Found in Indian and Mesopotamian architecture, ceramic tiles are believed to have been constructed from slabs of clay since 14,000 B.C. Effigy urn in the form of the Sun God from 12th–14th-century Mesoamerica is formed from a slab of unglazed clay (also called earthenware). The figure’s elaborate garb, jewelry, and headdress represent the god’s divinity—as the protector against everything from drought to illness. In ancient Mayan culture, slab-built lids and bases for vessels, boxes, and incense burners were used alongside coiled pots and clay slips to create the intricate decorative arts that the Mayans are well-known for.
, one of the leading advocates of ceramics as a fine art, has been engaging in slab construction for more than 50 years, creating modern ceramic totems that can only be fully appreciated in person. Mason’s “Figure” works are the result of rolled, shaped, fired, and glazed slabs of clay positioned meticulously on top of one another in geometric formations. “There was the question of whether it was going to be a unique object or was it going to be a tool with which you explored the possibilities of the material?” Mason says
of the many contingencies inherent to the process of slab construction. “Which meant you didn’t necessarily know where you were going or how you were going to get there.… Clay has a tendency when it’s plastic, when it’s mixed up and it’s malleable, it won’t support itself very much. So what do you do to hold it up?… It’s a discovery…it’s not just an exercise.”
How Soft Slab Works
Begin with rolled-out, flat, and wet or moist pieces of clay (you can roll them out by hand-tossing or using a rolling pin or slab roller). Soft slab naturally warps and bends during the making and firing, so roll out the slabs on each side repeatedly. Stack with a smooth and wrinkle-free material in between each slab to prevent any tearing or distortion. Then cut each individual piece into shapes, and connect or form them into an object. Score and slip the joined areas to ensure the object will dry out without losing its form.
How Hard Slab Works
Use only dried and firm slabs of clay for this technique. Once the clay is leather-hard, cut out your pieces and join them by scoring and slipping. This technique offers less warpage than soft slab construction.