How It’s Done…

Robert Maxwell has always worked with stoneware. Stoneware is a high-fire ware, second only to porcelain in terms of vitrification. Objects usually emerge from the bisque firing a light tan color but can be turned to rust (red-brown) by reduction (reducing the amount of oxygen in the kiln.) Maxwell generally favors the rust colored body, which he often leaves unglazed when producing his signature style animals.
His animals start life just like any other object on the potter’s wheel. The difference is that midway in the process a typical vessel form morphs into an imaginary animal. The open top becomes the mouth of the beast and the base, with the addition of a tail, becomes the rear end. When the basic form is leather hard (usually after 24 hours) hand-carved texture and additions, like horns and tails, are added.
The first or bisque firing is performed at a relatively low temperature (about 1900°F) to solidify the clay. Glazing is usually accomplished by either dipping the object into a bucket of liquid glaze or by spraying. If it’s a vase or decorative item, Maxwell sometimes employs a unique pouring technique. In this method—a hallmark of his work—the colors overlap and, depending on which way the object is held, the direction of the flow may be up (gravity defying) or down on the completed form.
The final step in the process for the glazed items is firing them to cone 6 (2170°F) in a large gas kiln. The temperature must go up and then gradually come back down before the finished products can be safely unloaded and inspected—always a highlight of the process. Pieces to be left unglazed must also endure the second firing to bring them to the proper stoneware temperature.

Vintage Pottery
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