Global Clay: Themes in World Ceramic Traditions

Global Clay: Themes in World Ceramic Traditions

Global Clay: Themes in World Ceramic Traditions

Global Clay: Themes in World Ceramic Traditions


For over 25,000 years, humans across the globe have shaped, decorated, and fired clay. Despite great differences in location and time, universal themes appear in the world's ceramic traditions, including religious influences, human and animal representations, and mortuary pottery. In Global Clay: Themes in World Ceramic Traditions, noted pottery scholar John A. Burrison explores the recurring artistic themes that tie humanity together, explaining how and why those themes appear again and again in worldwide ceramic traditions. The book is richly illustrated with over 200 full-color, cross-cultural illustrations of ceramics from prehistory to the present. Providing an introduction to different styles of folk pottery, extensive suggestions for further reading, and reflections on the future of traditional pottery around the world, Global Clay is sure to become a classic for all who love art and pottery and all who are intrigued by the human commonalities revealed through art.


Turn, turn, my wheel! the human race,
Of every tongue, of every place,
Caucasian, Coptic, or Malay,
All that inhabit this great earth,
Whatever be their rank or worth,
Are kindred and allied by birth,
And made of the same clay.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Kéramos” (1877)

Global Clay is a book about pottery from around the world, from the earliest wares to those of today. But this is not a survey in the usual sense, as it does not approach the subject in a linear, chronological way as a historian would, or in a spatial or ethnographic way as a geographer or anthropologist would. Although it certainly benefits from those methodologies, this book first of all is driven by ideas: themes shared by clay-working societies wherever they are found.

The approach used here is informed by my training as a folklorist, with its focus on the continuity of traditions over time and space and how they respond to change. Folk traditions connect the individual to society, providing an anchor to previous generations and, at the same time, a resource for creative behavior in the present. Like those traditions, the study of folklore is evolving, but one methodology that has remained constant is the comparative approach, a goal of which is to address the Big Question: How did certain cultural products come to be so widespread (especially in the days before print and electronic media)? the universality of certain pottery ideas is what Global Clay will specifically address.

Walk into traditional pottery workshops anywhere in the world and you are immediately struck by their similar layouts. the similarities are due not to the . . .

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