Monthly Archives: April 2013

Wheel Throwing, Zingdezhen Style….

I’ve been wanting to share some images from a trip to China I made a few years ago.  I went with an NCECA group, and we traveled to the  Porcelain Capitol of China, Zingdezhen.  It’s a small city by Chinese standards,  with about 1.5 million people.  We were told that approximately half the workforce there is involved in the ceramics industry.

There were about 70 of us; potters from all over the United States,  For a  week while we were there, master artisans were brought from all over the region to demonstrated for us.  Here are some pictures of a young man who came to show us wheel throwing, Chinese style, and his two helpers.

In Chinese ceramic industry, there can be strict division division of labor.  I never knew the names of the three guys who demonstrated for us; but one was a thrower, another a trimmer, and the third prepped and wedged all the clay for the thrower.  I can tell you this – they all thought it was completely hilarious that anyone would want to watch them at work.  They were in fine spirits throughout the week, and seemed to be continuously astonished that anyone would be interested in what they did.

The thrower started every day in the same way – by sticking his feet and legs into plastic shopping bags, and then securing the bags around his calves with yellow plastic  tape.  The trimmer did the same.  You can see the bags in this picture….1 The Whole Wheel

Heck with the bags, look at the wheel.  It was on a platform about 20″ high, and the motor was under the wheel head.  You can see a control off to the left for the potter to manage wheel speed.  His bagged feet are set on bats, and the thrower is sitting on a small, square stool.  At left in the photo is the wedger, a slim young guy who just made balls of clay for the thower.  They brought in about 2,000 pounds of clay in pugs for he and the other demonstrators to use; you can see the under the striped sheet – no plastic, just the crazy ambient humidity.

As you can see, the wheel head is down between the throwers’ feet.  I’ve fiddled around a bit in my own studio with this kind of body-to-wheelhead arrangement, and it gives you terrific advantage for large pots.  Without ever having done it before, I could recognize that it was a great  way to make big pots.6 Pulling up the Pot

He’s got almost all the clay here, and is pulling hard off center as he brings it up. His shoulder is right over the top of the pot as he works…  a very  strong position.7 Carrying the ClayNo tools, and no sponge.  He brought this clay up high, and then bellied out a large jar with a tight neck. He had about 12-16 pounds of clay.  Now, for some throwing off the hump…2 Off the HumpStill no tools for this thrower, and he is using the wheel at constant speed.  He didn’t even have a cut-off wire; he just pinched the pots off.  You can see a tidy little foot ring right above the base block.  I didn’t see these cups trimmed, but I assume the trimmer would have put them on a green chuck and trimmed the block off. 4 Trimming 2

The trimmer had his own wheel, likewise down between his feet. The most interesting thing about the trimming process was that the trimmer had a large number of steel blanks about 12″ long, and he made a specific trim tool for each pot form by hand as worked.  He filed each blank until it was razor sharp, and then bent it into the correct form for the vessel.   You can see from the flying scrap that the pot is fairly dry up on the rim, no problem!  The trimmer didn’t want any clay in his shoes, either.5 Tall Trim

Here’s a combined form that the trimmer joined together and trimmed up.3 Born to WedgeThe wedger was the hardest working guy of all, wedging clay and moving the wet pots.  Note the Kareem Abdul Jabbar teeshirt…..

After all that work…  dinner.8 Dinner


Further Reports from New York City…..

The Macy’s Annual Spring Flower Show was a wonderful surprise for Pam and I when we were in New York City.  Not only were all the display windows on one side of mid-town Macy’s filled with amazing floral displays, a huge chunk of real estate at Herald Square was given over to a giant tent.  We were fortunate to go at night, and had the gardens inside almost to ourselves…

HowdahThis is the sight that greeted us at the entry…  a giant elephant with a flower Howdah.  No tiger hunters for Macy’s, the basket was filled with boughs of spring blooming shrubs and other flowers.

Ganesh Dream 2Just to the left of the entry was this 5 foot long statue of a recumbent Ganesha, surrounded by flowers and floating in a pool.  Sweet!

Hydrangeas and CinerariaThe flowers were fabulous!  I can imagine that every grower within 100 miles of the City had sent every bloomin’ thing that they had to make the display.  There were forced hydrangeas, cinerarias, Rieger begonias, bromeliads, tulips, hyacinths, caladiums, phalanopsis and cymbidium orchids of every imaginable color.  There were spring-flowering shrubs and trees, some of which were fragrant.  What a feast for the eyes!

Thru the ArchThe exhibit was huge!  I think that the tent that housed the Spring Flower Show must have been 200 feet long, and 60 feet wide.  The floor was about 4 feet above street level, and there were long cordons for people to wait to enter.  How lucky we were to go at night!  The design of the space – Indian Garden Glory, or whatever THEY called it…  was delightful.  There were many built features, like this archway, that divided the space and made it magical.

Flowers and FoliageHere, foliage and flowers combine for a wonderful, exotic effect.

Bromelia DaisyThis is almost all bromeliads, and dyed forsythia…  how they got the stems to be this vibrant red is beyond me, but it was just beautiful. This was one of about 10 window displays devoted to incredible floral excess.Hellebore

Here, hellebores and bromeliads combine to spectacular effect.

Beautiful Orange

In this orange grouping, there were ranunculus, kalanchoes, and gerberas – strange bedfellows in  a real-world garden but perfect together in this floral fantasy world.

Red Azaleas and Reigers


Rieger begonias, azaleas, gerbera, sprengerii, and who-knows what else combine for red lovers….

Spice MarketNear the end of the show, was a fantasy spice shop to complete the imaginary trip to India.  Delightful!

Buddha and grafted cactiThis might be my favorite image from the exhibition; a lovely Buddha surrounded by utterly insane grafted fasciated cacti. My kind of horticulturists put this together,….

Store Display

Here’s one of the in-store links to the exhibition…  orchids galore, beautiful.

When I was just an eastern Oregon girl of 17, away in Illinois for college, there was public money for displays like this. Lincoln Park in Chicago had magnificent exhibitions like this one…  special greenhouses built with risers; for plants, not singers;  and they were filled at different season with masses of blooming plants.  It was at one of these exhibitions that I realized that people were being paid to grow these plants – to create this beauty – and that I could make a life’s work of growing plants.