At first glance, one could easily mistake a piece of swirl ware pottery as using a technique known as marbling. However, a closer look reveals two totally different processes. Marbling involves mixing a colorant with a single type of clay body, and usually creates a random pattern. Swirl ware involves combining two or more contrasting colored clay bodies together in a less random, more controlled way.
Early Catawba Valley potters including Floyd Propst and Enoch Reinhardt (Image 2) were among the first to experiment with creating swirl ware pottery in the early 20th century as a novelty item for visiting tourists. This tradition continues today by Catawba Valley contemporary potters like Kim Ellington, Charles Lisk (Image 3) and Steve Abee (Image 1), who have also added colorants to clay bodies to create multicolored swirl pottery.
Understanding characteristics such as plasticity, shrinkage, and moisture absorption of each clay body helps to determine how compatible two or more clay bodies are. For example, using clay bodies that are compatible in terms of mineral content and particle size will ensure the shrinkage rate for both clay bodies is uniform enough to prevent cracking.
Catawba Valley potters often use a clear glaze which lets the natural contrast between the clay bodies serve as the color.
For many artisans, one of the best things about making pottery is the experimentation. It brings out the artist and scientist in us all. Analysis and synthesis together creates an exciting dynamic synergy of exploration, discovery, and creativity. On the other hand, if you prefer to save time and money or simply are not into experiments, the CVCC Potters’ Workshop is offering a swirl ware workshop with local Catawba Valley Potter, Steve Abee on Saturday, November 9, 2013 from 10 am to 4 pm. The cost is $75. Lunch is included.