Sagada Pottery

>> 4/28/2009

One of potential local products of Mountain Province is pottery. Its gaining ground especially in Sagada, though earlier works had already been witnessed in Bila, Bauko.

Potter Lope Bosaing considers doing pottery as an art and should not be hurried. Talking with him at his residence with a display of ceramic products was a thoughtful reflection of what he had to say about pottery: Working with clay creates an integrated relationship with the potter where the material and the form of the ceramic product is an expression of the potter’s psyche. That is, it is not foremost an objective of getting financially rewarded, otherwise, the art, beauty and quality will not be reflected in the final product.

Mass production takes away the spiritual involvement and psyche of the potter from the product with the use of machine- operated molders such as a roller head machine. Commercial production also has the tendency to heavily exploit nature’s gifts.

Making clay products take at least three months from screening to throwing/molding to firing. Pottery includes jars, mugs, kettles, plates, bottles, bowls of all sizes, and even clay-made beads. Some of these finely worked clay products are cobalt glazed. Others, ash glazed and others brownish glazed with the natural clay of Sagada.

Decorative additives are worked into the clay body before formation. Coarse additives such as sand, ash, or grounded fired clay give the final product a required texture and decoration. Colorants like cobalt and copper oxides and carbonates are added singly or in combination. Banding or lining is also applied where a band of color is given to the edge of a jar, plate or cup. Lining is often carried out on a potter's wheel. The surface of pottery wares may also be burnished prior to firing by carefully rubbing with wood, steel or stone.

Lope says firing with wood is good as ash residues fly back to the clay formation giving the clay product a desired coarse look.

Pottery is made by forming a processed clay body into shaped objects and heating them to high temperatures in a kiln. Particular locations have their own unique properties of clays that induce reactions leading to the product’s durability and shape. Sagada has stoneware clay good for mugs, jars, and kitchen wares.

Firing hardens the wares. Earthenwares are normally fired at temperatures of about 1000 to 1200 degrees Celsius. Stonewares at the range of 1100 to 1300 degrees Celsius; and porcelains at between 1200 to 1400 degrees Celsius. (Wikipedia).

First of all, screening or wedging is done to remove trapped air within the clay body to get the clay body ready for shaping with the traditional use of hand or via the potter’s wheel and turntable. Other shaping tools include paddles, rolling tools such as slab rollers and cutting/piercing tools to include knives and wires and finishing tools to include burnishing stones and chamois.

Via handwork, wares can be constructed from coiled clays, slabs of clay, or from solid balls of clay. Parts of hand-built wares are often joined together with a runny mixture of clay and water. While hand building is slower than wheel-throwing, it gives the potter a high degree of control over the making of individual sizes and shapes of pottery. Identical pieces of hand-built pottery are usually done via wheel-throwing using the potter’s wheel.

Using the potter’s wheel, a ball of clay is placed in the center of a turntable. The potter rotates this with a stick or with foot power. During the throwing process, the wheel rotates rapidly while the solid ball of soft clay is squeezed, and pulled gently upwards and outwards into a hollow shape. Flooring follows by making a flat or rounded bottom inside the pot. Clay is then drawn up and shaped to an even thickness after which excess clay is trimmed to a refined shape.

While the potter’s wheel can be used for mass production, it is often employed to make individual pieces. Thrown pieces are modified via hand working techniques on handles, lids and spouts of fine pottery.

Pottery is a form of artistic expression to work with nature’s gifts while it is a source of additional source of income. While mass production is an enticing source of livelihood to venture in, apparently, the potters of Sagada are not fully inclined to venture into this. Just like the making of jams, pickles, honey, wine, and woven products in Sagada, pottery is done according to one’s pace and capacity without the extensive involvement of machines. Lope however says, the people might eventually go into mass production of ceramic wares in the near future, which remains to be seen.

Lope had been into pottery since the 1990s having initially worked and experimented with British artist and potter David Fowler and local potter Mike Say-awen. The three of them now have their own personal pottery workshops. Lope said he takes time to teach interested potters.

Earlier exhibits of Lope’s and Fowler’s ceramic products had been shown at Maryknoll Sanctuary with Baguio-based curator Erlyn Ruth Alcantara. The exhibit at Session Road’s Breathing Space showed clay works of Lope and other Sagada potters who came later – Sigrid Bangyay-Rogers and Tessie Baldo.

With Mike, Lope learned more of pottery from American potter Archie Stapleton in year 2000 along with other local potters Brenda Doco, Cora Degay, and Sigrid. The pottery workshop at Danonoy with Archie soon gave way to other interested potters, Alma Bagano, Jessie Degay, and Tessie with Lope’s guidance .

Sagada has stoneware clay unlike Bila, Bauko which has earthenware clay. Bila potters had long produced earthenware clay pots and water jars, having been an indigenous source of income for quite some time. This livelihood activity however stopped due to easy access to aluminum and metal pots and plastic water dispensers. Earthenware pots however are becoming a demand with the health consciousness of people towards naturally made products, Lope said.


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