Working Large Scale

By: Megan Baig
Nov. 15, 2021

Better late than never!

A couple summers ago I decided to start a small rhubarb patch in the little garden next to the house. My grandmother has been growing it for years and was happy to let me have a small clump of it to start my own. I don't know what's in the soil, but man did it grow! Fast forward just one year and I have more rhubarb than I know what to do with and leaves that are bigger than I've ever seen. I should look up some recipes for rhubarb jam... Apart from the stalks, rhubarb leaves are non-edible; in fact, they're poisonous to ingest. However, leaf-impressed dishes are fairly common in the pottery world, and I've even made a few small ones in the past. When I saw an incredibly enormous leaf one summer, though, I knew that I just had to try and make something with it. So I picked the one of the largest ones I could find that didn't have much damage to it and brought it into the studio. I got to work rolling out some red clay (this was before my slab roller, too) and carefully positioned the leaf on top so all the edges would fit.

Once the leaf was positioned properly, I used my small wooden roller to impress it into the clay. This made more of a mess than I thought it would because the veins in the leaf apparently had a bit of water (rhubarb juice?) in them and as I rolled over them they split open and got everything wet. Overall the leaf left a really good impression though, and I was so excited when I was finally able to pull the leaf away.

After this I propped up the edges to make it more dish-like and it was at about this time I thought to measure it to make sure it would fit in the kiln. 25 inches. It would just about fit once it shrunk from drying, but I brought the edges up a bit more to be safe. It would have to dry slowly so the edges wouldn't crack, so I kept it covered in plastic for a few weeks (plus it would take up a considerable amount of real estate in the kiln). You can probably imagine how nervous I was loading it bone dry into the kiln.. one small misstep and the entire piece could break in half. It was heavy and awkward, but in the end, it fit, and it fired almost perfectly. I must have impressed one of the larger veins a bit too much because there was a considerable crack at the bottom, but when the time came to glaze it, I would deal with it then.

Now, fast forward another year.. the leaf sat in my studio mostly because I didn't know what glaze to use. I had several greens, but most didn't look good on the brown clay body I had used. Celadons were too transparent and I wouldn't get the look I was going for. I didn't need it to be a realistic rhubarb leaf green, but I wanted something that would enhance the texture. Eventually I settled on Standard's Sea Mist glaze. I had bought a pound of it dry and it was good for pouring as long as you got it on nice and thick. Too thin and it would be almost transparent. I had used it on darker clays before and it looked good, so I used up pretty much what was left and glazed the leaf. It was a bit of a challenge, but in the end only a few drips found their way onto the floor. After a day of drying, back into the kiln it (finally) went.

I have to add, before glazing I also attempted to patch the crack with a commercial patching paste (along with some red iron oxide mixed in to hopefully match the color of the clay body), and it looked like it was going to work. Final results proved otherwise. I mean, yeah, its noticeable, but I guess it could have been worse. Here's a couple photos of the finished piece, with me for scale. :)

When I talked to my grandmother the other day she had asked me about how I made the leaf because she wanted one to use as a ground feeder for her birds. I had no plans of ever selling this one, mainly because of the crack, but also because of the size.. how would I even start to pack up this thing to ship it?! I told her I would finished this one and give it to her, and I was happy to finally have a reason to get it done.

Overall I'm happy with the way it came out, and I have plans in the future to attempt a third one. I say third, because my second attempt broke and is now in a reclaim bucket. Oops.. :-P