Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Off to Fredericksburg, Va.

I'm getting into the truck tomorrow morning around dawn and pointing it south, leaving the Cape for a few days to bring pots to LibertyTown Arts Workshop (yes, I've been using the wrong name for it in the past couple of posts) for a show with Lorraine Colson and a group of artists who work at LibertyTown. It's a ten-hour trip to Alexandria, where I'll stay with Lorraine, watch the Red Sox in opening of the American League Division Series, and get together with some other old friends. I also plan on driving on the clogged roads there in the metro-D.C. area and re-confirm for myself why we left the place ten years ago.
The show opens Friday evening. Come on down.
My friend Donna Sutherland, a painter, sculptor, printmaker, fine cook and dog-lover, helped pack the pots this morning. Donna and her partner Kevin Steele will host what has become our annual show at their beautiful home in Pocasset on the weekend of Nov. 7 and 8. On Friday the 7th Donna and I and new addition Bryan Randa, a glassmaker, will make lots of really, really, really good food for everyone. Kevin will find really good wine to go with it.
Donna and I spent much of last winter making clay prints, spurred by the wonderful work of Pennsylvania printmaker Mitch Lyons (mitchlyons.com). Donna will show only her clay prints in this show. Bryan will show glass work and I will show pots and prints. I'll attach work by Donna and Bryan to this post, to give you an idea of what we'll have.
All free, all fun. Save Friday for the party and Saturday for a more quiet contemplation of Redbrook Harbor out the front windows and of whatever art wasn't bought Friday.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A good firing on a wet weekend

We opened the kiln this morning after shutting down at noon yesterday. Cone 11 down at the top, and halfway down on the bottom. A reversal of the usual temperatures, since the bottom tends to be hotter than the top in this Olympic downdraft kiln. No matter. There were good pots inside.
Most of the pots in these photos will be packed over the next couple of days and taken with me to Libertytown Arts Center in Fredericksburg, VA, for the show that opens this coming weekend.
Thanks to Dan Finnegan's kind invitation to Lorraine Colson and myself, we'll be showing our pots in the lobby gallery of Dan's wonderful art center. I left Virginia 10 years ago to return to Cape Cod. I hope there's some improvement in my pots since then.
So, here's a bit of a preview of what will be in the show.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wedding, penguins, and back to work

Last week was filled with family - the wedding of niece Rhobie and her new husband Tom at Lake George, NY, and the visit (for the wedding and for a penguin encounter) of our son Marcus and daughter-in-law Anastasia. Sunday, the day after the wedding and raucous reception, we dashed from Lake George to Mystic, CT, for a meeting with Green Blue, an African penguin at the Mystic Aquarium, joined by Anastasia's parents and aunt, up from NJ. Anastasia - a bird-lover with the degrees to prove it - loves penguins. So we all got up close and personal with little Green Blue. Want more details? Just let me know.
We came back here to the Cape after the penguin encounter and the two Seattleites got re-acquainted with some of their Cape relatives and friends. And then they left and I went immediately into glaze-and-load mode. I'm leaving Wednesday for the show with Lorraine Colson at Libertytown Arts Center in Fredericksburg, VA, and I wanted to fire one last kiln load.
That's happening as I write. I candled overnight and got up at 5 to begin the turn-ups. Last time I checked, about five minutes ago, cone 9 was going over both top and bottom. It shouldn't be long before I shut down.
There are a couple of platters in there that I might take to the show, plus 16 spattered white teabowls, a set of six beer cups and some pitchers. We'll see how this all looks in the morning, when I open, but the firing has gone well so far. No surprises.
I'll spend today cleaning up a bit in the studio, while the rain pours down outside. We've had a couple of weather systems coming through here, including Tropical Storm/Hurricane Kyle, which may or may not sweep through tomorrow. It's been wet, but there's something quite nice about glazing and loading with the big front door open and the rain pouring down outside.
All for now. I'll attach a couple of photos - of the Bride Triumphant, the kids with the penguin and ... oh, yeah ... some pots. This is a pottery blog, after all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bloggus Interruptus

I'm off to a wedding in New York state this weekend, so the blog will be taking a brief vacation. We'll be back soon. Pot among yourselves ...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This time, pitchers and tomatillos

I find as I write this blog that I am heavily influenced by the photographs I have to accompany the words. Which was also the case in my journalism career. It's the way I work.
Today, we have tomatillos just out of the garden and biscuit-fired pitchers (or jugs) to be finished in a glaze firing next week.
The garden is dying outside my window here. The bean plants, though still producing, are turning brown and yellow and the tripod poles that hold up the plants are leaning to the northeast. The zucchini and yellow squash plants have stopped producing, few tomatoes remain, most of the cayenne peppers are picked, one stalk of Brussels sprouts is growing slowly, and I have finally picked and cooked most of the tomatillos.
Tomatillos look, as their name implies, very much like a tomato. But they grow inside a husk that turns lacy and brown before the fruit drops to the ground. Their flavor is bright and acidy, a bit like an unripe tomato. They're used a lot in Southwestern cooking, in warm sauces over meat and in cold salsas. I turned this lot into a green sauce for meatloaf, with fresh garlic, chopped green New Mexico chile pepper, onion, olive oil, salt and pepper.
The pitchers came out of the bisque kiln this morning, quickly replaced by smaller pitchers which will also go into next week's glaze firing. I'm on the final lap of making pots for a show at Libertytown Arts Center in Fredericksburg, VA. The show opens Oct. 4, with an opening reception that evening. It's a joint show of my work and that of my friend Lorraine Colson. Lorraine and I were students of Dan Finnegan 15 years ago at the Art League of Alexandria, VA. Dan founded Libertytown, a lively art center with a pottery school and a public gallery as well as shops and small galleries for many local artists. (Check out danfinneganpottery.blogspot.com to hear from a terrific potter.)
I will fire late next week and then open the kiln and pack pots for the show. Come to the opening if you're in the area. Fredericksburg is a great town, with my favorite coffee shop (Hyperion) south of the Cape Cod Canal.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The last innings of summer

There are signs every September that summer is over here on Cape Cod, that winter is ahead.
The last of the ripe tomatoes dangle from increasingly brown vines, few strangers are in line at 7:30 a.m. in the coffee shop, the softball fields are empty.
For me, there is nothing sadder about the end of summer than an unused ballfield, still green and playable. From late June to early September, I play for a softball team called The Radish. I play first base and I bat somewhere down toward the end of the batting order. I first played for the team in 1979, when I was a 32-year-old beginning reporter for The Register newspaper in Yarmouth Port, about 15 miles from here.
Then I went away and had a journalism career for 20 years. When Dee and I returned to the Cape 10 years ago, I was invited to play again. And so every Wednesday evening through the summer I leave my pottery studio and drive to West Barnstable. I walk down to the wide green field at the edge of the woods behind Barnstable-West Barnstable Elementary School and there, with other middle-aged men, I play the game I learned in tiny neighborhood yards on Martha's Vineyard more than 50 years ago.
The men I play with represent a range of Cape Cod professions - from housepainter to financial advisor, potter to jeweler, schoolteacher to video-game designer. We have players with brand new babies and players with brand new grandchildren.
Softball doesn't keep us young; some evenings there are more elastic support appliances on knees and thighs than there are fielder's gloves. (One of our players, a college history teacher and Massachusetts state senator, once pulled a hamstring just jogging out to his position in left field. At the beginning of the game.) What softball does is bring us back for a couple of hours to the game we knew as boys, when hitting the pitched ball or picking up the hard ground ball were the most important things in that moment.
We fathers of grown children still kick the dirt when we don't do those things well. I know that if I miss a ground ball at first base, I still look amazed at my glove, as if molecular physics had been changed for an instant on that mid-summer twilight field and the ball had passed unobstructed through the worn leather.
And then I face the next batter, bend my big frame and tap my glove on the infield dirt. Get down on the ball, Hollis, get down on the ball.
Many of us - probably most of us - learned the game from our fathers. It started, in poet Donald Hall's phrase, with "fathers playing catch with sons." Since I began playing again for The Radish, I have gone to the funerals of the fathers of four of these players, my own included.
And maybe that, too, has something to do with the sadness of empty ballfields in September.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pitchers and peppers

Much of today was given over to a long drive off-Cape to Braintree, just south of Boston, to pick up clay and chemistry at Portland Pottery. Portland will deliver, but I like getting in the truck, going over the bridge and carrying it back myself.
Not long after I got back to the Cape, a line of thunderstorms came in ahead of a cold front and dumped buckets of rain on the truck, soaking through the clay boxes, but not the plastic-wrapped clay. Rather than unload wet boxes, I trimmed some shallow bowls from yesterday and then threw five five-pound brown stoneware pitchers for the next firing. Each is about ten inches tall and will take up space on the bottom shelf.
I also went out into a very light rain late in the day and picked the ripe cayenne peppers off the three or four plants in the garden. These are very, very hot peppers. They ended up on a cookie sheet, drying in a low oven for use this winter. They're in the freezer now, their wonderful redness dulled down by the drying to something less vibrant than you see here.
Tomorrow, handles on the pitchers and then a dry-stacking of the kiln for the next firing.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Back to the studio, after the wind

What little was left of Hurricane Hanna swept past the Cape late yesterday and early this morning, with not so nasty wind gusts and a bit of rain. Leaves and small branches on the ground, and a vast bank of cloud disappearing to the east at 8 a.m., unveiling blue sky and sun. Shoulda gotten into the kayaks, but instead we came home after Dee's church and my coffee in Woods Hole, had breakfast and then I headed to the studio.
Glaze buckets still out from the last firing were put away, things straightened up a bit and then I threw a board full of teabowls for next week's firing, and some small, shallow bowls. The sun dried the teabowls and I trimmed them late in the afternoon. They'll go into the bisque kiln tomorrow after they're bone dry. The bowls will dry overnight and then be trimmed at some point tomorrow.
I've always loved trimming feet on bowls, starting with a flat platform of raw, damp clay and ending with a quickly trimmed, imperfect foot that completes the pot. Early in my pot-making I took a weekend workshop in Virginia with the Welsh potter Phil Rogers and was impressed most by his quick and efficient trimming of feet on teabowls. Cut down the sides, cut out the center, set the pot aside and pick up another, get on with it. I love that.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mars, glaze surfaces and hurricanes

Here on Cape Cod, we're waiting for the arrival this evening of the remnants of Hurricane Hanna. Hanna has broken up into a wide swath of clouds stretching from the Carolinas to at least this sandy peninsula.
There's a certain feel in the air when a hurricane is coming, or even when its tattered leftovers are coming. We could feel it this morning - warm, wet air, clouds moving quickly overhead, tree branches beginning to move, wet leaves on the ground, cars going by pulling trailered boats that were floating at moorings this morning. I've turned the deck and lawn furniture upside down here so it won't blow across the yard. Now I've got to move the pots outside the gallery inside on the floor. No reason to scatter broken inventory on the deck. Then I'll pick the green beans in case the poles go over in the predicted 60 mile-per-hour gusts. And I'll take off as many ripe tomatoes as I can find. You get used to this sort of thing here.
I was looking yesterday at the shino- and ash-glazed pots that came out of the kiln last week. What I love about shinos generally and especially when combined with the ash glaze I use is that they create an unpredictable landscape on the surface of the pots. Thick shino will crawl sometimes, or crackle, which creates one kind of landscape. Ash glaze poured over it creates another. It's what I first loved about wood-firing, and especially anagama-firing. Often, no two sides of a pot are the same. Consistency and predictability are out the door. I love that.
I also occasionally see in these glaze landscapes references to literal landscapes, even literal extraterrestrial landscapes.
I often look at the refdesk.com site, which runs - along with hundreds of other references - an Astronomical Photo of the Day. This APOD, as it is called, may be a photograph from one of the Mars landers, or a Hubble image of a distant galaxy, or a closeup of the small moon of a far planet, or a riveting closeup of the sun. Some of the images are astonishing. All remind us of how small we are here on this planet. They're worth looking at.
The two photographs here are of the surface of Jupiter's moon Io and the surface of a teabowl made of native Martha's Vineyard clay, glazed in shino.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A diversion from clay to tomatoes

I'm still sorting through pots today, finishing up the entry forms for the spring Cape Cod Potters show at the Cape Museum of Arts in Dennis, picking tomatoes from the garden before the rabbits get at them. I know I ran a tomato photo a few days ago, but what the hell, it's that time of year. So many smallish tomatoes that Dee and I can't eat them all out of a bowl, so I put a couple of cookie sheets of tomatoes in the oven to roast - 350 F for about an hour, a sprinkle of sugar and olive oil. That's the recipe of the day from Hatchville Pottery. These are the before and after photos of today's roasted tomatoes.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sorting out the pots from the Aug. 30 firing

All the pots that came out of the kiln yesterday are now sorted into gallery pots and show pots. Or potential show pots, I guess, depending on what attracts the juror's eye for the spring Cape Cod Potters show at the Cape Museum of Art.
The day after opening there is always time spent at the bench grinder, smoothing the bottoms of pots where glazes ran onto the shelf. I fire my pots on refractory clay wads to make that operation easier and to keep from ruining the bottoms of those pots. The ash glaze I use often runs, depending on the heat, the type of clay body and the type of ash. And runs sometimes weld the pot to the shelf, resulting in a maddening number of ruined or badly marred pots.
These four pots are: an 8" Shino plate with iron brushwork swirl under the glaze; a pair of Shino teabowls spattered with iron slip and then glazed, set upon a pair of 4x4 blocks cut for me by a woodworker friend; a small vase, maybe 5 inches high, paddled when leather hard and then glazed in two types of Shino.
Tomorrow it's on to throwing more pots for the next firing, in a couple of weeks.