BOOK REVIEW: Handbuilding Ceramic Forms

December 10, 2008
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Every new potter desires to have a personal teacher in ceramic design and form. Handbuilding Ceramic Forms is that teacher. Written to introduce basic methods used in developing pottery, Elsbeth S. Woody’s step-by-step instructional gives the reader a unique discovery into the styles of handbuilding forms while introducing the hands-on side of pottery making.

The author begins by detailing instruction on the beginning use of clay. While covering information on types of clay bodies, basic terminology, and glazing and firing, Woody quickly moves to the preparation of the clay body with basic mixing steps and instruction on two common wedging styles.

The heart of Woody’s book includes areas of form that often represent the beginning of problems for the novice. By using past experience, the author sums each problem with a solution in areas of joining clay bodies, creating support for large forms and working in stages. Methods of forming clay with solid forms, small and large forms and the use of the paddle to shape and smooth clay surfaces gives a new look at creativeness through the author’s eyes. Simple and complex surface treatments complete the instructional side of the book, with particular attention given to decorating with the use of detailed photographs.

The final chapter, “Ten Approaches to Handbuilding,” is the author’s unique way to introduce areas of form that she is not familiar with. Woody provides an exceptional display of 10 artists, including David Middlebrook, Billie Walters and Susan Wechsler. Explanation as to their style, form and ability to overcome designing problems in their work provide a distinct approach to handbuilding their forms. Each artist introduces a completely new handbuilding technique that is an inspiring and fresh look to ceramic design.

Woody’s book covers the necessary information needed to establish a firm foundation in handbuilding. Written for the novice potter, the author clearly understands the necessary steps in teaching handbuilding form to a new pottery artist. Woody’s concise instructions, followed by detailed photos, allow the reader the opportunity to visually retain the technique with the least amount of confusion from text.

As a potter myself, the book inspired a desire to work more in the handbuilding field. Woody’s use of known artists in her book gave an appealing look at handbuilding as an acceptable form of ceramic design. The inclusion of new founded techniques gives a renewed idea on how to perform handbuilding projects and overcome problems with stability, display and creative form difficulties often found when using clay. Woody focuses on problems often associated with the separation of joined surfaces, collapse, handling large slab works and displaying finished works. The author includes enough areas of handbuilding to give the reader a basis for developing their own style, as well as providing problem-solving ideas that would cover many areas of handbuilding techniques not covered in her book.

Woody’s long-time experience in handbuilding forms helps to develop this book into a satisfying primer for the introduction of handbuilding form and styles. As a basic handbuilding reference, it is suitable for studio and school reference. Although a republished version, clearly from a different generation of potters, the book covers information still needed and used in studios today.

Known for her influential style and creativeness, Woody is considered one of the long standing potters in the U.S. and Africa. Although better known for her publishing and teaching history, Woody’s work has a mainstream origination with fellow potters of her era. She is known for her teaching program in the U.S. at various colleges, including the Baruch College and the Teachers College in New York. Woody is also known for public display of her work at Boston City Hall, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York, and the Bronx Museum. She currently resides in South Africa where she continues her work.

Handbuilding Ceramic Forms includes 227 pages of text, 267 b/w photos, a bibliography of book and magazine resources, and a listing of clay and glaze recipes used by the featured artists.


Title: Handbuilding Ceramic Forms
Author: Elsbeth S. Woody
First Copyright Date: 1978 (republished 2008)
Type of Book: Instructional Pottery
General Subject Matter: Handbuilding forms and techniques
Special Features (maps, color plates, etc): Black and white photos.
Price: $29.95
ISBN #: 13: 978-1-58115-503-7 / 10: 1-58115-503-4
For more information, visit www.allworth.com.

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