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odundo workshop report

updated sat 31 aug 96


MARK JOYCE on wed 31 jul 96

Last week I spent four days (missing the Ann Arbor Art Fairs) at the
Detroit Institute of Art where Magdalene Odundo led a Handbuilding
for Teachers workshop. Here are some highlights:

The building technique introduced was coiling using thick coils and
very soft clay. A ball/mound of clay about the size of a shot put was
opened by pulling...much like you'd do in throwing but the left hand
just moved the bat as needed while the right hand dug and pulled up
on the inside, left hand providing outside wall support while right
hand was working. Digging and pulling done with fingertips held
together like for throwing. With a little practice, an 8"x8" cylinder
was possible.

Then a coil (hand rolled from the center out in the air and on a
table) about 1 1/2 " thick was added *inside* the 1/2-3/8" wall. This
was hard and very different from a stackandjoin approach. The best
way I can think of to describe it is smearingonthecoil with the right
hand, left hand providing outside support...but it's really much more
elegant than that and is going to take considerable practice to
master. It will be worth it.

Once attached, this coil is pulled/stretched up again with the
fingers and then the outside is smoothed up with the fingers...this
time right hand outside, left hand supporting inside.

Note. The joining, stretching movement is ALWAYS UP!
It was helpful to think of the coil as simply a means of giving mass
to an undetermined form because once your cylinder was established the
shape was then created and refined FROM THE INSIDE.
THESE were two big points she kept emphasizing.

The initial rough shaping was done with the fingers and then we moved
to the use of a rib/scraper made from a coconut shell!

COCONUT SHELL RIB/SCRAPER: Drain milk. Saw shell in quarters
lengthwise. Remove coconut meat (once around with a utility knife
blade popped it out for me.) Smooth edges on sander. Round off the
pointy ends and file or sand off the coconut hair.

Scraping with this tool is fun! It has a nice feel in the hand and you
can shape or size it to your purposes. What was novel to me was
holding the scraper in an inside-up-former-hairy-side-down position,
inside the pot and scraping up. The curve of the shell stretches,
compresses and smooths the clay in one easy motion, left hand
supporting outside the wall. By trimming one arc-edge of your shell FLAT
(leave the other edge arced) you can use the "flat" edge to
scrape/smooth the outside of the pot. ALWAYS UP!

The pots we 16 built using these new techniques and tools ranged frp,
10-24" in both height and diameter. We also used the same tecniques to
build/pull/stretch box forms (tip:add clay to the outside corners and
then square the added clay.)

If you're familiar with the surfaces of M. Odundo's forms and wonder
how she controls it, the work is burnished and then sagger-fired in a gas
kiln. This eliminates the likelihood of unwanted flashing and
increases the likelihood of total or even reduction.

YET ANOTHER APPROACH TO PITFIRING: On Friday we travel to Oxford, MI for a
"pit-fire." We all brought previously bisqued pieces which ran the
gamut of forms and bodies. An oval of bricks were stacked, maybe 5-7
high, on the ground and 4 openings were left for air. A mat/nest of
thin sticks/branches was placed on the ground inside the oval and the
our pieces were stacked on this. Some loose twists of newspaper were
lit, then some loose straw thrown in. As it lit, thin slices of straw
were pulled from the bales and placed over the entire inside area. As
these started to burn underneath, they were covered with thicked
slices and as their smoke started to roil, the entire thing was
smothered with a shoveled 4"? layer (one thirty gallon can) of ash... like from
fires. After about 2 hours it was done (that's fast) There was good
reduction throughout. Only two pieces were lost and that was after
removal from the fire.

It was recommended that the pieces be wiped/washed and rubbed in with
beeswax or neutral shoe polish while warm. In lieu of these Crisco
canola oil was used.

All in all, a very satifactory experience...lot's of possibilities to
explore. Magdalene was a patient, gracious teacher. If she's in your
area, or you're looking for a workshop leader, I'd recommend her!

Mark Joyce Concordia College Ann Arbor, MI

Louis Howard Katz on thu 1 aug 96

Where is Magdalene Odundo from? The description of the coiling technique
leads m e to beleive that it is the same one used in East Africa and east
Asia. I am trying to map the extent of the technique, and when the
technique was first used in each area.

*Louis Katz *
*Texas A&M University Corpus Christi *
*6300 Ocean Drive, Art Department *
*Corpus Christi, Tx 78412 *
*Phone (512) 994-5987 *

Vince Pitelka on sun 4 aug 96

Mark -
Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your report on the Odundo
workshop. I have always been facinated by her work, and I teach my Ancient
Clay workshops on a regular basis in which I include a sampling of
techniques from tribal societies. Her approach sounds very similar to the
tribal work in Nigeria and Ghana. Again, thanks for sharing that with us.

- Vince

Vince Pitelka - vpitelka@Dekalb.Net
Phone - home 615/597-5376, work 615/597-6801
Appalachian Center for Crafts, Smithville TN 37166