[Clayart] Handmade

Lis lis.allison at primus.ca
Fri Aug 5 11:42:00 UTC 2022

Well, I certainly agree with what you wrote, David. What gets me these 
days is all the potters switching to underglaze transfers and calling 
their work hand made. I had someone come to my booth at a sale and ask 
me to make her a large number of a certain item, and to decorate them 
using the underglaze transfer she had purchased. Needless to say, I 
refused. My work is made by hand (your definition) and hand painted. If 
I wanted to machine-make pottery, I might as well go work in an office 
instead. At least then I'd make real money!


On 2022-08-04 7:12 p.m., David Hendley wrote:
> On 8/4/2022 8:32 AM, Lis wrote:
>> So true! I know of one potter whose mugs were $46 last year (don't 
>> know what they are this year), and they are not really hand made. At 
>> least not in my opinion. Underglaze transfers and slip casting are 
>> taking a bite out of the hand made market.
>> I'd be interested to hear opinions on what constitutes 'hand made'. 
>> Is slip casting hand made? Is stuff made on a RAM press 'hand made'? 
>> Are underglaze transfers 'hand decorating'? Where do each of you draw 
>> the line? Or do  you just not say in your marketing materials?
>> I don't mean to be judgemental, just would like to know what the 
>> current thinking is.
>> Lis
> This has been the second most asked question on Clayart since its 
> inception.
> (#1 is, does anyone have a good non-crazing cone 6 clear?)
> Here's what I wrote about 25 years ago (published in Ceramics Monthly 
> in 1999).
> I have maybe become a little more lenient in my old age, but I still 
> think the term
> 'handmade' is inaccurately overused and abused.
> David Hendley
> david at farmpots.com
> www.farmpots.com
> In Ceramics, “Handmade” Still Means “Hand” Made
> What exactly does it mean to call a piece of pottery handmade? At 
> first glance, it might seem obvious; it’s either handmade or it isn’t. 
> Well, in taking a look around craft shows and talking to potters, I’ve 
> found that the definition of “handmade” mostly depends on who is doing 
> the talking. Of course any potter you talk to at a craft show 
> considers their work handmade; what they consider not handmade is any 
> work that uses more advanced or automated technologies than they use.
> This has probably gone on for millennia. The potters in ancient Egypt 
> were probably pretty hacked off when some guy built the first potter’s 
> wheel and started turning out pots ten times faster than the 
> handbuilders. They probably considered these pots “machine made” and 
> less valuable than their truly handmade pots. Thousands of years 
> later, the wheel-throwing potters were probably none too happy when 
> some mechanical wizard figured out a way to make a motor turn his 
> wheel, and was able to increase production while doing less work. “Not 
> really handmade,” they probably argued, because a machine was taking 
> over what the potter used to do. Of course, it wasn’t long before 
> someone else added an arm and a mold head to the motor-driven wheel, 
> and the jiggering wheel came into being. The throwers argued, I’m 
> sure, that their work was far superior because it took more skill to 
> make each piece without a jigger mold and it was thus “authentically 
> handmade”.
> Recently a potter friend came by to visit and showed me one of his 
> mugs. It had been slip-cast in a mold. The mold was made from a 
> wheel-thrown cup with a pulled handle, and, I’ll tell you, that mug 
> sure looked hand-thrown with a pulled handle, right down to the finger 
> wipes that attached the lower end of the handle. Since I had this 
> “What is handmade?” question on my mind, I asked him if he considers 
> his mugs handmade. Well, he does, and he started telling me about all 
> the time and effort required to cast the mug, clean up the mold lines, 
> glaze and decorate it, and fire and finish it.
> So, are there any absolutes? Is there a line that can’t be crossed if 
> a piece is still to be called “handmade”? Does process matter? I say 
> “yes” to all these questions. First, let me make it perfectly clear 
> that “handmade” does not mean “good” and “not handmade” does not mean 
> “bad”. We’ve all seen examples of horrendous handmade pottery, like 
> those lop-sided boat anchors that somehow made it past the critique in 
> Ceramics 101. Likewise, there are many examples of elegantly designed 
> and beautifully crafted factory-made pottery. In fact, many artistic 
> and talented people working in ceramics are not even concerned with 
> the process of pottery making. To them, the ceramic form is just a 
> “canvas” for painting.
> Unlike most art and craft media, the potter’s hands are the primary 
> tools used to make pottery. The wood-worker needs a saw and a drill, 
> the stone sculptor needs a hammer and a chisel, and the metalworker 
> needs a torch and a file to shape his work. The potter does his 
> shaping with his hands, and the clay records everything the hands do. 
> This suggests a logical standard for judging whether or not a pot is 
> “handmade”; namely, did a hand shape it? Once any kind of mold or 
> template determines the final shape of the piece, it’s not “hand” 
> made, or “handmade” in the literal sense.
> There are other criteria that are useful for judging a piece of 
> pottery as handmade or not. One is to question how much skill, or 
> training, was required to make the piece. Workers in ceramics 
> factories can be trained in a few days to pour molds or press pottery. 
> On the other hand, learning to skillfully manipulate plastic clay into 
> desired shapes takes years of practice. Yes, I know that great skill 
> and experience was required to make that mold. Well, the mold itself 
> is handmade. Another useful question is, “What would be involved if 
> the design of the piece were changed slightly, say made a half inch 
> wider?” For mass produced pottery this would require a complete 
> retooling, while for a potter shaping plastic clay by hand it would 
> simply mean that she would start with a little more clay and remember 
> to make the form a little wider. It is this quick and easy evolution 
> of form that allows an accomplished potter to grow and to breathe life 
> into her continuously refined work.
> Like so many terms used in business and government, and indicative of 
> the times, the word “handmade”, as applied to pottery, has been ever 
> more broadly and inclusively used. This makes the word meaningless at 
> best, and downright misleading at worst. I say it’s time buck the 
> trend of the 90’s and narrowly define the word. “Handmade” means 
> shaped with the hands, period. Jiggered work is not handmade, pressed 
> work is not handmade, and slip cast work is not handmade, no matter 
> how well designed and well made. The exception would be in the case 
> where pressed or cast pieces are twisted, cut apart, or re-assembled, 
> in which case they are really being used as building components.
> So, what about that slip-cast platter that has been so elegantly and 
> meticulously decorated with hours of hand labor? It’s certainly not 
> mass produced or the product of a factory assembly line. Well, it can 
> most definitely be labeled as “limited production”, “individually 
> hand-finished”, or “hand painted”, but, sorry, it’s still not “handmade”.
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