Betty Woodman. The Ming Sisters, 2003. 32 x 81 x 8 in. Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art / Glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, paint.
These days, studio pottery is really focused on cone 6 firing temperature. My own technical studies in ceramics have only briefly touched on Earthenware, which is also underrepresented in technical literature on ceramics. Even if making the switch took a long time for me, I will explain you why it is necessary to relearn to adore earthenware!
1.The devaluation of Earthenware is rooted is a misogynistic and colonialist culture
Since the 60’s, the heyday of gas firing and the sometimes very macho "Wood-fire culture" Earthenware have suffered a bad reputation: Seen as primitive in western culture and associated with “low-tech” cultures, it is also viewed as a material for hobbyists and often mistakenly seen as incompatible with durable tableware.
Earthenware also has a feminine connotation as it has always been more suitable for colors (the higher the temperature, the more the colors fade). Even if ceramic technologies have greatly evolved in recent years, the brightly colored surface decorations are still associated with low firing temperatures and "tacky" commercial glazes. However, historically in ceramics, women have long been relegated to the devalued role of "China painter". The very elaborate and colorful surface decorations were therefore often done by a woman's hand and/or associated with women's work.
Female china painters at the Newcomb Pottery
The decorative, the feminine, the seductive, the colorful, the primitive and the vulgar are often seen interrelated in western culture and are attributes that I like to use in my own work. Earthenware embodies all of that. I am therefore more than happy to reclaim this material view as less "noble" to create beautiful ceramics!
"Izucar de Matamoros" by Familia Flores / Mexican tree of life candlestick made with earthenware
2.Earthenware is a great material when working with bright colorsAs said before, why bother with dull colors when you can get fantastic and stable results by firing at lower temperatures? Of course, it is possible today to obtain very bright colors at cone 6 with commercial underglazes but low temperature firings are still the most suitable way to produce work characterized by bright colors and surface decorations like mine.
3.Working with Earthenware is more sustainable
Working with earthenware requires a lot less energy. As it is a low temperature clay, the firings are usually quicker and cheaper because they require a lot less energy than a cone 6 firing. You don't have to change your elements as often on your kiln, your carbon footprint will be reduced and your wallet will thank you.
4.Earthenware allow me to work with locally sourced materials
I am very happy to be able to work with local raw materials. The clay I use now is the only commercial clay that is made in Montreal with claystone from Gaspésie!
5.Earthenware is perfectly suitable for everyday use
Earthenware has been used to make pots around the world for thousands of years. Although low temperature clay body does not vitrify, the porosity of some earthenware is sometimes very similar to the porosity of stoneware. In some red earthenware clay, the iron acts as a flux and can vitrify the clay body. Furthermore, Its slightly lower density also allows it to be more resistant to thermal shocks. In short, it's even better!