Pottery and the Pottery craft is one of the oldest, widespread and useful arts. The earliest findings of pottery date back to the Neolithic Age - 7000 BC. It seemed that the first pottery were made when human beings began to farms and domesticate animals.
Around 5000 BC evidence from archaeological diggings was that they started to use kilns (ovens) for controlled heat. 3500 BC the Potter wheel was invented. The potter wheel revolves and enables the craftsman to throw (work) with both hands. The kiln and wheel were not always used by many cultures but they produced fine wares.
Pottery is made from clay and fired (heated) until it is hard. Clay can be moulded into any shape before being fired. That is why this material is so much liked and useful because it can be shaped into vessel, utensil and statues.
The quality of clay and the temperature of the kiln decide what pottery you can produce. The higher the temperature and your pottery will be harder and finer. In the older days temperature control was a problem. It has been known that an entire patch of pottery was spoiled in the kiln.
Earthenware, stoneware and porcelain were the three types of pottery. Earthenware being fired at a low temperature which was easy and plentiful produced.
Porcelain was so hard and fine and for centuries only the Chinese knew how to produce it.
The decoration on potteries can be done in many ways. One ways is to dilute clay to make a paste which is trailed over the surface to make a charming but a bit crude picture or pattern. The other way is to cover the surface and scratch a design down to the original surface.
A glaze is found on most pottery which seals the porous body and prevents liquid to penetrate. On stoneware pottery and porcelain the glaze gives a smooth and brilliant appearance.
The best quality of pottery is painted. To achieve this there are many ways to do it. The painting can be done on fired surface before glazing. When painting is applied on the glazed surface it can be done two way either by applying it before or after a second firing. Another method of high quality pottery is to decorate it with silver, copper and/or gold pigment which gives a fascinating metallic appearance. This method originated in Persia and is associated with Islamic pottery.
Greeks developed a method of decorating their pottery. They painted in black on the red surface of the pottery great scenes of their life of victory and Greek mythology. Later on they painted the background black and left the figures red which were the colour of the pottery.
Islamic pottery is not only decorated in the lustre technique but also used Arabic writing (calligraphy) which gives a decorative and great beauty.
From Islam via Spain, Europe imported the traditional earthenware with white, opaque tin glaze. The scenes painted in Renaissance style in 15th century Italy and known as maiolica. The same technique used late in northern Europe is known as faience and delft.
Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) who started a mass-production in Staffordshire and at the same time produced high-quality products in earthenware (cream-ware) and stoneware in a Neo-classical style.
China has, no doubt, the oldest and still going on, pottery tradition since 300 BC. The most famous terracotta soldiers and horses and the tomb furnishings from the T'ang period 618-906 AD. China is also famous for its porcelain it produced. It is exceptionally hard, white, smooth and translucent.
Europeans imported and collected Chinese porcelain for a long time. In 1709 the secret of producing this kind of quality porcelain was discovered and Meissen in Saxony became the first porcelain factory. Nymphenburg, Bavaria, Sevres in France, and from 1740 Chelsea, Derby and Worcester in England followed. 18th century porcelain tableware was beautiful figurines of masked harlequins, shepherds and others.
19th century brought through mass-production, a decline of quality, but in the 20th century, Bernard Leach and others started to revive the individual pottery craft that continues with great success. These beautiful articles are available through selected pottery shop.