Saturday, August 29, 2009

Danny passes through, wetly

Tropical storm Danny paid us a rainy visit last night and all day today. The skies have opened up and dropped who knows how many inches of rain on the Cape. It's been reeeaaalllllly wet. Pots for next week's firing have been drying very slowly, with no sun and heavy humidity. The tomatoes and the flowers, which really didn't need all that much water, got a bucketload. Several bucketloads.
But it could have been worse. There was almost no wind, which is a blessing. We've avoided direct hits by hurricanes here for some years. I can remember real chaos in the '50s and '60s, when we seemed to get hit head-on every year. Not since we moved back here ten years ago, though.
Artist friend Donna Sutherland was here yesterday with her friend Sandy and, after finding pots they liked in the gallery, both took turns on the wheel. Donna, a former art teacher, knows what she's doing. That squared bowl in the foreground of the greenware photos is hers. Sandy had never been on a wheel before, but came up with a nice little shallow bowl after a predictably disastrous first go-round.
The tomatoes survived the storm, and the morning glory outside our kitchen window looked pretty good covered in rain.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Handmade on Premises: Pots and salad

It's the time of year when we usually have more than enough fresh ripe tomatoes in the garden. It's been a generally bad year for tomatoes in the Northeast, with a blight taking lots of big fields out of production. And it was wet here on Cape Cod in the late spring and the garden generally is pretty disreputable. Still ... we have enough good tomato plants to supply the two of us with nightly salads, fresh pasta sauce and good tomato sandwiches. So we're not complaining.
We traveled to Greece many summers ago and were enthralled by the ripe Greek tomatoes, served simply with feta cheese and good olive oil. Since then, our son married into a Greek family and we've been back to the old country and eaten yet more great tomatoes, feta and oil. So, this Anglo-Portuguese house's summer salad standby is the photo you see here.
I'm planning our next firing for next week, probably late in the week. I've got an order for faceted temmoku salad bowls from a couple in Chatham, plus I need more Shino teabowls to replace the ones that sold so well at the Chatham show, plus I'm firing some pots for the man who dug the Antarctic oceanic mud from 4,500 meters down. So that's all part of what you see in the two photos of drying pots. More to come ...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Beating Obama to Martha's Vineyard

I took the Island Queen (a small local ferry) from Falmouth to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard yesterday, ahead of Barack and Michelle and the kids. Me and several hundred tourists, that is. The island of Martha's Vineyard lies just a few miles off Cape Cod. We can see the towns of Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs clearly from the Falmouth shore, and ferries travel back and forth all year long.
I was born in Oak Bluffs at the island hospital, grew up in Vineyard Haven and went to high school there. I met my wife, Dee, on the island. We were married there and our son Marcus was born in the same hospital. We left the island in 1981 for journalism and social work in New Mexico, then moved from there to northern Virginia. Ten years ago we moved here to the Cape, where I now live within sight of my childhood streets and beaches. It's an odd living situation, knowing the landscape of my first 30 years is so close, but rarely seen.
This time I met up in Oak Bluffs with Susan Elena Esquivel, art director of Martha's Vineyard Magazine when I was the editor, and her partner Andrew Sovjani, his daughter Mika and his parents. All were renting a house on the island for a week's vacation. Susan is a fine potter and clay artist ( and Andrew ( makes exquisite black-and-white photographs. They live in Conway, Mass., out in the western part of the state, near Northampton.
Downtown Oak Bluffs in August is a hot, sweaty and crowded town of t-shirt shops, ice cream parlors, t-shirt shops, restaurants ... Susan and I spent an hour in the local brew pub, with a homemade IPA, a double-garlic pizza and conversation, while the rest of the family went sightseeing. Then we met up with them and pushed our way through the narrow sidewalks to Ben and Bill's ice cream joint. Then we said goodbye. I strolled a bit of the harbor edge, stopped in at the open-air Tabernacle, where I went to summer Bible School as a 10-year-old, then caught the Island Queen back to Falmouth.
Some day I'll have to write more clearly about the strangeness of dropping into and out of my old landscape.
Anyway, here are some photos of the Oak Bluffs waterfront, the interior of the Tabernacle and the water between the island and the mainland.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Three sunny and selling days in Chatham

For those who don't know this peninsula, you should know that the town of Chatham, at the eastern "elbow" of the Cape, is renowned as one of Cape Cod's wealthiest summer communities. Well-kept and expensively traditional homes, lots of pastel colors on the ladies, high-end shops. And a really good art and craft show - The Festival of the Arts, by the Chatham Creative Arts Center - every August for the past 38 years.
I was lucky enough to be juried in this year, with a space between painter Oana Lauric of Maine (and her helper Peggy Jo Fague) and weaver Carol Clay of North Carolina and her husband Mac. Both Oana and Carol are stunning artists, and they both, with their helpers, make very good neighbors.
Three tents up the "street" from me was Denny Howard, a fine potter from Sagamore, here on the Cape. Denny and I have known each other through the Cape Cod Potters for about 10 years. He makes elegant Shino and ash pots, and displays them elegantly. My booth had a certain yard sale appearance compared to Denny's. Pots piled on pots. I always have more pots than I know what to do with. I should probably edit more, but I always think there's that one pot a buyer can't see that I just know they'd buy if it was out there.
Still, people spent money and it was a pretty good show for me. Three days of sun, heat and a bit of a breeze coming from the south. I sold several of the Shino teabowls that came out of the kiln the day before the show started. That was gratifying, seeing teabowls I'm excited about wrapped, bagged and on their way to someone's home. I wondered whether Chatham was the best place to sell fairly funky carbon-trapped and loosely-thrown Shino work, but it seemed to work pretty well. Bless you, Chatham. I hope I'll be back next year.
The photos: My pots and me, taken by Denny Howard; Denny and his pots; Oana and Peggy Jo, searching out recipes in the world's greatest food magazine; the view across the path from behind my booth.
Now, back to making more pots.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A very good firing before the Chatham show

Yesterday's firing went smoothly after an early re-light in the first hour. After that, the kiln climbed smoothly, with a heavy reduction beginning at cone 012 and then a lighter reduction throughout. Good shinos, good copper reds, good temmokus.
The new pyrometer installed by Jim Akens showed that it takes a few hours for the bottom of the kiln to catch up with the heat of the top, but it also showed that maybe four hours into the firing the top and bottom were within two or three degrees of each other. I more or less guessed this was the way things went, but it's good to see it documented digitally. And in the end, the cones agreed with the pyro.
I'll attach some photos: three of teabowls, most of them shino with sprinkled wood ash, but a few temmoku, Antarctic ash and Shaner Red; one of altered cylindrical shino vases; one of three pots which started fired life as pale, oxidized shino and came out richly ironed by the red primer paint they were sprayed with before a second firing.
Tomorrow I'll be on the road well before sunrise to get to Chatham - many miles down-Cape - for the three-day Creative Arts Center art show at Chase Park. Come on down if you're in the area.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Keeping in touch with the potter

I think I mentioned in my last post that the Cataumet art fair draws a particularly nice variety of summer visitor. Toward the end of this past Sunday's fair, a woman named Allison stopped by with a friend and ended up taking home a copper red vase that I liked a lot. It had come out of the most recent firing and didn't last long.
Today, Allison sent me a photo of that vase, filled with sunflowers on her table in - I think - Cambridge. I love that.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Emptying out the gallery ... or trying to

I've been firing every couple of weeks for the past two months, with the result that I have an awful lot of pots in the gallery. Kiln-openings have been fun and satisfying, but haven't done much to greatly reduce the number of pots on hand. This past Sunday I was at the Cataumet Arts Center arts fair in a sunny little field about ten minutes from the studio. It's always a good show, with many local artists and very nice summer folk who seem to like to buy art. Including pots. So that sent maybe 15-20 pots out into the world.
This coming weekend I'll be at the Creative Arts Center's three-day summer show in Chase Park in Chatham. It's a long drive to that end of the Cape three days in a row, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. We're all hoping for three days of sun and people who have money to spend. If we get our wishes, that should help reduce the pot supply by a few dozen, anyway.
I spent yesterday glazing and packing one last kiln before Chatham. It's a loosely packed load. I've found in the past few firings that looser seems to be better for shortening the firing time and in terms of even reduction in the kiln. The shinos and copper reds need that reduction.
I'll start firing tomorrow morning around 8.
One new addition to the kiln's toolbox is a very fancy and 21st century-looking pyrometer that Jim Akens installed last week. Jim is the husband of Woods Hole potter Annie Halpin and is a wizard at technical stuff. (He's a longtime Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution tech whiz.) My wizardry ends at about the point that I can see cone 11 bending, so I gladly accepted Jim's offer of a gift pyrometer with two probes. Can't wait to see how it works.
As always, I'll attach a couple of photos. One of the mass of pots inside the gallery, one of pots on diplay on the new shelves on the front of the gallery, and one of the top couple of shelves in tomorrow's firing. (Note the red pots on the top shelf that look like they've been spray-painted. In fact, they have. I get occasional very pale white unreduced shinos, which make for very dull pots. I'd heard about spraying such pots with red primer paint, which burns away in the firing, leaving behind the metallic iron oxide pigment. I tested one such bowl in the last firing and it looks, as our UK friends say, a treat. I should photograph it. What was I thinking? Anyway, these small pots further the experiment.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A summer opening and some good pots

If Brenda Horrigan keeps coming to these summer kiln-openings, we may need to get a liquor license ...
Brenda, a fine writer and editor who once worked for me at Martha's Vineyard Magazine, has come to the past two openings with her son Cullen and a bottle of Prosecco and a container of orange juice. Instant mimosas all around ... Do I have cool friends, or what?
It was a small but friendly crowd at this opening, with Bob Skilton, Ed and Mary Sholkovitz, and Mie Elmhirst and her father Jaap. Jaap, in his 80s, is a botanist and expert on the plants of Belize, but he spent time telling me about his earlier love of glass. He looked at the kilns in my studio and identified instantly.
This was a better and faster firing than last week's. This one was packed more loosely, with fewer plates and low bowls, so much less kiln furniture to heat up. The reduction began, as I try to do it, at cone 012 and continued through to cone 10 flat around 3:30 p.m. That's about 6.5 hours from room temp to 2350 F, so it's about as efficient as it gets.
Plenty of reduction in the shinos and the temmokus and copper reds. It was a model firing in many ways, so I'm hoping to keep doing it that way. I'd rather pack somewhat fewer pots in the load than struggle for 12 hours to get up to temperature.
This is all a learning process, even after firing this thing for about six years.
I'll attach a few photos. Good shinos this time.