On the wheel again: hands on clay in Oaxaca

I have been missing the pottery studio while on a break in DC, and  decided to get back to it.

ImageNo, that’s not me.  This is me.


A few Thursdays back, a door on Calle Cosijopi that had been closed as I passed dozens of times was open, revealing an art studio.  I went in, found out they did clay, and waaaaaaaaaaay in the back had a wheel.  A kickwheel.

I had to ponder trying that, but in fact went back the next afternoon to start a class.  The class started with my having to haul the wheel from the back to this sunnier place right in a doorway and then smearing my own wet clay on a plaster bat to dry in the sun for 15 minutes before I peeled it up and wedged it myself.

When I told some Eastern Market potter friends about the kickwheel, they said, “It’s more meditational,” and “I liked how quiet it was — I could listen to birds and throw.”  Those are both piles of crap, Holly, Sara and Jenny.  Using a kickwheel is not for the uncoordinated.  You want your upper body stable to center the clay and pull it up, and you can’t do that when one leg is flailing about erratically, can you?  By definition you are throwing yourself off balance at 100 RPMs.

All I could manage so far were four small bowls and 10 buckets of sweat.


Since then, while those little masterpieces were drying,  I visited Atzompa, just outside Oaxaca, a town known for its green-glazed pottery (all the industries are segregated that way).  There I walked around a couple of the work yards, behind the shops, and saw the gal at the top there, the mother of a potter who seemed to be doing a lot of work for him, schlepping his pots from the drying lot up to the kiln.  He has worked all his life kicking the wheel.

This is what Oliver Sacks says about Oaxacan pottery:  The clay needs three weeks to dry.  There is not glazing, but rather a sort of polishing, with what looks like a lump of quartz, then the pottery is fired at 800°F in a closed oven, which restricts the oxygen available.  This causes the metallic oxides within the clay to convert to their metallic form, and the pottery will take on a brilliant sheen with this. The ores in the area are especially rich in iron and uranium—I will be interested, when I return home, to see if these pots are magnetic, and to test them for radioactivity with a Geiger counter.

In fact, I did “glaze” my little pots, but in a primitive way.  The studio has no kiln, so they’re off being fired at someone else’s place now.

ImageYou’ll never see these again.


3 responses to “On the wheel again: hands on clay in Oaxaca

  1. Did you take any photos of the green glazed pottery? I’d love to see what it looks like.

  2. Thanks for sharing your initial kickwheel experiences. Hats off to you for being open to trying this and for creating such neat pots. I am jealous.


  3. Polly: I’ll find a picture. I actually am not that fond of it, or not the pots it’s on, anyway. It’s significant that the sellers are very quick to say, “sin plombo,” lead-free, since it traditionally had lead. (I think lots of good glazes do or did.) I would not trust that completely.

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