Martz Memories by Stanley Lee                                                                                  

Throwing wheels and Teaching                                                                 Tale #3


      Most of those who knew Karl Martz, knew him as a skilled sculptor, potter, and master-craftsman.  Others knew him as a chemist.  However, he liked to refer to himself as “Karl Martz, Potter,” as the shingle above his 1940’s studio indicated.  As one of his students in 1956, I shall always remember him as a great teacher.  He was a great one when the whole field of ceramics was in need of fine teachers.  Good teachers were there, but the great ones stood out like beacons on a sea-shore. 


     There was not much to teach with.  Of course, teachers had their own natural abilities.  They could teach by demonstration, but more was needed.  Supplies were not readily available.  Karl showed us how to build a simple stand-up kick-wheel.  It was made mostly from wood planks, and it was the one he often used as he showed us how to make wheel-thrown pottery.  To this home-made instrument Karl had added a board that extended to act as a back support, and the support also served to steady ourselves as we went through the “throwing” motions.  Years later, I inherited a commercially made stand-up kick-wheel, made from steel tubes, but no back support had been provided, and throwing was more difficult. 


      Books?  Yes, they were available, but some of those intended for the beginning potter, were not well written.  Karl chose the best one’s for our text books.  We felt confident with his choices.  I was to find that well proven books on kiln-building did not appear until years after I made my first pot.  Fortunately, by the time I enrolled in Karl’s classes, he was already well informed and experienced in kiln-building, and he allowed me to re-build one of his kilns.  Some years later, the knowledge Karl shared with me came in useful when I built a kiln for a woman who needed one in which to fire her exhibition sculptures.  A few years later, I built a large walk-in, sprung-arch kiln for my own use, and I built and repaired kilns for my friends. 


     In the early days of Karl’s teaching the class studio had only one electric throwing wheel.  This one was built by AMACO, the American Art Clay Company of Indianapolis.  Such wheels did not have the refinements or horse-power that modern wheels have.  Large forms were difficult to make on such a wheel, because the horse-power dropped at low speeds, and it was easy to make the wheel stop, completely when applying moderate pressure.  With the AMACO wheel one operated it from a sitting position, for a knee lever controlled the speed.  Karl liked to demonstrate on his home-made kick-wheel. 


     It was not until the middle of 1976, that I was able to buy a really powerful sit-or-stand throwing wheel.  Made by Skutt, of Portland, Oregon, it was called the “New DC-1 Potter’s Wheel, [and boasted a] 1 HP special duty DC motor,[and] easily handles 100 pound throws.”  It also claimed it “accurately holds any speed, even with the heaviest forming operations.”  This wheel proved to be a great asset for my throwing work.  I never purchased a better one.  Karl was to add many different types of throwing wheels during his years of service. 


     Besides finding good equipment, good teachers are always looking for teaching methods to help them communicate the ideas and concepts they wish to teach. Some instructors relied on slide projectors and slides.  Some were able to make movies.  To my knowledge, Karl was not himself a film-maker, but Indiana University had an efficient Audio-Visual department , and if a teacher wished for instructional films to be made, they would co-operate.


     So it was, that Karl prepared the scripts, performed for the cameras, and produced a series of instructional movies to help teach students of his early classes.  In fact the films served so well, they were still in use when I arrive to take classes in the mid 1950’s.  I had not seen any of the films before, and was delighted to learn of the series.  Naturally, I found particular interest in the wheel throwing sequence.  The film showed Karl throwing on his favorite stand-up wheel, and he provided voice comments as he began to throw a pot.  I listened as well as the others, but suddenly I burst out laughing, although I quickly stopped my laughter.  In the film, Karl had taken a large sponge, held it over the clay form, and squeezed a half-pint of water onto it.  However, the master was not bothered by my action.  With a smile he said, “Stanley is laughing because we don’t use water like that any more.”  Indeed, techniques had changed.  Clay slip has replaced water as the preferred lubricant for wheel throwing.  Water is reserved for clean-up.  


     These examples show how much Karl was concerned about being a good teacher.  His students inspired him to help them over any trouble spots they encountered in the learning process, and he observed each one carefully.  He knew each student well, and knew at what level of accomplishment each student had reach.  At grading time we were asked to bring three of our best pots.  Then Karl would say, “Which of the three would you prefer to keep?”  We would keep   one, and he would choose one to go into the permanent student collection.  We knew where it was going, and we always wanted an example of our best work to be there.  It was a great incentive, although it was not the only way for a special piece to arrive on “hallowed ground”.       


     There was one occasion where I had made a globe-shaped bowl, and glazed it with a glaze I had used before, so I expected the usual results.  However, When the piece came out of the kiln, it was covered with a beautiful oil-spot appearance.  Since then, I have used the same glaze formula many times, but have never been able to achieve a similar effect.  The piece made its merry way to the class collection.  Incentives such as these were all part of the way our master encouraged us with his teaching methods. 


     Thank you, Karl Martz!