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Chess Set

Ceramic & Wood Project

My first wood firing was disappointing. Pale pieces with no purpose. The second time I set myself a task. Everything I made would have to do with fire. I made large goblets with writings about Joan of Arc and Icarus. Then Agincourt came to mind. A battle fought in the 15th Century between the English and French in France. The English were outnumbered but won the battle. Success was due in part to a very muddy field. It had rained heavily the night before, causing the French in their heavy armor to sink deeply into the mud and become sitting targets. The other contributing factor was the English archers. Boys were chosen at a young age for their shooting ability, their bows hewn in chorus with their growth. The English long bowmen were able to pick off the floundering French from a safe distance. War, mud, battle and probably fire made me think of chess. I would make a chess set for the kiln. 


I didn’t want to sculpt or cast. How could I define the unique pieces? I remembered a toy I had as a child: flat translucent squares and circles with notches cut in the middle of each side so that they could be connected. Pawns were simply rectangles connected by notches. There was a graphic for each of the other pieces; a horizontal zig-zag for the rook, a scalene triangle to imply a horse’s head, an isosceles triangle for the bishop's hat, and

crowns for the king and queen. 


I used two different clays and two different textures; small indents to imply bullet marks on concrete walls and little lines to represent scratches in armor. Despite my efforts, the pieces came out of the fire looking too similar to differentiate sides. I brought the set to Haystack, hoping the teacher would help me put gold on one of the armies. She let me know this was impossible. She told me to start again. No. Way. First, I thought of scarves or graduation stoles. At 4:30 in the morning, freezing cold in my hat, socks, 4 layers of clothes and 3 blankets, I wrote in my journal. “But no, I think I want to make jerseys of some sort like shirts and skins. This idea excites me a lot. Do I use clay? Knitting? Fabric and sew? Red? Do I make two sets so players can choose?” Or Pinnies! The chess set transformed from a battlefield to a playing field. I could make one team have little knit vests. The pieces are very square and I realized making something on the outside would make them too big for the squares on the boards. My knitting mentor had made some projects knitting metal. Click. I would knit red copper wire to fit inside the cavity of the pieces making a sort of internal chain mail for one team.  This was my first experience of an idea becoming a puzzle culminating in a story

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