Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year, all!

It appears 2010 is determined to come in tonight under cover of snow. Though we've got the second full moon of the month rising tonight, it will be tough to see through the snow clouds.
I've loaded up the electric kiln for a bisque firing tomorrow. I'm planning on the first firing of the year late next week.
For once, my plan is to make pots steadily through the winter and have lots of inventory for the spring and summer shows. We'll see how that works out. I've got to get a bit more heat into the studio to make it at all inviting to work there when it's 10 degrees and heavy wind blowing outside. The studio was built as a garage, hence relatively little insulation and at least two very cheesy windows.
On to some friends' house in Monument Beach (not far from us) for tonight's New Year's Eve party. Good food and wine, good friends, and we stay long enough to celebrate the coming of 2010 to Labrador. Which means we get home before midnight Eastern time.
Safe and happy New Year's Eve, everyone. See you on the other side.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A memorial ...

I've hesitated writing about this, but I think if I can keep the people involved anonymous, this story might help other potters.
A few months ago, a friend of mine who runs a nearby cafe asked if I could incorporate human ashes into a pot. I'd heard the question before, but usually it was joking speculation by someone who knows I use a wood ash glaze, someone who recently lost a parent and perhaps had ashes on their mind. Or in their closet. What to do with Dad? Or Mom? Or Uncle Bill?
But this was a more serious question. The first anniversary of the motorcycle death of a young man was coming up and my friend wanted to give the dead boy's mother - her close friend - a gift that would mean something to her. Could I use his ashes, she asked.
Sure, I said. Of course ... as if I got this question every day. How many times have I seen that question on the Clayart listserv? How do you do it? What's a good glaze recipe? Can you wedge the ashes into clay?
I told my friend to bring me the ashes and that I would think of something to do that would be appropriate. Soon, I had a small green notecard-size envelope pinned to the wall above my glaze table, a plastic sandwich bag inside containing perhaps four tablespoons of black and gray ash, on the outside written in the mother's hand "My beautiful ...... " (The dots replace the boy's first name in this blog post.) And there it hung for a couple of weeks, while I made other pots and my mind worked quietly in the background, trying to come up with something appropriate.
A big bowl, my friend had suggested, something the mother can keep candles in, or cards, or pictures of her son.
Finally, I made a couple of wide, plate-like bowls and a small candleholder, with the boy's three initials stamped into them. But I didn't feel the bowls were big enough, so I made one more, roughly dinner plate size, and fired it just before Thanksgiving. I glazed all of them with the ash celadon that I use as a liner glaze and sometimes as an overall glaze.
But this time I sifted some of the boy's remains into the ash glaze. Hard, black and coarse bits of burned bone were left behind in the sieve and went back into the envelope. I blended the new ash with the mixed glaze, then sieved it wet. This time, more coarse ash was left behind in the sieve, the same thing that happens with wood ash.
I couldn't just toss the remains of the sieving out into the driveway, which is where much of it normally goes. So this gritty mud was scraped off into one of Dee's flower gardens outside the studio door. And that's where all the waste glaze went, contributing to next summer's day lilies.
The pots were fired, as I said, just before Thanksgiving and I brought them to my friend at the cafe. The next day, it turned out, was the first anniversary of the boy's death. My friend loved the big, wide bowl, which was white stoneware, glazed with the boy's ashes and Phil Rogers' Standard Ash glaze to produce a pale green celadon. On the back I stamped the same loving phrase of identification that his mother had written on the paper envelope.
The mother, my friend told me, also loved the bowl.
As it turns out, she told me herself on the Saturday of our kiln-opening and open house. A slender, attractive woman stood in front of me at a quiet point in the day and said hello. Then she told me her name and started to say "Thank you." When I realized who it was, I hugged her and she held on tight.
All I had done was make a small, shallow bowl and glazed it. And then I was paid cash for it. It was a job, but it was more than a job. It's difficult to explain without making it sound like I'm blowing my own horn. I'm not. Any other competent potter could have made that bowl and figured out how to use the ashes in a glaze. It happened that I was the one asked.
But the things that grieving mother said made me glad that I had said "yes" to the job.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas to all ...

... and that includes everyone who is a regular visitor to this blog, those who are not but might be, and those who stumble upon us by hitting the "next blog" link up at the top of the screen. We've been at least stumbled upon by people all over the world and that's one of the best things about this blogging thing. You don't know who will see you or who will become your friend. And we've become friends with potters and lovers of pottery from North Carolina to Scotland, Taiwan to Texas, Virginia to Devon, Somerset to Brewster to Barcelona to Utah to Seattle. We love that.
Happy Christmas, all, from Hollis and Dee at Hatchville Pottery on Cape Cod.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A happy kiln-opening crowd and day of sales ...

... followed by a night of heavy snow, the same storm that hit our North Carolina and Virginia friends. So we've cancelled the second day of the holiday open studio sale. We have at least 18 inches of snow on the ground here, with a thoroughly clogged driveway and treacherous roads, and the snow just letting up about 11 a.m. So we've called Bryan, Kim, Tamara and Ruth and told them not to try to come here and sell today. If some rugged Cape Cod four-wheeler outdoors type shows up to buy art, we'll guide them through it and take their money. But I think that's unlikely.
We've already poured mimosas (got the OJ from the cooler on the porch by sweeping aside a couple of feet of snow drift) and are hoping to get the truck out of the drive to get our friend Patricia to the Boston bus some time after noon.
We opened the kiln yesterday at 11, with a bigger crowd than we've ever had. People jammed themselves around the slab roller and the wheel and the mess around the sink and the glaze table. Lots of laughter and talk, fueled by coffee and mimosas and the baked goods that were brought by practically everyone. Brenda brought bourbon for the eggnog, Janet brought toffee, Tiffany brought home-made baklava (BAKLAVA!!!), Jess (who comes with Bryan) brought some delicious sweet thing, Donna brought a plate of more delicious sweet things, Kim brought stuff, Ed brought good hot dogs and buns to go with the chile ... I'm sure I'm missing someone here. There is always lots to eat on these events.
Our neighbor Howard and Donna helped empty the kiln and people were seen grabbing pots off the table and clutching them to their chests while we finished emptying. I love that. Good pots always go out of here before I've seen much of them.
Upstairs, Kim and Bryan and Tamara and Ruth were apparently doing well. That room seemed to be crowded all day with buyers. Good thing, since today will be a zero.
Our friend Patricia Jones, visiting from Boston, decorated with greens and spent a couple of long, cold hours up at the road at the end of the driveway, getting people to park off the street, shuffling cars about and dealing with the ever-friendly Falmouth Police officer who visited us three times to make sure we were keeping the streets accessible and passable. (I'm not being sarcastic about this; Officer McGuire was as kind and reasonable as he could be in making sure we did what we needed to do to keep the streets passable and not discourage people from coming to the event.)
In the end, lots of pots went out the door with apparently happy buyers. This event is always gratifying because it's all about local folks coming to the studio, hanging around the kitchen, eating Ed's chile dogs, drinking coffee and other things, buying pots and other art, and seeing friends.
In the photos above: Dee this morning, with the candles she lit in the fireplace; Patricia with some of the greens she splashed all over the studio and house; the view to the gallery this morning, after the storm; new pots in the kiln; Bryan's witch balls hanging in the snow-dimmed window.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Come to our annual holiday kiln-opening!

OK, so I know many of the readers of this blog are in the UK, Australia or the U.S. Far West. So ... come anyway. Alli and I finished loading the glazed pots in the kiln this afternoon. I'm apparently teaching her my procrastinating ways; her pots were the last ones to go in, on the top front shelf. I'll put in the cone packs tonight and turn on the gas in the morning.
Kim Collins, my ever cheerful good friend, was here this morning to set up her jewelry display in the big open room upstairs. Bryan Randa will be in tomorrow morning with his blown glass and Tamara Clark and Ruth Bleakley (I love her name; so Dickensian ... ) will come some time tomorrow to set up their stuff. Tamara makes cards and Ruth does amazing handmade paper books and other art.
We open the doors at 10 Saturday morning, then open the kiln at 11. From what people have been telling me, there should be lots of good baked goods here to share with whoever turns out. Donna, Janet, Brenda and others have promised good stuff. About 1 p.m. Saturday we'll have chile dogs for whoever wants them. Ed Sholkovitz, our friend and hot dog chemist, is supplying the dogs and I'm making the chile.
Come on and share. Directions are to the right on this page.
Oh, the photo above was on the front of the show card that we've spread around Falmouth and nearby towns. The past few years I've done cards with small photos of everyone's art on the front, but this year I decided to change. Got a bit more editorial with the art. The photo is not my hand, but that of a potter in Vermont during a big-pot workshop at Bob Compton's pottery a few years ago. The swelling mass on the other side of the hand is not a pregnant woman's belly (which is what many people thought ... go figure ... ) but that particular potters very big and swelling vase.
Happy holidays, everyone. Come to the show.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A taste of Barrington Court while I glaze

Several of us raised glasses and mugs Saturday night to Paul Jessop, slipware potter from Barrington, in Somerset, England. We toasted the man because I was drinking Mexican beer from his fine English tankard, big enough to hold two full bottles of beer. That's the elegant, honey amber-glazed pot at top, with its depiction of Barrow Hill, a Somerset high point. (I think I have that right; Paul will correct me if not.)
Paul's pot came to us via Denise Marcoux, a Falmouth friend who was in Somerset two weeks ago with her husband, Chris Bromfield. Chris grew up in the area and worked there as a thatcher. They were there to celebrate his 40th birthday. They dropped in on Paul and passed on a mug from Cape Cod, so Paul offered them tea and sent them off with a couple of his own pots. Very generous, these potters. So, thank you, Paul. It's my new favorite beer and limewater mug.
Right now, the mug is sitting on a disused electric kiln while I glaze in preparation of Friday's glaze firing and Saturday's kiln-opening. Big doings here this week.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Momentary oystering break from the studio

I've got plenty to do in the studio, including firing the last load of bisque before this week's glaze firing and weekend kiln-opening and open studio. But I can't stay inside all the time, so this morning I headed to Monument Beach to meet up with Mike and Tammy Race on the oyster flats at low tide.
It's oyster season here on the Cape, one of the pleasures of sharing the cold weather with no one but locals. I live in Falmouth, so I can't harvest the Monument Beach version of Crassotreia Virginica. That village is in the town of Bourne, so we depend on Mike and Tammy's eagerness to share. That's Mike holding the basket of today's harvest. We eat a lot of their oysters this time of year. They're small and firm and taste like the salt water they come from. Kumamotos, Olympias, Apalachicolas, Wellfleets, Cotuits, Belons, Bluepoints ... they're all good. But these from Monument Beach, eaten with only a grinding of black pepper and perhaps a bit of lemon, are pretty hard to beat.
This beach is on the narrow dike between the harbor at Monument Bay and the Cape Cod Canal, with the railroad bridge over the canal in the background. At dead low tide this year, there are so many oysters on the surface that it's difficult to spend more than a half-hour gathering your limit. It's a good year for oysters.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The race to Christmas ...

This week has seen the last of the holiday show throwing in our studio. I finished up Wednesday afternoon with some small orders of white clay pots. Alli came in after I finished and got a few more pots done, which with luck will end up in the firing next Friday.
All of this is in preparation for our holiday kiln-opening and multi-artist show, which we've done for about six years now. It's an idea I happily stole from Malcolm Davis, the Washington D.C. potter, whose home we used to visit at holiday time every year when we lived in that part of the world. Malcolm sold pots downstairs and friends of his sold jewelry and other creative things upstairs. That's more or less what we do here. I'll open the kiln in my studio Saturday morning at 11 and upstairs will be jeweler Kim Collins, glassblower Bryan Randa and paper artist Ruth Bleakley.
People bring food for the weekend crowd, I make New Mexico red chile for chile dogs, and lots of local folks show up to share the food and conversation and maybe buy a few things for their last-minute gifts.
We also stole an idea from Harry Holl's Scargo Pottery by giving away eggnog cups to the first 20 people who come to the opening. I make it as complicated for myself as possible and actually fire the eggnog cups in the kiln the day before. So as people show up, they're given a numbered piece of paper and after the kiln is empty they come up as their number is called and choose a cup. I spent an hour or so one day earlier this week throwing the quarter-pound faceted eggnog cups from brown stoneware. There's a photo here of some of them.
A fair number of three-pound vases were thrown this week for the top and bottom shelves of the kiln. I thought I had that part covered last week, but an unexpected miscalculation in the bisque kiln resulted in many, many, many vase shards Tuesday ... many shards. So I threw another batch and it's drying now. Good thing I was ahead of myself for once. Also, a good thing I didn't write this blog entry right after I cleaned the shards out of the kiln ...
More to come. Stay tuned ...