The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy (1947-2019)
University of Iowa

Modelling Techniques:

Direct Pull Technique: The most widely-used technique for pottery manufacture is the technique I have called "direct pull", in which the potter forces moist, fresh clay upward to form the walls of a pot without using a mold of any kind. The following description is of the work of the Lobi potter Hien Kokilan in Nyobini, near Gaoua.

The potter begins by placing a small, fired-clay dish on the floor of her work area, which will serve as a support for the base of the new pot. She then forcefully slaps a large mass of kneaded clay into this dish. Using her right fist, she forces a hollow into the center of the mass. Then, bending over the clay, with her right hand inside the pot and her other hand outside, she begins to force the fresh clay upward, pulling the clay toward her chest, and simultaneously thinning and heightening the walls with the pressure of her fingers as they slide over the plastic material. Her back is parallel to the ground as she bends, and her elbows and arms do all of the work. If the jar is to be large, the potter backs around her work as the walls grow larger. If the jar is smaller, she may work seated, rotating the forming jar on its fired-clay support dish. She pauses frequently to dip her fingers into a bowl of water to lubricate them as they slide over the clay walls.

When the walls of the pot are sufficiently high, the potter consolidates them by scraping them with a piece of corncob, a pottery shard, or with a small ring made of raffia midrib. The hand that does the work is always inside the jar, with the outer walls of the jar supported by the left hand. The smoothing and scraping of the walls thins and heightens them, giving them their final curve.

The rim of the jar is made by rotating the pot on its base with the left hand as a small bunch of wet green leaves is dragged along the rim of the partially completed jar. The clay of the rim is consolidated, thickened, and flared outward as the pot rotates rather rapidly, in a technique that is quite similar to wheel-throwing.

The walls of the jar are smoothed and consolidated by rolling a corncob roulette over the plastic clay, producing a repetitive pattern that may help prevent breaking during firing and use, and helps each potter identify her work in group firings.

The "direct pull" technique is used by the Lobi, Nunuma, Nuna, Samo, Winiama, and Marka-Dafing. With several variations the technique is used by the Ashanti and the Mo in Ghana, by the Fon in Benin, the Gwari in northern Nigeria, and others.