Pottery is one of the most ancient of human creations. Today, hand made pots and plates are still in demand. But some potters turn out clay pieces as works of art. Recently a ceramics program in the state of Virginia gathered an "elite" group of potters that has brought back the centuries-old art of crystalline glazing, one of the most difficult techniques of the trade. Producer Zulima Palacio has the story. Carol Pearson narrates.
Nearly 50 artists, mostly from the United States, gathered recently at Northern Virginia Community College in the city of Alexandria. They compared notes on crystalline glazing, a long and difficult chemical and heating process that uses special glaze with large amounts of zinc.
Complex techniques and styles were shared and passed on to students during the workshops. The best and most expensive work was shown at the school's gallery. Professor Bill Schran organized the event.
He explained the difference between traditional glazing and crystalline glaze. "It is a much more demanding process that is involved with producing it," he said. "Because besides the glaze and the extra normal firing schedule, there is also the preparation for each individual pot."
Schran has worked with crystalline glaze for years. He says the technique of growing zinc silica crystals on porcelain began in the mid 19th century in Europe.
But the process was hard to control and was abandoned. In the 1960s, with better kilns, it was revived. It is still long and difficult, but every piece is unique.
"They are a bit more expensive than what you might normally see as hand made stoneware or porcelain because the process itself is so demanding and takes so much longer," Schran said.
Professional potters Denyse and Rod Siamair, a couple from Canada, attended the event. Rod works the clay on the potter's wheel. Denyse does the glazing.
"Coming from the background of doing other type of clay work, this one is sort of the high end of the spectrum," Denyse Siamair said. "The crystalline glazes are most challenging of any type of clay work. If we can get many different variables just right, then the crystal will form and if one little thing happens that is not just right, you get no crystals."
Professor Schran says one reason crystalline glazed pots are rare is because, in the end, only a few pieces bear perfect crystals. He hopes events like this will inspire artists to improve their technique.