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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Glazes that Endure the Ages

As I often mention to people at craft fairs, I make most of my own glazes.  I like having the control over how saturated and transparent they are. Plus as long as I keep my raw materials stocked, I don’t have to worry about running out in the middle of a glazing day. I just make more of what I need.  

Many of the glazes have a similar base of ingredients much like making a cake, you always have flour, eggs and milk.  Where it gets interesting is the color, opacity and sheen, which are controlled by the addition of a variety of minerals.  These minerals have been mined for thousands of years and although our knowledge of materials has grown, no one uses plutonium for red so much anymore, some things are as old as the ages, ingredients like red iron and copper.  I use red iron to get a variety of yellows and I use copper for green, turquoise and blue glazes.  These glazes are vibrant and I am sometimes asked if they will fade.  Although our South Florida sun is awfully bright, the answer is generally no.  Just like Gothic rose windows, glazes are glass and behave quite different from paint.  To further underscore this point, I thought I would share a few examples from art history.

Overall, every culture on earth has created their own unique ceramic wares, whether it be pottery, tile or sculpture.  Egypt produced glazed tiles using copper as a blue colorant as early as the fourth millennium BCE.  An example of their tile work can be seen below in this image from the temple of Medinet Habu near Tell al Yehudia dating from 1180 BCE.[i]

The best known example of historic ceramic tiles date back to 575 BCE.   The Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way from the Great Ziggurat of Babylon’s Temple to Bel are adorned with ceramic tile. [ii]  Glazed in yellows and turquoises, the copper and red iron are still holding true after two and a half millennia.

Trends come and go, but ceramic tile is an enduring classic that is not only durable but imbues a surface with lustrous depth and a connection to the Earth and our history.  I am continually inspired by the gorgeous color created from a mixture of chalky, dull minerals and a whole lot of heat, and I hope you are as well.

[i] Herbert, T. & Huggins K. (1995) The decorative tile. (pp. 11) London: Phaidon Press Limited.

[ii] Tansey, R.G. & Kleiner, F.S.  (1996) . Gardner’s art through the ages (10th ed.). (pp. 57-58).  Fort Worth, Orlando: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

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