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!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pitchers and mugs for next week's firing

I've finished making pots for next week's firing, which will be a couple of days before the Friday-Saturday show at Donna Sutherland's house in Pocasset. Now, to see if the pots will dry in time to go into the bisque-firing. I suspect I'll be pulling pots out of the bisque and directly into the glaze bucket. I never, ever, ever do anything far enough ahead.
In this photo, shot this morning, the board of drying pots include some Medieval-looking tall pitchers ("jugs" for the UK types) and a few mugs. (The pitchers were thrown in two pieces, in my latest attempt to get the weight out of the bottom.) The smaller mugs to the left are the "Ed mugs," narrow-bottomed ones that will fit into a car's cupholder. They're named for Ed Sholkovitz, a friend who wanted one for his BMW. (Friday is Ed's birthday, by the way, so say "Happy Birthday" to him if you see him.)
The weather continues lovely but cold here on Cape Cod. Most of the maples lost their leaves in the big wind we had a couple of nights ago. We have about ten sugar maples on the property here and they turn color and lose leaves at different times, starting in late August or early September. One tree, right next to Boxberry Hill Road, is still hanging in, with a full blanket of yellow leaves.
Now, off to frame prints for the show at Donna's.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New pots for Nov. show and filling orders

I thought someone out there might benefit from seeing my highly organized system for keeping track of the pots that some people want. When someone asks if I can make a certain pot, I scramble for any spare piece of paper, find a pen or pencil and scribble it down. Or, as in the case of the computer printout, sometimes a customer actually has a clearly thought-out idea in a printed communication, as you see here. The kitchen utensil holder order here by one woman is defined by a friend of hers and passed on to me.
In any case, the notes all get magnetically posted on the sheet-steel door of my kiln, where I can see them.
Our daughter-in-law, Anastasia, wants a certain kind of hanging planter, glazed a certain way, for the wooden fence at their Seattle home. That's on another piece of paper. There is also a list of pots I'm making now for the firing next week, just before the show at Donna Sutherland's house in Pocasset. That list includes "Ed mugs," which are narrow-bottom mugs that fit conveniently into the cupholder of Ed Sholkovitz's very clean little BMW. Ed dropped one on unforgiving pavement and is down to only one. So I have to make more of those and should do that this afternoon.
Below the posted orders are many pots drying in the afternoon sun today. Teabowls, shallow faceted serving or condiment bowls, that kitchen utensil holder and some others like it, a few odd vases ... all make up the past couple of days' pots. We're enjoying one of the Cape's fine warm and sunny fall days, before tomorrow's rain and cold come in.
Onward to making Ed Mugs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cranberry harvest-time

I passed one of our neighborhood cranberry bogs a couple of days ago and saw that it was flooded and the harvesting was under way. Bogs grow cranberries on low bushes during the warm months, and then about this time of year the bogs are flooded and the ripe berries break free of the plants and float to the surface. It's a bit of a round-up, as men and women wade across the bog in thigh-deep water and the berries are corralled at one end and sucked up into a truck.
It creates one of those lovely, seasonal Cape Cod images. So much of our area has been developed in housing that it's refreshing and reassuring to see that some land is still producing cranberries. Massachusetts used to be the cranberry-producing champion of the nation, but I think that Wisconsin long ago took over that crown. Still, there are plenty of Cape Cod and nearby bogs that supply berries for your Thanksgiving table.
This bog is about a mile-and-a-half from our house, at the intersection of Thomas Landers Road and Hatchville Road.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Settling back in after a cold Wellfleet weekend

Wellfleet's OysterFest was cold this year. The past two years the weather has been autumnally sunny and bright, crisp without settling in your bones. Not so this year. The OysterFest hosted thousands of people layered in wool and fleece, but no one needed rain gear. It was just clouds most of the day Saturday, with breaks of sun, and then full gray cloud cover and winds on Sunday.
Still, they came out for the oysters and the shucking contests and the great food of all kinds, and the music. And for the crafts offered at tents in two parking lots and along the town's little Main Street. Some people bought pots, and for that I'm grateful. It was not a great show financially, but it wasn't bad. Lots of talk among the vendors of the effect of the economy on folks like us, selling beautiful things like Washington Ledesma's pots and paintings and the Georgian crafts in the next booth to me sold by the Americans For Georgia (that's the one in Europe, not the one in the American South). Most everyone said their sales were down from previous years. Mine, too. Down about one-third from the past couple of years. But worth doing, for the money and for the inevitably friendly and talkative people who do buy pots.
Every year the same people come back and usually buy. Often, it's younger couples, like the pair who thought very, very carefully before buying a pair of teabowls on Saturday. Or the other young woman who visited maybe four times before coming in on Sunday and buying a hanging vase. Or the woman from Derby, Conn., who spotted a crawled and faceted Shino vase on Saturday, thought about it all night, then came in first thing Sunday and said, "I want that!" Or the woman who bought nothing this year, but came in with her husband to tell me that she uses the teapot she bought last year "every day."
I love that kind of buyer.
I'll attach a couple of photos to the post: the view from behind my counter; a couple's hands working together to inspect the fine woven work from Georgia on the table next to my tent; the woodcarver who worked in the tent on the other side of me.
This afternoon my two friends Donna and Janet helped unpack the pots and tomorrow I'll get everything back on the shelves. And then I'll get back to making pots for the show at Donna's house Nov. 7 and 8.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Making pots, should be packing pots

It's nearly 6 p.m. Friday and I have yet to wrap and pack the first pot to take to the Wellfleet show tomorrow. OK, so I'm putting off something for which I have very little affection. Packing the truck is one of my least favorite things about making pots. But I'll do it as soon as I finish this post.
Much of my time the past couple of days has been taken up by mugs, pouring bowls and plates. I was busy yesterday with throwing them, and then today with trimming feet on the bowls and adding handles to the mugs. And after Wellfleet I'll go back to making more.
But I thought I'd put a few photos on the blog: freshly thrown mug bodies, plugs of clay for pulling handles, then the finished mugs drying by the window along with some of the pouring bowls.
That's all for today. Onward to packing ...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

See you in Wellfleet this weekend

Only the stars, the waning moon and my truck's headlights will light the highway Saturday at 4:30 a.m. as I head from Falmouth to Wellfleet for the annual Wellfleet OysterFest. This will be the third year that I've set up my tent at the OysterFest. It's always a good crowd. In fact, a huge crowd. The narrow streets of the little down-Cape town are jammed Saturday and Sunday with visitors, shoppers and oyster-consumers.
This year's event will be a good test of the buying mood of the pottery-consuming public. The past two festivals have drawn thousands and have been profitable for most of us. So the sales totals at the end of the weekend may give us an idea of how the holiday season is going to go. The economic news has been dismal in the extreme; we'll see if that means people will forego the purchase of that $25 mug or cereal bowl.
If you're in the area and the weather's good, come on down. Wellfleet is known for its wonderful oysters and they're available in every possible guise during the festival. Plus, for the oyster-phobic, down at the bottom of the parking lot I'm in there is always a vendor of really, really good sausages.
The show starts at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and closes down at 5.
In the attached photo, my wife Dee makes a rare visit waaaayyyy down-Cape to see the setup at the OysterFest.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cape Cod Potters show open Feb. 27

A group of us from the Cape Cod Potters met today at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis to talk with museum people about details of the first juried museum exhibition of our work. The show opens the evening of Feb. 27 with a wine-and-hors-d'oeuvres reception and runs through March in one of the museum's big, beautifully lighted galleries. There will be gallery talks by the artists every Thursday of the show's run and - we hope - a gallery talk by the juror on one of the Saturdays.
Nearly 400 pots and sculptures were submitted by CCP members and photographs of the work are now in the hands of the juror, Dan Finnegan of Virginia, to select about 300 pieces for the show.
The Cape Cod Potters is a loosely organized (emphasis on "loosely") group of clay people, with membership from Falmouth to Provincetown. We make functional and non-functional pots (pit-, raku-, wood-, electric- and gas-fired), sculpture and tiles. We decorate with glazes and sgraffito and slip-trailing. We hand-build and work at the wheel. We make and donate bowls for the annual Soup Bowls for Hunger fund-raiser and we give scholarships to help young potters and community and school pottery programs. It's a good-hearted group of diverse people.
I'm looking forward to the show, so that for once we can all see our work together in one place. Put the opening night on your calendar, especially if you live on Cape Cod. There's not a lot to do on a February night, and this promises to be fun. And full of good pots.
I'll attach a couple of the pots I submitted for jurying.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Autumn on Cape Cod, a break from pots

This might be the best time of the year on Cape Cod. The ocean and the shallower bays are still warm enough for swimming, winter storms are many weeks away, sailboats are still at their moorings, the striped bass and bluefish are running and the tourists are (mostly) not. We have this place largely to ourselves at this time of year. And it's about time.
I am about to start another cycle of pot-making, this time aimed at the Nov. 7-8 show at Donna Sutherland's house, the Thanksgiving weekend show at New Bedford's Hatch Street Studios and our own holiday open house the week before Christmas. I was inspired by my recent visit to Dan Finnegan's studio in the Virginia woods near the Rappahannock; inspired by his enthusiasm and the sight of so many fine pots ready to go into the two-chambered wood kiln. (Check out his blog,, for a look at the loading process.)
But before I start making new pots, I thought I would take a short drive this afternoon to shoot a few photos of this place. Douglas Fitch, a fine potter in Devonshire, England, often takes a moment to show us the countryside around his pottery on his blog (,
as does Paul Jessop ( in Somerset, England. So, thinks I, why not do the same for Cape Cod?
Our pottery is just a couple of miles from Buzzards Bay, a shallow arm of the Atlantic by way of Vineyard Sound, bounded on the east by the west shore of the Cape, on the south by the Elizabeth Islands that run roughly east to west from Falmouth to Cuttyhunk, and on the north by the so-called South Coast, the Massachusetts mainland towns of New Bedford, Marion, Wareham and Mattapoisett.
This time of year, the sugar maples are turning red, orange and yellow and dropping their leaves in random lapidary patterns on the ground. The image here was made in an old cemetery in Bourne, on County Road across from the local Methodist church, perhaps a quarter mile as the crow flies from the bay. Redbrook Harbor, a portion of Buzzards Bay that lies between Bassett's Island and the Bourne mainland, is a lovely little anchorage where we often paddle our kayaks. We were there yesterday, in fact, on a still morning. The harbor peters out into shallow tidal flats, where shorebirds often feed. In the one of the other two photos here, a Great Blue Heron stalks the edge of the wetlands, the lacy phragmites plants behind him. And then a solo portrait of phragmites, a common and invasive wetlands plant that characterizes much of the Cape waterfront.
Tomorrow, starting the cycle with eight-pound plates.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pots and grits in Fredericksburg

I was in Virginia at Dan Finnegan's LibertyTown Arts Workshops last week for the opening of a collaborative show at that great center of art south of D.C. and a simultaneous show of my pots and those of my friend Lorraine Colson. The show opened Friday night on Fredericksburg's First Friday and it will run for a month. About 400 people walked through on opening night, admiring the fiber and other arts in the show, looking at (and buying) pots, checking out the various open studios, spending a bit of money on non-clay art, helping themselves to the wine and hors d'oeuvres, meeting friends. Lots of meeting friends.
What a great place LibertyTown is - winding corridors lined with open studios, paintings, jewelry, woodwork, earrings made from soda bottle caps, a pottery school. There was no music the night of the opening, but I know there is often music there. Dan Finnegan and his staff keep things open and friendly. I hope the people of Fredericksburg's business community appreciate what they have in LibertyTown. I know everyone there Friday appreciated it.
Lorraine's beautiful crystal-glazed pots were shown on a grouping of pedestals near the front door of the gallery, my own less flashy temmoku-, ash- and shino-glazed pots were back a bit near Finnegan's little gallery. Lorraine and I began making pots at the same time, about 20 years ago, in a class at the Art League in Alexandria, Va. Dan became our teacher a few years later and he was kind enough to offer us this reunion show several months ago.
It's always good to return to Fredericksburg, a Colonial-era town on the Rappahannock, with Revolutionary and Civil War history on every corner. For one thing, Hyperion, the best community coffee joint south of the Mason-Dixon Line, is there. Hyperion reminds me of my own local Coffee Obsession, but with a bit more architectural elegance. Finnegan and I went there for coffee (and tea) Saturday morning and greeted what seemed to be dozens of Dan's friends over an hour at one of the outside tables.
Dan and I spent some time later in the day at his new studio and two-chamber wood kiln out in Caroline County, in the woods at the edge of soybean and corn fields about ten miles from Fredericksburg. Go to his blog ( to see what his place looks like. We talked for a couple of hours about his work and the direction he's taking, for a magazine piece I'm working on.
Breakfast the next day was cooked by my favorite Fredericksburg grits chef, Lou Brent. In fact, I know only one Fredericksburg grits chef, but even if I knew ten I believe Lou and her baked cheese grits would still be my favorite. And she matched the grits with hen-of-the-woods wild mushrooms, organic scrambled eggs and whole-grain bread. There's a picture attached to this post that shows Lou and the breakfast. Lou and her husband Jerry are Finnegan's great friends and supporters. I'm proud to know both of them, not to mention delighted to eat Lou's grits any time. She sent me away with a cornbread recipe that met with her approval.
I headed back to the Cape on Monday, after spending the night at Lorraine's house in Alexandria, both of us Red Sox fans staying up past midnight to see the Sox lose their only game to the Angels.
Now, it's time to make pots for the upcoming show at Donna Sutherland's Nov. 7 and 8.