Wilde & Free meets Bell Ceramics
When I started processing the idea of Wilde & Free, I ran the idea past my cousin Jenni Bell (Bell Ceramics) who also happens to be my dad’s niece. She loved the idea of Wilde & Free so much that she offered to donate her handmade pottery to help me in my quest to raise awareness about the American Heart Association. Jenni and I went a little bit further with the pottery concept, so, I had a couple of custom-made pottery stamps made for Jenni, so that we could really build the Wilde & Free brand!
In a recent conversation, I asked Jenni if she would take a few minutes and share with me what all is entailed when making a single piece of pottery. I want to be able to paint a bigger picture for those who may not realize the time, effort and patience that goes into creating handmade art, such as pottery.
Jenni shared the following:
I buy 50 lbs. of clay at a time – Amaco Stoneware 11, this is a high-fire glaze, making it food safe and not just for décor. I start by taking a chunk of clay off the 50 lb. cube and wedge it, kind of like when you make bread from scratch and have to knead the dough, the same applies for clay. This doesn’t take long for each “ball” of clay, two to three minutes per “ball”.
Once it’s all wedged up, it’s ready to go on the wheel. I mostly throw my pottery on the wheel, not a huge fan of hand-building or sculpting. Depending what I’m making on the wheel determines how much time is spent. If I’m making the little trinket dishes for example, from start to finish, those take me roughly ten minutes, give or take. I begin by centering the clay on the wheel. If the clay is not perfectly centered, the whole piece will be “wonky”. To center the clay, I start by what’s called “coning up” – you basically force the clay into a cone shape with your hands and pull it up. Then, at a slight angle, I push it back down. I will do this a couple times until I can feel and see that the clay is now perfectly centered. I know when the clay is perfectly centered by touch and sight – when I spin the wheel at full speed and it looks like the ball of clay is steady in the center & doesn’t look like it’s actually moving. (not really sure how else to explain this part lol) This process can take anywhere from a few minutes to several minutes, depending on how many pounds of clay I’m working with. The more pounds of clay, the longer it will take. From there, I push my finger in the center of the ball of clay, creating the opening of the form. Once it’s opened up, I compress the bottom of the clay to reinforce stability. This is the beginning process for ALL forms. After the clay has been centered, opened up & the bottom has been compressed, I will start pulling the sides up to create a cylinder shape, with a few exceptions for small/short items like spoon rests or trinket dishes. Once the cylinder shape has been formed, I will start manipulating it and give it “body” if you will. There are times I will skip this step entirely though and form the clay into the shape I want as soon as I’ve opened it up. The process on the wheel from start to finish is completely dependent on what I’m creating. Some forms take 10-15 minutes whereas other forms (specifically larger pieces like a big bowl) can take up to 20 even 30 minutes to get it where I want it.
Once I’m done forming the piece, it needs to dry. I will move it off the wheel over to a shelf and let it dry under several layers of plastic sheeting, so it dries slowly. Before it’s completely dry – it gets to a stage called “leather hard”. At leather hard stage is when I will trim and clean up the bottom of the piece and return it back under the plastic sheeting to continue drying.
After about 2 weeks, the piece is fully dry and is ready to be bisque fired. The bisque fire is what vitrifies the clay. Bisque fire takes about 8 hours in the kiln, reaching 1950 degrees Fahrenheit. The kiln will cool down in another 12-15 hours and the pieces can be removed from the kiln.
Now it’s time to decide on glaze colors for the pieces. Every color of glaze needs at LEAST 2 coats, 3 is best. Each coat of glaze has to dry before you put on another coat, just like painting walls in your home. I like to layer one glaze color over another, as this creates really neat affects you won’t get with just 1 glaze. Some pieces can have up to 9 layers of glaze on them, which you can imagine takes a while to apply (depending on the size of the piece, this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour).
Once everything is glazed and dried, back to the kiln it goes. The glaze firing will reach temperatures of 2170. It takes about 24 hours from starting the kiln up to when it’s completely cooled down & I can remove the items.
If I add mother of pearl luster on top of the now glaze-fired piece, that requires a few more steps. Mother of Pearl luster is extremely toxic due to the fumes it gives off. I cannot apply mother of pearl luster to a piece, inside. I have to apply it in the garage, with the garage door open and a fan blowing. I also have to wear a respirator to protect my lungs from the fumes. I will swirl the luster on the pieces, as its best applied in a circular motion; let it dry & once again – back to the kiln it goes for its 3rd and final firing (MOP cannot be applied to glaze that hasn’t been through a glaze firing). The luster firing gets to about 1250 degrees in the kiln which only takes about 3 hours. Another handful of hours and the kiln is cooled down enough to pull the pieces out. And voila! Magic.
Jenni has selflessly donated her clay, glazes, and time to create one-of-a-kind pieces of pottery exclusively for Wilde & Free.
She believes in this foundation whole heartedly. Her contribution to this advocacy and my dad’s legacy is priceless. I will forever be grateful to her and her support!
Each piece of pottery that is sold on our website is shipped FREE, with lots of love!
And as always, 100% of net profits will be donated to the American Heart and American Stroke Association.