What I know about making terra cotta pots wouldn’t fill a teacup, but I have pictures. These first four are from a book Rob bought for me in France 15 years ago. “Terres Vernissees” by Christine Lahaussois and Beatrice Pannequin is an overview of the art of French glazed ceramics dating back to the 16th century. This method of making large pots with wood armatures wrapped in rope is a centuries old technique. The form begins with a series of wood verticals that describe the height of the piece, and the diameter of the top and the bottom.
Multiple wood ribs that describe the overall shape of the pot are fixed to the central verticals. Keep in mind that the pots are made top side down. Heavy rope is carefully wrapped around the wood ribs. The ribs and the rope create a template for the finished shape of the pot. Wet clay is very heavy, and very sticky. To throw a pot of great size takes multiple passes. Only so much of the finished height of the pot can be done before the pot needs to rest, and the clay become leather hard. Then the next layer can be added. A giant pot thrown on a wheel all at once would collapse under its own weight. It is much more efficient to press the sticky clay into the rope. The form keep the clay from succumbing to gravity.
These pictures detail how the wet clay is pressed into the rope covered form. The texture you see here-the finger marks of the person making this pot. The evidence of the human hand-this is what these pots are all about. These large pots have been made this way for centuries in France. I think it is of utmost importance that this history be known, and appreciated. I appreciate modern technology, and the important news of the moment, but there is more out there. When I plant a beautiful handmade pot, the planting is as much about the the history of the making, and the maker of the pot, as it is about the plants.
Once the wet clay is pressed into the ropes, the wheel turns, and the surface is smoothed. The wood form is collapsed once the clay becomes leather hard. The clay is cut, and the form removed. The rope? The rope is removed before the pot is fired, saved, and used again.
Rob took this picture 2 days ago. That the construction of the giant vases has not changed for several centuries-this is very important to me. How so? The handmade French pots that will come to the shop in 2 months will have been made by a person, whose hand, skill and judgment will enchant me. The history is long, the commitmment-just as long. People who make extraordinary things-I value them. I do what I can to support this industry, and am always sorry when I see a poterie close. The making of the pots is an art I would like to see endure.
The finished pots in my shop do not tell this story. Yes, they have beautiful shapes and graceful curves. They are heavy, solid-very well made. With proper care, they will last better than a lifetime. But the story of how they are made makes for a story any passionate gardener would want to hear.
Once they dry, the pots will be fired. The rope is removed, but the pattern of that rope will be fired and live forever in the interior of the pot. The interior of the pot is every bit as beautiful as the exterior surface. These pots are ready to be planted.
The attic is a perfect drying room. Imagine that every handmade French pot gets hauled to the attic to dry. There are a lot of steps, and a lot of hands that come together to make these pots. When they are thoroughly dry, they will be fired. From these hands to yours-Rob does this part.