Weiss makes functional pottery from wild clay that she digs from her land in northwest Arkansas. She makes a custom-blended stoneware from this clay, fires to Cone 10 in a gas-fueled reduction-atmosphere kiln and, using wood as fuel, reduction-cools her kiln. Weiss has recently written a book, The Handbuilt Potter, which will be released in January 2019, and is available for preorder wherever books are sold.
For this feature, Weiss used Instagram as a public interview forum, prompting her followers to “ask me anything.” The following is an abbreviated version of the resulting questions and answers. You can read the full post on Instagram @melissaweisspottery and learn more about Melissa on her website, melissaweisspottery.com.
Instagram Follower: If there was no more clay left in the world, what would you do next?
Melissa Weiss: Work at a bakery and make quilts.
IF: How much of your work is “preconceived” when you start, and how much is “go with the flow”?
MW: I always have a specific idea, but often in the making process, the pot will transcend that idea.
IF: How did you find clay on your land and learn to extract and refine it, and how do those parts of your practice connect you to place and natural history?
MW: The clay on my land is very obvious; you can pick up a chunk and make a pinch pot. I dug a bucket of it and took it home, then made a couple test pots and fired them. They vitrified at Cone 10. I amended the clay formula for certain faults by asking for advice from my fellow potters and reading about the properties of clays and the roles specific materials play in the formula. I tested many versions with varying ingredients until I came up with a durable and beautiful clay that threw well. The process of digging my own clay has kept me connected to my land as I go to the deposit every year and dig one ton of clay. It forever changed the way I look at dirt and rocks everywhere.
IF: What made you want to hand-build functional pottery instead of throwing it?