Saturday, December 27, 2008

Last few pots before New Year's Eve

Dee was working today, so I thought I would, too. It's a quiet time here at the pottery ... actually, from now until May will be a quiet time if I don't make some noise. But I thought I'd get a start today on the winter's output and the summer's inventory. So I threw a group of bowls just to keep the muscle memory current.
I started making this form a couple of years ago and I do a larger version of it as a serving bowl. It's a simple bowl with the rim turned over flat. I usually cut the rim after the first pull, which ultimately widens out into a slightly wonky rim. Sometimes I rib the outside smooth, sometimes I leave in the throwing rings. I sell a lot of these bowls at $20-$25 apiece. After Christmas Eve service this year, a friend pulled me aside and said his wife always eats her morning cereal out of one of these bowls that she bought from me. "She won't let me touch it," he said. "I think it's her soulmate." That's more than I would usually claim for a bowl, but if it works for her ...
I'll attach a photo of some finished bowls, so you get an idea of what they look like. These are glazed on the outside with an orange Malcolm Davis Shino and inside with a slightly modified Phil Rogers standard ash glaze.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to all!

Still more shopping to do this afternoon, then perhaps a bit of cooking, then off to a Christmas Eve party at the home of some friends, then Dee drags me to Messiah Episcopal Church in Woods Hole for a service of carols and candles. Actually, a lovely service.
Happy Christmas and Hannukah to all. We look forward to January 20 and a new beginning here in the USA.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Some pots from the holiday firing

Here are several pots that came out of the kiln Saturday morning. There were a few good ones that more or less left immediately with discerning buyers, but there are always some good ones left. Here are a few of them, including a row of "tiddlers," as Doug Fitch calls them. These are little pots that fill in spaces between the bigger ones and raise the pot total in the kiln considerably.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A snowy but successful open studio weekend

Saturday morning dawned (sort of ... ) white and wet and deep here at the pottery.
I looked out the window at about ten inches of snow on the driveway/parking area and thought ... "No one will be able to park there. On the other hand, no one will leave their house, anyway, so what does it matter?" So I got dressed and headed in to Falmouth at 7 a.m. to get coffee and pick up some things needed for the open studio, just in case some brave souls actually came to our place.
Amazingly, they did. Angela and Jeff showed up with their snowblower and went to work on the driveway and path to the gallery. Jean Swan, Ruth Bleakley and Kim Collins - the other artists doing this show with me - all arrived with their work. By the time of our scheduled kiln-opening at 11, there were several cars in the driveway and about 15 people here to see what had become of the pots fired on Friday. We had, as usual, an enthusiastic line of people helping move new pots from the kiln to the table, with a few being claimed along the way and bought later. You can see some of our fine and brave unloading crew in one of the photos, with my wife Dee standing front and center in the still-falling snow.
It was, as it always is, fun and profitable and people got lots of good pots, jewelry (from Kim), paintings (from Jean) and handmade books (from Ruth).
In the past five years, this weekend has become as much a social event as a selling event. While I sell pots in the summer to visitors - and I love that - I think we get much more of a community feeling from the pre-Christmas open studio. Though a few people come from off Cape Cod, most are from Falmouth or one of the nearby Cape towns. Many people bring food.
Donna Sutherland, usually a participant, is busy with a new grandchild, but still made wonderful breads. Janet Simons showed up with a pie and toffee. Lafe Coppola brought muffins. Dave Masch made excellent chopped liver. We had New Mexico chile and hot dogs. No one left unfed.
And as much as I feared a big snowstorm, there's something gratifying and heart-warming in seeing friends walk carefully through the falling snow, heads down against the weather, headed for the unheated gallery in the back or coming into the studio in front.
I'm not going to make any pots between now and Christmas. I'll leave my part of the in-studio show set up in case anyone comes by at the last minute.
The firing, by the way, was a good one. There were new glazes, untried techniques and a couple of new slips in the firing and things look pretty good. I'll attach a photo of a couple of the shelves. In the next day or so I'll shoot photos of some of the better pots.
Happy holidays to everyone. Now ... Christmas shopping ...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Just what you want the day before a show ...

... seven to 12 inches of snow.
Or so the various weather prognosticators are saying will fall on this part of southeastern Massachusetts through tonight and early tomorrow.
I was hoping we'd get the first storm of the season on the first day of our holiday open studio. I wonder who will eat all this food ...
Well, we'll see what the morning brings. The firing went smoothly, reaching Cone 10+ by about 10:30 this morning. I was able to go in to Coffee Obsession in Falmouth and have my ritual cup of post-firing coffee well before noon. Then to the grocery for various comestibles to feed the throngs of buyers Saturday morning ... or however many show up ... do two buyers constitute a throng???? Three????
The studio's cleaned up and vacuumed. Pots from the gallery have been brought up through the snowy backyard and are on display. Jean Swan and Dave Masch brought Jean's wonderful and colorful paintings and they've been hung all over the walls of the upstairs "gallery." Kim Collins's jewelry is there, too, covered to keep our two cats from making off with expensive earrings. Ruth Bleakley (isn't that a great surname?) will be here at some point and set up her lovely handmade books.
The only questions remain - how much snow? And how many will come out?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cleaning up after making a mess

Damn, glazing is messy. Or maybe it's just me ...
So I finished glazing this kiln-load of pots this afternoon about 4. This will be an interesting firing. I've got a couple of new glazes that I'm testing and some glaze combinations I haven't used. Could be great. Could be a disaster. We'll find out Saturday morning.
I've fired this kiln for about six years now, learning all along the way. When I came here to Cape Cod from Virginia, I had had a hand in firing several wood-fueled kilns, but had never once fired a gas kiln by myself. Which is more or less the reverse of most potters' experience. So my first few firings were fairly miserable - over-reduced, crud all over the kiln shelves, glazes running everywhere. Really bad.
But with advice from friends like local Falmouth potter Angela Rose, I dialed back the natural gas, settled on a couple of clay bodies, figured out workable glazes and settled down a bit. For the past few years, the Olympic has turned out some pretty good pots. Or as good as the kiln could make them, given the deficiencies of the potter. I'm pretty happy now with many of the pots that come out of each firing. And the work is getting better. Which is the point.
I'll attach a shot of the loaded kiln and I'll dig up a couple of pots from the past few years' firings to give you an idea of what I like to see when we open the door on kiln-opening morning. The three small vases and the faceted vase are all made from clay dug by my friend Trina Kingsbury on her property on Martha's Vineyard. It's rough stuff, but fires just fine to cone 10 and takes well to some of my Shino glazes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A'glazin' we will go ...

I thought I would document the way unglazed pots on shelves dominate my studio just before I start glazing. Which is now. I thought this just as I was about to start glazing, so anyone who knows me will tell you that this blog post is just an avoidance tactic. Well ... it is. So sue me.
I prefer to glaze a load of pots over at least two days, to give myself time to think about what I'm doing. So I'll start today and finish tomorrow, then candle Thursday-Friday overnight and turn the burners up early Friday morning. We open at 11 a.m. Saturday, the first of two days of our holiday open studio.
I dry-stack my kiln, which I think I've mentioned before. I picked it up from Toff Milway at Conderton Pottery in the Cotswolds. Loading the kiln before glazing helps me understand how many pots I have, how they fit in the kiln, what can go on the bottom, what on the top and what in the middle. And I get to make decisions about what needs to be in a particular firing and consider what can stay out until another day.
Once it's stacked, I take the shelves out one by one - usually still loaded with pots and props - and set them in various places around the studio not already occupied by glaze buckets. I usually label the back shelves so that things go back in order. And then I'm off.
Which is the point I'm at now. So I'd better get to it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making pots in the holiday damp

It's a damp, dark day here on Cape Cod. The cold rain spits across the windowscreen to my right. I can see the dead vines of last summer's tomatoes, peppers and beans beaten down onto the bare, brown garden earth. This feels like February.
But it's December, the holiday season, and I'm making pots for the firing next week. This afternoon I threw about 20 little vases, about a quarter-pound each. These small things can fit between taller and wider pieces and nearly double the number of pots in each firing. Plus, it gives someone with only $10 or $15 to spend a nice little pot to take home.
I've got one more bisque-firing to do, and then I will glaze early next week and fire Friday. I'll open Saturday morning at 11 with an audience of folks who come out every year to our holiday open house. It's always scary to open a new kiln with people watching.
I'll post a couple of photos with this. One is a group of like-minded pots that I threw last week and just bisqued. One finished pot much like these is a couple of posts down in the blog and that inspired me to just make a bunch of them. I do that a lot. There's a Dan Finnegan influence in these pots. That business of taking a sharp-edged piece of wood and pushing it into the soft side of a pot is something I learned a long time ago in one of Dan's classes. That technique creates a dynamism in a pot with bulging sides. Done right, they almost look like they're being expanded by compressed air from the inside.
The other image came to me via e-mail a few days ago from Huguette May, a fine New Bedford artist who is currently spending her time portraying frayed and discarded rope in big prints and drawings. Huguette has a studio in the Hatch St. Studios, opposite Mike Pietragalla's space on that old mill's fourth floor. She took it on herself to photograph some of the artists at the holiday open studios event two weeks ago. This is what she was able to do with me.
Now ... back to the studio.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Winter comes early to Cape Cod

We can usually stretch out our autumn until near Christmas and sometimes after that. But not this year. Yesterday was a day of cold, windblown rain along Vineyard Sound and then big heavy snowflakes out here at Hatchville. The cold wind was roaring through the maples last night as we sat in the tub and contemplated Orion. Today dawned cold and sunny.
The pots I took from the gallery were all about 20 degrees F., which made handling them a great deal of fun. But now I have a small display today through Saturday at the Cape Cod 5 Cents Savings Bank, our bank on Falmouth's Main Street. They have a program that encourages their business customers to show their wares in the lobby, a nice way of connecting with their customers. Dee discovered this last week and I signed up. Now there are 30 or so pots in the bank lobby, beckoning people to come to next week's open studio and kiln-opening.
I worked more in the studio yesterday, throwing spouted bowls and a few small creamers. And I went down to Woods Hole for potter Tessa Morgan's open studio event. Lots of good food and lots of Tessa's wonderfully illustrated pots. Tessa's sgraffito work is wonderful. I'll attach a photo here to show you.
Now I go back to my own studio and get back to work. Eggnog cups are up next.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Back to the wheel for Christmas

I came back from New Bedford to several deadlines for show paperwork and photographs. Got images for jurying off to the Lexington Arts Center in Lexington, Mass., for their biennial "State of Clay" show next spring. I had a couple of pots in the last one, which was exciting. Great show.
I also got the last of the paperwork off to the Cape Cod Museum of Art for the February show of work by Cape Cod potters. That should be a lovely show, with a couple of hundred pots in a big, well-lighted gallery there in Dennis. We need something big and well-lighted here in February. Juror Dan Finnegan is, I think, coming up for the opening and to give a gallery talk.
So today I got back to the wheel to make pots for the kiln-opening at our annual holiday show and sale here at the pottery. This year's will be Dec. 20-21, with the kiln-opening at 11 Saturday morning. People love handling the warm pots and hearing the tinkling of cooling glaze.
Joining me for this show will be jeweler Kim Collins, bookmaker Ruth Bleakley (she of the Dickensian name ... ) and painter Jean Swan.
I did 20 or more small Karatsu-style condiment dishes to start the throwing this afternoon. I did a workshop at Anderson Ranch in Colorado many years ago with Nakazato Takashi and this form is very much like his work. These will get a couple of different shinos and perhaps some temmoku.
And I loved this other small vase that came out of last week's firing, so I saved it for a show. Those larger vases above the small dishes will be finished tomorrow in the form of this shino jar with Coleman Black splashed over it.
Trimming and more throwing tomorrow. I'm glad to be back to work in the studio.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A weekend selling pots in New Bedford

I spent the weekend at the Hatch St. Studios in New Bedford, at the furniture studio of my friend Mike Pietragalla, a builder of wonderful Craftsman Style furniture ( Mike is one of a couple of dozen artists and craftspersons working on two floors of an old mill in the North End of New Bedford. Sculptors, fabric-workers, potters, painters, printmakers, photographers, jewelers, knitters ... all surrounded us there. A lively and creative bunch.
I've been invited to do this show for three years now ... or is it four? Anyway, I've made many friends from the New Bedford area, some of whom have made the long haul (a good 35 minutes) to the Cape to see our studio and gallery in warmer weather and during the holiday open house here. I like doing the show, not least because of the artists and the buyers, but also because part of my own family started in the United States in New Bedford. I realized this weekend that my great-great-grandfather came over to the U.S. from the industrial Midlands of Britain to work in the New Bedford mills late in the 19th century. It's unlikely - but possible - that he started his working life in that very same building in the city's mill district.
It was a good show, in any case, though sales were down generally, no doubt because of the current economy. Still, plenty of people came through the studios.
Now, I have more pots to make for our own holiday open house, coming Dec. 20-21 here at the pottery. If you're in the area, come to the kiln-opening at 11 on the morning of Saturday, the 20th. Also with us will be Ruth Bleakly and her handmade books, Kim Collins and her jewelry and Jean Swan and her paintings.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Low-fire, hand-built functional dough

Is there anything that looks as good right out of the oven as a pile of biscuits? Toasty brown a bit on the top, fluffy inside, asking for butter ... my, my ...
These biscuits came out about a half-hour ago, destined for consumption tomorrow morning after the "We Gather Together" 5K road race in Sandwich, not far from here. Pre-Thanksgiving breakfast after a brisk walk while the more athletically inclined - likemy wife - actually run the race. I'll walk, thanks.
The biscuits will be cut in half, buttered and thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma will be slipped inside. My version of what they call a "ham biscuit" down in Virginia and points south. In Virginia and elsewhere in the American Southeast, a slice of hard, salty country ham goes in there, but we don't know from country ham here on Cape Cod. So the prosciutto will do very well.
Today was a firing day, and I started the burners on low at 11 last night. I was up at 5:30 a.m. to turn up the gas. Cone 10 was flat top and bottom by 10 a.m. and I shut things down a few minutes later and went in to Coffee Obsession in Falmouth to get my ritual cup of post-firing coffee and visit with friends.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the States, so we'll be at the in-laws' in the next town for turkey and mashed potatoes and squash and ... the usual stuff. I'm providing appetizers - in this case, Greek olive tapenade, crabcakes, cheese spread, lobster and corn chowder.
I'll unload the kiln maybe tomorrow night, then start packing for the New Bedford show at Hatch Street Studios, which starts Friday mid-afternoon.
It's going to be a busy few days.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tall pots for the top of the kiln

I've got a firing coming up next week, making pots for the New Bedford show after Thanksgiving at Hatch Street Studios. And I've planned some tall pots for the top shelf, which will fit around a couple of birdhouses that I'm firing for my friend Lois Hirshberg. These are two-piece pots, a couple with a torqued base. I've been making forms more or less like this every now and then for probably 12 years. One of these days I'll get it right. Frankly, I think these will work better in a wood kiln, but since I have what I have, I'll adapt the carbon-trap shino and ash combination. Probably.
The past few days have been damp here on the Cape, so things are drying slooooowwwwwllllyyy. But yesterday the bases of these taller vases were dry enough to hold up to the pressure of adding the tops. And today the whole thing was dry enough to begin finishing the pots with handles and decoration of one kind or another.
I don't usually sketch out ideas for pots, by the way, but I found it helpful this time to do a little bit of that. I had the bases thrown and wanted to get an idea of the difference between an inward-tending top and a wider, vase-type top. It seems to me the inward one is more sculptural, while the outspread one looks a bit more flower-friendly and functional. Whaddaya think?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A few mugs ... or tankards

Doug Fitch in Devonshire wanted to see some of what he called "tankards" that were in my last firing, so here they are. I usually make pretty simple mugs, though it varies from session to session. Lately, I've been making simple cylinders, with the sides tending inward toward the top, tankard-like. And I've also been leaving the throwing rings on many of my mugs and teabowls. Just a temporary thing, probably. But I like the way the rings catch the ash glaze and slow it down a bit. And I like to show the throwing process sometimes.
I use temmoku a lot, a recipe called "Hamada Temmoku," shared with me by Falmouth potter and landscaper Angela Rose. And I often dip the rims in a Pete Pinnell copper red so that the red blends and runs subtly down the side of the temmoku. I pour my ash glaze over my shinos sometimes. The ash glaze is Phil Rogers's "Standard Ash," with a bit more Grolleg to stiffen it up a bit. It's all rather random.
Oh, and I usually cut the rims of the cylinders after the first pull, creating a bit of an up-and-down rim that matches up well with the asymmetrical rest of the pot.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Party, party, party ... pots, prints and glass

It was a raucous Friday evening at Donna Sutherland and Kevin Steele's house in Pocasset, with 120 people, more or less, availing themselves of the food and wine and checking out my pots, Donna's prints and Bryan Randa's glass. As it has been the past two years, the evening brought together a mixture of several different social groups, friends of each of the artists who don't ordinarily see each other in social situations. It was a good, if exhausting, night.
Oh, and some people bought some of the work on display.
The photos above are from Friday night, with people wandering through the house and the show. Drinks in hand, Chris Bromfield and Denise Marcoux smile for the camera. They live in Falmouth. Chris is a transplanted Englishman (from Somerset, Paul Jessop) and thatcher and all-around handyman. Chris built the little deck on our gallery here. (His claim to pottery fame is that he had a hand once in thatching the roof at Johnny Leach's place in Muchelney, Somersetshire.)
Saturday was, as it usually is, much quieter. Rarely more than a couple of people looking at the show at any one time. Sometimes an hour goes by with no visitors. Still, they do buy and all three of us sold work Saturday, which is sort of the point.
We got things wrapped up and out of our hosts' way by about 6 p.m.
It's beginning to be possible, I think, to see the effects of the so-called economic downturn on sales of art and crafts on the Cape. I now have two recent shows to judge by, with another coming up just after Thanksgiving. Both the Wellfleet OysterFest and this show were down about a third from previous years' sales. Maybe even a bit more than that. So we'll see what happens as we get deeper into the real holiday season.
Now, back to the wheel to make and fire more pots for the annual Hatch Street Studios Holiday Sale in New Bedford Nov. 28-30. The Hatch Street building is a former factory converted into three floors of art and other studios. It's always fun and sometimes profitable. More about that as we get closer.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Making pots, making food

I've just taken a break from making food for tomorrow night's (Nov. 7) big art/food event at Donna Sutherland's house in Pocasset. Good thing I like to cook. Several pounds of pork shoulder cooked all day in the so-called "cheater's barbecue" fashion in a slow-cooker. I just finished pulling it apart for little pulled-pork sandwiches. Now I have to make the sauce.
Meanwhile, I've made little salmon and salt cod cakes, Greek olive tapenade (gotta be Greek ... is there another kind of olive?), New Mexico red chile with roasted corn, roasted pasilla chile salsa, salmon cream cheese and scallion dip ... and a couple of other things. Donna's cooking, so is Bryan. I think. Things get started at about 5.
Yesterday's firing came out pretty well. Cone 10 went over about 9:30 a.m. and by the time I caught it and shut down the kiln, cone 11 was mostly over at the top and bending at the bottom. When this kiln gets moving, it goes fast. I shut down at about 10:30 a.m., after starting to candle overnight about 12 hours before.
The ash glaze was a bit over-melted, but that happens sometimes. You never know from batch to batch of ash, and I usually add kaolin to the mix if the current batch isn't stiff enough. The result is that I have maybe a dozen pot bottoms to grind tonight after I make barbecue sauce. Good reds and good shinos in this batch. I'll put a few photos on the page so you can see what it looked like.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The burners are on after a great evening

I looked at my watch at 7:20 this morning, standing in the voting booth, so that I would know at what moment I actually voted for Barack Obama for president. I'm 61 years old and have seen a fair amount of conflict in this country and many days of anger and despair at the things that are done in our name here and abroad. But tonight gives me hope for the United States. What a great night.
And now, onward with pot-making. I finished loading the kiln tonight at about 5. Just before 11, I lighted the burners. They'll stay on low until 5 Wednesday morning, when I'll get out of bed to turn them up. I took this photo just after I turned them on and before I latched the kiln door. I love the light in there when the burners are on.
Now, off to bed.

VOTE! Hamada stolen from Ron Philbeck's blog

A line of about 50 people were waiting at 7 a.m. at The Navigator, a Portuguese social club near us, which is where our precinct votes. It was a 20-minute wait, which is a long one for that particular precinct, but this is an important election. Get out and vote, folks.
And now I return to my glazing, already in progress.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

John Hull's beautiful pots

I met John Hull this weekend for the first time since we went to the same college in Pennsylvania 40 years ago. John has spent much of the past four decades making pots in Connecticut. Beautiful porcelain/terra sigillata pots fired in saggars, as you can see here and also on his website. You'll find a link to in my list of blogs to the right. Take a look. Lovely stuff.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Prints from clay, with pots and glass Nov. 7-8

Last winter, my painter friend Donna Sutherland and I decided to make art in the darkest part of the season. Both of us get a bit lethargic after the holidays - the studio's cold and so is the brain - so we decided to try clay printmaking. It's a technique used and taught by Pennsylvanian printmaker Mitch Lyons ( We got Mitch's video and got to work in Donna's spacious Pocasset studio.
Let me explain a bit about the process. A wooden frame is built to hold a quarter-inch thick slab of white stoneware. The clay is dried to the leather-hard stage and then colored slips - thin clay solutions tinted with oxides or Mason stains - are used as paints on the surface of the slab. You treat the slab as a canvas, basically. Slips can also be dried into pastel crayons and drawn or grated through a screen onto the slab. The painted slips and the pastels are then inlaid into the slab by using a rubber roller (a printmaker's brayer) with a piece of clean newsprint between the slab and the brayer. Once you're content with what you've created on the surface, a piece of damp fabric interfacing is carefully laid across the dampened slab. The brayer is then rolled with some pressure across the interfacing, with occasional spraying of water to dampen the slab, gradually transferring the slip to the fabric. That's the basic idea.
Donna and I worked side by side once or twice a week for a couple of months on these prints and - no surprise - her work and mine were quite different. She's a painter. I am definitely not a painter. But I somehow got hooked on heavy black brush-strokes mitigated by color spatters and sillhouettes of World War II fighter planes. ... Don't ask ... I don't know.
We'll show our prints along with my pots and Bryan Randa's glass at our show next Friday and Saturday, Nov. 7 and 8, at Donna's house. Friday's show starts at 5, with great food and drink. Come on down!