Step-by-step: a traditional Latvian handmade clay dish

In collaboration with the LTV1 program "Pūra lāde" (Dowry Chest), LSM.lv is ready to introduce you to ancient Latvian trades and skills.

Ancient skills are accessible to anyone with the desire, interest, materials and tools. This time, we offer advice on how to make a clay pot with your own two hands: from history and cultural background to practical tips.

Clay

Archaeologists estimate that the first fragments of clay dishes in Latvia were found about 5000 years BCE. Until the 11th century CE, all dishes were being shaped manually, without using a lathe. In the Kurzeme region, especially around Talsi, this technique was used until the 1300s. Today, many craftspeople all over the country have taken to this ancient technique, hand-shaping their pottery and burning it in a kiln.

The first episode of the show "Pūra Lāde" was filmed in Kuiviži with the potter Dace Asne. Dace shapes all her pottery by hand and burns it using a damping technology that results in dark, metallic shades without using chemical glaze.

 

Photo: Liene Žeimunde

In her youth, Dace Asne had taken to professional rowing and dedicated several years of her life to maritime activity. She has captained the ship "Namejs", a prototype of a Viking vessel.

Dace is now an academically educated art tutor, teaching classes in plastics and ceramics to children and adults. She is a proud owner of her kiln, designed by acclaimed pottery master Evalds Vasiļevskis. Unafraid to experiment, Dace creates tiny pots and massive vases, as well as distinctive clay jewelry. 

You can contact Dace on pottery-related matters via her Facebook page or by calling 22069527.

 

Photo: Ronalds Blūms

Photo: Ronalds Blūms

Necessary materials:

To create a pot in the plaiting technique, two things are needed: clay and hands. One small pot requires about a fist-size ball of clay. Ready-to-use clay can be purchased in several stores, usually sold in 10-kilogram packs. 

To decorate the finished product, any object on hand can be used: a stick, a knife, a spoon, an ice cream stick, a pencil. Special tools can also be bought. Polishing is easy to do with the round side of a spoon or some other smooth rounded object.

 

Photo: Ronalds Blūms

The process:

Time and mood is of essence when making clay dishes. Clay doesn't like "angry" and "anxious" hands. Clay helps your hands to relax and develop senses. Clay turns uneasiness into peace, a troubled mind into pensive. Clay wants attention and patience.

To make a pot, take about a fist-sized clay ball. Slowly make a dent in the ball to form the shape of a bowl. The edges should be pushed upward so that the dish is round and does not turn into a plate. Clay must be stored in a container that prevents exposure to air, like a plastic pouch. If the clay hardens, it can be soaked in water and then kneaded.

The mass should be smoothed out so that cracks and air bubbles are no longer in the clay. The walls should be the same in terms of thickness, otherwise the container will crack. 

If there is desire and courage to make the dish larger, a small piece of clay is rolled into a sausage shape about as thick as the rim of the bowl. Then, it is carefully stuck to the container along the upper rim, avoiding formation of air bubbles. 

When the shape of the dish is complete, it's time to let your imagination run wild in terms of ornaments. Take a pointed but not sharp object and draw patterns to your liking, careful not to damage the shape. Don't forget to sign the bowl on the bottom.

When the ornament is finished, the dish is left to dry. The room should not be too hot, no direct sunlight, no wind or draft.

The next day, it is time to polish, easy to do with the back of a spoon. The pot is placed firmly on your palm and light pressure with the back of the spoon is applied. It takes time and patience and is a comforting, meditative process.

Time to dry - place the dish in a shady place for five to ten days, depending on thickness.

Next, a beginner goes online and searches a master - someone who has a kiln and is familiar with the technique. The process is rather costly, but accessible. Dace Asne will not refuse assistance. To take the dish to the kiln, it should be wrapped in a newspaper or other material and placed in a box. 

Have you made a clay dish on your own? Tell us how you did it step by step! LSM.lv editorial e-mail: [email protected] 

 

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