Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pot-making in black-and-white

The Cape Cod Potters' show opening at the end of this month (Feb. 27; come on down!) at the Cape Cod Museum of Art will be a wide-ranging exhibit of more than 300 pots and other claywork. Worth coming to the Cape to see.
I've been tasked with putting together about 10 black-and-white images as a wall-mounted photo essay to help add a bit of process to the show. I'm still coming up with the images, but here are a few of them, mostly made at my pottery and some of my friends' places. The hands sanding the bisqueware belong to me, photographed by my photographer friend Casey Atkins.
Gail Turner (who actually reads this blog; and I will hear from her after she reads this) is a fine Cape Cod potter who lives and fires in Brewster and sells at her shop in Dennis on Route 6A. Gail is the indefatigable moving force behind this show. Dan Finnegan, our potting and blogging friend from Fredericksburg, Va., and the juror of the show, is shown here during a workshop on the Cape.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Low-fire from the kitchen shelves

Scottish slipware potter Hannah McAndrew (see link to her blog at right) posted a few photos of pieces from her slipware collection on her blog yesterday, so I thought I'd do something similar today.
The two slipware pieces are by Ron Geering, a friend of ours and a potter on Woods Hole Road, here in Falmouth. Ron works out of what used to be an impossibly tiny one-car garage and is now an impossibly tiny studio and shop. Amazingly, it works for him. He throws, decorates, fires and sells his work out of that little wood-frame building. I don't think there's a potter on the Cape who is any better at what they do than Ron. And as far as I know, he's the only one of us to have been asked to make an ornament for the White House Christmas tree. So, someone out there is paying attention to his work. Ron's website is Take a look.
The fish plate that accompanies Ron's work is by Nausika Richardson of Dixon, N.M. ( I was working as a newspaper photographer at the Santa Fe daily when I photographed Nausika probably 25 years ago. I bought this plate at the time, never thinking for a moment that I would make pots one day. Nausika works in red earthenware with painterly decorations, in her studio in the tiny town in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos, east of the Rio Grande and south of Taos. A farmer/writer neighbor of hers, Stanley Crawford, wrote "A Garlic Testament,"
one of the great books about garlic farming. Come to think of it, perhaps the only great book about garlic farming ...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Two million friends in Washington

We lived 11 years in the Washington, D.C., area. I worked as a journalist and Dee worked as a social worker. The city is a remarkable place to see art and history, most of it free. But it sometimes was not the friendliest place. White and African-American cultures often seemed to look past one another in daily life and commerce, each barely acknowledging the presence of the other.
Not the past few days, though, when Barack Obama assumed office and everyone on and around the National Mall was smiling and happy and friendly. I can't speak for the black people who were there to celebrate the first African-American president, but I can tell you that the ones we saw and talked with were happy, cheering and teary. And so were the white, Asian and other people in the crush of freezing Americans who gathered Sunday for a free concert at the Lincoln Memorial and Tuesday to witness Obama's swearing-in.
Here are a few photographs from the happy - and we hope auspicious - beginning of what is likely to be a difficult four years.
The two women giving the thumbs-up to the camera are Dee and our friend Julie Doyle, who traveled to D.C. with us.
(Our thanks to potter friend Lorraine Colson, who put us up, taxied us to and from the Metro station, and fed us. We promised her we wouldn't tell the world that she runs the best bed-and-breakfast in Northern Virginia. So we won't.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A great, cold day in Washington, more to come

We just returned from Washington, D.C., after freezing on the Mall in the shadow of the Washington Monument with 2 million other people. But it was well worth it to see Barack Obama take the oath of office. And to have a Sunday night dinner with our potter friends in Alexandria. More photos and a few more words about it to come on Thursday.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Off to DC to witness a new beginning

We're headed off Cape Cod early tomorrow morning to drive to Washington for Barack Obama's inauguration. An African-American man will assume the presidency of this country for the first time, and we want to be there to see it.
Dee and I are both 61 years old and we both remember the horrific things this country went through - in the North as well as the South - during the years of the civil rights movement. Black America endured beatings, murders and deprivation of the rights that most non-African Americans took for granted. Parts of this country up to the 1960s were little better than South Africa under apartheid. Committed white activists suffered, too.
We are not a perfect nation yet. But the November election of a young African-American man to the office once held by slaveholders was a huge step, a piece of discernible progress. And we want to see Barack Obama sworn in.
So we'll be on the National Mall west of the Capitol on Tuesday, with our binoculars and warm coats, our friend Julie Doyle and perhaps another three or four million friends.
It will be a great day.

Shino vase in state-wide clay exhibit

I got word this morning that one of the three pots I submitted to the biennial State of Clay exhibit was selected for the show by juror Jim Lawton. (Lawton heads the clay program at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, near New Bedford.)
That's nice news on a cold (8 degrees F.) day here on Cape Cod. The State of Clay show is at the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society's gallery near Boston and is for clayworkers who live in Massachusetts or once lived in the state. This year's show will include 80 pieces selected from 285 entries. It's the second time I've entered and the second time I've had work selected, so I feel pretty lucky.
This particular pot is eight inches tall, six inches deep. It's thrown from white stoneware (B-Mix), paddled when leather-hard, and glazed on the outside with Bright Shino, which often does some spidery carbon-trapping in reduction, as it did here. It has a liner glaze of Phil Rogers' standard ash recipe, stiffened a bit with extra Grolleg kaolin. It was fired on its side on wadded scallop shells in my gas kiln here.
State of Clay will run from Tuesday, March 31, through Saturday, April 25 at the gallery at 130 Waltham Street in Lexington. The opening reception, which was a lot of fun two years ago, will be Sunday, March 29 at 3 p.m. Juror Lawton will give a gallery talk about his selection process and announce winners of individual awards that day.
The 2007 show was a great overview of claywork in Massachusetts and this one is certain to be that, as well. Come to the opening.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A fine pair of sweet little egg cups

Paul Jessop's lovely little egg cups arrived today by Royal Mail ... well, Royal Mail got them to the U.S. Postal Service (way too bureaucratic a name compared to "Royal Mail"), which got them to Hatchville this afternoon. Paul packed them in what appeared to be 25 layers of bubble wrap, which protected the cups admirably. A lovely late Christmas present.
Thank you, Paul. I agree, I love this small community of potters blogging back and forth across the ocean. Let's see if my packing is as good as yours ...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rare low-fired slipware at Hatchville

My work is usually stoneware, fired in the Olympic gas kiln here, decorated in any combination of ten glazes that live in a pile of buckets under the cluttered bisque shelves. But I ran out of stoneware clay just after the holidays and found two 25-lb. bags of red earthenware that have been sitting on the floor for the past few years. Still soft enough to throw, though, so I spent a couple of sessions making bowls and then decorating them with a white slip I had on hand.
I dug out a cone 04 clear amber iron glaze recipe, mixed up a bucket and went to work with what is a much more straightforward glazing process than I use with reduction-fired pots. Dip the pot, set it down, pick up another, dip that one, clean the feet on all pots, put them in the electric kiln, fire it on "slow." I took the pots out this morning. And they look pretty good, and very serviceable. I brought the teabowl to the coffee shop this morning for a tryout, and it seemed to work well. And friends noticed that it's not the same kind of thing I usually have at the coffee table.
My decoration is really, really simple. Ridiculously simple. Kindergartenish, even. The Hannah McAndrews, Paul Jessops and Doug Fitches of the UK and Ron Geering here in Falmouth ( should expect no competition from me. Drop dots from a slip trailer, brush slip in various direction (hakeme works great on the teabowls), spatter slip all over the place, do a little elementary sgraffito through it when it's dried a bit.
This is part of my plan to spend the winter productively, turning out pots every day in preparation for spring and summer shows. Anyway, here are a couple of photos of the work. Onward ...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Good pots for good food with good friends

I always like Dan Finnegan's description of functional clay dinnerware as "good pots for good food." That's what we had here in Hatchville tonight, while the light snow swirled around the Christmas lights on the deck outside the dining room.
Bob Skilton and Jo Ann Muramoto and Mike and Tammy Race were here for dinner after seeing "The Reader" at the nearby Nickelodeon Theater. Jo Ann made a delicious posole pork stew with red and green chile, Tammy made a salad, Mike made flan for dessert. Dee and I supplied the cooking facilities.
As she was tasting the stew, Jo Ann said, "Do you have any bowls?" And then she laughed, knowing the answer. There are plenty of my bowls on this table, but also a Finnegan teabowl, a Willi Singleton teabowl and a yellow earthenware bowl from a Quebec potter in front of Dee (who's at the right), a Byron Temple wood-fired bowl full of posole in front of Bob (next to Dee), and Jo Ann is seen dropping a handful of cilantro into her Bill Van Gilder bowl full of posole. The bowl in front of my empty chair is a wood-fired one from one of Chris Gustin's assistants and the iron red water pitcher was made by Gerry Williams.
Tomorrow I'll fire the electric kiln with several slipware bowls. We'll see ...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Dots and squiggles" and the last of the clay

I've just finished up the last usable clay in the studio and will probably drive up to Braintree Thursday to pick up a thousand pounds of stoneware. I'm determined to plug through the winter this year, turning out pots for spring and summer sales. I used up the last of the stoneware on these side-handle teapots and funny new bowl shapes. Then I dug out 50 pounds of red earthenware that's been here for years and I threw a bunch of bowls. Something about seeing the blogs of UK friends Doug Fitch, Paul Jessop and Hannah McAndrew and their marvelous slipware got me thinking about using up the earthenware. So I did.
Dan Finnegan used to say all he could do to decorate his pots was "dots and squiggles." That's more or less what I did with these bowls. If it's good enough for Finnegan ...

Monday, January 5, 2009

The tools we use to make things

I am convinced that a large part of the reason we potters do what we do is that we love to create with our hands. There are few processes as elemental as making pots from clay. If we leave aside the mechanical wheel (which, after all, post-dates humankind's discovery of pot-making) our first tools splay out at the ends of our arms, ready to work. We can use our hands alone to make the raw clay pot. Many pots, in fact. And big ones, too. And quite elegant, if we know what we're doing. That sets us apart from woodworkers, sewers of fabric, printmakers, painters, carpenters.
After basic handwork, we begin to use tools - the wheel, ribs, trimming blades, hole-cutters, fettling knives, decorative stamps - to refine our work or make the creative process more efficient.
I started thinking about this Saturday, when I found an apple-corer at a giant antiques store in New Bedford, not far from Cape Cod. Someone perhaps 70 or 80 years ago took great care to roll, join and solder sheet steel into a perfectly lovely, efficient and functional tool to core apples. It's a brilliant thing, handsomely proportioned and simple. And there it was, selling for five dollars, who knows how far in miles and time from its original maker. It appears to be a one-off, with no brand name engraved anywhere. I'm guessing that a wife told her husband, "We need a new corer," and he went out to the metal shop and made one. Or he went to his friend and that friend made one.
I bought it because I loved the shape and because I thought it would make a great hole-punch if I should need such a thing on a teapot or ... something else.
I photographed it for the blog and then I thought I'd photograph my grandmother's boning knife, which I rescued from the ruins of her old kitchen not long after her oldest son - my uncle - died. Like the corer, this knife is marked with no brand. But it is comfortable, elegant in its simplicity, and its steel sharpens well, unlike today's stainless steel blades. It does the job and I use it in our own kitchen every day, perhaps 60 years after my grandmother first bought it.
The other tool here is an idea stolen from Welsh potter Phil Rogers. At a workshop many years ago, he showed us this ingenious tool he uses to decorate his pots. It's one of the two barrel-shaped blades found in a common mechanical pencil sharpener. Mounted on a handle made of stiff coathanger wire, it leaves a pattern of lines on leather-hard clay. The lines adapt well to ash and other glazes. I don't know if this tool was Phil's idea or if he stole the idea from someone else. Doesn't matter. It's a good tool, like the others.