What it takes to make a pot
The formation of the Morris & James clay deposit has taken twenty million years. During the Miocene period, the area, which is now Matakana, was at the bottom of a shallow sea. A chain of volcanoes off the west coast showered the sea with ash, which sank to the bottom and eventually became sandstone. Tectonic plate movements pushed the sandstone up to form dry land, and the weathering of these sandstones transformed some of the minerals to clay. The rain washed the clay out of the parent rock and into the river. As a result of changes in sea level, the clay now forms high terraces along the riverbanks
Morris & James harvests the clay each summer and stores it for use throughout the year. The clay is dug by backhoe from a vertical face, ensuring that the different layers of material are well mixed, and is dried by the sun and wind throughout summer. A system of sieves and crushing rollers reduces it to a fine powder. The unique M&J blend of clay and black sand reduces shrinkage and ensures a higher quality finished product. Water is added in a double shaft mixer, and then the clay body is further processed through smooth rollers and a de-airing extruder.
Each piece of pottery is individually handcrafted by skilled artisans. Pots and platters are hand thrown on a potters wheel. Sprigging is used to add texture and contour to some pieces. Wall plaques and flat-ware are cut from rolled slabs of clay and formed by hand into many different shapes and sizes with different surface treatments. Other products use machines for their initial shape but are then individually hand fettled and finished.
Drying and firing
Drying of the shaped clayware articles is carefully controlled. The larger the items the more difficult it is to dry successfully. Large pots take up to 3-4 weeks to dry. An insulated room called the ‘summer room’ is equipped with a dehumidifier which maintains the optimum conditions of temperature and humidity, whatever the weather or time of year. The last moisture is removed by preheating the ware in an electric dryer to prevent cracking in the kilns.
Clay is converted to terracotta by heating it in a kiln to above 1,000°C. The kiln linings are made from ceramic fibre, which allows them to be fired much more rapidly and with less fuel than traditional firebrick kilns. LPG gas was chosen as the best fuel, as it is clean burning and provides a lot of heat quickly. The kilns incorporate kiln cars, which are essentially kiln floors on wheels. One car can be loaded or unloaded while another is firing.
Over the years Morris & James has developed a wide range of lush, exclusive colours, many of which feature effects which would normally be the preserve of individual artist potters.
A glaze is a type of glass that is applied to the pot as a fine powder mixed with water, and then fused into a coating by a second firing. The purest colours are found in transparent glazes, so the terracotta colour must be masked out by using a white clay, or a white glaze, or an engobe, which is a combination of the two. The glazes used at Morris & James are made up from frits (special powdered glasses) and various minerals. Most of the glaze colours involve sophisticated ceramic stains. The glazes are applied by spraying, dipping, pouring or brushing. The spraying of glazes is carried out in spray booths and glaze overspray is collected for re-use. Waste glaze is blended with clay and fired through the kilns to remove any toxicity hazard. Wash-down water is purified and recycled. Only top quality glaze raw materials are used to achieve the desired premium result.
Our team of artisans individually hand decorate each piece to complete the process. Although it looks like using normal paints, it is far from it. The glazes in their raw form do not come anywhere near the finished look. Each glaze has a nature of its own and as a result different techniques of brushing are used. Some need to be run off the tip of brush, some can be brushed and some are floated on with the brush. Slip trailing a white clay in a squeeze bottle, and using glazes with sand to give a textured look are just some of the techniques used. Increasing the number of layers of glazes increases the risk of the glazes rebelling against each other. It is only upon firing that the true nature of glazes and clay are revealed to create a very distinctive and individual piece of living art for you to enjoy. It takes up to 2 years or more to be fully trained in the hand decorating area.