Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Because of the way I glaze and the glazes I use, running glazes are the norm for a typical firing. On the odd occasion, I dip a bit too deep or too thick and well, the consequences are enivitable; the glaze runs off the pot. Some of these pots are easily salvageable with a small grind here or there, but there are those others that no amount of grinding, nor all the king’s men, will save those pots. As a female student at CSU was fond of saying; “its Hammer time”. I use clay boxes to collect up the shards of the broken pots and really try to limit breaking as few a pot as possible. Some of the real runners go to friends or family or go along with purchased pots. The ones I break, well honestly, they just need to be broken.

Having had the opportunity to work in Japan and travel about there as well, I can tell you, there are shard piles that rival anything imaginable. At the studio of Kohyama Yasuhisa, there was a shard pile of a different type; back in 1992 (?) a huge mudslide occurred in the midst of his firing his anagama. The anagama and all of its contents were instantly turned into rubble and shards. Poking around the area, there is still evidence of shards littering the area all now overseen by a massive retaining wall behind his property to avoid a repeat. At the home of Tsujimura Shiro, along side the large numbers of finished pots, strewn around his property are large mounds of shards from decades of work. Shigaraki, Iga, Shino, Seto-guro, Kohiki and other styles proliferate these mounds. I just kept thinking, with enough time, energy, patience and glue, what pots could be rebuilt.

Over the years, besides the actual places I have seen in the US and abroad, you hear stories and see pictures of the practices of quality control at work in the shape of small, medium and large shard piles. The stories of the seihakuji and yuteki potters destroying large numbers of pots to maintain an exacting standard are common and retold countless times. I actually have seen photos of Tsukigata Nahiko with a hammer breaking pots I would love to own, with small mounds of shards at his feet. The practice of breaking pots is as old as the practice of making pots. Look around and you will see pot shards as far back as the beginning of man baking clay. Though no one enjoys breaking his/her’s own pots, this is just another (cruel) necessity of pottery making. Not every pot is going to be a winner, not ever pot will survive the fire and surely not every pot will meet up to the standard of the potter themselves.

Illustrated is a group of “failed” Jian ware oilspot pottery shards from Sung Dynasty (960-1279) China though possibly as late as the mid-1400’s and excavated in the 1920’s. These pots were broken intentially as they did not meet a particular standard, they were over fired, under fired, fused together or had excessive debris attached to the glaze surfaces.

(Illustration used with the permission of a private pottery scholar)

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