caiger-Smtih, “Traditions are like rivers. The main river can be mapped and measured. Tributaries feed it… it widens and is merged with the sea. Its source is often unknown. Has the idea of a beginning any meaning except as a theoretical point on a map? So it is with the tradition of tin-glaze ware: the main tradition is clear, but the beginnings are lost to history.

Cobalt on a tin glazed bowl, Iran/IraqCobalt on a tin glazed bowl, Iran/Iraq

The earliest archeological examples can be traced back to the middle east, Mesopotamia, about the ninth century. Tin glaze potteries are thought to have existed at or near Bagdad and on the eastern bank of the Nile River south of modern Cairo, etc., but who can say there were not many others, perhaps more will be uncovered over time. That said, from the sixth century through to today we can trace a fascinating migration and evolution of ceramic techniques across the globe from China, India, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, the Mediterranean, Europe and the Americas.

Tin glazed bowl with cobalt and copper over glaze decorationTin glazed bowl with cobalt and copper over glaze decoration

As we trace this history we might ask some questions such as:

• How do materials, motifs, and ideas travel across the globe?

• What happens when they arrive at a destination?

• How does art from one culture change or inspire the art of another?

• By considering some of these questions, we can explore the kinds of art that may be made when cultures meet.

My Cup Runneth Over 8
Plate, GermanTin glazed ceramic with cobalt over glaze decoration
Apocathary Jar, ItalianTin glazed jar
Basin, MexicanTin glazed ceramic basin
Plate, FrenchTin glazed plate with cobalt over glaze decoration
Portrait Plate, ItalianTin glazed majolica plate
Large Presentation Plate, SpanishTin and lustre glazed ceramic
Platter, EnglishTin glazed ceramic

Class: Reimagining Tableware as a Sculptural Landscape


Reimagining Tableware as a Sculptural Landscape

Changing attitudes and emerging social behaviors in food preparation and the social and cultural rituals of eating have lead to changes in the way tableware is made and used. In this short course we will explore historical and contemporary forms of table ware design. Through lectures, class discussion, research and making through drawing, modeling and prototyping in clay we will consider new categories of tableware and new roles for familiar as well as sculptural pieces. If you’re wondering what are the most appropriate forms and designs to use in your work, you’ll gain a better understanding of what’s current and gain an appreciation of the challenges and opportunities makers confront in their creative practice.

Tuesdays July 07 through August 25, 2020. 11:00 AM-1:00 PM EST
Level:  Intermediate / Advanced
Space is limited

Register online at Greenwich House Pottery

In this workshop I will focus on paper templates, slab, coil, and pinched forms used to make everything from plates and bowls to mugs and handles. We will discuss shapes as well as approaches to design, ranging from the practical and ergonomic to the poetic, and playful. 

For this workshop, you will need a computer with Zoom. Students are welcome to act upon the project prompts and try the techniques with me as we progress from week to week. I have found its best to use the class time on zoom to sit back and take notes. The sessions will be recorded and sent to students for future reference. I’m excited to invite you into my studio to share craft strategies and answer questions about the process of making. I will send an email with a Zoom link with details to registered students before the Tuesday workshops. 

This series of workshops requires a few tools. This list of suggested tools is not required for the workshop but may help when you try it on your own. 

  • Clay
  • Banding wheel
  • Scoring tool (a fork will do) 
  • Sharp knife 
  • Metal or rubber rib 
  • Small container for water 
  • Paintbrush 
  • Rolling Pin 
  • A bat or board 
  • Paper for templates (Tarpaper also known as “roofing felt” can be found at any hardware home center. Typical grades are 15 lb. and 30 lb. weight, which indicates the thickness. I like to use the sturdier 30 lb. grade for making templates for large forms.)
  • Utility Knife and/or Scissors
  • Cutting Surface (you can use a board or a self-healing cutting matt) 
  • Pencils 
  • Tape 
  • Sketchbook