Last spring I bought this pillow-shaped rattle from a great little gallery shop, Artisans Custom Framing and Fine Art Gallery, which is in the tiny California town of Hanford. The rattle was made by John Davis who has a studio in the remote town of Alpine, Texas. Davis’s rattles are small enough to hold in one hand and have what sounds like tiny clay balls rattling around inside. Davis makes both oxidation-fired versions and raku-fired versions, square or heart-shaped, and he calls them “inner spirit rattles.” Each rattle is wrapped with a piece of raffia and a few beads and the label encourages you to “rattle your worries away.” I liked the textures and the suggestion of a postage stamp on the one I bought.
At first I thought this might be a good project for my intermediate pottery students but making a rattle is more difficult than it looks. For my first attempt I cut little square slabs and joined them together (with clay balls inside them) but the resulting “pillows” did not have the inflated quality that Davis’s do. I tried blowing into them but the fact that all four edges were joined kept the whole pillow very flat. Then I tried extruding a cylinder and sealing the ends but my extruder would not make a cylinder that was thin enough to make a lightweight pillow like Davis’s.
I ended up making cylinders out of very thin porcelain slabs, and then closing the ends off while keeping the center area inflated and I’m pretty happy with the result. Before I make the cylinder I add textures and buttons and I press my initials into them with tiny letter stamps.My favourite rattles are the ones that barely hold together and have weird and wonderful shapes. Once they’re bisqued, I colour them with oxides and stains and then fire them without glazing.
A few weeks ago when I gave one of these rattles to some friends of mine, they showed me a Jim Davis rattle that they had recently bought from West Coast Seeds in Ladner, BC, Canada (which is not a gallery or gift shop—they actually sell seeds and gardening supplies). My friends’ rattle is raku-fired and has an imprint of a big fly on it. Jim Davis has not only come up with an inviting design but he is obviously a great marketer too, since he has succeeded in spreading his work from Texas to California and on to Ladner, in Canada. On his website he encourages people to “Share your story of how your rattle has helped ease your mind,” thus creating a community of people who help spread the word about his work. Jim and his wife (who is also his business partner) have established a successful business by creating beautiful things.