I’ve been throwing these high-shouldered vases (above) over the last couple of days. It’s a classic shape, often used by Far Eastern potters and beloved of studio potters. William Newland, a great potter who taught for many years at the Central School of Art in London and at the Institute of Education, got his students to aim at it. This is what he said about it in his notes:
“Clay should be like a crocus striking through the ground in Spring. Tip-toed elevated tensions as opposed to saggy hanging over the ankle straps. Based on an aesthetic related to the body and the human desire/preference for the live full and uplifting as opposed to the withered and droopy.”
The shape is a challenge. You have to lift the clay and get the centre of gravity fairly high and to keep a fairly small foot – as Newland said, “full and uplifting”.
Except that not all pottery is like that. The preference for this shape comes from the studio potter’s love affair with China, Japan and Korea. Pottery of the Near East and of medieval Spain has a low centre of gravity, and there is nothing “saggy hanging over the ankle straps” about it. Here for example (below) is a beautiful medieval Persian jug from the Appleton Museum of Art.