Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Weekend in the Hills of Western Mass. and Vt.

We took a few days off this past weekend to visit friends out in the western part of Massachusetts and Dee's cousin Susan Potter in Brattleboro, Vt.
Susan Elena Esquivel, clayworker and soon-to-be yoga instructor, and Andrew Sovjani, photographer, opened their house in the woods of Conway to us. I worked with Susan several years ago when I was editor of Martha's Vineyard Magazine and she was the magazine's art director. She's since found Andrew and the beautiful, forested and hilly area around Northampton, Mass., as well as Northampton's lively art and culture scene.
We ate well with Andrew and Susan, and had fine chocolate and banana pancakes on Sunday morning, made by Andrew's nine-year-old daughter Mika. Dee ran one morning down Main Poland Road and found Chapel Creek. She brought me back there later that day, after the sun had gone down. That's where the stream photos come from. Mika is, not surprisingly, the young woman with the pancakes.
Then we headed up to Brattleboro, Vt., less than an hour away. That town is yet another lively place, with lots of art, music, food, coffee shops and bookstores ... the five ways we measure the quality of a town. Dee's cousin Susan showed us around the area, and guided us to Vermont Shepherd, home of the sheep seen here. We bought cheese and admired the wool and the view.
Back home Monday evening. I drive to Braintree tomorrow to get more clay and begin to make more pots.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Shino teabowls from the Aug. 23 firing

I seem to be fixated on teabowls lately. That will not come as a surprise to anyone who has looked at this blog in the past few weeks. This firing was no different, with a dozen or more teabowls on the bottom shelf, most of them glazed in layered Shino glazes and sifted wood ash. There were bowls and vases in the firing, too, but right now the teabowls are my focus.
Something seems to happen to both of the Shino glazes I'm using when they are combined on the Miller brown stoneware clay body that I use. The Malcolm Davis carbon-trap Shino takes on a sheen it usually doesn't have on its own, and the so-called Bright Shino usually goes white against the sheen. My runny ash celadon on some of them adds another layer, as does the wood ash shaken randomly across the surface.
There is a random landscape that is created with these combinations that is never intentional. I don't know which side will trap carbon. nor where the second Shino will go white. Glazing for this firing, the Bright Shino bucket was down to a few ounces and I was too lazy to mix up a new batch, so I resorted to dripping from a measuring cup. Spots and runs resulted, rather than great sheets of the whiter overglaze. Some got ash glaze, most did not. Almost all got ash.
There are, also, cups here in Shaner Red with sifted ash that turns the glaze yellow and runs down the side. And a couple of simple temmoku cups that are pretty quiet.
The detail of the glaze alone is from a low pasta bowl that's been marked on the inside by a chattering iron.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chris Gustin Anagama Opening Friday

Chris Gustin's big anagama in South Dartmouth, Mass., about 45 minutes from here, was fired last week and will be opened Friday, Sept. 25, starting at 9 a.m. I've fired several times in this kiln, though not for the past two years. Since its rebuilding a couple of years ago, the three-chamber kiln has been producing magnificent pots.
Chris is well-known nationally for his big pots and he gets some lovely things out of this kiln. Those alone are worth seeing emerge from the firebox. But there are 15 other potters involved in the six-day firings and the anagama chamber and two noborigama chambers hold many, many of their pots in addition to Chris's. The top photo is from two years ago, one of the two atmospheric noborigama chambers behind the anagama.
This will be an unloading and sale worth seeing. Go to gustinceramics.com for more detailed information and for directions to the Gustin pottery.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nothing to do with pottery ... or poteries

I've just added this site to my list there on the right. It's totally charming and apparently all about Brittany, though I say that only on the strength of two years of college French in the late '60s. But I think it's a fun site, and it has the added advantage of getting my own mug off the top of the blog. Take a look at it. Those of you who can hop a train to France might have some fun over there. The map is from the site, highlighting the area around St. Malo and also around Cancale, a charming little oyster-farming town with great quayside restaurants and stunning soupe de poisson.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A pleasant end to a hard weekend

This was a difficult weekend for us as we joined family from around the U.S. and hundreds of local friends in saying goodbye to our good friend and sister Kate Billings. We had dinner Friday evening at a local fish-and-chips kind of place with the family, then joined a big crowd under a tin roof in heavy rain for Kate's memorial service at nearby Coonamessett Farm.
The service was full of tears, but also full of laughter and love and good stories. There was a line of people waiting in mid-ceremony to come up to the microphone and tell stories about Kate. When the service was over, we stayed under the roof and ate a huge meal of Jamaican food, cooked by the fine Jamaican guys who work at the farm throughout the growing season. Kate loved that Jamaican food, and she would have loved the whole evening.
(Sunday before the service, we also saw Dan Finnegan, who dropped by on his way from the Truro woodfire workshop to the airport in Rhode Island. Dan left us a big bag of tomatoes and at least one beer. You can see his story about the woodfiring at Castle Hill's kiln on his blog, danfinneganpottery.blogspot.com. Finnegan also gave me some advice about displaying many fewer pots during shows. I took the advice ... more related to that in the following paragraphs.)
After the service, at about 8:30 p.m., I began packing pots for a show in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, a show I almost didn't do because of Kate's service. At 5:30 the next morning I headed north on a wet and empty highway, pulling into the Charlestown site, a lovely city park, at 7. Grumping, growling, whining to myself, very tired ... I unpacked, set up the tent and set about the task of being pleasant to buyers as the sun began shining on the sodden grass and people with coffee cups and leashed dogs began arriving.
Making a long story short, it was a good day. My neighbor was my friend Judy Miller, a decorator of colorful wooden bowls and a conversationalist, and the people who came to the park bought good pots, which always lightens my mood. Halfway through the show, a small crowd of show organizers appeared in front of my booth and in an informal little ceremony presented me with First Prize. They had inspected and taken notes on the displays of all the wonderful craftspeople and artists there and somehow made me the winner.
Thank you, Artists Group of Charlestown, for a very nice show, for the ribbon (pictured above) and for being some of the most caring show organizers I've ever met. Really. I'll be back, if you'll have me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Truro wood kiln, and a Texas teabowl

Dan Finnegan's been on the Cape for a week, teaching a wood-firing course out at the train kiln in Truro, built and owned by the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill. Dee and I drove out to Truro this morning, at the distant eastern end of Cape Cod, to see the results of the 31-hour firing.
Finnegan will no doubt put a full report on his blog, but since I had the photos today, I thought I'd put a couple of them up for people to see. The train kiln was built a couple of years ago by Donovan Palmquist and a group of students. It sits on what used to be a U.S. Air Force radar installation on the sandy bluffs above the Atlantic Ocean.
We stayed only long enough to see a few pots come out. But what we saw looked like the kiln is doing pretty good work. It also looked like Phoenix and B-Mix clay take the fire and ash very well in this kiln.
I'll attach a few photos of the Truro opening - including Finnegan checking out a coil-built teapot by Jim Irvine and talking with Shelley Fenily about one of her pots just pulled from the chamber. I'll also attach a photo of a lovely little blue ash-glazed and crackle-slipped teabowl that arrived in the mail a couple of days ago from Brandon Phillips in Texas. We're trading teabowls, and a temmoku pot is headed his way right now. Thanks, Brandon, it's a very nice pot. The crackle works great with the ash glaze. It's already held my coffee for my last kiln-opening and Dee drank V-8 from it this morning.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A pretty good firing this week

My kiln shut down by itself three times during Tuesday's firing, which is enough to make me very crazy. (There is one very potty-mouthed entry in this firing's kiln log ... ) I suspect the problem is the pilot light blowing out and the thermocouple shutting down the gas supply. Anyway, I'll figure it out one of these days, but in the meantime it makes for a small prayer every time I enter the studio to check first the on the state of the flame and second (and late in the firing) on the state of the cones.
This time, three shutdowns happened along the way, all of them after I had done the body and glaze reduction at around cone 012. I caught each one as I checked the firing, re-lit the burners each time and didn't lose much heat. When it shut down the final time, at about cone 10.5, it was time to end the firing anyway, so I did.
All of this technical bushwa is to explain my tenuous relationship with the glaze-firing stage of pot-making. Early on, I learned to fire a wood kiln with Dan Finnegan and other friends. But I never fired a gas-fueled kiln before this one. I began to learn how to fire this kiln six or seven years ago more or less by myself, with some early and critical help from local landscaper and sometime potter Angela Rose. I've refined the process since the beginning, but, as you see, it still gives me problems. So I'm ... ummm ... less than confident of the process.
Also, as all potters know, it takes a number of firings to know how specific glazes react with specific kilns and firing schedules. My early efforts were dreadful. But things have improved in the past several years. This summer, firing every two weeks, a sort of rhythm developed and I've produced pots that I like a great deal.
The past two or three firings have begun to show me that combining my three Shino glazes can result in some lovely things. I am in many ways a frustrated wood-firer, still in love with the random and uncontrollable action of flame and ash on clay and glaze, but I am without access right now to a reasonable wood kiln. These three Shinos, poured over one another, spattered, trickled, flooded, rivuleted ... and combined in some instances with an ash celadon poured over them ... can create an otherworldly landscape. They crackle, they crawl, they trap carbon and they color each other. The Shinos work especially well on my teabowls. I've loved teabowls since an early workshop with Phil Rogers, and I've made hundreds, maybe thousands. The randomness of the glaze needs, I think, a less than tight and symmetrical teabowl. So I cut my rims after the first pull, I often facet the walls either diagonally or vertically and push them out on the wheel. Taken altogether, several of these teabowls that came out of this week's firing show that the combination of imprecise glaze application and wonky pot-making can work pretty well.
I do like what came out this week, in spite of the uncertainty from hour to hour of whether the kiln is firing. Or not.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A very good firing Tuesday, opened Wednesday

I've been behind on the blog. Stuff happens. But I fired Tuesday, a long firing, it turned out, with three or four unscheduled shutdowns. Still, opened today to some really good pots. The layered Shinos are doing good things. More detail and photos in the next post, which should come early Thursday.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Our friend Kate Billings

Dee's business partner and our great friend Kate Billings, 52 years old, died this afternoon at about 4 at a hospice in Sandwich, here on Cape Cod. Katie was an acupuncturist and made room in her office for Dee and her massage practice, as well as several other women and their own health-related practices.
Katie was diagnosed with lung cancer less than a year ago and has been through surgeries and chemotherapy ever since that discovery. She bore it all with grace and was supported and defended throughout by Rich Van Heynigen, her life partner for about ten years. We all thought until fairly recently that she would get past the disease and the treatment and resume her practice in Falmouth. I think everyone fully expected Kate and Rich to get back on the sloop that they loved and sail off toward Key West sooner rather than later.
That's all. Not many people who read this blog knew Katie, but I wanted you to know about her.