The word Amphora is so obviously Greek, that I was surprised to find the plural is Amphoræ, which is obviously Latin. But the word entered English via Latin, and so we have the Latin plural. I checked with a Greek friend and the Greek words are Amphoreus for the singular and Amphoreis (amphoreis.png) for the plural.

I have spent the last two and a half years making 500+ bowls as part of a glaze demo. I was tired of bowls and wanted to do something different. So I decided to make amphorae instead.

Dianna’s 50th birthday arrived. Elaine suggested we give her things like a walker, or a pack of Depends ™ to remind her of her advanced age. I wanted to do something nicer, and an amphora seemed the obvious choice.

Since amphorae were originally jugs of wine, I thought I might throw in a loaf of bread (she already has a “thou”, who even sings). But my attempt to decorate with grape leaves was a total failure and I gave up on that idea.

In the original Greek Olympics, the winners were presented with amphorae, with designs indicative of the sport. No women ran in the original Olympics (though there were, I discovered, races for girls a few days later), and all the races seem to have been fairly short (about 200m-~4k). Still that seemed the way to go.

So I searched the internet for runners on amphorae, and found several images. The Greeks men ran naked, of course, so the designs needed to be modified a bit to be appropriate for Dianna.

I believe the Greeks constructed their amphorae by coiling long worms of clay into the correct shape, and then smoothing out the joins. They would then decorate with coloured slips (essentially mud), burnish the result and fire at terra-cota temperature.

I’m a wheel thrower working in groggy stoneware clay firing at a much higher temperature. Sadly I find I cannot burnish my pieces, the clay shrinks around the grog as it is fired and the wonderfully smooth burnished surface becomes all bumpy after firing.

At terra-cota temperatures red is an easy colour to develop in a kiln (rust is reddish). But at stoneware temperatures red is much more elusive. So I would be unable to match the colours.

I threw the body of the amphora in two pieces — the base, and the neck — and then pulled three handles (I generally make an extra, just in case something goes wrong.

amphoranohandles.jpegI set these aside to dry overnight. They didn’t dry as much as I had expected, so I put them out in the sun the next day to speed amphorahandles.jpegup the process. Then I joined the top (which was thrown up-side-down) to the base with slip. And added the initial banding using a black slip.

Finally I attached the handles. I always have trouble with this part — my handles are not symmetric and one has a sharp bend. Oh well. Again I set the pot aside to dry.

I couldn’t leave well enough alone though. I decided I wanted to scratch “I run Marathons” in Greek onto the bottom. So I asked a couple of Greek friends to translate it. irunmarathons.pngThen I decided, why stop at Greek? So I asked more friends, scattered across the world to translate “I run” into their respective languages:


amphorarunner.jpegA few days later I was back at work. I scratched my various versions of “I run” onto the neck (in two groups, one in front, one in back), then traced the outline of my runner onto the body of the piece, and finally coloured in the runner with black slip. Then I carefully removed the amphora from its bat and took it out to the kiln to be bisque fired.

The traditional amphorae were not glazed, but were burnished. I decided to glaze the inside of the piece (stoneware does become vitrious, so it will hold water even if unglazed, but I feel happier knowing the glazes is there too), and leave the outside raw.



3 Responses to “Amphoræ”

  1. Apostolos Syropoulos Says:

    Nice work!

  2. Karen S H Says:

    Wow George, you are amazing. I am glad I was not around to help you with the grape leaf thing, because what you did was much more you! You do everything with passion, and to the fullest. Happy Holidays, and I look forward to seeing more!

  3. raquel Says:

    George, You’re great and even if it takes me over a month to get to the email, I always enjoy your stories. It is really an art and, unfortunately it is one that people are losing in our hectic busy world. I love your amphora. Strange I was just looking at a greek pot today in an antique store. I was struck with the detail of body muscles that were shown using fine incisions and the fine body lines. I know Dianne must have loved your work. Hope you had a great holiday and see you soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: