Coil Pots

maria martinez

This coiled vessel was made by the late potter, Maria Martinez. Maria worked in the tradition of her families village, the San Ildefanso Pueblo.  The work of Maria is notable in many ways, the first and most obvious is the elegance and mastery of the work, but possibly more significant is the way the these pots draw from a long tradition of forms and making techniques, but push those conventions into contemporary art pieces that engage a modern audience.  Innovation and tradition are hallmarks of the contemporary coil pot.  This video documents Maria’s making process, from digging clay to firing pots and is well work the time to watch.


The history of coiling vessels from clay is nearly as old as fired clay in the archeological record.  Some of the oldest coil pots in the world come from the Jomon culture of Japan.  The earliest of these pots were made around 15,000 years ago.  The oldest are simple cooking pots, but as the culture continued the work became increasingly ornate.

This link is a nice discussion of the history and techniques of Jomon pottery with many good photo illustrations.

Teresa Brooks Coil case

Contemporary ceramists use coils to create a variety of forms that include both sculpture and vessels.  Many artists, such as Teresa Brooks, who made the vase pictured above , combine sculptural principals with more traditional pot forms to create dynamic art pieces that shake up the conventions that are often associated with coil made work.

Pinch Pots

pinch pots

These pinch pots, by Kate Tremel, capture exactly what I love about pinched forms.  Delicately crafted, the rims become landscape and describes perfectly the action of the fingers in making.  Simple glazing accentuates the directness of form.  The only addition to these wonderful bowls, is subtraction in the form of pierced openings in the clay wall which allows the element of light to play in the object in a way that is difficult to achieve in clay.

Simple is truly the defining characteristic of pinch pots, while it is true that making a pinch pot is relatively easy, that makes it all the more challenging to make work that displays innovation and integrity.  One artist who does that perfectly is Priscilla Mouritzen, South African born and living in Denmark, Priscilla’s wood fired pinched forms are some of the finest pots I have ever seen.  The quiet simplicity of form coupled with her rhythmic decorations and the touch of the wood kiln, make each bowl feel like a precious individual.


Especially for my students, here’s a nice video done by Ceramic Arts Daily that gives a good beginning on the basic technique and suggests a direction to expand.


Making Molds for the Empty Room


Making molds for the house that will be used in our upcoming film, The Empty Room, has been the major focus of the last few weeks.  Using the preliminary drawings and the scale model discussed in the last post, Gabe focused on drawing the transfers.  These are done on trace paper, using a soft lead and a light table designed and made by Gabe.



Each of the transfer pages is an exact map of the clay tile that will be built.  The light table is necessary so the transfers are not backward when they are placed on to the clay slab.


The trace paper is laid, graphite down, onto the clay surface and smoothed out.  The paper begins to wrinkle and distort almost immediately so this step must be done quickly and precisely.  Once the sheet has had full contact with the clay and is lightly compressed onto the surface, the paper is removed and the clay is ready to work.


The first step was to trim the borders of the wall.


Next, the masonry joints were pushed into the slab along lines indicated by the transfer sheet using a custom rib that Gabe made for the purpose.  These lines needed to be exactly the correct size and completely uniform, no tool we had, was able to give exactly what we were looking for, so making the tool was necessary.


Once the tile was completed, clay walls were built in preparation for plaster casting.  Shrinkage was a major factor as we need the closest size uniformity possible among the tile molds so each of them was cast no more that 12 to 18 hours after they were made.


Using the paster formula from, the tiles were cast.


We ignored the 1″ border that is conventional in mold making so the tiles could be cut exactly to size, using the mold itself as a guide.  This makes the molds extremely fragile, we are using great care in storage and drying.



Each wall needed its own mold because of the intricacy of the brick detail which is correct for structural brick.   In addition to the brick pattern, the third floor has many architectural details and each of the panels needed a full redesign.  At this point we have 13 molds completed with many internal details to continue to resolve, but it is encouraging to see the project so well on its way.