Replication as a Learning Tool

I started my artistic career as a painter, where a long-standing tradition is to copy the work of master artists as a way to develop skill as a painter. That tradition is not as firmly established the contemporary ceramics world, which is strange because potters are generally very open to sharing their techniques and processes.

I recently came across several instances of replication as a learning tool in the ceramics world.

The Ceramics Program at Harvard’s Office for the Arts recently held an 8-week zoom class drawing upon items from the various Harvard Art Museums’ collections. A master potter, Denny McLaughlin, examined and then replicated objects including a pitcher from the 15th century, an Etruscan kantharos, and a Roman beaker. In consultation with conservators from the museums, McLaughlin sought to recreate pieces and in so doing, recreate the processes of earlier ceramic traditions. More on this course is available in a Sept 15, 2021 article in the Harvard Gazette.

The Southwest Kiln Conference is about to host their annual get-together from September 23-26th. Attendees at the conference will participate in an open trench kiln firing, replicating the firing processes of early potters in the American Southwest. There are also lectures on “Painting pottery the Ancient way,” “San Juan redware,” “Prehistoric images of butterflies, bugs and birds,” and and a discussion on organic and mineral paint materials. Organizers include Andy Ward, Bob Casias, Cherylene Caver and Kelly Magleby, all of whom offer courses on techniques employed by earlier Southwestern region potters. Andy Ward, for example, has courses on finding and processing natural clay; coil building; finding and making natural paints, slips and pigments; and others.

Some of Kelly Magleby’s earlier workshop descriptions give you a sense of what and how she teaches: going out into the Utah desert for 7 days to find and collect everything needed to make and fire pots in the wild.

Another indicator: Kelly also teaches Anasazi style pottery at the annual Rabbitstick Primitive Skills Conference.

More information on the Southwest Kiln Conference can be found on their website. Here are links to websites of each of the organizers:

Bob Casias: Pottery of the Ancients

Andy Ward:

Cherylene Caver: CLC Studios

Kelly Magleby: Kayenta Fire

One thought on “Replication as a Learning Tool

  1. Certainly food for thought. As a person new to ceramics I am definitely looking at other’s works, trying to replicate their techniques, be inspired by their work, and learn by doing. It is reassuring to be reminded that there is a long history of this tradition in the arts.


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