Updated: Oct 8, 2019
What is Slip Trailing?
In its most basic meaning, slip is liquid clay (just clay and water) that can be used to make designs; slip trailing is an application of slip, usually in the form of raised dots or patterns applied directly to the pot. Curry applies slip with a small nozzled bottle; because the slip is thicker it does not run when applied.
When fired in our wood kiln, glazes and slips react to create varying effects such as dramatic drips or static lines. Sometimes Curry plans out what kind of slip trailing design he will make by drawing on the unfired piece. Other times, he does whatever comes to him while applying the slip. It's a way of telling a story.
A Brief History
A form of slip trailing decoration originated several thousand years ago-probably at least 5,000 - with some of the earliest examples found in Japan.
Many centuries later it appears that the technique we now know as “slip trailing” in its earliest modern incarnation was born in England. In the early 1600s, German potters began incorporating slip trailing into their designs, and this is where historically in central North Carolina, we see a big influence. In the late 18th and the19th centuries, there was an extensive slip tradition associated with both Moravian potters and potters working in the St. Asaph’s district (now southern Alamance County, formerly Orange County). Specifically, the potters working in the St. Asaph’s district (notably the Loy and Albright family potters), created a wide range of slip trailed motifs such as triangles, stylized crosses, and other geometric designs. Their design work helps them stand out in an extensive lineage of pottery--after all, pottery has been around for many, many centuries!).
Why is Slip Trailing Significant?
Slip trailing gives a potter a freedom of imagination to create stylized shapes and symbols. It's also a way for a potter to put his or her own style onto the surface of a pot. If you think about historic Greek pottery, for example, (you know, the classic red and black urns depicting warriors and gods), the potter was telling a story, usually from a myth or epic poem such as The Odyssey. Fast forward several thousand years and you can note distinct stylistic differences in pottery decorations. No longer are the vast majority of potters telling epic stories with their designs, but they are, in their own right, telling stories or expressing themselves using other stylistic means such as slip trailing.
When Curry slip trails pieces, it is his stylistic way of shape sense-making and translating designs onto the surface of his pots. Sometimes he likes to create specific forms such as fern leaves. Other times he creates freely and it is up to the viewer to decide what he or she sees; it's a form of gentle abstraction.
Slip trailing isn't perfect; it’s sometimes made on the fly and in that instance an important moment for the artist is captured. It's a moment that can never be replicated and so no one design is ever the same (even if they are meant to be). And over time, designs change because Curry thinks of a new way to interpret them.
Slip trailing is our way of telling our story.
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