Tired of winter landscapes and hoar frost I decided to grab my camera and new favorite lens (Sigma 50 mm, f1.4) and head into town. Wendy Parsons and Zach Dietrich are good friends and I had asked permission some time ago to drop by and observe Zach doing what he likes best – throw with porcelain clay.
Parsons-Dietrich Pottery is located in a small converted church along the south-side of the Trans Canada Highway as you leave Moose Jaw and head toward Regina.
I enter Zach’s studio, the musty scent of wet clay and glaze hang in the air. A silhouette at the back of the studio, framed by a window overlooking the ravine guides me. I wave. Afternoon sunlight reflects off his glasses. A low hum beckons me closer.
My eyes adjust from dark to light as I walk past shelves laden with mugs ready for glazing.
“Do you mind talking about the individual steps while you work?” I am curious. The potter’s hands cover a grey cone shaped lump in a protective huddle.
“Oh sure. Actually I love to talk while I work. I think it frees me from over thinking the process.” His hands encircle the clay. “What I am doing here is called ‘centering’. I make sure the clay is in the middle of the wheel, or I loose control and eventually the bowl I am working on will turn out uneven.” Zach’s hands, covered in grey slurry, move slowly and deliberately. He guides the pliable lump of clay into a tall cylinder.
This step if followed by by evenly applied pressure with hands positioned on top and sides to manipulate the cylinder into a smooth mound ensuring all air has been expelled.
Zach’s left thumb exerts pressure to the top and middle of the glistening clay to create a hollow indentation. His right hand simultaneously applies light pressure against the outer wall of the cylinder.
I wonder if I have missed the utterance of a spell as the squat shape elongates into a vessel in mere minutes. His hands work in unison, one supporting the other akin to a ballet performance.
Moderating his movements, joy and pride shine through with each word. I focus on the creative act, consciously listen to his commentary, immersed in the meditative moment I barely breathe. The potter continues to guide the clay with his hands on assisted by a moist sponge.
The performance continues. The master skillfully asserts pressure to the bowl’s upper third moving the clay rim into position. A simple kitchen scraper provides the perfect shape for a smooth transition from concave to convex.
A lime green scraper placed along the rim with the wheel turning at optimal speed adds texture. “I am just adding a little bit of ‘chatter’ for texture.” Zach explains with a satisfied smile.
His hands part, the right reaches for a switch to cut electricity to the wheel. Each hand wraps around large metal washers connected by thin cutting wire. One smooth movement separates the foot of the bowl from the bat.
Zach swiftly lifts seven pounds of clay he magically transformed within minutes, off the wheel and moves it to a shelf for drying.
My glance follows the potter moving around the studio. I notice a box brimming with embellishment tools. I wonder, might these add texture and pattern to his next creation?