Throughout history, artists and sculptors have molded, fired, and glazed clay to form a myriad of items, from ancient urns to your daily coffee mug. Possibilities for creativity within this medium seem as endless as the countless pottery pieces collected over time. As interesting as some of these pieces are, I’ve recently been exploring the genre of art deco pottery — and especially, art deco pottery vases.
The process of making pottery can be as simple as molding wet clay and baking it. However, the artisans of the art deco era had many other advanced techniques to utilize in making their pieces completely unique. First, let’s consider the three major types of pottery.

They are:

Earthenware – the most organic, “natural” type of pottery. imagine ancient peoples using clay dug from the earth to form mugs, pots, tables, etc. and heating the molded item over a hot hot flame until it dried or set. In more modern days, Earthenware meant for domestic use had to be glazed to seal the porous surface.
Stoneware — very simply, the hotter the flame, the harder and more solid the clay becomes. People noticed that when they used high high heat when curing their pottery, the item became almost as hard as a stone, hence the name stoneware. Stoneware needs no glaze since the surface is considered non-porous and therefore waterproof. Pottery meant for use in human consumption nowadays will most likely be stoneware; however, it still maintains the look of organic earthenware without the glaze.
Porcelain — the Chinese found that by adding a feldspathic material (material containing feldspar, a naturally-occurring element composing almost 60% of the earth’s crust) to their clay when making stoneware, they created a white paste. This white paste, when fired, can either take on a smooth, shiny, almost glassy appearance or a slightly translucent form that is usually glazed with a lead-based glaze. The latter of these two became widely used and revered among Europeans during the 1700’s.
No matter the type, the skill and experience of the artisan comes into play when choosing the most perfect firing temperature. More valuable pieces will have been treated with the correct flame and the most careful temperature judgment.
In the early 20th century, commercial advances and the industrial revolution introduced the ability to mass-produce pieces, resulting in a decline in original true works of art pottery. However, during the Great Depression and the early 1930’s, artist-potters in Western Europe and the United States revived the ancient forms of Japanese and Chinese potters and began experimenting with new materials and clay composition. In other words, many pottery pieces (including art deco pottery vases) were made in small or singular batches, resulting in more valuable and artistic collectors’ items.

Part II will discuss the aesthetics of art deco pottery, including the use of shape, color, texture, design,glaze and paint, and how these artistic elements reflect the trends of the day.