Producer Dave Fraser visited Friedman in her studio in Pelham, Massachusetts and brings us her story.
Learn more about Zahava Freidman’s connection with nature in a digital exclusive interview.
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Zahava Friedman, Potter: There is something about clay and the wheel in particular, that really grabs me, and I’m not sure how to put words to that, but it’s a magical feeling.
This all started way back when I was ten or eleven-years-old, and my mom took me to my first pottery class. I loved the process so much that I just did it any chance I could get.
And so, I would say that I’m a mixture. I mean, I’ve been directly taught, but over the years I’ve also done a lot of self-teaching through trial and error.
Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: It all starts with a lump of earth for potter Zahava Friedman, kneading it like bread to allow air bubbles to escape.
Then, it is thrown onto the wheel and using steady hands, an elbow braced on a thigh, and frequent lubrication with water, she transforms that clay into a piece of art.
Zahava Friedman: The throwing part of it is very therapeutic for me, and it’s gotten to a point where it’s almost mindless, where sometimes — not always — but a lot of times it feels like the clay is almost throwing itself.
It’s the only time in my life that I’m kind of in a zone and like fully present and not thinking about other things. I’m just completely 100%, like, with the clay. And that is a rare psychological experience for me.
My head is usually in five different places at once.
Dave Fraser: It takes Friedman roughly 20 to 75 minutes to throw a pot, depending on its size and form, pulling it up from the bottom to the top, evenly distributing it so that the piece elongates and the walls thin.
Zahava Friedman: Centrifugal force, as you’re pulling the clay up, it pulls the walls and you’re forming the clay based on that spinning motion.
Dave Fraser: Once it is refined and compressed, any extra clay remaining at the bottom is trimmed away and the wet pot is set aside to dry before the next step.
Zahava Friedman: And what that does is it really evens out the moisture in the clay, so that when I go to carve it with the X-Acto knife, it’s very even and it carves nice and smoothly.
So, I’m actually waiting for it to be about what we call “leather hard” before I’m carving it. If it’s too soft, I’m going to warp the pot. I’m not using a pattern, I’m just cutting…kind of following the form of the pot itself.
When it’s completed, it will have cuts all the way through the whole entire body.
And once you put that tea light in there and put it in the dark, it reflects the light from the carvings out onto the wall.
Dave Fraser: On other pieces that are not carved, Friedman uses a technique called Sgraffito.
This process involves applying layers of color or under glaze and then scratching off parts of the layers to create contrasting images and reveal the clay color underneath.
The kiln is a two step process.
First, the items are loaded in, making sure that no pot is in contact with another. The first firing is to bisque, which vitrifies the clay at around 1,800 degrees.
The second firing is much hotter and that converts the glaze that was applied to the pots into glass. The glaze firing takes about 6 to 7 hours. And according to Friedman, it is the most stressful and the most rewarding part of the process.
Zahava Friedman: You don’t really have complete control of what happens in the kiln and you put a lot of work into these pieces, and once they’re in the kiln, it’s up to the kiln.
So, I actually have a kiln god, which is a little clay creature that I created that goes into the kiln and blesses all my firings in the hopes that they’ll come out well.
I think there’s been a little bit of a resurgence and an interest in pottery, but it’s an ancient craft, ancient art, and I think originally it was meant to be functional and it’s evolved into something that people have turned into art over the years.