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Ceramic Art Lesson Plan: Mimbres Decoration Technique

Posted By Tracy P. Gamble On July 12, 2010 @ 5:00 am In College Level Ceramics Assignments,Education,Lesson Plans 9-12 | No Comments

Mimbres–style antelope bowls ranging from 3 to 9 inches in diameter, wheel-thrown, red earthenware, fired to cone 04.

Goals

 

  • Learn to paint figures and designs in the Mimbres style.
  • Research Mimbres designs on the internet by Googling “Mimbres designs.” You’ll find several sites with designs that will help you get started.
  • Research contemporary artists who reference Mimbres styles, including Diego Romero.
  • Translate your own ideas for decorative patterns using a combination of contemporary interpretations of Mimbres style images and majolica painting techniques.

 

History

 

The Mimbres people painted images in black on a white background, mostly on earthenware bowls. Very little beyond pottery has been recovered to learn more about these people, so making an interpretation of the Mimbres culture based on archaeological finds remains highly speculative.

 

What is agreed upon, however, is that, between 550 and 1150 C.E., they lived in a 46-mile-long valley in a southwest corner of New Mexico. With no known incidence of war, these peaceful village dwellers also farmed, hunted and foraged. What is also agreed upon is that they painted on pottery, creating images of human figures with rabbits, lizards, fish, antelopes and even bugs from their landscape. It is interesting that Europe was rife with violence, and war during the same period that the Mimbres were painting images that appear to reflect a very different world view.

 

Download a printer-friendly version of this ceramic art lesson plan here:
Mimbres Decoration Technique

 

Interpretations

 

The bowl form and antelope decoration of the vessels in the photographic examples shown here was inspired directly from an authentic Mimbres piece in the Eiteljorg Museum collection (in Indianapolis, Indiana). I drew an interpretation of the original antelope design, photocopied it and enlarged it to a size that best fit the vessel being glazed, then cut it out with an X-Acto knife.

 

In my recent work, this Mimbres decorative style has progressed into more silhouette-type images from contemporary themes. For example, animal silhouettes—from dogs to chickens—as the main image on a vessel with Mimbres traditional rim designs are used. Think of ways that images that are meaningful to you can be incorporated into your designs, and make sketches of different variatios and possibilities in your sketchbook before committing one to the surface of a pot. Once you have a design you like, make several photocopies to work from, and save the original in your sketchbook.

 

Mimbres Surface Decoration

 

The Mimbres decoration is black on white, and historically was unglazed. To recreate the black and white style but incorporate glaze, do the following. After bisque firing earthenware clay to cone 03, paint on three coats of an opaque white matt glaze for the white base/background.

 

Apply the glaze one coat at a time and allow it to dry naturally between coats. Forcing the coats to dry with a hair dryer or heat gun does not work well because the heat shrinks the glaze quickly, causing it to separate from the clay and crawl during firing.

 

Use a soft lead pencil to trace a design on the raw, unfired white glaze base, then paint on the decoration using black glaze. If you use a gloss black, just a single coat will work if you want to keep the matt or satin effect of the white glaze. A second coat makes the black too glossy. Find a combination of clay and glazes you want to use and test them before investing a lot of time in decorating a piece. I’ve used various earthenware clay bodies and a variety of low-fire opaque matt white glazes and black glazes, all with good results.

Mark the centers of the small triangles that will go all the way around the rim.

Mark the centers of the small triangles that will go all the way around the rim.

Fill in triangles to complete the motif.

Fill in triangles to complete the motif.

Once the decoration is painted on, do a final glaze firing to cone 04.


 

 

Trimming a Continuous Rounded Base on a Wheel Thrown Pot

 

The simple forms of Mimbres pottery are directly connected to the decoration. Traditionally, Mimbres pots have a rounded base without a separate foot, but I created a foot with a continuous rounded look that is functional (it stands sturdy on the foot without rocking) while keeping its appearance traditional. This same foot is used for mugs, vases and bowls.

 

Throw any size bowl, mug or vase in the usual way and trim the foot when the vessel is leather hard. (Note: I started out throwing a vessel with a bit thicker base (an extra ¼-inch thickness in the bottom of the vessel) and discovered that additional thickness was not really needed with careful trimming.)

 

 Center and attach the leather-hard pot to the wheelhead, then mark the outside of the foot with a trimming tool

Fig. 1. Center and attach the leather-hard pot to the wheelhead, then mark the outside of the foot with a trimming tool

Trim away excess clay from the outside of the piece using the rounded side of the trimming tool.

Fig. 2. Trim away excess clay from the outside of the piece using the rounded side of the trimming tool.

Fig. 3. Remove ridges with the flat side of the trimming tool

Fig. 3. Remove ridges with the flat side of the trimming tool

Trim inside the foot ring with the corner of the tool.

Trim inside the foot ring with the corner of the tool.

Round the foot for a continuous rounded look to the curve of the vessel base and smooth and finish with flat side of tool

Round the foot for a continuous rounded look to the curve of the vessel base and smooth and finish with flat side of tool

Smooth with a slightly damp sponge, then smooth the curve with a flexible rib

Smooth with a slightly damp sponge, then smooth the curve with a flexible rib

 


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