Playing With Clay
By Lady Mary of Montevale
Artisans’ Row hosted its first ever Pottery Day on Friday, and it proved to be quite a popular (and delightfully messy) activity for all ages. “Pottery is great for families,” said instructor Baroness Laurens de Vitrolles (Caer Adamant, East). “You can develop your skills as you go along.”
She and other potters at Pennsic decided that a pottery day would be the best solution for overflow attendance at the more traditional pottery classes conducted in previous years. An almost equal mixture of adults and youth were working at four plastic-covered tables on Friday. The day’s heat meant that everyone needed to frequently moisten their clay to keep it from becoming too dry to work with easily.
Sir Ragnar Karlsson (March of Tirnewydd, Middle) brought his daughter Zoe and her best friend Wendy, both age four, and he was busy fashioning two drinking cups, one for each of them. “This is easy kid entertainment,” the novice-to-clay knight explained as he used his palms to roll out long ropes of reddish-brown clay on the tabletop and then coil them to form the cylinder of a cup. Zoe had already used a rubber stamp with a floral pattern to embellish a lozenge-shaped medallion for her mother.
Liz (East) had also chosen to make a cup of coiled clay rope, but instead of smoothing its exterior with her fingers moistened in water, she was using a wooden tool to incise marks evenly along the coils so that the surface of her cup with resemble a woven basket.
Baroness Laurens announced that all the items created at Pottery Day would receive their first, or bisque, firing sometime next week provided that they were sufficiently dried by then. Master Simon de Okewode, who has a kiln at the War, has generously offered space in his third firing of this Pennsic next week.
The dark, damp clay being rolled by hand or large rolling pin on Friday will become a terra cotta (orange) color after that first firing. One way to create a lovely patina of age on the pieces, the Baroness told me, is to rub them with black or brown shoe polish (instead of using a glaze) so the dark color of the polish settles into the 3-D designs stamped or carved into the item.
Her Excellency got involved in pottery when she was an art major in college and has been teaching it in the SCA for about a decade.
Friday she was teaching some older youths and adults about making clay tiles which might be used in a garden or for some decorative purpose indoors. Even with wooden guide strips and rolling pins to guarantee a tile of even depth all over, and with a variety of rubber stamps to make Celtic patterns, medieval flora and fauna, or Oriental chrysanthemums, the tile maker’s hands are going to get dirty. But that’s part of the fun of playing with clay.
A particularly nice tile was being created by Telyn (Æthelmearc) who will be a high school senior this fall. When he was finished, the Baroness came over to inspect his handiwork. “This is the essence of a medieval tile!” she exclaimed to the grinning young man.