Martz Memories, by Stanley Lee


 Displeasures and Pleasures     Tale #17


     Our pottery students were quite familiar with J. Wedgwood, and the success of his production techniques.  Wedgwood pottery was popular throughout Europe and other countries, and his reputation for supplying a quality product was well known.  As sales increased, the man’s attention focused on public relations and the management of his pottery which began to function more like a factory.  He had lines of workers engaged in sprigging on cameos, and adding brush-line decoration to areas where needed.  The pottery master kept careful watch to see that his quality standards were met.  To do this he walked along the lines of workers and examined their products.  If he saw a substandard work, one would hear a sharp blow and a crash.  Then a voice would boom out, “That’s not good enough for Josiah Wedgwood!”


     Our own pottery teacher, Karl Martz, was rarely known to express such displeasure, but there were some occasions, and one of them stands out in my memory.  All of us were interested to see the pottery that came from each kiln firing.  Karl knew when the kiln would be unloaded, and he would be one of the first to examine the results.  This time I was content to gather my own work and was satisfied with a quick glance at the products of others.   When Karl came in, I was mainly concerned with getting pots and test tiles onto the shelf, and ready for the next firing.  Suddenly I heard a rap, and the unmistakable crash of broken pottery.  Turning to Karl, I saw the equally unmistakable look of displeasure on his face.  “That’s a commercial plate, Stanley.  You have my permission to break every commercial plate you see!”  I never had occasion to destroy such plates, because news of the breaking spread quickly.  We saw no more of them.   


     More frequently, we had times when we could observe Karl’s expression of pleasure.    In other tales, we have mentioned that he liked a glaze to capture the viewer’s interest.  He had his own favorite glazes, and of these he made a permanent collection.  He would fire a favorite sample on to a specially shaped form, and that form would be in the shape of a low-relief, narrow necked Greek vase.  The glazed sample would fit into the hollow of one’s hand. 


     Since a good student wishes to follow the examples of his master, I wanted to make a collection of my favorite glazes, but the Greek vase shape had already been taken.  “What to do?”  I thought of the Greek theatre, and of the ways in which actors used comic and tragic masks to portray their roles.  I saw that models of such masks could serve my purpose, so I made plaster press-molds, one a comic mold, the other tragic.  They produced five-inch masks.  By emphasizing the relief of the images, I could show where the glaze might have a tendency to run from a raised area, and be thicker in such areas, such as in the mouth of a mask.  While the clay was still leather-hard, I wrote the body type on the back of the mask, so that I could always tell what body the glaze had been fired on.  Karl might have asked me, and I had no wish to be caught napping.  As it was, I had a few of these masks in front of me when he appeared.  He showed surprise, and he said, “What’s this?”  He picked up a mask to examine it. 


     “Forms for my favorite glaze collection,” I answered, and I explained how I hoped to get information from the high and low relief parts of each mask.  His smile told me of his pleasure for my desire to follow his example.       


     Thank you, Karl.