Sandra Dwiggins on wed 16 apr 97
Last Thursday afternoon 4/10, Winnie Owens-Hart, Howard University
art professor and clay person hosted a workshop given by the
internationally known ceramic artist Magdelene Odundo who is based in
England, born in Africa and greatly influenced by African ceramic
tradition and images of the people. We only had 4 hours of Ms.
Odundo's time that afternoon and she focused on her coiling technique.
The time was barely enough to learn her technique of coiling and
stretching the clay to produce large symmetrical bowls with graceful
shapes and very thin walls that form the foundation of her
anthropomorphic long-necked vessels. But I did learn. I came away
with exactly what I had hoped to get from this short intense
experience---the tools to take back and practice a new and very exciting
way to combine throwing techniques and coil building. Magdelene was
very patient and helped each of us individually trying to find a style of
coilling for each of us that was a natural outgrowth of our own handling
of clay. There is no other way to learn this technique except watching
and doing, that was very clear and Magdelene was quite insistent that
doing the coiling correctly was the most important thing she could teach
The American experience of clay is basically Western European and
filtered through England and Japan. We don't pay much attention to the
enormous ceramic tradition in Africa that is mainly a handcoiling tradition.
The ceramic traditions of Africa can be an enormous source of
inspiration to American potters--both black and white.
This was Winnie's first attempt at hosting a workshop in her home studio,
and she did a great job--even providing lunch for all of us...since her
studio is out in the Virginia boonies and there was no McDonald's around
Winnie will be hosting another workshop at her studio later in the year.
This one will be with David MacDonald. My thanks to Rick Malmgren
who put the announcement of this workshop on the clayart list.....
Lisa Trocchia on thu 17 apr 97
Thanks for the info on the workshop, but "...inspiration to American
potters, both black and white???" That would have been a great
sentiment sans the reference to race!
Sandra Dwiggins on thu 17 apr 97
Sorry if I sounded racist about inspiration--but I think that some African
American clay people draw heavily on this tradition, but that non-African
Americans do not do so quite so readily. At a lecture given later that
same week at the Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, Marla
Barnes showed the enormous range of African pots that she was
familiar with, and that was only from one region. I may be speaking only
from my own ignorance---but I don't think ceramics from Africa or the
Caribbean, for that matter, are used regularly as examples in ceramics
programs. Seems to me that Asian ceramics still reign.
I apologize if I offended anyone....
Suzanne Storer on fri 18 apr 97
Can you give a little detail about her method of coiling? Not being a
coiler usually I didn't realize it was such and individualistic method.
What exactly did you learn that has advanced your own work? I'd appreciate
a few words on this if it is possible.
Thanks, Suzanne in Utah where spring has sprung thank goodness.
Sandra Dwiggins on sun 20 apr 97
Suzanne--It's pretty hard to describe the coiling method---Sam Cuttell
gave the list the url of a really nice African Pottery website that shows
some of the coiling processes plus others. The description of the
process wasn't bad....you might try looking at that site...sorry I don't have
the URL handy.
The unique part of her method is the stretching of the coil around the pot
as you apply it, rather than the traditional method of laying one coil down
on another and smoothin them together. With her method, the coil is
applied from the inside of the pot and squeezed and pulled in a diagonal
fashion around the rim. The palm or flat of your left hand keeps the
walls stable as you push and stretch from the inside of the pot with your
fingers, which are held in a sort of cup fashion--as though you were
drinking water from them. The coil is both joined and compressed at the
same time. This makes the final shaping easier because the clay is very
compressed and will hold a shape better. The coil basically dangles
from your hands as you move around the pot rim. Her clay is also very
soft--so you can build only so far before you must stop and let it harden
a bit---or use a heat gun or hair dryer.
This doesn't really describe it---you have to see it and really, you have to
do it....with someone showing you how the hands are held and move
around the pot.
I don't think I've been helpful---but I tried...