Handmade ceramics come in all forms and colors and choosing one for daily use is a very personal experience. When I select a piece of pottery, one of the first things I do is to flip it over and examine its bottom or foot. This is because the underside of handmade ceramics offers a wealth of fascinating information about its origins and nature.
Some of the questions that I ask are: What does the bottom look like? What type of clay has been used? Is there a foot, and if so, what type is it? Does the maker sign the pot? Is it trimmed on the bottom?
The answers to these questions are the choices that the potter made, and appreciating these decisions are enjoyable and more important than explaining them. The underside of a ware is like a window into the spirit and philosophy of the work and its maker.
The foot reveals the type of clay that is used to make the pot. This may not be obvious at first glance because most ceramic pieces are glazed, but it is quite easy to tell through a close look at the foot. Many potters spend a lot of time selecting and mixing the right clay and accompanying glaze for their work, so the choice of clay is a significant part of the story of their work.
You might also want to think about the choice of clay for your pot depending on its purpose. For example, I like noodle bowls in porcelain because they are easier to clean. However, I prefer teacups in stoneware because porcelain containing hot water becomes too hot to hold and the tea gets cold quickly. For antique pottery collectors, the clay can also reveal when and where the pot was made.
Lastly, the foot of the pot can also offer clues to the firing process that the piece underwent. If the item is fired with wood, it may have marks on the bottom from the wads that were placed to prevent it from sticking to the kiln shelf. Some pieces by the same artist may have different clay colors because they are placed in different areas of the kiln.
So the next time you have the happy chore of choosing a pot, go and look at its underside. I am so intrigued by this underbelly of ceramic ware that I always make sure there are photographs from this angle on my website and online shop. To me it is just as important as the other more visible parts of the ware because it will offer you another perspective into the origins and characters of these items as shaped by their makers.