Tag Archives: wheel-thrown

Kabyle (Berber) pottery from northeastern Algeria

Kabyle double vessel (19th century). By cliff1066 via Wikimedia Commons.


Areas in Algeria where Kabyle is spoken. By Yoos via Wikimedia Commons

“The inhabitants of the mountainous Kabyle region along the Mediterranean coast in northeastern Algeria were superb artists noted for their jewelry making, textiles, mats, basketry, pottery and house mural decoration. In North Africa, wheel-thrown pottery made by men dates from the 7th century B.C. when the Phoenicians introduced the potter’s wheel to the Algerian coast. Handbuilt pottery made by women, including those from the Kabyle, an older, probably indigenous tradition, dates back 2000 years before the birth of Christ. The vessel depicted here originates from earlier prototypes. To this day, Kabyle women coil and decorate pottery with beautiful painted geometric designs for their own household use and for sale. Kabyle women handbuild vessels of various sizes and shapes for holding water, milk, oil, cooking and eating food, and oil lamps. (National Museum of African Art, Washington DC).” By cliff1066 via Wikimedia Commons

1886 woodcut of Kabyle women, from Century Magazine May 1886-October 1886. By Danny via Wikimedia

Kabyle pottery, early 20th century. By Michel-georges bernard via Wikimedia Commons

Migonney - Femme kabyle

Kabyle woman. By Jules Migonney via Wikimedia Commons

Ceramic Kabyle peoples jar (19th century)

Ceramic and pigment vessel with the head of an animal from Algeria (National Museum of African Art). cliff1066 via Wikimedia Commons


This is a French language video, but it is well worth viewing, no matter which language you speak, as it is very visual and has a beautiful soundtrack.

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Open Studio Update

Kneden van kleiWe were all quite busy during Open Studio today, all making headway on our various projects. The slide show below features the work of Nan, Joan, Taryn, Gary, Pauline and myself. I am happy to say that I have finally learned Flickr well enough to present photos with good resolution for this particular slide show. (Click any photo to be taken to the blog’s Flickr site, as the subtitles are visible there. These photos are larger size on that site, showing more detail. You can also work with the slide show’s toolbar here by hovering over the top or bottom with your cursor.)


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Joan Grisley’s pottery canisters and chai masala

Joan Grisley's "Landscape" series canisters. Photo by Joan Grisley.

The canisters are part of Joan Grisley’s “Landscape” series, inspired by the terrain in the Cariboo. Home to Joan for over twenty years, the Cariboo region of British Columbia is rugged, rural, and pristine. I imagine lighting in the Wild West of B.C.’s interior must have been an eye-opener for someone used to British climes but, looking at Joan’s work, one can see she grew to love the area. A professional-level potter when she immigrated to Canada, Joan set up a working studio at her home, which must have been heaven. She now lives in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, near Vancouver, and I am fortunate enough to work next to her on a weekly basis through the Open Studio. I remembered having seen photos of her canisters and she was generous enough to share them with us. In describing them, Joan said the basic shape for the canisters are thrown. “When leather hard, the landscapes are gradually built up,” she said, “first by incising the mountains, then adding clay for the hills.” Following with more incising, she then uses “a number of different small tools to stamp and mark details such as bull rushes, flowers, etc.” Fences, trees, and log cabins are created by adding more clay. “After the bisque firing, the scenes are sponged with thick iron oxide wash, which is then sponged off the high points,” she explains. “This area is then carefully waxed and the pot glazed.” When I asked her about the lettering, she said it is made with “metal stamps made to stamp leather.” They do remind me of a tooled leather handbag my grandfather gave me as a child, one of my favorite things. To finish the canisters, Joan glazed them and “fired to cone 9 in an electric kiln.” I drove through the Cariboo in the 1980s when I was driving up to Alaska and the area is every bit as beautiful and varied as is shown on Joan’s canisters.

Joan Grisley at work in the Open Studio.

Joan’s work is exquisite. She must have amazing eyesight, hand-eye coordination, the ability to concentrate and a deft touch because the pieces Joan creates are perfection. Whether it’s a periwinkle punch bowl with matching cups, tiny figurines of moose, sheep, or highland cows, or fanciful bowls for her grand-daughters, they are a sheer delight. I’ve seen photos of her sculptural pieces, in addition to many other hand-built and thrown works. There is nothing Joan doesn’t know about ceramic techniques and materials. The consummate professional, she is a vast repository of knowledge and it would be wonderful if she wrote a book on the subject some day, illustrating it with her work. The subject of canisters came up with one of my brain’s typically circuitous routes. A while back, I asked my friend Rukmini if she’d mind telling me which spices were used in South Asian chai. She called it chai masala, which means spiced tea. She told me she knew some Gujarati ladies who mixed the ingredients. I asked because I was tired of buying commercial concoctions in supermarkets. I wanted the real thing. She told me a number of ingredients and I looked up a few more. Last week, I went on a buying trip, bringing back fragrant packets of spices from the East Indian section of our grocery store. When I got home, I took a pinch of this and that and placed it in a cloth coffee sock. It looks like a cloth Melitta filter. After heating half water and half milk in a pot, I lowered the bag of orange pekoe tea and spices into it and let it steep. It was remarkable! Unlike any store bought “chai.” So fresh, so fragrant! Afterward, though, I worried about how I was going to store the spices. I didn’t want them to go stale or become less flavorful. I thought and thought before I arrived at the solution. Of course! Clay! Plastic or wood would absorb the scent and flavor but glazed, fired clay would be impervious. Don’t ask me why it took me so long to figure it out… But, then, I wondered what kind of clay jars… As I pondered it, I came to realized that I’ve been posting for three years, yet kept missing a very vital object: canisters. Clay containers of graduated size with tight-fitting lids. We all grew up with them and most of us have them, for flour, sugar, coffee, tea, sometimes salt. That was it! My chai masala concoction could be stored in the tea container, mixed with a lovely Assam tea.

Chai Masala Ingredients

I mixed these ingredients to my liking and enjoy a strong clove flavor. You can look up specific recipes on the internet, but I am not that exacting. What you do need to know is what to add to your mix. Here is a list of typical chai masala spices:

Even our cat Rosie is attracted to chai masala spices!

  •  cloves, whole
  • green cardamom, crushed seed pods
  •  cinnamon bark, broken into chunks
  •  peppercorn, whole
  •  ginger, fresh, sliced
  •  star anise, whole
  •  fennel, whole

After doing a little research, I learned that theses spices have medicinal qualities. Click here to read more about the ayurvedic aspects of spiced tea. While I cannot attest to the veracity of the site, I think it’s a good starting point. Apparently, the key is to choose spices that warm you. To be more particular, you’ll have to learn what dosha you are, but that’s far afield of what I’m writing about today. After you’ve tested your mix and it is to your liking, store it in your tea canister. It will be there whenever you want it, inviting and enticing….

Another view of Joan Grisley's "Landscape" series canisters. Photo by Joan Grisley.




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Old and new amphoras

My dear nurse – pour out for me into amphoras some of that agreeable wine. — Homer, The Odyssey

Few things are as graceful as an amphora. The narrow base, gently swelling sides and tapered neck, the arching handles. When I think of amphoras, I dream…of dusty warehouses with row after row of clay vessels holding wine and olive oil. Of shards in an archeological site. Amphorae and antiquity go together. Now, wine comes in bottles, boxes, and bags and olive oil in glass and plastic bottles. It’s hard to imagine how heavy a full amphora must have weighed, but lifting them must have required a bit of muscle. There were ornate ones and others simple and utilitarian. The Romans probably also stored their famous fish sauce in amphoras. I decided I needed some more facts about these vessels and, according to one of my favorite online encyclopedias,

  • “An amphora (plural: amphorae or amphoras) is a type of ceramic vase with two handles and a long neck narrower than the body.
  • The word amphora is Latin, derived from the Greek amphoreus,
  • while some were under 30 centimetres (12 in) high –
  •  the smallest were called amphoriskoi (literally “little amphorae”).
  • Most were around 45 centimetres (18 in) high.
  • There was a significant degree of standardisation in some variants;
  • the wine amphora held a standard measure of about 39 litres (41 US qt),
  • giving rise to the amphora quadrantal as a unit of measure in the Roman Empire.
  • In all, around 66 distinct types of amphora have been identified.”

My! That’s ten and a quarter gallons. Heavy, especially considering varying weights of the contents. In addition, at 18″ high, they needed to be placed in roomy pantry areas in homes. One thing I’ve never understood is how they were used. They must have been unwieldy, given their size and height, so how did people use them? I decided to look it up and learned that the Romans placed an amphora in a wicker holder that raised it up off the floor, keeping it cooler. The wine was then ladled out. I find that there is a certain magic about contemplating ancient pottery such as this. Who knows how many people handled a particular amphora? The maker, delivery person, house help, cooks, and consumers. And consider their age. Yet, we are still looking at them in museums and photographs. Another bit of magic I came across was a video of Dan, a Yorkshire potter from Ingleton Pottery. The video shows him creating a modern-day amphora. It’s incredible, partly because his actions have been so condensed it looks like he’s conjuring up the vessel. He gracefully throws a lovely amphora and adds pulled handles. The next time you pour a little oil into a cruet or wine into a glass, think back to ancient times and the amphora.

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