The Craft and Art of Clay

In 2009, when the legendary ceramic artist, educator, champion of the pottery of Native American potters, and writer Susan Peterson died, she and her daughter Jan Peterson were revising and updating her classic text The Craft and Art of Clay. After her death, Jan Peterson continued on alone, and now we have the results, the almost encyclopedic fifth edition. As with previous editions, this one will surely be widely adopted as a textbook in ceramic programs throughout the country.

Susan loved the technology of ceramics; all the possibilities; all the things to know; all the things to try, and, as in the previous editions, it shows in the choice of works illustrated. There is a nice history timeline, but if you are looking for lots of images of domestic ware, this is not the book for you. The images here are largely of sculptural work, or non-functional vessels. She is fascinated with innovation though in other books, she describes deep tradition as in her books on Maria Martinez and Shoji Hamada.

What she, and now her daughter, write about, is how to mix glaze tests, throw a bowl, build a wall of clay, create a giant sculpture, use decals, make flameware, construct a mold, stack a kiln, decorate with texture and more. There are few glaze recipes but a new section on shino glazes is included, plus data about glaze materials, including photos. Her extensive charts and compendiums are worth the price of the book.

In the preface, Jan Peterson writes about her mom but –personal lament — not enough.  Reading the book, I wanted more evidence of her mother. In the earlier editions, the senior Peterson perhaps thought it untoward to include much about herself, but here her daughter and descendant potter had the opportunity to add a bit more ceramic biography of her famous mom had she chosen. Give me some story. Show me her pots.

In sections like Susan’s short essay on Toshiko Tokaezu, which is very beautiful, it would have been nice to make it clear that at the time of writing, both artists were in their late years. Poignantly she tells us that Tokaezu was, “Still working and exhibiting in her eighties.”

This is a reference book first and foremost. You can take it off your shelf and look things up. There is a wonderfully extensive bibliography and a separate poster of 50/50 blends of glaze materials at cone 10 reduction and cone 5 oxidation that you can hang on your studio wall. My complaints are small, and honestly, irrelevant if what you want is a good reference book. This is it. It belongs in the library of anyone serious about working with clay.

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