Potter known for raku work now concentrates on everyday ware


Handmade pottery began in the New Stone Age, at the dawn of domestication when man chose the orderliness of village life.

The craftsmen of the time pinched clay into cups and bowls, and discovered firing -- heating the dry clay pots until the minerals fused. Today, we sift through broken pots from every age of man to discover our past.

Often, we seek clues to everyday life. What were the bowls of Native Americans? What dishes were in use by Carroll County's earliest inhabitants?

Everyday pottery, the stuff of daily life, is the specialty of Hampstead potter Dave Warfield. His blue-and-white clay ware is sold at Harborplace, in Annapolis and St. Michael's, in Rehoboth Beach and Newark, Del., and states nearby -- Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.

Mr. Warfield annually demonstrates throwing pots and firing raku ware at the Frederick Craft Fair, a juried show that gleans 400 crafts people from the 3,000 who apply for space from all 50 states. He also is a familiar artisan at the National Craft Fair in Gaithersburg.

In his crowded studio at Shiloh Pottery on Brodbeck Road, Mr. Warfield nimbly steps between rows of pitchers and oil lamps stacked on the floor to reach the kiln.

The kiln, which resembles a large toaster oven with a volcano inside, swallows cups and lamps and candleholders in dull hues. The firing -- baking the clay to temperatures approaching 3,000 degrees -- takes hours.

Much later, the cooled kiln is opened. Mr. Warfield's beautiful blue glaze glows from inside. The extreme temperature has worked its magic; the dull stone has become like glass.

"I'm no chemist, but I've learned certain things you can do," says Mr. Warfield, who threw his first clay pot as a Mount St. Joseph High School student in Baltimore in 1976.

The thickness of the glaze decides the color.

It can ruin pieces, he says, twisting a blue pot in his hands to reveal one side in yellow-green, the result of too much glaze.

Mr. Warfield attended Maryland Institute, College of Art while working full time in the hospital industry.

"I went to the institute just to have a place to work with clay," he says. "For throwing, you learn the basics, and either you have it or you don't. You just have to develop [techniques]. It looks easy. But if you can throw a straight cylinder, or bring it in at the top, you're doing something."

Mr. Warfield catches a mug with tongs and plunges it into a deep bucket of what will cook into a white glaze.

Right now it looks like thin pancake batter. Big sacks of mineral powders -- feldspar, dolomite, quartz and others -- crowd one end of his studio. He weighs each powdered stone to mix his own clay and glazes. Thick volumes of recipes gather clay dust beneath the window.

The recipe books look simple, but there's more involved than baking a cake.

OC The materials used to make the clay and glazes may have a vital

-- of impurity. The clay formula reacts with the glaze formula and the temperature, which can vary, inside the kiln.

The fire requires oxygen and pulls it out of the clay, Mr. Warfield says. For example, if you reduce the fire in the kiln, the oxide in one of his glazes will pull the iron out of the clay, yielding reddish flecks in the finished piece.

"You don't have to be a scientist," says Mr. Warfield. "I think most potters learn by trial and error.

"I've measured this with a hydrometer, to measure the viscosity. Now I'm counting seconds in my head," he says, holding the mug beneath the thin mud of the glaze.

He pulls it up and tips out the extra material.

The mud bath dries on the clay cup in front of a roaring wood stove. This is its second color treatment. The first happened while the cup was spinning on his potter's wheel.

"This is straight cobalt oxide, put on while it's wet," says Mr. Warfield, pointing to a broad green band.

The glaze band was painted as the newly thrown pot spun on the wheel. Then it was scraped as it whirled.

After firing, the cobalt will look like woven blue feathers. Bands of iron oxide, which will be brown, circle the pot above and below the feathers.

"It takes almost as long to put the cobalt on as to throw the pot," he says.

Throwing a pot, or pulling the lump of clay -- 500 grams per mug -- into a vessel while it's spinning, takes concentrated effort for a few minutes.

It's a brief beginning to a process that includes trimming, attaching handles, and applying and firing glazes once or several times, while watching for drips or cracks.

Or snowstorms. Two weeks ago, his kiln fire went out during the cold snap.

His work was lost.

For several years, Mr. Warfield was known for raku pottery, a Japanese style of firing.

The American raku style takes the pot from the kiln, red hot, and plunges it into a combustible such as shredded paper or sawdust under cover. The glaze crackles and the smoldering carbon penetrates, blackening the cracks. Then the firing is quenched by water.

Unglazed areas of Mr. Warfield's raku pots gain a metallic sheen in prismatic colors, reminiscent of the flames that have surrounded it.

Raku is not watertight. It's an aesthetic piece. It's also prone to breakage during the process, about 50 percent of the time, Mr. Warfield says.

For now, he's concentrating on producing functional stoneware.

What does the public enjoy about pottery?

"You can throw an ugly form with a beautiful glaze and it will sell," he says. "The appearance is everything. The shape is nowhere near as important."

In seven years as a full-time potter, Mr. Warfield has sought to accomplish beautiful form. Sensuous vases with narrow bases and swollen shoulders fill a rear shelf. There are squat pots with double rims like collars. His oil lamps are as delicate as a bubble.

"I try for a nice shape, to let the whole piece float," he says.

Other professional potters recognize the work of an artist. At the Frederick and Gaithersburg shows, he says, he receives compliments from the country's best potters.

"Nice form," is what they say. "That's it."

He's smiling now. "And my head swells a little bit.

"People get hooked on it," he says of pottery making. "They just like it. Even if I had a job making $200,000 a year, I'd come home and make pots."

For information, call Dave Warfield at 239-6334.

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