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Peregrin Took looked up from the small wheel where he was working to throw a simple pot. His great aunt sat at a much larger wheel, and she had just placed quite a large ball of clay on its surface. A kick of the foot, the wheel spun, and in moments a tall, graceful vase took shape under her skillful fingers.
He looked at the lopsided shape before him and sighed. He hadn’t the patience to become that good! He squashed the clay back into a lump and threw it back into the vat in which raw clay was kept.
“Why do they call it slip?” Pippin asked his great aunt as he watched her mix powdered clay with water to make what looked to him to be a thick, grey mud.
She shrugged as she stirred. “It’s what it’s ever been called,” she noted.
She indicated that the slip was at last ready to pour into the mould. Pippin lifted the great bowl and tipped it slowly. His hand trembled, the funnel fell, and liquid clay poured across the workbench and onto the floor. His aunt stepped forward to lend a hand—and landed flat on her back.
The elderly Hobbitess sighed as she watched her great nephew carefully pouring slip into a mould for a figure of a china shepherdess. This time he’d managed to do so with a minimum of spillage—a distinct achievement, considering how much liquid clay she’d had to clean up in recent weeks.
His parents hoped the time their Pippin spent with her would help mould his ability to appreciate and create beautiful things, but she had her doubts. He was impatient, and she suspected his gifts would lie in recognizing those whose spirits were beautiful rather than in creating art.
Having rolled out a long rope of clay, Pippin’s great aunt showed how it could be coiled into shape, then smoothed inside and out to make a bowl or pot. She could see Pippin’s eyes shine, himself coiled to follow her lead.
The resulting piece was a bit rough, but far more successful than most of his previous work. When it was fired and he shyly offered it to her in thanks, she felt a tightly wound place in her heart relax.
“Why thank you, lad; I shall keep a coil of string in it for when I need it!”
Frodo followed his young cousin through the potters shed as Pippin described all to be seen there. “And this is the kiln, where we fire the clay. That turns it from simple clay to real pottery. It’s all right to touch it now, but it’s terribly hot when it’s lit. You can get burned then.”
Frodo smiled across at the great aunt. It was not always a good thing to see Peregrin Took fired up with enthusiasm, but it appeared that the good Hobbitess was teaching him to temper his impetuous nature. Pippin had always been dangerously fascinated by fire….
“This is where we put our pieces to dry when we’re done modeling them,” Pippin told his cousins as he led them through the place. “We have to let them dry out most of the way. They might explode if they’re fired before they’re dry enough.”
His great aunt caught the smile that Frodo sent her way, and noted how Pippin was trying to copy Frodo’s own tone of voice as he spoke. The lad does well to model himself on his older cousin, she thought. Young Frodo Baggins is about the most responsible Hobbit in the Shire, I believe.
“And to get this color you have to put powdered manganese into the glaze,” Pippin explained. “We get it from the Dwarves in return for carrots and potatoes and a good deal of my mum’s weaving, or so Da tells me.”
Merry’s eyes began to glaze over as his beloved younger cousin babbled on and on about glazes and materials needed to turn various pots different colors. How the lad could rattle on without pause about the subject! He’d much rather think about those carrots, perhaps glazed with a mixture of butter and honey, and served with a nice ham….
“We call this a pinch pot,” Pippin’s great aunt explained as she demonstrated pinching the sides between her fingertips to shape them. “It’s the first method most children learn when making pottery.”
Carefully Pippin sought to follow her example, until he’d managed at last to produce a passable jar and lid, constantly working to make the lid fit the rim.
“And you made this for me?” asked Ferumbras as he unwrapped it at Yule. “How nice, handmade.” He pinched the lad’s cheek.
Sensing the falseness to the praise, Pippin was glad he’d not given the hideous thing to his grandfather.
Pippin watched with fascination as his great aunt rubbed the inside of a bowl with a smooth, yellow stone. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m polishing this bowl so it will hold water longer without it needing to be glazed,” she explained without stopping the movement of her hands. “Stone polishing smoothes and helps seal the surface, and gives it a nice patina. It’s an ancient technique.”
And your character, too, is being polished even as we speak, she thought. A fine Hobbit you’ll prove once you’ve grown and you have some experience to smooth the edges, I’m thinking.
The Thain of the Shire leaned down to accept a kiss from one of his great nieces. “Here, Uncle Pippin—I made it myself!”
“Did you really?” he asked, carefully undoing the wrinkled bow and smudged wrappings, then more wrappings besides.
It was a bowl, inexpertly crafted and rather lopsided. “Oh!” he murmured, admiringly. “I shall keep a coil of string in it for when I need it!”
And he felt the ghost of his beloved great aunt, a Hobbitess now long dead, press a kiss to his cheek. “Did anyone teach you how to coil clay?” he asked.
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