BOOK REVIEW: Pottery on the Wheel

January 13, 2009
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When the word pottery is mentioned in ceramics, one thinks of the potter’s wheel. When working with symmetrical forms, the potter’s wheel is the only piece of equipment that can mechanically create such a form. Aside from molds used in ceramics, the potter’s wheel offers a challenging basis for creating pottery of substantial size and functional use. Elsbeth S. Woody’s book, Pottery on the Wheel, introduces the potter’s wheel with detailed instruction on the throwing process and beautiful photos of the steps needed to create pottery from the wheel.

Woody uses a five-point hand system to demonstrate the amount of pressure needed to manipulate the clay body. This system creates a basis for learning how to use the potter’s body as a tool in centering, raising and change of direction. Woody includes a simplified summary at the end of each method that gives the basic steps in the procedure. The author also provides many b/w photos throughout the book, demonstrating detailed steps on each technique. Cut-away photos of pottery in progress give good examples on where to place hands and fingers while throwing the ware.

The main issue discussed in the author’s book is the manipulation of clay on a wheel. Woody brings up the subject of strength required while centering. It is difficult to comprehend the force, or lack thereof, needed to form a piece of clay into a symmetrical shape. Woody shows how the artist’s body can become all the force needed to persuade the clay body to perform.

Pottery on the Wheel is a basic introductory book that is an accurate foundational tool for beginning wheel throwing. As a potter new to the wheel, the book details enough information to help understand the basic process of throwing pottery. When techniques become more difficult, though, much-needed steps are ignored, lacking the same quality as found in the beginning of the book. For the novice potter, questions will arise when focusing on more detailed procedures. Woody does not include solutions to problem areas that will arise for the inexperienced. For the novice potter, the answer to these questions will often come too late to correct.

Woody’s book is a non-updated version of her book previously published in 1975. Photographs, particularly those of the potter’s wheel, are clearly outdated. But as a basis for the introduction to throwing, Pottery on the Wheel will give the novice potter a clear look into the first steps of throwing. It is highly recommended for the student who looks for the fundamental process.

Elsbeth S. Woody is known for her teaching program in the U.S. at various colleges, including the Baruch College and the Teachers College in New York. She is also known for public displays of her work at the Boston City Hall, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York, and the Bronx Museum. Ms. Woody currently resides in South Africa, where she continues her work in the pottery field.

Pottery on the Wheel is a paperback book consisting of 205 pages, including over 250 black and white photographs. The book contains a glossary of terms used and a substantial bibliographical notation on books written by potters such as F.H. Norton, C.F. Binns and Frederick L. Olsen.

Title: Pottery on the Wheel
Author: Elsbeth S. Woody
First Copyright Date: 1975 (reissued 2008)
Type of Book: Instructional Pottery
General Subject Matter: Potter’s wheel technique and forms.
Special Features (maps, color plates, etc.): Black and white photos.
Price: $29.95
ISBN #: 13: 978-1-58115-502-0 / 10: 1-58115-502-6

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