Skip to main content

About

About Jane and the Pottery

Added: Sun, Oct 29, 2006

Michael Cardew

Michael Cardew

I was lucky enough to discover a love of clay and pot-making by the time I was about six. I made a whole circus, though the teacher kept everything except the “tall man.”

By the time I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1977 I knew I wanted to be a potter. It took many months and a one way ticket to England to land an apprenticeship with Michael Cardew. He was my most important teacher. Michael Cardew gave me the chance to live a life completely immersed in pottery. He confirmed for me that the things I cared most about were right and proper. He set a wonderful example, by being utterly true to himself.

I’ve been making pots "by the grace of Grace" ever since completing my apprenticeship. Grace Knowlton is a sculptor and painter who very generously has shared her property and inspiration with me (as well as her humor!) since 1980.

Currently I am setting up a second pottery in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. Here I have the luxury of enough space to process locally dug clay. This immersion in materials is very inspiring for me, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it will lead!

Process

Added: Sun, Oct 29, 2006

Pottery for me is a selfish endeavor. I make pots to ensure that I have beauty and pleasure and sensuousness in everyday life. It gives me great pleasure to share these qualities and make them available to others. I seek ways of working that help let the sort of natural beauty and physical warmth I value come out in my pots.

Clay

I use a not-too-forgiving clay body that helps me recapture the feeling of a beginner at the wheel, searching and striving for the shapes I want. It keeps me from slipping into slickness or making the pots too thin. I like the clay to have enough character to be felt through the glazes. I want the pots to be alive, to have flesh on the bones.

Kick wheel

I throw on a kick wheel, or an even slower treadle wheel, with very soft clay. I work in series, but not in a rush. The slow wheel will not make hard, fast profiles any more than a very slow-moving crayon will make a hard, fast line. I try to avoid “doing” things to my pots, trusting that good form and human sensibilities have been evolving together for thousands of years. I trust I’m a part of that slow, evolutionary process, and that if I’m lucky occasionally I’ll make something that just sings.

Glaze

I glaze and decorate many of the pots while they are raw and still fresh in my mind, still soft and impressionable. And then I fire with wood. Firing with wood is a completely different experience from firing with gas or electricity.

Bee-hive kiln & wood firing

The kiln is a 6 foot diameter, round, down-draught bee-hive kiln with four fireboxes and a fairly tall chimney. I preheat during the day and start the fires in earnest by 6 PM, finishing the firing the next evening in time for a late supper. Firing takes about 24 hours all told, excluding the preheat. It’s like a long, slow dance, with a few fast numbers thrown in here and there. Three people can do the work. I burn hardwood to preheat and pine for the rest of the firing. The smaller it’s split, the easier the firing. How all this commitment of time and work shows in the pots is sometimes obvious, and sometimes very subtle. But it does affect me. It keeps me caring and involved in a way that a gas firing simply can not do. And ultimately, that caring is what helps me to make good pots.

"good pots"

What does "good pots" mean? It means pots that are no less than they should be. They are made with an open heart and relaxed consciousness, and a generous spirit. I hope they escape the insidious meanness of modern industrial standards, and the aggressiveness of much contemporary handmade pottery. They are as human and warm as I can make them, natural as opposed to contrived, made with sensibility but not self-consciousness. Good pots add comfort, grace and beauty to life, they become old friends, reminding us of what’s important, slowing us down, helping to restore us to our senses. My pots have to be touched to be known, and they really aren’t complete until someone takes them home and uses them.

Michale Cardew bowl and portrait of Natalie Herold

"The beauty of a pot ought to be a natural consequence of its usefulness, just as a man’s happiness ought to be a natural consequence of his work." - Michael Cardew