April 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

I find youtube to be a fascinating and invaluable resource for researching the art of throwing. When I first started watching clips I had never sat at a wheel, so it was purely wonder with no reference at all to the reality of throwing. But now I am spending hours replaying the same clips, repeating endlessly the same 5 or 10 seconds. “How did s/he do that?”; “What did s/he do there?”; “OK, so it’s like that.”

I have found several clips of Warren Mackenzie being interviewed in his studio talking about throwing and his approach. He is an inspiration. He is an American and was the first potter to be apprenticed to the Leach Pottery back in the 1940s. I love his story of how when he first arrived at the pottery he was assigned the job of throwing 150 mugs within a three week period. He had been throwing pots for a couple of years and was fairly confident in his ability, so set about his task with enthusiasm. He threw so many and was pleased with the outcome and then came the moment that his work was to be surveyed. The head potter went down the line of mugs squishing every single one: “Too fat”; “Too tall”; “Too short”… It took Mackenzie the full three weeks to complete 75 mugs that were of a sufficiently high standard to be acceptable to the Leach Pottery.

Mackenzie describes himself as a fast potter, a casual potter, and accuracy isn’t that critical. He talks of other potters who work much more slowly and meticulously. For him, it takes only a couple of pulls and a little shaping to complete a bowl, and then he moves onto the next. There is a lovely rhythm to his making. I like the way he throws, the objects that he makes, and the philosophy behind his making. These are pots accessible to everyone, for everyday use.

And then I was looking again at a clip of Michael Cardew demonstrating throwing off the hump and the difference between his throwing style and Warren Mackenzie’s is evident. The quality of the clip isn’t great but you can see him work the surface of his pots, smoothing over, checking, re-checking. As a result, the wall of the bowl you see him throw here is much thinner and finer than those thrown by Mackenzie.

I think my tendency is to throw in the style of Cardew, although I would love the freedom, generosity and spirit of Mackenzie.


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