Martz Memories, by Stanley Lee                                                            Tale #7


Pot lids


    Finished lidded pots were among the projects we could submit for examination at grading time.  A student’s work would be evaluated on craftsmanship shown in the pot, its lid, and the harmonious relationship between the two. A lid should fit its pot within limited tolerances.  A sloppy fit could result in “point deductions.”  Our teacher showed us different ways to lid a pot.  One type could sit flat on the pot rim, but this method called for narrow tolerances between the pot and the base of the lid that would be allowed to project down to the inside of the pot.   To overcome this difficulty the lid’s sides could be tapered, and made to fit inside the pot. In this case, the angles of the lid sides and the pot flange sides needed to be parallel.  Skill was required.  To avoid such problems, a lid could be made to fit over and outside of the perpendicular sides of a pot.


     Karl Martz showed and demonstrated the different methods for us, and left us to select the types we wished to have examined.  All types seemed to have their own difficult spots.  Bisque firing, glaze coating, glaze thickness, and glost firing all needed to be considered if the tolerances were within required limits.  We tried to avoid trouble.  Some potters would place the unfired dry lid on the unfired pot and ask for them to be bisque fired in that position.  To have a pot fired in a cool place and the lid fired a hotter place in the kiln could cause problems.  Since we could make fine adjustments at the glazing stage, we chose our glazes, and the thickness of coatings carefully.


     The master encouraged us to make lidded pots functional as well as pleasant to look at.  At exam time we could be sure he would ask, “Does the lid fit?”  If he were examining tea-pots, he would ask, “How does it pour?”  Even if we were showing a mug or a beaker, he would ask, How does it lip?”  As a result, we formed our pottery shapes with such caveats in mind.


     Students were ever looking for safeguards.  Some would throw two lids for each pot.  The lid that seemed to fit best was the one used at exam time.  However, the point in production sequence that received the most attention came in measurement of diameters.  Outside calipers were used for the outer measurements, and inside calipers for the inner.  The caliper scale markings were recorded in case an extra lid or pot had to be made.  A few students made do with a simple ruler for measuring.  For most of us, a fit within the narrow tolerances that Karl required was not easy to obtain.  Years later these concerns led me to apply problem solving ideas.  The results led to another article for Ceramics Monthly.  “Lids that Fit”, was published in September of 1973.


      In 1956, I didn’t question Karl’s reasons for requiring such strict tolerances, or for being fussy about how a tea-pot poured, but looking back, I can see that these details were important for us, and for him.  For him, because the kind of student he turned out reflected on his teaching.  For us, the difference between the care we took to make a finished product and the care others took, would often be the difference between being rated a prize-winner or being rated an also ran.  Karl juried ceramic exhibition contests, and he well knew the details that judges looked for when making awards.  He wanted his students to exhibit prize-winning work.  They did.