By Thomas Birnie, Apr 15 2014 06:13PM
What Does Handmade Mean When It Comes To Pottery?
The use of the word ‘handmade’ as terminology to describe the process of pottery making is debated frequently in the ceramic world. The ambiguity comes from the loose definition in the dictionary;
“made by hand, not by machine” plus the confusion new technology brings and the overlap in the different processes.
I define handmade pottery in the most common and traditional way, that is to say, in which the majority of the public would understand when they hear ‘handmade’. Handmade pottery is made by hand, and therefore I would not class ram pressed or slipcast pottery as handmade. Handcrafted yes, hand-finished of course, but not handmade in the traditional sense; pottery shaped using the hands, be it on a wheel, or hand built.
What About Glazes/Kilns And Wheels?
I hope one day to make my own glazes, to experiment with recipes, because of a deep inner need to create, to explore raw materials. I see myself one day building my own kick wheel and a fire kiln, simply to satisfy my own ‘I made that’ enthusiasm.
However, I don’t consider it necessary for a potter to have to use glaze recipes of their own design, or create pots using a purpose built kick wheel and wood fired kiln in order for it to be considered hand made. That’s nonsense, it gives one’s pottery a different aesthetic and certainly requires more nuanced skill to successfully make and fire and one would price accordingly for that, but the pottery, in essence, is still handmade whether it’s making is more in keeping with tradition than contemporary means.
Now for the ‘grey areas’, where it’s not as simple as asking the question, “well was it thrown on a wheel or made from a slipcast mould?”. Here’s how I define ‘handmade’:
Process A: A slipcast pitcher body with a hand pulled handle
Process B: A slipcast pitcher with an extruded handle
Process C: A thrown pitcher body with a cast handle
Process D: A thrown pitcher body with an extruded handle or mould sprigs.
Verdict: A and B are not handmade; the body is the predominant component of the piece, which has not been made by hand. Handmade pieces or parts are considered ‘building components’ and do not constitute the final piece as being handmade, hand-finished would be more fitting.
Someone once said ‘well pots don’t jump off the presses and out of the jiggers and moulds ready to go”, but then toilets do not jump out of the mould, glaze themselves and run into the kiln, but it would be ridiculous to assume toilets are handmade!
Transparency And Integrity
Of course, I’m certainly not dismissing work made by other means – that’s absurd! A top quality cast piece that has detailed decorating can have a lot more time invested in it than a plain thrown or hand built pot. Art is art, and beauty is subjective. Still I would feel wrong to class that process as handmade, it muddles meanings at best, and at worst deliberately passes off work as made in a certain way when it was not, deceiving the public. Of course this happens in all areas of art and manufacturing – one only has to take a look into cabinet-makers in the furniture world!
I believe it’s incredibly important for potters to be honest about their methods, and to educate the public about the differences between the processes; tell-tale signs and why it might be important. I hope that by using terms in a more defined way, I am helping explain my own process of making pottery more clearly, and giving you an interesting look into the discussions of the ceramic world!