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….
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.
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.No 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…Still 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.
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.