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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Neolithic Carinated Bowl: complex simplicity

At first glance a Neolithic carinated bowl, the earliest type of pottery in Britain, looks like a very simple pot. Certainly they were hand formed often from very coarse natural clay, to function as humble cooking pots. In fact when making an average sized bowl, up to about 20cm in diameter, its form flows almost naturally from the process itself. The curve of the bowl nestles nicely in the hand, the concave form of the upper body conforms to the curve of the thumb, while the fingers stretch down inside to push out the carnation.  All well and good, but when one comes to make a bowl as big as the one I made for Stonehenge, it's a different matter.  For a start there's the weight; at over thirty centimetres in diameter it requires nearly five kilos of coarse clay in its construction. This makes it virtually impossible to hold the soft vessel in one hand.  If I start building on a base (flat stone, grass mat whatever is handy) this gives it a flat base, which can only be expanded out once the clay has stiffened.  Alternatively working into the base of an old broken pot does allow one to make a round bottomed piece but only to a predetermined form and, as clay shrinks on drying it will easily release from its "mould" but will also be considerably smaller than the former.  Once the pot becomes firm enough to support itself it can be picked up and worked on but this brings with it its own problems, the stiffened clay becomes brittle, the least deformation of the rim and the pot will crack, a flaw which, in the firing, could result in total failure.  One possible solution to this is to add organic fibrous material which will act as reinforcement in the unfired pot and one of the most suitable sources of this is animal dung. Finally, once the pot has reached a leather hard stage, the entire inner and outer surfaces need to me slip coated by rubbing with a wet hand and finally burnished all over, again without putting undue stress on the rim.

Firing small pots in an open fire is a relatively simple matter provided a strict set of rules are adhered to, a large pot on the other hand is quite a different matter. That pot needs to be absolutely dry before it comes anywhere near to a flame. In a Neolithic hut it would undoubtedly have spent several days on the outer edges of the hearth, occasionally being turned to present a new face to the warmth of the fire.  Only once the potter was certain that all moisture had left the clay would the firing process begin: The pot would be moved a little closer to the fire, inverted, and with its rim supported on three stones a few embers from the fire would have been pushed underneath its dome, their rising smoke and heat filling the vessel. Replenishing and increasing this small glowing fire over the next couple of hours the potter would have carefully and steadily raised the temperature until, at around about 400 degrees C the organic matter in the clay would have begun to burn, turning the outer surface of the pot dark brown or black.  This would also be an indication that it was ready to move to the next stage of firing, surrounding the pot with embers and eventually immersing the pot into the fire, bringing up its temperature until at seven or eight hundred degrees, in the darkness of the hut interior it could be seen to glow deep red. The firing complete, the fire would have been allowed to burn down and go out and the pot would have been cooled while protecting it from sudden cold draughts that might cause it to crack.



Simple as that!







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Monday, 5 January 2015

Childlike Exuberance

One of the best things about running historical pottery workshops in schools is seeing the uninhibited exuberance of the children's work. Unlike many adults they are not afraid to express themselves in paint or clay and as a result the pots and sculptures they produce have a vitality often lacking in the more carefully considered work of their seniors. When I return the fired pots to the schools the children are amazed and delighted to see how the fire has changed and preserved their artwork. 

For more information about my pottery workshops for schools and museums see my earlier post HERE.

Egyptian Canopic Jars by Blackhill School Children
Egyptian Canopic Jars by Blackhill School Children 
Egyptian Shabti Figures by Blyth School Children
Roman Head Pots by Keilder School Children

 
Mediaeval Green Men by Bedlington School Children



Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Having made the replicas used by Dr Michael Scott in his brilliant BBC2 TV series; "Who Were the Greeks", see my blog entry "TV Props, Greek Bronzes Made From Clay" , I was delighted when Dr Scott contacted me and commissioned some replicas to use in his teaching at Warwick University. Now I will say at this point, when Michael contacted me I had anticipated that I'd be making some fairly high status pieces but I wasn't quite prepared for the reference material that he eventually sent me. On a trip to the British Museum he'd taken some photographs of some of the most magnificent Greek pots that he could find: the Douris Cooler, the Berlin Krater, the Phrynos Kylix and the Sharpedon Kylix:



I've replicated Greek red and black figure pottery before but these pieces were the creme de la creme, they were high status when they were first created and they're still high status today. why? Well for the complexity of their manufacture, the refinement of their form and by no means least, the skill of the painter who decorated them. The pots shown here are my, or should I say our replicas not the originals. I made the pots, but my wife Lynda Taylor, a professional artist, decorated them, they required the best! 

The precision with which the pots are made, the perfect alignment of the stem of the kylix and the crispness of the foot, shoulder and rim of the krater, tell me not only that they were made by a highly skilled potter, but that the potters' wheel on which they were thrown was very stable indeed. This was no rough stone disk pivoted on a point of rock, it was a precise piece of machinery with smooth running bearings. The same is true of all of these pots and while the potters making cups and bowls for everyday use may well have made use of primitive wheels these craftsmen had access to the very best tools. They have used that technology to push the making process to new heights, creating forms that say "Look what I can do".

More to come later, watch this space.









Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Greek Pottery Workshops at Wolfson College Oxford

Here are some photographs from my recent Greek Pottery Technology workshop at Wolfson College Oxford, in which participants not only learned about the ceramic science behind the creation of Black and Red Figure wares, but also had the opportunity to try their hand at a Greek style momentum wheel and created their own Rhyton.

 






Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Pots for Stonehenge and Wiltshire

I take delight in every project that I undertake but being asked by English Heritage, to make all the replica pottery fro the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre and by the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes, to make replicas for the Gold from the time of Stonehenge have been a particular highlights of the past year. In each case making the pots not as they look now, after several millennia in the ground, but as they would have looked when new. The first part of the project was to produce a selection of large Neolithic Grooved Ware vessels, to be used in the prototype Neolithic Houses which English Heritage built at Old Sarum, as a precursor to building a group at Stonehenge. These pots were based on originals excavated at Durrington Walls. 


Grooved Ware pots based on finds from Durrington Walls
Next came a film role, at least for my hands. I was filmed making a replica grooved ware pot, from crushing and preparing the raw clay and grog, through building and decorating the vessel, to firing it on an open hearth and finally removing the finished pot from the fire. This video will be showing on a loop in the visitor centre, alongside one of Phil Harding making a flint axe and Neil Burridge casting bronze.


Grooved Ware pot glowing in an open fire
At this point I was invited to join archaeologist and curator Sarah Lunt at Fort Cumberland and at Salisbury Museum, to look at the originals pots that I would be replicating for the Stonehenge Museum display, and the education rooms. It is a huge privelage to have had the opportunity to see and handle such iconic pots as: The Wilsford collared urn, grape cup and Stonehenge cup, excavated by William Cunnington during his excavation campaign 1802 – 1810, along with beakers, carinalted bowls and the small grooved ware pot from Durrington Walls.

Back in my studio I began replicating these masterpieces of Neolithic and Bronze-Age ceramic art, for both Stonehenge and the Devizes Museum, here are some of the results.



Wilsford Collared Urn and Grape Cup along with "The Ceramic Object"
The beautiful collared urn here from the Wilsford G7 burial is one of the finest examples from the whole of the UK, here's the original . I'm not the first to attempt to replicate it, Josiah Wedgwood had a go, although in terracotta and over industrialised for my liking. The refinement of this pot and the care with which the decoration has been applied make it a real challenge to replicate. To a lesser degree the same is true of the grape cup with over 150 individually applied pellets and between each pair, a hole bored through to the interior, at only 6cm tall, that's a lot of detail packed into a very small pot. The third item here is the "Ceramic Object", found in the fill of Aubrey Hole number 29 and so called because no one knows exactly what it is.  

My replicas on display at Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes
The pots below are in the education rooms at Stonehenge

Early Neolithic Carinated Bowl, Grooved Ware Pot, Wilsford Beaker and Ceramic Object
My final job is to make the pots for the Neolithic houses so watch this space.


Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Friday, 26 July 2013

Replica Egyptian Canopic Jars

A set of canopic jars with their storage chest made recently for Maidstone Museum's educational handling collection.




Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Sunday, 7 July 2013

TV Props, Greek Bronzes Made From Clay


Usually the replicas that I make are recognisably ceramic, and if asked, I’d always say that I’ll replicate anything as long as it’s old and made from pottery, but when it comes to TV props things aren’t always what they seem. Recently I was contacted by Tern Television who were making a documentary for BBC2 entitled “Who Were The Greeks?”.  The two part mini series, presented by Dr Michael Scott of Warwick University, the program set out to highlight some little known aspects of life in ancient Greece and the ways that these still affect out lives today.  To do this, a number of specific artefacts were needed as illustrations, objects that were unavailable to the crew as they were in national collections.  So I set to making; Oil lamps to illuminate Greek silver mines; Ostraka showing the beginnings of democracy and a pot to carry sacred fire.  However the two most complex items that were needed weren’t ceramic at all, but bronze, but with the assistance of my wife Lynda Taylor, an artist, we were able to give them a bronze finish that did the job.  So here they are:




A treaty tablet documenting an alliance, of 100 hundred years duration, between Eleans and the Heraians of Arcadia. The original in now in the British Museum.



This Spartan Running Girl, 520-500 BC, sometimes called the Thigh Flasher,
found at PrizrenSerbia; possibly made in Sparta.



And last but not least, the pot, lamp and ostrakon.


Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Friday, 22 February 2013

ONE DAY, HANDS-ON, POTTERY WORKSHOPS FOR KS2 & KS3 SCHOOLS

Teachers, if you want a workshop for your class that combines a history lesson, with the opportunity for every child to develop their creativity while making their own replica pottery artefact, then you need one of my workshops.


POTTED HISTORY – GRAHAM TAYLOR
ONE DAY, HANDS-ON, POTTERY WORKSHOPS FOR KS2 & KS3 SCHOOLS

ROMAN, ANGLO-SAXON, TUDOR, GREEK, EGYPTIAN, BRONZE-AGE, VICTORIAN and more



These workshops combine an art and craft activity with history and are a cost effective, real alternative to a field trip; I bring a living museum to you.  I present all workshops in period costume, using tools and equipment appropriate to the era.  The day begins working with the whole class using my extensive “Portable Museum” handling collection, which acts as a springboard to talk about many aspects of life in the period.  While many subjects are covered in an informative and sometimes humorous way, these are always pitched at a level appropriate to the age group, clear but never patronising.  I will demonstrate the ways in which the pots were made, which for all except the Bronze-Age workshop, involves throwing a pot on an ancient potters wheel, proven to mesmerise the most boisterous class.  Every workshop has a hands-on element allowing the children to express their creativity, while engaging in an activity that involves real technology from the period.  By the end of the day the children will have gained considerable additional information about the historical era covered and will have produced their own replica artefact to keep.

Other activities that can, on request, form part include Archaeological Challenges, which encourage the children to look closely at artefacts and discover the stories that they can tell us about the people of the past.

The knowledge and skills gained through these activities will equip the children to better appreciate what they see when the next visit a museum, and help them to understand that a potsherd isn't just a "bit of broken pot", it's a piece of the jigsaw of the past and a part of someone’s life.

The structure of the day would normally run as follows but can be tailored to your school day: 9am to break, handling collection and demonstration session with the entire class: After break the class is divided into two or three groups of 10 to 15 children, I work with one group before lunch and two groups after lunch, for approx. 40 minutes to 1 hour each, to complete the hands-on activity.  If time allows there will be a question and answer session at the end of the day, which can be planned to include parents if required.

Hands-on projects are as follows:
Egyptian:        Canopic Jar made from pre prepared pot or Shabti figure mould made
Greek:            Rhyton (Animal head drinking cup) from pre prepared pot
Prehistoric:    Hand built Neolithic bowl and animal/deity figure
Roman:           Roman Head Pot from pre prepared pot
Anglo Saxon: Hand decorated Saxon urn from pre prepared pot
Mediaeval:     Knight Jug from pre prepared pot or a Mediaeval encaustic tile
Tudor:            Bellarmine jar made from pre prepared pot
Civil War:       Slipware Plate/bowl made from pre prepared pot
Victorian:        Painted Plate made from pre prepared pot

The following give an idea of the structure of the day:

ROMAN
The Handling Collection includes:  Amphorae, Samian Ware, Barbotine ware, lamps, deity figurines, greyware, cooking pots, head pots, mortaria, altars, incense burners, votives, etc..

Which are used to lead a lesson covering:  Trade & produce, the empire, transport, the Roman army, Hadrian’s Wall, the gods, Roman Crafts, domestic life and much more.

The Hands-On Activity:  The children will make Head Pots, representations of gods on pots;  I will bring along one pre prepared soft clay vessel for each child, the children will then model these to represent a face.  At the end of the day the pots will be taken back to my studio, dried and fired to make them permanent.  Once they are returned to the school, usually after three to four weeks, they can be painted.  

Alternative Activities:  Making a Roman Altar or Making a Roman Samian Bowl (Useful if a quicker workshop is required)

GREEK
The Handling Collection includes:  Amphorae, Rhytons, Aryballos, Ostraka, Attic Wares, Votives, Military paintings, Deity Figures, Athlete Figures, Toys, Lamps, etc..

Which are used to lead a lesson covering:  Trade & produce, the arts, the Greek & Spartan armies, the navy, Olympics & athletics, democracy, domestic life and much more.

The Hands-On Activity:  The children will make Rhytons, animal headed drinking vessels;  I will bring along one pre prepared soft clay vessel for each child, the children will then model these to represent their own chosen animal, a handle will be applied.  At the end of the day the pots will be taken back to my studio, dried and fired to make them permanent.  Once they are returned to the school, usually after three to four weeks, they can be painted.  

Alternative Activities:  Aryballos making an animal shaped perfume bottle or Attic Bowl Painting on a pre prepared and fired Greek bowl.

Much larger projects can be designed and delivered, if you have any ideas for projects large or small please contact me.

Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Hebridean Bronze Age Replicas

Just finishing work on a replica Cordoned Urn and Food Vessel for a client.






Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Slipware Exhibition Pieces




In preparation for a couple of forthcoming exhibitions I've been making a few slipware pieces, starting with this jug for the Saint Valentine's show at Crown Studio Gallery, Bridge Street, Rothbury, Northumberland. It has a heart formed from flowers on one side and Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments", on the reverse.





For the Parkmade exhibition at Preston Hall Museum, Eaglescliffe, Stockton, I've made this piece inspired by Lewis Carroll's poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter, from Through the Looking- Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872. 


And lastly this platter also on its way to Preston Hall.

Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Roman Antefixa for Grosvenor Museum

I've been making lots of replicas for museums and individuals in the past few weeks.  Today I sent out three Replica Roman Antifixa (Antefixes) which will become part of the new display at the Grosvenor Museum, Chester.  An antefix is a decorative terminal which finishes off the lower edge of a tiled roof, in this case a Roman roof covered with Tegula and Imbrex tiles.  From left to right they bear the following relief images:
The Boar emblem of the 20th (XX) Legion, the lion and Jupiter Ammun.  The making of these involved first calculating the shrinkage of the clay through each stage of the manufacturing process so that I could make punches, to make the moulds, to make the antefixa. Given the high quality moulding on the faces and the rather rustic approach to the rest of the decoration, I suspect that the faces may have been 'sampled' from something like a legionary standard.


Here you can see a set of Antefixa in place on a miniature Roman roof that I also made for the Grosvenor.







Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Potted History Public Events 2012


It's been a hectic summer and I've been all over the country demonstrating ancient pottery techniques, here are some of the main events I attended.

I had a great weekend at  the Bedford, River Festival on 21st and 22nd July making replicas of ancient Greek Rhytons, Amphorae and Epinetrons. On Friday 3rd August  I was on the Solway, at Senhouse Roman Fort, Maryport, Cumbria.  Demonstrating Roman pottery making with both the Potter’s Wheel and moulds, including the Senhouse Samian bowl. quite a few children had a go at making their own Samian Ware bowl.

On a very rainy Sunday 5th August I was at Paxton House, celebrating Paxton "Before the House" with some Prehistoric, Neolithic and Bronze-Age pottery demonstrations.  I showed how the beakers discovered last year at Fishwick had been created, from the making of stone, bone and antler tools through processing the clay to decorating pots. I was joined by Kristian Pedersen the archaeologist leading the excavation, who demonstrated the ancient craft of flintknapping.

From Saturday 11th to  Monday 19th August, I worked my way along the middle section of Hadrian's Wall in the guise of Bellicus the itinerant Roman Potter demonstrating how the Romans made many different types of pottery and answering questions on how they used these pots.

Saturday 25th to Monday 27th August I was atop the dizzy heights of Dover Castle demonstrating Roman pottery making and giving children the chance to make a Roman Gladiator votive plaque.

Kirknewton Festival, in Northumberland on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd of September was an absolute joy and here you'd have found me  making and firing Prehistoric Bronze-Age pottery, While Paula Constantine demonstrated ancient spinning, dying and weaving.

On the 22nd & 23rd September I had my first opportunity to work at Beamish Open Air Museum.  In the wonderful surroundings of the Home Farm I made country slipware jugs, bowls and platters in the style of !8th and 19th Century potters.

And continuing the theme of Victorian Pottery on Sunday 30th of September I’ll be at Preston Hall for their Parkmade Event, where I’ll be demonstrating the skills of a Victorian country slipware potter and even offering you the opportunity to have a go and possibly purchase some of my wares.


Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Some Recent Replicas

It's been a busy few months for replica making and these are a few of the pieces that I've recently made for clients:


Replica Early Bronze-Age Grape Cup and Fenestrated Vessel from Normanton Down in the Stonehenge landscape. These vessels are diminutive being only about 10cm in diameter but the complexity of the design makes them very time consuming particularly the Grape Cup.   


A late Iron Age wheel thrown bowl


An Iron-Age pot that is now residing in New Zealand 


Roman Gray & Parchment Ware



Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Making Bad Replicas??

The pots that I find most difficult to replicate are ones that have been made with little aesthetic consideration and only the bare minimum of technical ability.  In the field of ancient ceramics these qualities (or possibly lack of qualities) are rare, but there are exceptions.  I have been asked to replicate some Souterrain ware, a very rudimentary type of pottery from Early Mediaeval Ireland.  I had to make some very similar pieces for the Gefrin exhibition of Brian Hope Taylor's finds from Yeavering / Gefrin in North Northumberland so the type isn't limited to Ireland.

The problem is, I always have to fight the natural inclination to "improve" the pot because that's exactly what I mustn't do.  The pots we tend to see in museum cases are, by and large, the best examples of their types.  If you've gone to the effort of going to see them you'd probably expect no less.  But I have to admit that it was only when I had gained sufficient professional standing, to be allowed into museum store rooms, that I realised that there were bad Prehistoric, Roman, Anglo Saxon Mediaeval, etc., potters.  But there they are, represented behind the scenes of virtually every museum I've ever looked at, and sometimes I have to copy them.

Take a deep breath and forget the last 35 years of training and experience, grab the clay and just make the pot..... and here is one of said pots, made from unprocessed glacial clay, more or less as it was dug from the ground.  The surface pock marked with small cavities left behind when organic matter burned out during the rather uneven open firing, a firing that brought the temperature of the pot up to about 700C, only really just hot enough to be called pot.  The underside is deeply impressed with the grass matt upon which the soft clay was rotated during the crude hand forming process.




The mystery really is, where had the technology gone??  Ireland is responsible for some of the finest prehistoric pottery in the British Isles.  This pot was obviously made for practicality not beauty and I respect the original maker for that, but were I able to travel back in time, I might be inclined to try and pass on a few potters' tips.

Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Replicas as Christmas Gifts

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on a number of different replicas including Neolithic Carinated Bowls & Unstan Bowls, Bronze Age Beakers, Iron-Age Decorated Bowls & Roman Hunt Cups and these are now on display in Crown Studio Gallery, Bridge Street, Rothbury.  So if you need a special gift for the Archaeologist, Historian, Antiquarian or Re-enactor in your life, or even for yourself, I may be able to help.  Whatever festival you’re celebrating, be it Christmas, The Pagan Solstice, The Saturnalia, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (The Birth of the Invincible Sun, Mithras), or any other mid Winter Festival, I should have something that will suit.  If you can't get to Rothbury just ask and I can post items to you.

I take a great delight in the idea that I'm part of a potting tradition that stretches back thousands of years and try to make and fire the pots in ways that the original makers would recognise.  I take even greater delight in the idea that the pots will be owned and used by someone who truly appreciates their heritage, and will use them as they were intended.





Visit my website at www.pottedhistory.co.uk