Hammond (who appears
to be enjoying herself immensely) dries the top
section of a two-part bottle before adding the shoulder and neck.

It is not surprising that Lisa Hammond has been described as the best woman potter working in Britain at the moment. I would go further. I would say that she is a prominent member of a very elite group of perhaps ten potters who, irrespective of style, gender or genre, are at the very top of a very competitive ladder. Hammond’s recent work exudes the strength, style and finesse of a potter at the very peak of her form. Classic yet somehow contemporary, crisply defined yet with a softness of form and surface, Hammond’s pots carry with them a complete “rightness” of orchestration that is the result of a thirty-year career as a professional maker of pots for a domestic setting.

Hammond is indeed a rarity in British studio ceramics: a potter making strong, adventurous, vapor-glazed stoneware in
an inner-city, urban setting. Maze Hill Pottery, her second workshop in
Greenwich, is situated in a small Victorian brick building that used to
be the ticket office at Maze Hill Station, Southeast London. Hammond
has been at this location since 1994, prodigiously producing an
extensive range of soda glazed kitchen and tableware with an
ever-increasing number of individual pieces. Alongside her production
work she has organized and taught a series of twice-weekly throwing
classes which she views as an important way to introduce pottery to a
wider audience and, in a small way, to supplement the ever-decreasing
availability of classes in the public sector. Her seemingly
indefatigable energy has also seen the coming and going of a series of
apprentices who, in many cases, now have their own successful careers.

Squared and faceted bottle
and yunomi, to 8 in. (20 cm)
in height, thrown stoneware
with red Shino glaze, soda
fired to Cone 12.

 

The
pottery itself isn’t large. Where people once purchased their tickets
for the short journey into central London there are now rows of shelves
lined with tall, medieval-inspired jugs, chawan (tea bowls), squared and
faceted bottles and lidded jars. The throwing area is small, but a
well-structured system of regular monthly firings ensures that there is
no bottleneck and the space is utilized to its maximum efficiency. A
small corner of the building serves as a gallery and sales area. The
kilns, one 90 cubic feet and another, a more modest 40 cubic feet, are
situated outside next to the railway line and must have caused more
than one quizzical glance from a passing passenger in the darkness of
night.

Presently, in the United Kingdom at least, there seems to be
a plethora of metropolitan potters making inane, frankly, very boring,
and extremely “safe” porcelain tableware in that ubiquitous minimalist
or interiors style. Hammond, on the other hand, is a potter that has
never been afraid to take her work to new and often taxing levels.
Throughout her career she has consistently tested her materials to the
limit and continues to research new clay bodies and slips that will
both compliment the Shino glazes and respond well with the capricious
atmosphere of the vapor kiln. Hammond has never been content with the
relative comfort of past successes. Her inquisitive nature and
fascination for all things ceramic demands continuous experimentation.
She is no less vigorous in her quest for the perfect firing and is
constantly tweaking the schedule in response to unexpected, often
minute but possibly welcome, variance in a previous firing. Recently
Hammond’s work has taken another interesting and imaginative path with
her newfound passion for the Japanese Shino glaze, which she fires in
two different ways: in a dedicated eighty-hour, gas-fueled kiln; and in
conjunction with the vaporous atmosphere of the soda kiln. These new
experiments have yielded glazes with great physical depth and intensity
of color and can quite genuinely be said to be innovative and
groundbreaking.

Hammond with apprentice
Billy Lloyd and Lolly (the
furry one) outside Mazehill Pottery, Greenwich, London.

The Boston potter Warren Mather is credited by many
in the U.S. for the introduction of vapor glazing by virtue of sodium
carbonate rather than sodium chloride. Initially thought to be
environmentally less damaging than the chloride, there was much
enthusiasm for the carbonate as a friendlier alternative. Research
carried out in the U.S. by Wil Shynkaruk and Gil Stengel (see “The
Truth About Salt,” by Gil Stengel, September 1998 CM) and in the U.K.
by Peter Meanley, has shown fairly conclusively that this may not, in
fact, be the case. However, whatever the rights or wrongs of the
environmental issues, it is fair to say that Hammond, as far back as
1982, was a pioneer of the technique in the United Kingdom.

Early experiments were not immediately successful. Eventually though, it was
realized that the sodium carbonate, on exposure to the white heat of
2300°F (1260°C), is chemically broken down in a very different way than
sodium chloride. Instead of that all-consuming explosion of vapor that
occurs with the chloride, the carbonate is a slower process and the
vapors less overwhelming. In contrast to the plumes of white exhaust at
the chimney of the salt kiln, there is little to see from the chimney
of a soda firing. Hammond set about exploiting the tendency of sodium
carbonate to exit the kiln by a well-defined path and encouraged the
characteristic flashing associated with sodium carbonate. Later, she
taught the technique at Goldsmiths College in London where, amongst
others, Ruthanne Tudball was a receptive student.


This article is included in Soda Firing Techniques, Tips and Soda Glaze Recipes, which is free to Ceramic Arts Daily subscribers. Click here to see this and other free resources on our free gifts page.


Round jar, 15 in. (38 cm) in height, thrown stoneware
with wisteria handle by
Lee Dalby, soda glaze,
fired to Cone 12.

Japan has always
been a place that Hammond has turned to both for inspiration and, in
recent years, as a market for her pots. Indeed, early in 2007 she will
be only the second non-Japanese potter to have an exhibition of her
work at the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art and then at the prestigious
Keio department store in Tokyo. The experience of a prolonged working
period alongside renowned Shino potter Rizu Takahashi at his pottery in
Mino was to become a watershed in her career. Having been, for many
years, the leading exponent of the art of soda firing, Hammond had
found, in Shino glazes, a new and exciting means of expression that she
instinctively felt would sit comfortably alongside the soda glazed
aspect of her work. In Hammond’s hands, the rich oranges and pinks from
the soda kiln rely heavily on a surfeit of alumina. Shino too, produces
similar coloring from alumina rich feldspars, and the plan was born to
combine both in one kiln.

The Shino glaze, in the hands of the
traditional Japanese potter, is quite unlike the overly refined,
somewhat synthetic Western versions. Difficult, unreliable,
inconsistent and demanding, Shino in its truest form is an enigma. In
essence, the ingredients are very simple; the recipe sometimes contains
just one material: feldspar. The difficult part-the mystery that makes
the perfect Shino almost the potters Holy Grail-is the complex, often
protracted firing with its irregular temperature gradient and reduction
cooling. With an understanding rare in the West, Hammond inspects every
nuance, every unexpected variance of color or texture in great detail,
either in an attempt to repeat an effect or to eliminate it in the next
firing. Uncompromising in her quest for the qualities she seeks,
Hammond is always open and receptive to alternative directions that the
kilns or the materials might suggest to her. The combination of the
capricious vaporous atmosphere, the unctuous Shino glazes and the
constant search for variation and refinement within her repertoire of
faceted and altered, thrown shapes has created a new, wholly more
sophisticated and seasoned body of work.

Set of plates, 7 in. (18 cm)
in diameter, thrown
stoneware with Shino glaze,
fired in a stack to Cone
12, by Lisa Hammond,
London, England.

I have often related to students the notion that a good pot,
irrespective of the outward appearance, should contain an inner
skeleton. The fashion amongst wood firers, for instance, to make
“loose” or “freely thrown” work is an attempt to ape some of the
better-known Japanese wood-fired wares such as Iga or Shigaraki
(particularly Iga).

Often, these pots fail
because there is little understanding of the nature of the original,
together with scant regard to the ‘bones’ of the pot, the skeleton I
spoke of. One is left with flabby, formless and unstructured forms
where it is hoped that the flashed effects of the fire will perform a
miraculous rescue. Hammond’s pots display the structured form
implicitly and with obvious clarity even though the outward appearance
can be softened by the thick, sometimes crawled Shino glaze or the
extreme variation of the directional soda vapor. The outer skin is
draped over an inner framework and the pots sit erect and dignified,
confident in their poise and balance. There is never a brushed
decorative motif, no decorative afterthought. All decoration is in the
clay or in the glaze itself-confident faceting, the spontaneous sweep
of the fingers through wet glaze, the unwavering and direct marks of a
coarse brush or the ghostly impression of a scallop shell adding its
own dynamic to the side of a swollen bottle. All of these are
decorative treatments that are dictated by the structure of the pot and
together they create an integral whole; an expression of the entire
unity of clay, glaze and form.

Round jar with iron spots,
12 in. (30 cm) in height,
thrown stoneware with
white Shino glaze, fired
to Cone 9. Photos: Jay Goldmark, Andy Stewart

It is my contention that the element
that marks out the work of an excellent potter from that of the
ordinary is an almost indefinable “correctness” of orchestration. There
is for some an intuitive ability to see almost immediately that the
proportions of a pot are correct. The neck is suited to the body; the
height of the pot is appropriate to its breadth; the angle of growth
appropriate to the width of the base and height of the wall to the
shoulder and so on. Cardew had this talent, more so than Leach. Hamada
certainly had it. Hammond has it too. There exists within the best of
her pieces a comfortable, almost nonchalant truth that may have come
from years of designing table and kitchenware with a unifying style,
but more likely, I believe, is born within her and unteachable.

Hammond’s
recent show at the impressive Goldmark Gallery in Uppingham, U.K., was
an amazing success. Of 160 pieces shown almost all were sold, and
collectors were unanimous in their opinion that it was an exhibition of
importance and one to remember and to savor. Hammond showed her full
range of shapes, colors and textures: Thick, unctuous Shinos, pitted
and crawled in the most marvelous ways, glowing with pink and orange
warmth. Ash celadons provide a cooler green or blue counterpoise to the
heat of the Shino. Finger sweeps through slip and glaze create an
energy over the surface of the chawan (teabowl) and yunomi (teacup)
complimenting the relaxed throwing. The sensitive and imaginative use
of a second, poured layer of glaze conjures images of landscape or
waterfall. The exhibition was a tour de force and is fortunately
recorded in a lavishly illustrated catalog that is available from the
Goldmark Gallery (www.modernpots.com).

For me, at least, studio
pottery should say something about the intimate and often elemental
relationship of glaze to clay. A pot should communicate the makers joy
and endeavor in its making and converse with its purchaser on a daily
basis, revealing new and formerly unseen secrets. A pot should display
a sense of adventure. For Lisa Hammond, pottery is an all-consuming
vocation. Yes, it represents her livelihood, but to Hammond, pottery
represents far more than a means to exist. Pottery is her life, her
passion. I know no other potter who is more concerned with the search
for constant improvement and refinement. The new work, with its austere
Japanese influence integrated with a European potter’s instinctive
marriage of function and aesthetic consideration, is elevated from
merely good, honest, robust domestic pottery to pots with significant
and lasting virtue.

 

Liner Glaze
cone 12reduction
Nepheline Syenite 33.3 %
Soda Feldspar 33.3 %
AT Ball Clay 33.4 %
Total 100 %

 

 

Pink Shino Glaze
cone 12 reduction
Potash Feldspar 55 %
Soda Feldspar (50 mesh) 25 %
HVAR Ball Clay 20 %
Total 100 %
Slip for Soda Firing
cone 12 reduction
China Clay 50 %
Excelsior Ball Clay 40 %
Silica (Flint) 10 %
Total 100 %
Shino 2
cone 12 reduction
Potash Feldspar 55 %
Soda Feldspar (fine) 20 %
China Clay 15 %
Ball Clay 10 %
Total 100 %
This glaze can fire pink in a long
firing (80 hours) or white over
a period of 12–20 hours.
FIRINGS
For a soda glaze firing, pots are raw fired in a gas kiln to Cone 12 over a 30-hour cycle. Reduction commences at Cone 07. The soda is sprayed in as a saturated solution at Cone 8 and there is a 1/2 hour soak at the end.
A Shino glaze firing lasts approximately 80 hours. Hammond fires 18 hours to 1688°F (920ºC) when a strong reduction commences. Then it is a very slow climb to 2048°F (1120ºC) and then a period of neutral fire to 2300°F (1260ºC). A 5-hour soak is then followed by a slow firing down in reduction to 920ºC.
Click here to leave a comment