Double-Walled Pilsner Project

James Morley double-walled mug, c1700, Nottingham

James Morley double-walled mug, c1700, Nottingham



"The Last Drop: Intoxicating Pottery Past and Present" at the North Carolina Clay Center in collaboration with the Chipstone Foundation and Ceramics in American, curated by Rob Hunter

I first saw a Morley pierced double-walled stoneware mug in the Delhom Collection at the Mint Museum almost three decades ago. It struck me then and has stuck with me ever since. First, I love this basic cup form: a cylinder atop a globe, wedded with a handle. I’ve seen variations of this iconic form in pre-modern European, Native American, and Islamic ceramics. But there is an extravagance to the pierced double-walled version; the visual and technical complexity of this usually humble pot is undeniable. For a potter to throw two independent and joined walls is a lot of extra work—and yet offers less volume for the drinker. So why the double wall? The handle takes care of any concern that a hot beverage could transfer heat from the inner wall, making the pot uncomfortable and necessitating the second skin. But there is something immensely pleasing about the way the inner container hangs down from the rim of the outer form, suspended but not touching the foot ring. And the double wall makes possible the strangely stylized foliate piercings, a visual play on our expectation of a container’s integrity: this mug has holes and yet is not leaky. The iconography of the Delhom mug’s time-consuming piercings are quirky, somewhere between star and fossil, the curvilinear incised stems mannered.

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
— H.L. Mencken, 1920

With appetite whetted by my earlier encounter with one of its cousins, I embraced the chance to respond to the Chipstone Collection’s Morley mug. To my eye, this mug has an even more pleasing shape and proportion. The straighter neck makes the belly feel more globular, which in turn is echoed in the rounded arc of its handle. The piercings while still perhaps vegetal, are even stranger, reading as abstracted landmasses or maybe bats. Where the Delhom mug’s piercings repeat a couple of motifs, the Chipstone mug’s are free and wild, almost doodles, each pierced shape a mark of the potter’s bounding imagination. The incised straight stem lines are also more abstracted and unselfconscious. What a pot!
First, to get to know the historical object, I threw a facsimile of the Morley mug in dark stoneware. A neighbor was taken by it and carried it off to decorate with piercings of his own devising. Then I made a pilsner form in a porcelaneous white stoneware, which I felt had a relation to the fine fabric of the Nottingham mug, but with a brighter graphics quality that I thought would work well in my salt and wood kiln. The taller pilsner seemed more contemporary. I decorated the first one with piercings after the Chipstone mug’s, to get their feel. Then I made some taller double-walled pilsners, which stood on a ware shelf waiting to be pierced.

I had seen Nottingham pots with inscriptions, and in my studio practice, I sometimes write text on my pots that encapsulates cultural or historical moments. So I moved toward that idea for this piece, waiting for the right words to arrive and grab me, and thinking about how to render them.