Dan Finnegan (VA)
“My work stands at the intersection of traditional and contemporary pottery. I am in constant pursuit of old ideas that I can integrate into my own work. Layering a variety of influences and techniques is how I strive to move the tradition forward.”
I have had a long fascination with the pot I chose to reinterpret. I first knew them to be called Bellarmines but these days they are called Bartmanns, which means ‘Bearded Man’. I trained at the Winchcombe Pottery in the late 1970s and most of my ideas of form still have their roots in the aesthetics of that place…medieval German salt glaze and 17th century English slipware are the touchstones of the pots made there and both Michael Cardew and Ray Finch made magnificent cider jars that showed the roots of those old pots.
These Bartmanns were salt glazed and wood-fired, exactly the firing method that I use for my own work. I recently switched my clay body to one produced by Starworks Ceramics and its character also lends itself to making a pot that reflects the old one.
As much as I love old pots I’ve never been interested in making reproductions. The invitation to take an old historic pot that I admire and reinterpret it was an exciting one! That’s basically my practice every day in my own studio, taking old ideas and making them new.
I knew right away that I would replace the sprig of the bearded man’s face with one of my own face...I have worn a beard to match those old timers all my life and it seemed too obvious to ignore. That part was easy, but what would this new pot be used for in its new iteration?
I took a long time on that question... the convergence of the slow food movement crossed my mind... maybe it could be a container for vinegar? Or even cider, a drink that has become wildly popular and one that I know only too well from some country boys in England? Of course, all kinds of craft-alcohols are enjoying a revival, small batches of gin and vodka are popular and distilleries are sprouting up around Virginia, including one in my hometown of Fredericksburg. This seemed to be the answer... a distillery provides imagery that would have been fun to make sprig molds for and has a local connection, but, in the end, they make bourbon and I’m a scotch drinker. It wouldn’t have been right!
While I am an occasional scotch drinker, I am a regular beer drinker and the blossoming of micro-breweries eventually swayed me to consider making this pot for beer. The Bartmann was ubiquitous in its day and nowadays every hipster beer drinker has his or her own growler which really made it the obvious choice for this project.
I love the big-bellied form as it swoops into a long lovely neck and I made several of them, but I also thought that I should consider the cylindrical form of the contemporary glass growlers. I really liked it after I made it and it was perfectly suited to the new texture and slip that I’ve been developing in my current work. It is a sleek form that mimics the growlers. I also made the handle larger like a growler would have.
Nex, I needed to carve a few very low relief images called sprig molds. I carved images of the flower and leaf of a hop plant and one of a barley sheaf as well as one of my own image. I waxed these sprigs to resist the black n’ blue slip that I applied. The natural color of the clay made them stand out nicely.
I slipped the round-bellied ones more traditionally. They have their own charm but look too close to the original.
The last challenge was to calculate the shrinkage rate of the clay to adapt the stopper mechanism after it was fired. Stoneware clay shrinks approximately 13% at 2400 degrees Fahrenheit, but these are pretty fine tolerances. The finished pieces were close and with the help of a friend we adapted the stopper for the final fit.
The pots were fired for 20 hours in my wood burning kiln. I introduce table salt into the chamber when things get nice and hot…the sodium vapor reacts with the silica in the clays and creates glass. Variations occur depending on where they are placed in the chamber.
I made several pieces to make sure that I could provide at least one that I felt good about….this was fortunate because several of them developed problems with the sprigs lifting off the surface of the pot as they dried! An alarming situation! I was lucky to get a couple of really good ones. I hope that you agree.
Dan Finnegan, 2017. Fredericksburg, VA. H. 10½”
This is the piece Dan created for THE LAST DROP: INTOXICATING POTTERY, PAST AND PRESENT.
Bartmann (Bearded Man) Jug
Frechen, Germany, ca. 1670. Salt-glazed stoneware. Chipstone Foundation. 1964.2. H. 8 1/8”
This is the historical piece from which Dan chose to draw inspiration.