What the Hand Shapes ...

Though she prefers calling herself a potter, Sigrid Hovmand is a ceramic artist who presently works exclusively in stoneware. She was trained in hand throwing at Kähler's workshop in Næstved, one of Denmark's finest ceramic studios. She came here as an apprentice a couple of years after the Kähler family dynasty had turned the workshop over to the municipality of Næstved, but the same people still worked there in the same studios where Herman A. Kähler and Hansen Reistrup had performed their epoch-making work at the end of the 19th century. It was a place rich in history, with an atmosphere that clearly demanded quality and skill. It was here - in the "throwing workshops", the back garden, the skylight studio and basements, among old pots, tiles, forms and half-finished work - that Sigrid Hovmand took her first step into the ranks of the ceramicist. After having passed her apprenticeship exam as a potter in 1977, she spent a year of study in the US before establishing her workshop on the island of Samsø in 1979.

Samsø is well suited for Sigrid Hovmand to work. She grew up on the island, and it is here - where the weather alternates between soft, summer breezes, shuddering autumn storms and biting, winter cold and where there is a constant murmur from the sea - that she performs her strong, very personal work. She works in stoneware since it suits her method of handling clay. She chooses to fire her pottery in a gas kiln because it is the only way she can bring out the colour scale and tones that she wants from the clay.

Form, decoration and utility are the three concepts that are most important to a ceramicist, and all of these lie deep within Sigrid Hovmand's consciousness.

Form and Application
For Sigrid Hovmand, the form is probably most important of all. It must be perfect; the object must be viewable from all sides, lie comfortably in the hand, and its base must be stable. "Pots are to be seen with the hands," says Sigrid Hovmand. In this way one gets the same feeling as the potter does when working at the potter's wheel. And throwing clay is something Sigrid Hovmand is accomplished at. During her apprenticeship with Kähler she learned to make great demands on herself and only accept results that completely fulfilled her intention and requirements. As mentioned, form has high priority, which of course is important when dealing with articles for everyday use. Because what is a pitcher worth that does not pour well? A mug that is difficult to hold or a teapot that drips? These are simply examples of poor workmanship, and you can rest assured that products with faults like these never leave Sigrid Hovmand's workshop.

Sigrid Hovmand employs three different glazes: a grey/white, a blue and the beautiful, black/brown tenmoku. With the tenmoku glaze she achieves a lovely play of colour - from total black/brown, to dark red/brown, to light red/brown - unless she prefers letting the very deep, dark-brown shade - almost black - dominate the object.

Sigrid Hovmand decorates her work using a number of techniques, the most prominent being the intarsia method and the masking method. In both cases the object is first thrown in stoneware clay and then, when leather-hard, trimmed to its final form.

Intarsia means the inlaying of another material or colour to compose the motif. Sigrid Hovmand lays coloured clay into grooves that have been cut into the object's leather-hard body. The moment at which this is done is very important because the clay must contain the correct amount of moisture in order to avoid shrinkage between the colours during the following firing process. The result is a precise, taught expression that has its roots deep in the history of pottery and reflects a timeless quality rather than some superficial trend.

Sigrid Hovmand began using the masking method after a period of study at the art academy in Warsaw. When the object has been trimmed to its final form, it is bisc-fired once at 950o C, making it easier to handle, but still porous enough to absorb glaze and colour. Then the pattern is sketched onto the surface. Here, too, Sigrid Hovmand is very careful to make sure that the pattern suits the object's form. Next the object is covered with masking tape and latex that can be removed along the way, and finally colour oxides and ochre are applied with a spray gun. After the desired result has been obtained, the object, like the rest of her work, is reduction-fired in the gas kiln at 1,300o C - that is to say, fired with an oxygen deficiency. The resulting decoration can either be very simple or highly complex, depending on the amount of masking and tones of colour used.

Sigrid Hovmand has a very thorough knowledge of her materials. She has great respect for what clay is capable of, and which decorations are suitable for stoneware. She carries on a thousand-year-old tradition and succeeds in bringing out new, distinctively personal expressions in her work without ever diverging from the inheritance of the past. "The hand shapes the path of the soul," wrote the Danish author, Johannes V. Jensen. In her work Sigrid Hovmand, too, is forging a significant path in the realm of ceramic art.

Lise Funder, June 2010 English translation: Steve Schein