I’m not quite sure how this all got going, but here it is: nine backyard chickens are my studio assistants. Even better, they are symbiotic co-creators because their “work” turns my humble pinch pots into Henpecked Bowls. What I’d like to do today is give you an annotated pictorial of this improbable process, start to finish.
It begins with a rounded lump of clay usually about the size of an orange. I don’t have specific sizes or weights. I gather the clay up in a solid ball and begin walking slowly around with it. At some point I plunge my thumb down to nearly the bottom and begin the vessel-making. These bowls need to be slightly thicker in order to take the forces of the pecking, but I aim for classically pleasing profiles. I do all the shaping with just my hands and fingertips.
I pinch as sweet a bowl shape as I can. Some curve in, some curve out. I try to stay out of my own way. It also doesn’t matter if it is smooth or cracked on the surface. I am looking for a pleasing form with a certain tension between its volume and its profile. When done with the forming, I tap it down on the work surface to level the bottom and make a bit of an indent in the center to create a faux footring, but that’s about it. For this design (and yes, I have a few variations of this process) I need a thicker sturdier rim.
I wet the leatherhard pinch pot’s rim slightly and dip it in the corn/seed chicken scratch. I turn it up and sprinkle more treats in the bottom. I set it lovingly before the girls. They do their usual pecking order scuffling, but eventually it always settles in with the hardcore bunch who will attend until nearly the last peckable seed has been eaten.
It’s fun to watch. They come and go, take turns (or not) and quite often explore nips of pure clay. They get sticky seedy beaks and clean each other off or wipe them sideways on the ground. They step over and on the piece. It’s a messy Zen Moment every time.
What you see here is the Last Hen Pecking. It’s always the same one. We call her Carmen (from her Coopacabana days) but sometimes she’s just Little Beard or Asshat. Sometimes I pick her up and hold her out of the way to let the others have a go without her constant badgering. She’s Large and In Charge. And a clay addict. For sure, any big side-pecks in this series of bowls are hers, as she’s turned out to be a clay junkie too.
Case in point, here’s the fully-pecked bowl. The seeds were only along the rim and in the bottom. Guess who took a dig at the side for pure pleasure? Yep, our girl Carmen. I do very little else to these bowls. Maybe I reshape, level up, patch a hole, soften something a little too jagged (but then, I honor this process and leave a lot as it happened.) They are signed, dried and bisqued.
I have determined a Henpecked Bowl palette of glazes. They are based on the colors of my girls’ feathers, currently Barred Rocks, Easter Eggers, Australorps and a Golden Sex Link, with a nod to the gorgeous departed Rhode Island Red. But I also include the colors of their eyes, their combs, their eggshells and of course the eggs themselves. Warm browns, rusts, creams, golden yellows, flashing greens, soft turquoises and burnt brick reds work well. The glazes thicken in the divots, sometimes breaking into a different color. I haven’t worked with glazes exclusively in years and it’s fascinating to see them transform a piece so utterly.
Here’s the inside of the piece where you can see how busy those beaks were down in the bottom. And how wonderfully the glaze pools in the pits, revealing its deepest colors, each bowl absolutely reflective of a moment in a very rich partnership.
–Liz Crain, who was intent on just making walking meditation pinch pots when one cold morning, standing in a patch of sun, she thought to offer some seeds to the hens in the soft rawly formed pot and one thing led to another.