Chris Weaver: Workshop

Chris Weaver, from New Zealand, conducted a workshop at ECU. Article and Images by Janet Kovesi Watt.

Those who attended the workshops at “Is the Dinner Party Dead?”in 2001, will remember the elegance and meticulous craftsmanship of Chris Weaver's work. His recent visit provided a great opportunity for those who did not attend the workshop he gave then, to see just how he achieved his forms and effects.
One of the slides he showed was a New Zealand TV commercial with the slogan: “DIY - it's in the DNA”, and this would certainly apply to him, with his skills in woodwork as well as pottery, carving sinuous tools from driftwood, devising a jig for shaping the sleek wooden handles for his teapots, and even building a boat, pictured sailing on a lake near his home on the South Island of New Zealand.
It was a most rewarding workshop on several levels. Encouragingly, he worked on a modest scale, taking his time over all his moves, going over and over his forms until the shape and finish satisfied him. He moved his fingers downwards for some of the time while throwing spouts, to counteract their tendency to twist.
He is fascinated by the challenge of making teapots. One which has achieved iconic status in New Zealand (and been imitated by a commercial Balinese pottery), was inspired by his grandmother's iron – the sort that was made to be filled with glowing coals. He first threw a simple cylinder, sloping slightly in towards the top, and incised a sloping spiral line from base to top. This was then coaxed into a pointy oval, reminiscent of the shape of the iron. The top was thrown separately as a flat slab, with a thickened ring round what would be the underside, into which a gallery for the lid would be turned. He laid this upside down, so that the wavy twisted wire pattern underneath would end up on top, on a layer of foam over a plastic ball, to support its curvature while it stiffened.
Chris threw the lid off the hump, and gave it a big round knob, like the one on the iron. He extruded a V shape for a spout, and hollow tubes (such as he also uses, thinner and pierced with holes, for cup handles) from which to form little sockets for the wooden handle. He normally makes his handles from strips of cedar wood, home-laminated and curved, but on occasion he has used wooden rulers, curved brushes (from a Chinese market), and even plastic-covered bicycle-locking chain. On other teapots he positions little bent clay pegs so that the curve of the handle will spring outwards against them.
His characteristic decorative technique involves slicing through the clay with twisted wires of varying thickness. Chris demonstrated another recently-designed teapot, which he first bumped into a square shape after throwing, then trimmed a slice off the sides by first inserting a finely twisted wire a tiny distance into the base, which he pulled up, crossing the ends of the wire as he did so. This left a subtly textured area like a petal. He counteracted the inward sagging of such cutting, by inserting into the pot a balloon attached to a tube, and blowing. More dramatic was the effect produced by the thick twisted wire on his large-scale harp, which he used to great effect to texture the sides of yet another type of teapot, which started life as an enclosed barrel shape with thick base and top. These were cut in a leaf pattern with the twisted wire, and the whole thing was laid on its side. As it stiffened (and of course shrank) Chris pierced a tiny hole to let out some of the imprisoned air, and then plugged it with a tiny clay stopper, so that the remaining air would continue to support the shape.
The same twisted wire created a large-scale leaf pattern for a dish. Chris formed the basic slab for this on the wheel, (his preference), spreading a lump of clay by thumping and slapping, then levelling it with a strip of wood, and slicing underneath this way, then that, with his wire. He smoothed off the edge to make a rim, and used pieces of foam to ease it up and hold it without damaging the texture, while he gently slapped it over a plank to stretch the round shape into an oval.
He raised small upward curves at the sides, for the attachment of his trademark wooden handles.

This was an inspiring and enjoyable workshop, with a charmingly modest and approachable potter.

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