Cinda Mefferd's Clay Model History

How did I get the idea to make clay models? Totally out of the blue in 2001, I saw a series of models in my mind's eye, and said to myself, "That's a good idea." I wasn't potting at the time, but a year later, when the idea had not gone away, I made them on the potter's wheel.

I weighed out equal sized lumps of clay, 1200 grams apiece, the approximate size of a grapefruit and completed a series of twenty-one models. Beginners commonly use that amount of clay. It fits comfortably in the hands, but the models were quite large to display and transport as a set. The ideal solution was, as far as I knew, to duplicate them in plastic and sell them in sets.

Flying home from visiting my parents, I browsed the in-flight magazine and synchronistically saw an ad for injection molded plastic forms. The ad read, "No job too big or too small." Perfect. There was a lovely replica of a cut glass bowl with intricate detail. I could see the company did careful work.

The salesman stopped me politely early in the conversation by saying, "We can make anything you want, but I first need to tell you some prices. Most people do not know that injection molded plastic is very expensive. The mold for the bowl in the ad cost $30,000." My molds would be closer to $3,000 apiece, steel, way too much money.

I researched various materials by talking to my friend Karen's relative Glen. He knew a lot about each option (or non-option) for duplication. The gambit of blow-ups like a beach ball, surf board fiberglass, and everything else we could think of beyond plaster and light weight cement. I learned to say, "An object similar to a hollow statue," when I wanted to keep my idea secret, but told Glen and a few others what it was.

One evening I tried unsuccessfully to fashion fabric beanbags in the shapes I wanted. I also tried cutting paper and taping shapes together. Decades ago paper dolls had shapes and stood up and a myriad of cartons do too. Then there was, "maybe rubber" akin to the ball of a plunger.

When I talked to my potter friends in Florida, Bonnie Sargent and Chuck Moore, Bonnie said, "Have the models be lumps of clay that include molded hands placed in the correct positions so students can place their hands on top of them. Chuck said, "Hire a professional potter who does piece work to crank them out."

I finally settled on making small-sized models out of clay on the potter's wheel and bisque firing them. I have been very happy with their size and portability. And, coming full circle, I am making another large-sized set that I will hollow, bisque fire, and use in my studio

Using clay models for teaching is not new. Samples of cups and bowls and cylinders are the norm on studio shelves. It is though unusual if not unique to use numerous small models in a series.

I welcome communication with other potters about models and teaching.