Thursday, April 23, 2009

Clay and happy accidents

It's a bit early to know if what I'm doing now is a happy accident ... or just a temporary diversion from reality. A couple of months ago I found a 25-pound bag of brown stoneware hidden in my studio. It must have been there for more than two years. In any case, it was too hard to throw, so I cut it into a dozen roughly equal blocks and dug out each one to make twelve hollow, square cups.
Some of those cups went into my next firing, glazed in layered Shinos on the outside and my usual ash liner inside (photo above). They were lovely. I sold a couple right away, and Dan Finnegan, who was here for a workshop, said a couple of times that he liked them ... not that he was asking for one, or anything like that. So he took one home with him. And I began thinking of making more.
So I sliced up some perfectly throwable brown stoneware and left it out about 24 hours, long enough to stiffen and hold its shape when worked. I used a trimming tool to dig out the clay and dug out another dozen. And then I did another dozen, and then a few taller ones that will work as vases. And then I took the dug-out scraps, wedged them roughly and dug them out as semi-pinch pot teabowls. If that makes sense.
I rolled out some clay into footrings and attached and then threw those onto the pinch-pot teabowls. And now I've got all these odd little pots drying in my studio, alongside my thrown stuff that suddenly looks VERY conventional. Gotta work on that.
I'll make more pots in the next week or so, bisque all of it and then get to the real business of firing these things, largely glazed with Shinos. I'm looking forward to bringing one of these giant pinch-teabowls to the coffee shop and seeing what the baristas have to say when I ask them to fill it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Of pitchers, chowders and culinary genealogy

My time has been divided this week between studio and kitchen.
Three of my wife's long-lost cousins and one of their good friends are visiting Cape Cod from the ranch country of Alberta, on the cold plains of western Canada. More than a century ago, a couple of men named Dorchester left New England for the West and disappeared from the family's sight. A few years ago, through the kind of accident that occasionally happens among people who care about ancestors three or four or ten great-greats ago, their descendants came to the attention of my mother-in-law, the dedicated and now 84-year-old family genealogist. Over the decades and the generations, the family business had evolved from the Methodist ministry to cowboying. And, more specifically, rodeo cowboying. The Dorchesters are the first family of chuckwagon-racing on the Canadian rodeo circuit.
So now these four women - people who measure land in 640-acre "sections" and not square footage - are on Cape Cod to get to know a bit about the lives of the Dorchesters who never strayed far from their New England roots. And I, an in-law, am cooking for them Saturday.
Yesterday I made potato salad and baked beans. Today I shucked and chopped hardshell clams, peeled potatoes and sauteed onions, combining all the ingredients into the base for clam chowder. Or, as we always called it when I was growing up on Martha's Vineyard, quahaug chowder. (Quahaug - pronounced "CO-Hog" - is the old Native American word in these parts for the hardshell clam, most often used in chowder. Those are quahaugs in the photo above, dug by Ted Fitzell from the mud off Penzance Point in Woods Hole.)
Tomorrow I'll pick up some kind of fish (maybe striped bass, if it's in the market) for the grill, as well as hot dogs and beef for hamburgers. (This is America, after all.)
We wanted our Canadian cousins to know how we Cape Codders feed ourselves. As I finished up the chowder base, I realized that I had just prepared three of the dishes my mother made most often - potato salad, baked beans and chowder. And I made them instinctively, largely by memory, much the way she did 40 or 50 years ago.
The potato salad is simple - peeled and cubed potatoes, grated carrot, a bit of chopped onion, hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.
The baked beans are navy pea beans, soaked and boiled, then poured into an old bean pot glazed years ago with Albany slip, with one big peeled onion, brown sugar, molasses, dry mustard, salt and water from the bean-soaking. My mother added salt pork for flavor, but I use linguica. Linguica is a Portuguese sausage, common in southeastern Massachusetts, where the large community of Portuguese Americans descends mostly from the Azores islands off Portugal. I am part of that community. One set of great-grandparents on my mother's side came from the Azores. I am linked to that part of my family only tenuously, and mostly through linguica. My own heritage, then, will flavor the meal our Canadian friends eat Saturday. The beans cook all day in a low oven, until they're soft and the flavors all blend together.
The chowder is Cape Cod soul food; at times in the history of this place it might have been the only thing people had to eat. Quahaugs are one of the most common and tastiest of wild foods here. All you need to gather them is a shellfish license, a rake, low tide and a knowledge of shellfish beds. Add relatively inexpensive whole milk or half-and-half, onions and potatoes and you have a delicious and thoroughly native seafood stew. A good chowder tastes and smells of saltwater and the clam flats. And unlike the deplorable potatoes-in-cream-sauce that passes for chowder in many local restaurants, it is not thick.
That's what I've been doing this week. Oh, and making pitchers. There's a photo of them above, as well. Now that the chowder base is cooling (I'll add milk Saturday), I can pull handles.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

One woman's idea for a new glaze

My friend Janet gave me a selection of crab shells picked up on a Falmouth beach the other day. She suggested that they might make a nice palette if I could duplicate the colors on my Shino-glazed pots. I'll have to investigate combinations of red Shino recipes, kiln reduction, carbon-trapping, varying clay bodies and all the rest of the variables that go into the surprises that come out of using Shinos, but if we could come close to this range of colors, it would be lovely. Meanwhile, the shells themselves are wonderful.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Now ... a few of my own pots from this firing

Well ... and one of Dan Finnegan's, showing off the only all-copper red pot in the load. The three small pots - none taller than three inches - are all Mr. Finnegan's from his Chatham workshop. I went with the red on the middle pot because I knew it would break around the sprigged face and I thought it would look good. And I think it does.
The other pots are some quite nice ones from what was a firing that cleaned much of the spare bisque off the studio shelves. There were many bowls in the firing, including these six, with temmoku, Shaner red and Phil Rogers ash glazes; the one white stoneware teabowl, decorated with some crackle slip pours and celadon ash glaze; a small Shino teabowl with prominent throwing rings and three lobes created by pushing in the wet clay with a piece of bamboo; and three more square Shino whiskey cups, somewhat less carbon-trapped than the ones in the previous firing.
It was a good firing, in spite of the little damper malfunction that allowed more oxidation than I would ever have planned on. Now, on to make more pots and fire again in about three weeks.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Kiln-opening this morning

Donna Sutherland and I emptied the kiln this morning. This was a pretty good firing, given that it was mostly a clean-the-bisque-off-the-shelves load. And given that when I shut down yesterday afternoon, I neglected to close the damper after a last few minutes of oxidation. Three hours later I remembered the damper, but by that time the temperature had dropped from 2300F to about 800F. Crash-cooling at its finest and least intentional.
As a consequence - I think - most of the usual carbon-trapping I get with one of my favorite Shino glazes was not there. Fortunately, I'd sprinkled wood ash on a number of those pots, so that the surfaces - though quieter than usual - actually have some nice, subtle things going on.
The other concern of having a bunch of Dan Finnegan demonstration pots in there turned out not to be a concern at all. Dan's pots look just fine - temmoku on a number of them, a few glass runs, one or two with copper red, a nice ash celadon on a tall vase, and even some delicate webs of carbon-trapping on a fine mug. All of these pots will help the Cape Cod Potters raise a bit of money for the CCP education fund. Thank you for that, Daniel.
I'll attach one photo of some of Dan's pots here and later today or tomorrow put up some of my own.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Firing under way

I'm firing today. Started candling this morning about 8:45 and just came out of heavy reduction after cone 012 went over. This is a different schedule for me; usually I candle overnight, then begin turning up the gas at 5 a.m. and shut down some time before noon. But I had to go into the coffee shop this morning to deliver a check for an upcoming show at Hatch St. Studios in New Bedford, so I thought I'd try this firing schedule.
Biggest problem with it - I don't get in to Coffee Obsesssion at noon for my post-firing cup of coffee.
This load of pots is left over from the past couple of firings, a bunch of bowls and teabowls, mostly, plus seven or eight Dan Finnegan pots from his recent workshop here on the Cape. It's a heavy responsibility to glaze Finnegan's pots and fire them. Or any other accomplished potter, for that matter. These pots of Dan's will go back to the Cape Cod Potters and will somehow be auctioned off to help the Potters' education fund. If they survive the firing, that is. We'll see.
Finnegan looks at this blog, so I'm happy to tell him here that I only used copper red on two of them. I think. One small one and as an accent color on the small creamer, above a deep temmoku. It sure is tempting to do the whole load in copper red and VC Blue ... but I resisted.
Tomorrow afternoon we should know how things turned out.