How to make a traditional pot in Ghana
Warren Mackenzie Fellowship 2016
Installment no. 2
One of my main objectives for my trip to Ghana was to learn the traditional practices of clay and pottery from the women in Sirigu, a small village that is tucked up very close to the border of Burkina Faso in Northern Ghana. On this day I learned how to make a bowl form with a woman named Apolala.
Step one: sit on the concrete floor and try and make yourself comfortable.......
The clay comes straight from the riverbed and isn't mixed with anything except for grog for strength. The grog is made from crushed up previous fired pottery that has been broken or discarded after heavy rains or excess cooking.
The tools are pretty simple and straight forward. Hands, calabash gourd pieces that have been cut for smoothing or scraping certain aspects of the interior or exterior. A scary, rusty old coffee can with super ragged metal edges for water and smooth stones from the riverbed for tamping and burnishing. The bowl in the upper right of this photo is of a iron rich material from Burkina Faso that is crushed, watered down, and applied to the pots by hand when hard, leather hard and then burnished.
The clay from the river is mixed by hand with crushed grog with a little water sprinkled in until the right consistency. All the wedging happens in the bowl and the clay is incredibly short. Grog is sprinkled on the concrete floor, which acts as "wheel" so that one can spin the clay when adding coils.
The clay is patted into a little cake and an indentation is made with the heel of the hand. Next a small coil is rolled between the palms (which is harder than it looks) and a small coil of clay is added to the interior rim and supported with a hand on the outside.
Apolala thinks my first few coils aren't so hot so shes taken over. Although her coils are much smoother and uniform, one can see how short the clay is. We spent a lot of time shaping the pot through scraping, smoothing and a lot of compression.
After all the compression and the desired shape is achieved Apolala uses a piece of wet cardboard to compress the rim. At this point we let the pot stiffen up so we can finish scraping and shaping the bottom
Later that day........
More scraping and tamping.
Traditionally the pots that are made have round bottoms. The reasons I have found for this is the even distribution of heat and the efficiency due to the scarcity of wood and fuel for fires. Below Apolala has applied the thin red slip from the soft iron rich material and is burnishing her pot with a river stone. It is universal that clay in the greenware stage is the most alluring and the red pots I made below are lovely.
These pots will be fired in a pit fire, tumble stacked, with wood layered throughout, for what my understanding is about an hour or so, which gives them heat strength while cooking but makes them soft and brittle for almost all else.