Sunday, January 6, 2013

Making Movies


Bisque Fired Puzzle Jugs
Shane Porter and I in the studio
The London clay experiments had to play second fiddle to getting the video's completed. I had made several puzzle jugs which was necessary to film the throwing and construction process in one session. I then needed to bisque fire them in order to film the glazing and decorating phase during the next filming. Luckily my assistant Shane Porter an MFA student from The Royal College of Art  arrived just in time- his first task / opportunity- to sieve the delft glaze. I  had made a 'proper' batch which needed to be large enough, about 10 k, to film glazing- dipping and turning the puzzle jug. Shane was pretty surprised at how long it took to sieve but I was delighted to have the help since up to this point I was operating mostly solo and I was furiously trying to get the entire agate project from model and mold making for all the parts- to clay formulating and testing as well as delft and creamware glazes before making the larger batches. Shane is terrific and one of the amazing young artists coming out of the RCA ceramic and glass program.

Measuring the 18th Century Agate Teapot from the V&A
Still Juriaan Booij
I left off on the agate project where a collaborative effort resulted in a discovery while filming. Senior curator of ceramics and glass Reino Liefkes, associate curator Catrin Jones, their intern Kate Quinlan and Ruth Lloyd my residency coordinator were all engaged while I was trying to create the form for the pectin shell teapot model. I began by throwing a form based on measurements from the original and an image of the piece scaled up 10% larger than actual size to account for shrinkage.

Trying to determine the the underlying form in order to recreate it is harder than it may seem because the agate pattern obscures the shape of the piece to the eye. Using non invasive conservators putty we decided to take a small impression of the crown of the shell relief at the shoulder.  When I then pressed a piece of clay into the silicon putty impression taken off the period example the solid clay without the busy pattern clearly revealed the form.
Reino suggested it looked much like a shell impression I had made from a scallop shell mold I brought with me that I cast during the Bonnin and Morris project Making a Pickle Stand in Ceramics in America 2007.
Shell Mold from Bonnin and Morris Project
Still Juriaan Booij
I agreed it looked very similar and I decided to compare the size shape number of lobes etc to the shell mold and to our surprise it was damn close to the scaled up image of the original agate teapot. I decided to cut the thrown model I had started and press it into my shell mold to see how close it would come to approximating the original. So we then shifted to the premise that this teapot, unlike the salt glazed stoneware block mold, contemporary to it, of a 'shell like' form was in fact a literal natural shell form.

Cutting my thrown model in half  to press into the shell mold.
Film still  Juriaan Booij
Marking the 'growth rings with a compass.
Film Still Juriann Booij

Various experiments with when creating the original form.
The revelation that this particular teapot form was really meant to closely imitate a natural shell or was in fact taken directly from a natural shell is more than just a technology insight it cuts to the very core of the enigmatic nature of this genre of ceramics within the larger landscape of the global industrial powerhouse the Staffordshire potteries had become. The salt glaze teapot block mold I chose to put on display in my case has a form much more conducive to the function of a teapot. This block mold, used to produce molds for casting and press molding salt glaze examples , has a more baroque character where the design approach for the model is a stylized shell sculpted into a functional teapot shape incorperating a combination high relief from modeling and surface relief created by incising into the plaster cast of the model to further embellish the elaborate shell. 

The design of the agate teapot however relies on both  the complexity of the fabric which by nature of the technique is inherently individual to each piece, and couples that stone-like patterned clay (with origins Chinese antiquity) with the decidedly purist approach to the form of a natural scallop shell mirrored on both sides, a classical design and one where the art of the form supersedes it's adaptation to functionality. This becomes very evident when looking at the piece 'head on'. The unusual form of the agate pectin shell teapots I have reproduced in the past has always seemed puzzling but it was not until I had the chance to live with the original in my V&A studio case that it finally became clear that there is something unique and telling about the design and development of this elite ware.

Below are the salt glaze block mould and a teapot taken from similar mould both in the V&A collection

Shell dish form in the study cases Room 138 the V&A Ceramics Galleries

The Staffordshire salt-glazed pickle dish in the center has similar characteristics to the agate pectin shell teapot though simpler and smaller it's clear this dish has a related approach.

The press molded shell forms I made from my 'Bonnin and Morris' shell mold were very close but still needed a lot of manipulation to match the form of the teapot I was working from. All of the other elements had to be modeled and molded and the lid and finial required some carving into the molds once cast.

The models and molds I created to form all the parts of the agate teapot.

Incising into the teapot lid to create relief this is easily seen on the white salt examples above but again was almost undetectable as an element in the 18th century agate piece until close inspection.
Film still Juriaan Booij
I formulated the agate clays using all UK materials and managed to get some really nice cobalt manganese and iron clays with only a couple of test firings fortunately since that is all the time I had.

Manganese Iron and Cobalt earthenwares I formulated for agate.
Film still Juriaan Booij
Fired clay and glaze tests for the agate,  press molding of  'laid agate' is integral to the process so in order to get good tests of the clays the full agate technique has to be done and press molded to maintain the integrity of the pattern.  in this case into the shell mold and a skull mold. 
The film on this process will be available to see online on the V&A Channel and Artbabble soon so I won't elaborate on the steps in between but the resulting teapot in it's unfinished state is shown here to illustrate the almost precarious form that defines the character of this piece.
The leather hard agate teapot after construction showing the profile of the 'classical' form next to the fired clay and glaze test.

A hard days work! 

1 comment:

  1. Michele, this is great to see. I worked with the MFABoston on an informational video about a case of staffordshire teapots. One was very like the agateware shell piece. I sent your blog to the curator. I think seeing your process and especially the molds you made will help them to understand better. As a potter, it was thrilling to handle these old pots, to feel the hand to hand connection to the history of clay, as you were so fortunate to do at V and A.