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A Potted History of Ceramics

10955436_10153281868339390_651796831336795475_n When you paint a piece of pottery in Jenny's Painted Pots you are doing the same thing as your oldest ancestors would have done, and although the technology has changed a little, the principles have remained the same.

Ancient_pots
Ancient pots from Judea thought to be from around the time of Moses.

Pottery has been made in most parts of the world for at least 10,000 years, in fact the oldest pottery is from China and is over 20,000 years old; well before farming began and while the last ice age was still going strong. Pottery is one of the things found by archaeologists and used as evidence that humans lived in a certain place. Pottery was popular because it helped our ancestors to make useful containers to hold and carry water or to serve food and drink. And once people had got used to making pots for useful things, they started to decorate their pots and to make objects which were more decorative than useful. This was the case particularly in the homes of important people.

Normally we think of pottery as something which is made using clay. This is soft and moist and found in the ground mixed in with other things in the ground. The other things in the ground, for example chalk, will make the clay lighter or darker. When the clay is soft it can be shaped, it is then 'fired' in something called a kiln, which is like an oven, but much much hotter than one used for cooking food. Once the clay has been cooked in the kiln it is hard and holds it shape and it can hold water.

Decorated_ancient_pots
Decorated pots from ancient Corinth in Greece.

When you paint a pot in Jenny's you are painting the clay after it has been fired. It is called a 'bisque' at this stage. After you have finished painting, your bisque is glazed and then fired in the kiln again. Glazing is what makes the pot shiny and smooth and the colours you used to paint become more vivid.

Persian Glazed Pot
Glazed pot from Persia in the 16th century.

Glazing is a much more recent process than making pottery, it is more like 10,000 years old. It became popular because it made pottery even stronger and much less porous, so it could hold water without it gradually seeping thought the clay and onto the ground.  Glazes have been made from a variety of materials and most people think that glazing was discovered rather than invented.  Some suggest that 'potters' tried various materials in their kiln and then noticed with some materials, for example sand, that the material almost melted and became shiny. The suggestions is that then they tried to coat the clay pottery in these materials. Glazes all have three essential ingredients, silica which becomes the 'glass' that you see as the glaze on your pot, alumina (aluminium oxide) which makes the silica stick to the clay and a 'flux' (a metallic oxide) which lowers the melting point of the silica to something that a normal kiln can reach. While ancient glazes were often harmful, the ones used by Jenny's are completely non-toxic.

 

 

 

 

Roman Kiln
Diagram of a kiln from Roman times.

The kiln used by the staff at Jenny's uses electricity to heat the pot. It is typically heated to about 1,200°C which is four times hotter than the hottest setting on a home oven. The 'cooking' or firing takes about seven hours, and then about another seven to cool down enough to touch the pot. Our stone age ancestors didn't have electricity, they had to use fire to heat their kilns. Their kilns would have been pits dug into the ground and covered in the hottest burning material around, charcoal. This is made by burning wood and restricting the amount of air around during the burning. Charcoal would burn much hotter than wood when it was burnt.

 

The kiln used by Jenny's will hold about 20 items of pottery. This is enough for a small craft studio, but it would not do for producing useful quantities of plates and cups and saucers. So you can imagine that kilns can get to be quite large. The largest kilns are tunnels which you can drive into, but they really come in all shapes and sizes. 

Evenheat Rampmaster II as used by Jenny's Painted Pots
The type of kiln used at Jenny's

So, that is a bit of background on the ancient craft you are getting involved with. The basic ingredients of clay, paint, glaze and heat are the same as those used over many thousands of years. They have been brought up to date as technology has improved and any harmful impurities have been removed. But if you find yourself wondering what decoration to put on a pot, you may well be having ideas similar to those of your ancestors.

There is something very therapeutic about being a 'potter' and for some people it may start you off on a creative path which will last a lifetime. We certainly hope so. 


Frequently Asked Questions about Sweets

Q. What are your most popular sweets?

A. The most popular are the 'bon bons'. Strawberry followed by lemon. 'Flying saucers' are also winners. The staff like liquorice and the aniseed balls and the old fashioned 'Black Jacks' are a timeless favourite.

Q. Where do the sweets (lollies) come from?

A. They are all manufactured the UK. We order quite small quantities from the Australian importer so that they are fresh. This means we may not always have what you are looking for.

Q. Why don't you have any chocolate?

A. We wish we did, but we think we would eat it all ourselves. Sorry!

Q. Are your sweets gluten free or suitable for people with nut allergies?

A. Unfortunately we cannot guarantee that sweets are suitable for people with gluten intolerance or nut allergies.


Frequently Asked Questions about Painting Pottery

Q. How long does it take to get my fully glazed and fired pottery back?

A. It takes a week normally, but we will let you know as soon as it is ready. This is because there are two stages to glazing and the previous glaze is left for a day between stages. Then the firing takes around 24 hours. The rest of the time is just in case there is a back-log of work and your piece cannot be fired immediately. 

Q. How many people can I bring to paint at a party?

A. We can accomodate a maximum of twenty painters, but it is a bit of a squeeze unless they are quite small. Ten to fifteen is a more comfortable number.

Q. Do I need to book?

A. If you are a group of more than 4 then we advise you to book if you want to ensure there is space for your creative activities. If you want to have a party then you must book because mostly we will try to give you exclusive use of the studio. Ideally book at least 2 weeks ahead of your event.

Q. If I am having a party, can I bring my own cake and refreshments?

A. Yes, of course. We have a kitchen area where you can set out candles on a cake so that you can make a dramatic entrance. We also have a fridge where some refreshments can be kept cool.

Q. Are the paints non-toxic?

A. Yes, we won't use any lead based or toxic products.

Q. I'm not really artistic, will my creation look hopeless?

A. Well you may not be Michelangelo, but you may be surprised how well things turn out. If in doubt "less is more" isn't a bad maxim.

Q. What if I book for a party and then have to cancel?

A. Well thats life. At present we don't ask for a deposit and we hope you will give us plenty of notice so that we might be able to fill the slot.