How to make Horsehair Pottery?

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Earthern Horse Pottery

Horsehair Pottery has caught the fascination of the art world in recent times. But the art itself dates back to centuries. Though the exact origin of the art is not known, it is widely used by the Navajo Indians in the Navajo Indian reservation. Horsehair pottery is a handcrafted art of creating unique, one of a kind design on pottery which cannot be replicated. The trick is to use horsehair to create myriad designs on clay pots as soon as they are out of the kiln. Horsehair pottery can be a very interesting hobby which can be fun and satisfying.


What is the history of Horsehair Pottery?

Horsehair Pottery is a Native American art form that was discovered in 1980 by sheer accident. Folklore has it that a Pueblo potter woman discovered this art form when her long hair accidentally blew and made an impression on the hot piece of pottery she was removing from the kiln. She was fascinated by what she saw and decided to try this technique with many other things like straw, pine needles, feathers and finally horse hair. They found that the thicker and coarser horse hair left striking and clear impressions on the pot as compared to the finer human hair. Once they had mastered this technique they taught it to other potters in their community. Through the years this art form has seen a lot of variations and is equally followed by both Native and non-Native Americans. 


How to make Horsehair Pottery?

Like any other art form, each artist has his or her own style of doing Horsehair Pottery. There are different ways to do horsehair pottery like the Wheel thrown, low fire clay, bisque fired to cone 010, burnished, fired with horsehair and sprayed with ferric chloride. The technique of firing horse hair in all these methods is the same but no two pots look the same as the designs are based on the flow of the horsehair on the pottery. In recent times, artifacts made through horsehair pottery are made more unique and interesting by decorating them with pieces of turquoise, etched or have a design painted on the horsehair pottery. 


What are the detailed steps for making Horsehair Pottery?

  1.  Take low fire clay or raku clay pots wheel thrown, slip cast into moulds or hand built
  2. Allow it to dry and once dry run sand paper over to it to get a satin finish. You can also do a rock finish on the fired pot. Do not use any glaze or paint over it.
  3. Bisque fire these burnished pieces in a raku kiln at 1400oF. Once the pots are fired remove them from the kiln and then lay the individual hairs on the pot to create the incredible designs on the clay surface.
  4. The horsehairs have to be impressed on the hot clay pot very quickly within 30-45 seconds. If the temperature falls below 900 the clay will not accept the horsehair.
  5. Once you are satisfied with the designs, allow the pots to cool. Then wash and polish the pots with wax to get the most unique and interesting piece of horsehair pottery.


What are some additional tips for making Horsehair Pottery?

  • If you want to make the rich, sienna kind of pottery, spray the pots with a ferric chloride solution before using the horsehair on them.
  • If you are using low fire clay, make sure to leave a small gap in the centre to reduce cracking as well as give more surface area for the horse hair decoration.
  • If what you have created does not impress you, you can redo the whole thing again


What are the warnings to be aware of before making Horsehair Pottery?

Be careful while using Ferric chloride as it produces toxic fumes when sprayed on hot pottery and is acidic in nature.


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