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The teapot challenge.

Sculptor Peter Shire calls the teapot "The Holy Grail of Pottery," meaning it is one of the most difficult exercises in clay; a quest for form with function. The joining of dissimilar elements, the issue of balance relative to the handle and spout, the fact that the teapot must pour tea without spilling or dripping, combine to make it a technical challenge.

For my high school students, the teapot challenge combined all of the skills they learned by making pinch pots, coil containers and slab constructions. It was an opportunity to take a utilitarian object that we are all familiar with, and turn it into an object of fantasy, whimsy, practicality or something bordering on the bizarre. It was a summation of all they had learned. Most of the teapots they created were endowed with humor, as the clay was transformed from a prepared ball into a unique, one-of-a-kind vessel.

We spent several days working on preliminary drawings, and discussing design, size, handle and spout placement, although some of these elements always change as the work progresses. Once the main concept was decided upon, the students began to prepare the clay. Here they had a few options: they could use red or white clay or a combination of both; they could use Mishima, an inlay technique where one color of clay is embedded into another; or they could use oxides to color their clay. They also had some options when it came to form: they could work with coils only, coils and slabs, pinch and coils or any combination of these techniques. Each student approached the project with a great deal of freedom, and I took pleasure as an observer as well as the instructor.

Once the concept begins to take form the student must consider the following elements:

* Handle - Should the teapot have one or not; if so, how it will function with the rest of the pot?

* Spout - Where should it be placed in relation to the handle? (I recall Byron Temple, a potter who, in a filmstrip, said that his first spout dripped water because it wasn't angled properly.)

* Lid - It must have a foot rim or similar design to keep it from sliding off the pot.

* Base - It must always be finished in a manner befitting the entire piece.

One student changed his idea for the teapot lid several times. First, he planned the lid to be a baby turtle on the back of its parent; later, he decided to transform the baby turtle into a knob to lift the lid. Surface textures, another important element, were included on the pattern of the turtle's back and etched into the legs with a fettling knife. A combination of underglazes were used as primary decoration, with several coats of clear, transparent glaze placed over the entire piece.

Teapots may be produced in a wide variety of styles. Some will be used for brewing and serving tea; others will be displayed as sculpture. All are meaningful to their creators who participated in their growth and development. The most important outcome of the teapot challenge was that the students were motivated and stimulated to create in an environment that encouraged personal statements with a variety of solutions.
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Title Annotation:high school students learn to make teapots in clay
Author:Safran, Sharon L.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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