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Descriptions of Assignments in Unit Three:
Creating Coil Pots

Students, these descriptions of assignments give you the information you need in order to do these assignments on your own, so if you don't have a teacher you can still learn about ceramics.

Native American Pottery

Ancient North American Civilizations:
The Mississippian Moundbuilders and the Mogollon Mimbres

Archeological discoveries have revealed that America was heavily populated in some areas 1000 years ago. What archeological discoveries? Pottery of great beauty; pottery made with a high level of technical skill. Learn about two such groups from different parts of North America -- the Mississippians and the Mimbres. Both mysteriously diminished in size and disappeared, or did they? What happened to them? This lesson includes an in-depth activity that other subject areas in the school could participate in.

This project is very unique in that you simply move step by step through a teaching web that has all of the activities and worksheets included in it. Just go to the Uncovering Past Civilizations web and start! THIS IS A REALLY FUN ACTIVITY!

Coil Bowls in the Mimbres Style

These bowls are based on the amazingly beautiful bowls that were created by an ancient North American civilization called the Mimbres. You can find out more about them and see pictures of their work in the Ancient North American Civilizations Web Adventure.

Project Instructions:

  1. The first thing that you and your teacher will do is get a grapefruit sized ball of clay and knead it until it is very smooth with no lumps or air bubbles in it.

  2. Next, pull off a golf ball size piece of clay and form it into a smooth hamburger patty shape. It should be about 3/8 inch thick. Try not to handle it so much that it starts to get cracks on the surface. If this happens, put that piece of clay back in the back to get damp again and pull off another piece to try it with. The trick is to not handle it too much.

  1. Pull off another golf ball size lump of clay. Form it into a ball, then, using gentle pressure, roll it to make it into a rope of clay. You call this rope a coil.

  2. Once the coil is about 3/8 inch in diameter and pretty even along its whole length, place the coil on the top edge of the patty shaped piece. Start attaching it by using your thumb or finger to press and smooth one side of the coil down onto the patty.

  1. Continue attaching the coil around the base and then to the coil itself, laying the coil a little toward the outer edge so that a bowl shape is made.

  2. After one or two coils are attached, smooth the outer coils also. Smoothing booth the inner and the outer surface will make the bowl sturdier.

  1. When the bowl is about 10” in diameter, smooth the top edge and loosely cover the whole bowl with plastic so that it slowly dries to a leather hard consistency.

  2. Now you need to add a foot to the bowl. When the bowl is leather hard, turn it over and lightly draw a circle on the bottom. Score and slip the circle and attach a coil in a circle on the bottom. Cut the coil off when you reach the starting end of it so that the coil is a perfect circle.

  1. Smooth both inside and outside attached edges, tilting the foot outward just a bit.

  1. Allow it to sit a few minutes so that the coil is a bit firmer, then turn the bowl over and make sure that the foot sits flat on the table surface. You can put a bit of pressure on it to straighten it, then mist the bowl part.

  1. When the bowl is no dryer than leather hard and perhaps a bit less dry than leather hard, mix up white slip and black slip.

  2. At this point, you can use brushes to brush designs onto the clay in a freehand style, or templates can be cut in order to create beautiful and very precise images and geometric designs in the clay.

    Sketchbook Assignment:
    After studying the animal and geometric designs of the Mimbres bowls, find some pictures of an animal and do a series of drawings to abstract the animal into a solid color shape.

  3. Use the animal shape to create a template out of tracing paper. Your template should be big enough to lay into the bottom of your bowl. It should barely adhere to the damp, leather hard clay. [The clay can be misted with water to ensure that it doesn’t dry out too much, but wait until the water has soaked into the clay before laying the tracing paper on it.]

  4. With a brush or sponge, dab the white or black slip onto the clay so that the template masks the edges. Let it sit a few minutes until the slip is not runny, then gently remove the template. You may need a needle to pick up an edge of the tracing paper. What is left should be your image.

  5. Templates can be used for the inner or outer border of the bowl, also.

  6. The bowls should be allowed to dry slowly, but thoroughly, then fired.

  7. After firing, use clear slip to coat the bowl. Demonstrate the pouring or dipping method, ensuring that the bottom of the foot is uncoated.

  8. Fire again and use!

Mississippian Inspired Coil Pots

Before starting this project you should have made at least one thing using the coil method so that you know how to build something with coils. In this project you can really get creative and go crazy with coils.

How many ways can you think of to decorate a pot using its own coils? Check it out! You can make all kinds of swirling designs on them. You just let the coils show on the outside in select areas. Be sure to smooth them on the inside, however, so that they will be strong. You don't want your pot falling apart in the kiln.

Project Instructions:

  1. Since you will be making a pot, it is important that you know what the parts of a pot are. The parts of a pot are: lip, mouth, neck, shoulder, belly, underbelly, foot.

Your glossary also describes the parts of a pot. Refer to it and the pictures of the parts of a pot and draw some different shapes of pots that you think you might like.

  1. After you have decided on the shape of your pot, you can start to decide where to let the coils show. You can make all kinds of interesting designs with the coils and fit them into the design of the pot as you make it.

  1. Once you have considered where and how to make the coils show, start building. You start a coil pot in the same way that you start a coil bowl (see instructions above if you have forgotten).

  2. As you build your coil pot, be sure to smooth at least the inside of all of the pot and smooth as you build. If you wait too long to smooth the coils, they may get too hard to smooth.

  3. When you are done with the pot, add the foot, as you did in the coil bowl lesson, by turning it upside-down and adding a coil for the foot.

  4. You can even add handles to your pot if you like. Make them out of coils and attach by scoring and slipping the pot and sticking them on. If you add handles, be sure to let your pot dry slowly so that they don't pop off. Wrap the whole pot loosely in plastic, covering the top well and leaving the bottom very loose. This will allow it to dry slowly from the bottom up.

  5. When dry, the piece can be fired, painted or dipped in glaze and fired again. Medium to dark colored glazes that break over higher surfaces a bit will accentuate the coil design. Be creative.

Pictures of students making their creative coil pots

Minoan Pottery

The pottery of the Minoan civilization give us clues to a flourishing, upbeat civilization. In this project, research what it might have been like on this island 3000 years ago and give your opinion in a presentation. It can be done as a group project or as an individual research project. Maybe you can make a video of it. Be sure to make some sketches of some of the pottery as inspiration for your own creations in the later hands-on projects.

This lesson is covered step by step on the Minoan Pottery: Group Project and Presentation page.

Slip Decorated Elegant Pots

  1. This lesson starts out like the other coil pot lesson, looking at the parts of a pot so that you know what they are. The parts of a pot are: lip, mouth, neck, shoulder, belly, underbelly, foot.

Your glossary also describes the parts of a pot. Refer to it and the pictures of the parts of a pot and draw some different shapes of pots that you think you might like.

  1. Once you have decided on a shape, you are ready to make a template for your shape. A template is a guide used to help you create the shape that you want. Your template will be made out of cardboard or poster paper. To make your template, make a life-sized drawing the pot that you want to make on a piece of paper. Cut it out. Fold it in half. Trace the half pot onto an edge of a piece of poster paper or cardboard as in the picture below and cut it out.

  1. Use the template to see how much your pot needs to slope in or out. Check it as you add each coil. Be sure that you don't make your pot too wide. This is a common error. Your template should fit over the pot and reach to the center of the pot. See the picture below.

  1. Smooth the coils on the inside and the outside of the pot as you add them. Check the shape with your template often. When pot is complete, allow to dry to leather hard and, assuming your clay is brown or tan,  paint designs in black and white slip.

TIP: When painting designs on the pottery in slip, be sure that you stir the slip often to keep it mixed. Also, do not make a back and forth motion on the pot with the brush when painting. Dip and paint in one direction. Dip again for the next stroke. This will ensure that you are putting a thick coat of paint on the pot and will help prevent the clay underneath from becoming mixed with the slip.

  1. In this pot, the neck was made separately and then connected to the body.

  2. Allow the pot to dry slowly, then fire.

  3. For a shiny surface that can hold water, glaze with clear glaze inside and out.

Student Examples of Slip Decorated Coil Pots

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Page last modified: 02 February, 2013