Tag Archives: cuenca tiles

Good Impressions, Part 5: The ceramic legacy of Moorish Spain

Cuerda seca, lion in a landscape, 17th century. Source: Wikimedia

Cuerda Seca: While investigating an Art Nouveau method of tilemaking, cuenca, I learned about the technique from which it originated: cuerda seca. The latter is a Portuguese word meaning ‘dry string.’ Coated string was used to make a line of black resist to prevent glazes from running. Originally, the string was saturated in animal fat and minerals that blackened when fired, like iron or manganese. The fat soaked string was heated, placed on the piece to outline the design, then burned off in firing, leaving a black line that separated colors. Cuerda seca is an Islāmic method of tile decoration that was brought to Spain by the Moors. Wikipedia states that “the craft is still in use in the Arab world” with two main traditions, Egyptian and Moroccan Zalij. “This origin explains the unmistakable Arab influences in many tiles: interlocking curvilinear, geometric or floral motifs.” In Spain, Seville became the tilemaking center where cuerda seca tiles were made. Recently, Christie’s sold a tile panel from Toledo for 10,000 Euros at the Decorative Arts Sale, held in Amsterdam in June.

Vase with palm tree. 8th–9th century CE, Iran. Source: Wikimedia

Cuenca: In the 19th century, cuerda seca was again popularized during the Art Nouveau period. The style evolved during that time. Sometimes designs were simply outlined with black. Cuenca, a Moorish method of outlining with slips and engobes also became popular then. In fact, it became a hallmark of ceramics during the Art Nouveau period. Cuenca means ‘basin;’ a reservoir was created by the trailed slips into which glazes were pooled. There is a tie-in with the Arts and Crafts period, too, as style eras overlapped. It was during this time that the cuenca method also came to be known as tube-lining. Because of the popularity of bungalow style, since the 1990s, there has been a return to the production of these decorative methods and motifs. Motawi, Historic Style, and Du Quella Tile & Clayworks, and are but a few potteries that sell ceramics made in the cuenca style. Today, safer methods are used for cuerda seca, too, which has also experienced a comeback. Now, black wax resist is used to outline designs. Using Aftosa’s product, black lines will remain up to Cone 8. These decorative styles and methods have spanned centuries and are still actively used. That’s what I call staying power! In the early 1990s, my mother gave me an Art Nouveau vase. Little did I know then that I would come to learn about the method with which it is made, cuerda seca, or that I would be writing about it today….

My Art Nouveau cuerda seca vase

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Open Studio Report: 8/2

"Sheaf of Wheat," Tile Master, Shino glaze

It was a fine day…warm enough to prop open the studio door. Joan and Nan are on holiday, so Gary, Otto, Pauline, Sylvia and I enjoyed each other’s company. Soon the gals will return and Pauline and I will leave. (Pauline is going to Paris!) Mark and I will be picking up my Mom en route to Bigfork, Montana, where we will spend the last of our holiday time with my in-laws. During that two-week period, I will be blogging about ceramics action in Big Sky country. Back to the studio, though. I am happy today because my “Sheaf of Wheat” tile is finally finished. After the tile was bisqued, I coated it with white underglaze, then poured Shino over it. It looks like wheat on a bright summer day! Same treatment on a “Trees” tile, which made it look like High Summer. I have molded “Wheat” and will be making thicker and thinner versions of it. Next time, I am going to write on the sides. Poetry, separate words, or prose. Cursive writing …maybe something about the goddess Ceres/Demeter. I see red wheat and a soft, spring green version, too.

Israeli wheat field. Source: Wikimedia Commons

What else did I do today? Think, think. I continued experimenting with the tube-lining or cuenca technique. Over the weekend, I made the outline of a Dard Hunter rose with terracotta slip on a 4×4 white clay tile.  Made the slip and used an old agave squeeze bottle. The slip was thick enough but the bottle was hard on my hands. Today, I experimented on a 6×6 white tile. Pauline showed me how to darken black slip with black underglaze,

"High Summer," Shino glaze over white underglaze

then thicken it with a few grains of epsom salts. Worked like a charm! Using a smaller squeeze bottle, I was soon making an outline that I will eventually fill with glaze and glass. I’m aiming for a stained glass effect. Once I have it down, I’ll experiment with Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts motifs. I can thicken any slip this way, but I want to stick tube-line with black at first. A chocolate-brown would be nice, too. It is painstaking work and Otto kept saying, breathe, breathe! Sure enough, I was holding my breath while concentrating. Steady hand… Since I won’t be back in the studio for almost three weeks, I tidied up in the damp room. I will have my work cut out for me when I get back, with many things to bisque and glaze. By 12:30 p.m., we were seated on the terrace of a nearby restaurant and we dined in the warm summer air; it was lovely. I noticed that almost all the snow has melted off the mountains beyond the North Shore. There was a nice breeze and trees framed the second-floor terrace. Ah, summer….

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Good Impressions, Part 5: The ceramic legacy of Moorish Spain

Cuerda seca, lion in a landscape, 17th century. Source: Wikimedia

Cuerda Seca: While investigating an Art Nouveau method of tilemaking, cuenca, I learned about the technique from which it originated: cuerda seca. The latter is a Portuguese word meaning ‘dry string.’ Coated string was used to make a line of black resist to prevent glazes from running. Originally, the string was saturated in animal fat and minerals that blackened when fired, like iron or manganese. The fat soaked string was heated, placed on the piece to outline the design, then burned off in firing, leaving a black line that separated colors. Cuerda seca is an Islāmic method of tile decoration that was brought to Spain by the Moors. Wikipedia states that “the craft is still in use in the Arab world” with two main traditions, Egyptian and Moroccan Zalij. “This origin explains the unmistakable Arab influences in many tiles: interlocking curvilinear, geometric or floral motifs.” In Spain,  Seville became the tilemaking center where cuerda seca tiles were made. Christie’s sold a tile panel from Toledo for 10,000 Euros at the Decorative Arts Sale, held in Amsterdam in June, 2011.

Vase with palm tree. 8th–9th century CE, Iran. Source: Wikimedia

Cuenca: In the 19th century, cuerda seca was again popularized during the Art Nouveau period. The style evolved during that time. Sometimes designs were simply outlined with black. Cuenca, a Moorish method of outlining with slips and engobes also became popular then. In fact, it became a hallmark of ceramics during the Art Nouveau period. Cuenca means ‘basin;’ a reservoir was created by the trailed slips into which glazes were pooled. There is a tie-in with the Arts and Crafts period, too, as style eras overlapped. It was during this time that the cuenca method also came to be known as tube-lining. Because of the popularity of bungalow style, since the 1990s, there has been a return to the production of these decorative methods and motifs. Motawi, Historic Style, and Du Quella Tile & Clayworks, and are but a few potteries that sell ceramics made in the cuenca style. Today, safer methods are used for cuerda seca, too, which has also experienced a comeback. Now, black wax resist is used to outline designs. Using Aftosa’s product, black lines will remain up to Cone 8. You can even learn the method through the Oerth Tile Works in Alexandria, Virginia, or watch their youtube video about the process. These decorative styles and methods have spanned centuries and are still actively used. That’s what I call staying power! In the early 1990s, my mother gave me an Art Nouveau vase. Little did I know then that I would come to learn about the method with which it is made, cuerda seca, or that I would be writing about it today….

My Art Nouveau cuerda seca vase

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