Three Generations of Knowledge: Seng Beh Workshop
by Eden Radfarr, 2019 NMPCA Ghost Ranch workshop scholarship recipient
Over twenty potters, beginners and experts alike, gathered at Ghost Ranch over Labor Day Weekend, 2019, for an intense four days of learning from four generations of renowned Santa Clara ceramists; Jody, Polly, Susan and Kaa Folwell. We were there to learn to make traditional micaceous clay cooking pots.
Jody led us through the coiling process. She taught us to slowly hand roll the coils between our hands, though many of us ultimately reverted to our familiar habit of rolling on the table. Some of us struggled to keep our forms balanced as Jody reminded us to be sure to work all the air bubbles out of our clay. Polly, Susan and Kaa came around giving us tips and troubleshooting.
On day two we continued forming, smoothing and carving our pots. Jody helped us learn to feel the right thickness and weighting of our pots and work out imperfections. Later on, Susan lead us through the slipping and polishing processes on small pots that Polly and member Barbara Campbell had prepared for us. We worked with Santa Clara slip, slips that Susan had harvested on her travels and a commercial micaceous slip that many of us were quite fond of. Susan was quite adept at guiding us through ways to work creatively with imperfections such as spots where the slip flaked off during polishing due to uneven drying. Some of us achieved smooth glistening surfaces while others, myself included, needed to embrace irregularity and work more texture into our surfacing approach, but they all turned out quite lovely.
We low fired the pots overnight and next morning dove into the carving process. The low fire wasn’t quite low enough which made the carving process a little arduous. This was also the day to dry and sand our micaceous pots in preparation for pit firing and to sit back and enjoy presentations from all four Folwells about their (jaw-dropping) work and artistic approaches.
On Monday morning Kaa arrived with a load of precious cow patties for our pit firing. We gathered wood, prepared the fire, and then, moment of truth: we began putting our pots in the fire. It wasn’t long before the pops, like huge popcorn kernels, began. Jody had warned us about squeezing out the air bubbles and not building too thick, but many of us learned the hard way how sensitive micaceous clay is to air pockets and moisture. Despite the casualties many beautiful forms and gorgeous smoke patterns emerged from the coals. The processes we practiced these four days taught us patience and persistence, with the clay and with ourselves, and we all deserve to feel proud of our accomplishments.
Many thanks to Jody, Susan, Polly and Kaa for generously sharing their skills, patience and creative flames with us.
Ed note: This workshop expanded on our “conversation” with Santa Clara potter, Jody Folwell. Read about our previous workshop with Jody in 2013. We also had a session with Jody as part of our 2014 New Mexico Connections workshop.