Mochaware derives its name from stone that was originally first discovered around Mecca. We think the name underwent a change by the time the actual mocha diffusion process came to be used in the mid 18th century in English production potteries. What’s most interesting about this technique is the lack of historical recipes. We do know a few things:
- The technique began to be used circa 1750
- It was used on earthenware pottery (fired at a much lower temperature than our own stoneware)
- The pots typically had 4 trees and some brown banding and were brown and off-white in coloring
- How these ingredients were used remains somewhat of a mystery, but they included urine, turpentine and tobacco
- The nature of a production studio lends itself to mocha decorating techniques because hundreds of pots can be rapidly decorated, and though there may be a few losses, they wouldn’t have a major impact on the financial outcome of such a factory.
We first discovered some information about mochaware at the Ontario Potters’ Association convention in Ottawa in 1981. It intrigued us both. However, our first experiments quickly taught us that firing mochaware at our higher temperatures needed some thorough adjusting of the tea we created to form the lovely dendritic tree patterns. NO, we don’t use either urine or turpentine in our mocha tea… but we sure do use tobacco. In fact, we try to get the cheapest and nastiest pipe tobacco we can find to make this putrid tea. When it’s applied to a slipped pot, the tea quickly disperses, “treeing” out as it goes. We can tell you that the slip we apply to our almost dry pots needs to stay glossy (moist) while the tea does its trick. If the pot is too dry, and the slip likewise, the tea runs off in straight ugly lines. If the pot is too wet, the “treeing” does not stop, and these crazy uncontrolled trees will branch up over the rim of the piece totally spoiling the landscape effect we’re after. The tea is highly acidic, the slip highly alkaline and both need to be in perfect condition to create their rapid magic.
It may form the fastest decorating technique in our studio, but it’s far from guaranteed to bring successful results each and every time. Perhaps because we’re such a small studio, we never have enough pots around to hazard wasting a half-dozen or so in finding whether our tea is in its perfect state to guarantee success. Over the years, however, we’ve loved making these beautiful pieces that we feel celebrate our arboreal surroundings.