Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jomon Pottery Class

This weekend I will be teaching a clay workshop through Larson Gallery. The class is for kids and families, but unaccompanied adults are also welcome. Last year I taught a clay workshop in which we built ceramic bells. This year I will be focusing on Jomon inspired pots.

Jomon pottery. This piece, or one very similar was used to advertise my workshop

Jomon Pottery comes from the prehistoric Jomon civilization in Japan. The name comes from the rope texture impressed into the wet clay when building, though the most recognizable pots are known for their complex coil surfaces and multilevel decorative rims. The pots were used for cooking, though the more complicated pots with flame shaped rims were likely used for ceremonial cooking rather than purely functional cooking.

look at the inside edge of the farthest "flame"

I often show these pots to both my wheel pottery students and my hand-building classes at YVCC. For the wheel students, I point out the characteristics that make these forms inconvenient for contemporary daily use and ask them to consider how they might have been used in their original context. The bases tend to be narrow compared to the tops. At first this seems like a poor design choice, but remember that these pots weren't set on tables in prehistoric Japan. The pots were often put down into the fire for cooking, so that the base was actually buried. In refreshing my memory on Jomon dates today (the pots I'm talking about are 2500-1500 BCE), I read that some of these forms, particularly earlier forms, actually had rounded or pointed bases, pointing to their function in the earth rather than on a flat surface. (Did you know that ancient greek wine amphorae also had pointed bases? It is because of how they were transported in the bottoms of ships.)

The smooth interior contrasts with the linear swirls and gaps at the top and the complex patterned base

The tops of the elaborate forms are fairly fragile, compared to today's dishwasher safe bowls and microwavable  mugs. Just imagine serving stew out of these forms, there are plenty of places to rest the spoon, but I can imagine clumsy servers would perpetually be bumping their spoons into the sides of the pot.

The surface of this Jomon Pot reminds me of the linear texture and swirling movement of Starry Night by Van Gogh.

I show Middle Jomon Pottery forms to my hand-building classes because they have such interesting surfaces. They are clearly well-crafted for so many to have lasted so long. The coil patterned surfaces and deep textures are varied and interesting. The form of the rims and the surfaces look like contemporary art with their beautiful, expressive designs. Beginning hand-builders often get so caught up in shaping their forms and making them smooth that they are afraid to take risks, like attaching irregular coils. These pots are full of holes and negative spaces built into the rim but also onto the sides of these forms. (The lugs and loops on the sides of these pots look like places to attach rope for hanging or carrying, but I haven't checked my facts and my Ancient Japanese Art History class was more than a decade ago, so don't quote me.)

Late Jomon figurines (dogu) were also highly textured and visually interesting

Sunday at the workshop, I plan to show the students pictures of Jomon pottery, but also bring examples of coil-built forms that aren't specifically Jomon in inspiration or origin. We will focus on coil-building techniques in general and I will also bring some fun tools for creating textures in the wet clay. Jomon pottery will be the inspiration point for pressing materials (like rope) into wet clay and for building interesting surfaces out of coils and attached pieces of clay. I called yesterday to ask about enrollment. It appears the class will include kids age 7 and 12, as well as high schoolers and adults. Should be an interesting mix.

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