Friday, September 19, 2008


Teabowl by Tom White, ca 1993, Northfield, MA

When I met Tom White, I was finishing up my last year at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. I had been apprenticing to Michael Cohen, when it was suggested that I spend some time with Tom as his production work at that time revolved around copper reds. My undergraduate thesis was on the chemistry and physics behind copper reds.

About two weeks before Tom's big holiday sale he fell out of a deer stand and suffered some pretty major shoulder and rib injuries. As compensation for me lending a hand getting the studio cleaned up and prepared for the sale, he sent me home with two of the nicest teabowls I have ever held!

Every potter seems to have some "side" life and Tom's is hunting. Some folks have freezers full of Hungry Man Dinners, others have ice cream. Tom's freezer was FILLED with deer, elk, moose and all sorts of other wild game. My holiday bonus was a bag full of venison that made my last Christmas in Amherst a very merry one indeed. To this day I have yet to have a better venison steak!

This post was really supposed to be about feet. I hate getting side tracked but I think it is nigh on impossible to talk about a pot without gleaning something about the potter... so this preface is really more about the insight into the pot... not the potter. Really. Just wait.

Feet. Pots without feet look awkward. Not necessarily wrong, but it's noticeable. Tom's teabowls had the tallest feet I had ever seen at the time. I love how these feet feel in the hand. They BEG to be held. Tom's ongoing study of Asian pottery has informed his style, rather than overwhelming it. I don't think anyone would mistake his teabowl for one from Mashiko, and yet the considerations are similar, albeit different due to distinctions in different cultures. By and large, most Americans wont be whisking green tea in one of Tom White's teabowls. Whiskey, coffee, herbal tea, chai and god knows what else is fair game!

Looking at this teabowl after having used it for the past decade and a half (which admittedly saw this beautiful teabowl boxed up for the past 6 years), I am still taken in by many of the same things that first grabbed me. I love the swirling of the clay. I enjoy the splashing of the multiple glazes Tom used to use. Seeing the small stamping of his chop and other stamps really speaks volumes of how I came to begin my decorating on our current body of work. It all comes 'round I guess.

Details: When I first looked at this teabowl critically (during grad school in Utah) I couldn't believe that someone with Tom's experience would still be dealing with "plucking" on the footring. Plucking is where chunks of your foot bond with the kiln shelf. Kiln wash helps, when the wash is still fresh, but after 10-15 firings, with volatiles like gerstley borate and wood ash, that refractory kiln wash becomes more like a glaze. Then porcelain feet tend to fuse to it. Little did I know then that eventually we ALL deal with plucking and it is a bugger! Fast forward 15 years and we went through a spate of plucking that nearly drove Nancy and I to insanity. Now we add powdered alumina hydrate to our wax. So far, this has solved the problem.

I'd like to address other "foot" issues, but I'll save it for another post. I would love to hear from other potters about their inspirations and how they've lived with those pots, and how they've influenced their work.


Lee Love said...

Hi Alex,

Some Mashiko feet can be pretty bold. Look here:

password: taiko

They really didn't make yunomi in Mashiko before Hamada. It was a lot like Redwing, they made crockery for storage and the kitchen. A few dobin.

I like bold feet. My teacher's feet were pretty subtle, but I like Hamada's and Kawaii's bold feet. Some of Kawaii's were more like pedestals than feet.

Lee in Minneapolis/Mashiko

Alex Solla said...

Wow! Thanks Lee. What an array of teabowls. I love how much of the history of Mashiko you've made more accessible via clayart and your blog.

I think when it comes to feet, I like strong forthright feet. As with shoes, I dont do heels, but I like the feel of new walking shoes or hiking boots. Crocs work too but I wouldnt wear them to the ball.

Thanks for chiming in on the blog.

Patricia Griffin said...

Seems like that's one of the first things potters do when examining a piece: flip it over and check out the feet. I have a couple of Tom Coleman teabowls and I refer back to them often. You can look at a million photos, but there is so much more you can get from holding the piece.

Am enjoying your blog!

Alex Solla said...

There really is so much to be gleaned from a foot. It can be a simple thing like finding a nice seashell spiral, or some flashing and wadding marks. Or it can be a nice soft foot, smoothed by a thumb. What I detest most are pots where the bottoms are disregarded and treated like an afterthought. Just criminal!