The Great Sawanky Debacle of July 2015

Before we get to the debacle, let me set the scene. I am sat out on the porch enjoying a glass of iced Darjeeling tea, listening to a toy plane buzzing way overhead. Dragonflies and bugs snap and fizz close by, competing for my attention. The air is so alive here in North Carolina, thick with possibility and life. The pecan tree in front of our house is waving quietly in the breeze, casting a shadow over me and despite it being 2p.m., the temperature is relatively pleasant. 

The last couple of weeks at the pottery have been demanding in various ways. We are getting ready to fire the kiln soon, so there has been kiln shelf grinding and prop cleaning to do. We use a heavy duty grinder with a diamond pad for the shelves, which makes the process quite fast, but lifting them onto the sawhorses and back takes its toll. They are thick, made out of silicon carbide and each weighs about 50lbs. The dust gets everywhere, so you have to wear a respirator and full length trousers/shirt; this gets pretty warm in the 95 degree heat. But it's not so bad; living so close by I come home for lunch and can have a shower. We only spend the mornings doing manual labour, and then get to throw pots or decorate them in the afternoons. 

During the last couple of weeks I have been trying to figure out how to throw Sawanky jars. These are an old traditional form originally from a town in Northern Thailand called Sawankhalok. Here is an example below from 14th-15th century. The ones I am throwing will have a similar shape -- Mark has adapted it to his style -- with no handles.

Northern Thai Pottery Jar with Provenance, 14-15th C.
Image from here
Here are the examples I had on the window sill in front of me whilst throwing:

John (the apprentice before me) made the one on the left and Mark made the one on the right.
Mark's is impossibly fat. So fat. So much belly. When you have one on the wheel it seems like if you go any wider then the whole thing will collapse, and indeed often they do as you go for that final widening move. They also often split around the belly.

The first ones I made were nowhere near as fat as these, or anywhere near as large as the demonstration pot Mark threw for me. He told me they looked "boney." I had to agree. They seemed anemic in comparison to those on my window ledge. It's challenging throwing a new form for the first time, but especially when your teacher can stretch the clay so thin and still be in control. There were lots of nearly Sawanky's and not so many actual Sawanky's. But I think it's okay; Mark hasn't been pressuring me to make lots of pots, just to try to get the forms right. He told me that in time I'll be able to make more and they will get lighter. Form is the most important thing for now.

My second attempts. You will read below what happened to my first ones. Spoiler-its not good.
Another challenging feature of the Sawanky are the lids, which are thrown upside down in a domed shape and then trimmed and knobbed the next day. You try to make all of the openings the same width (measuring with calipers) and then take a precise measurement for the inside diameter of the lids. Of course this doesn't work if you drop your calipers and bodge the measurement.

Most of first batch of lids simply did not cut it -- they were way too small. So I had to cover my jars and make more lids, to trim and knob the next day. Even putting the knobs on is tricky. I am getting better at tap centering (making sure the lid is centered before you start trimming), but still this process can take a frustratingly long time. The knobs are small and shaped like little lozenges. Its fiddly work, using one forefinger and a pinky to squeeze the tiny lump of clay into the shape required.

But, and so. Finally. I am finished, I have my set of lids and bodies, ready to be matched up with my fully knobbed lids. Here's where the shit hits the fan.

It was the afternoon after grinding shelves, which is no excuse, but I was more tired than usual. In the process of consolidating the pots from two boards to one, I had them overhanging the bench. Can you guess what happened? Most of the pots were stacked close to me and not enough down at the other end as a counter balance. All at once my board of lids seesawed up and the lids slid off, crashing onto the floor. In trying to save the board I flung my arm out and the board of sawanky's to my left came crashing down too.

Absolute nightmare. Shame washed over me. The humidity coagulated in my head, as if it was about to explode. I felt like screaming. So much work on the floor. But there was some solace. At least they were my pots and not Mark's or Adrian's. It was actually good for me to learn this mistake with my pots, and to be honest (as some of my first attempts at the form), they should have probably ended up in the reclaim anyway. But still, I felt pretty rotten and self-loathing for a while. I think I went home and cleaned the house really thoroughly as penance.

A survivor.
On a lighter note, Mark and Carol have an enormous blueberry bush which is fruiting at the moment, so Adrian and I have been indulging in some berry picking after work. Blueberry porridge as been my staple breakfast and last week I made a blueberry cheesecake which was rather good.

Now for a few other pots...

Some of Adrian's large jars.

Mark's bisqued marbled plates.

Adrian bricking up the bisque kiln

Mark's triangle vases ready to gain some feet
I have also been making some little whisky tumblers recently which are much easier than sawankys...

Example pots from apprentices past.

Four more to fill the board.

Pile of nearly made its behind. At one point this pile was growing faster than the line of acceptable pots.

Close up.

Some bisqued tumblers, ready to be glazed. Red slip with white slip dots/trails.

Black slip with white glaze dots.