Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Secrets of the Taizé Pottery

Taizé pottery
I love Taizé pottery, the simplicity of the designs and the beautiful colours of their glazes. I have one of their oil lamps and I drink my wine out of a pottery beaker I was given, which is in my favourite of their glazes “Bleu”.

Last weekend, Taizé held an open weekend to show their workshops to the public. We were there straight after the Sunday morning service, champing at the bit to see all the inner workings of the brothers’ studios.

How to make a bowl, Taizé style
So how do you make pottery? Well you get hold of some clay and you model it, you dry it to make “biscuit”, then you glaze it, then you fire it and you have a plate a bowl or a cup depending what you wanted to make in the first place. Simple right? Well I was really surprised at the lengths they go to, to make their pottery. They don’t start with a lump of clay at all, they start with earth, they mix it with various other types of earth and water to make the clay.

Dip the bowl in a glaze
Depending on what they are making, they then chomp it up into bits and using various machines (the one in the photo is one of the more manual ones, they did have slightly more automated ones) they turn out plates, bowls saucers, cups, beakers, depending on the day’s production order.

These are dried then dipped in the day’s glaze and the fired in one of the two kilns.

The glazes are mixed by hand in small quantities made from various ashes, iron oxide, cobalt oxide but one of the prettiest is Omnia, which is made up of leftovers!

Half a jug - cut open so we could see how it worked
The real surprise for me was the jugs and other small delicate items. How do you make a jug? I assumed it would be thrown on a wheel and made that way, but no, the jugs are moulded. Very running clay (ie liquid) is poured into a mould until it is full, left to stand for 20 minutes and the runny stuff is poured back into the liquid clay vat. The mould is made of plaster and so absorbs water fast, so there is a layer of clay that is “stuck” to the mould. Once that dries, a perfect jug emerges. Now isn’t that clever!

Next time I’m in the shops, I will certainly look at their offerings with different eyes.

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