Monday, March 29, 2010

Acquiring new brushes ... right next door

Maybe 15 years ago I bought my first bamboo-handled brush from Keith Lebenzon, a wonderful brushmaker I met at the Baltimore ACC show. Any stroke of the beautiful brush seemed to produce something wonderful. A year or two later, I bought yet another brush from Keith.
But the years and probably my cavalier treatment of my tools has meant that the brushes are now due for replacement. So I went searching for Keith online, found his website, but couldn't get the "contact" button to work. It turns out, sadly, that Keith Lebenzon died unexpectedly about a year and a half ago. His brush art was marvelous, both for the art of its construction and for what each brush could do in the hands of someone who cared.
I searched a bit deeper online and found Ron Mello, who teaches at Bridgewater State College here in Massachusetts, not far from Falmouth. Ron makes pots, prints and paintings, and he also makes brushes inspired by the kind of work Keith did.
So I've ordered two moose-hair brushes from him. They're not cheap, but neither were Keith's. And they look pretty good. Ron's work can be seen at Take a look.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chowder recipes for those of you who asked

When I was a boy on Martha's Vineyard, spending my pre-summer-job summers in the water up to my neck, I often came home with a t-shirt wrapped around eight or ten hardshell clams that I had dug from the bottom with my feet.
We called them by their Native American name, quahaugs (pronounced "co-hogs"). My mother, Lucille Engley, always at least pretended to be happy to see seafood fresh from Vineyard Haven harbor. She usually made a chowder from the clams, with potatoes, onions, milk and rendered salt pork. That soup and her potato salad are still what I think of as her signature dishes.
Quahaug and fish chowder are also the signature dishes of Cape Cod and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, though clam chowder long ago outraced fish chowder as a favorite of tourists. (Fish chowder is not common in restaurants around the Cape, though a fine bowl of it can be found at Crabapple's here in Falmouth.)
Virtually every Cape Cod restaurant offers clam chowder, and most of it is not worth eating. At some point, tourists began to expect a chowder that is basically a thick cream sauce with a few soft potatoes and virtually no taste of clams. Clams have a fairly strong flavor, the taste of the ocean they came from. Which is, of course, the reason to eat clam chowder.
OK, enough preaching ...

12 large hardshell clams or 24 softshell "steamer" clams. (Do NOT use canned chopped clams.)
1/4 lb. salt pork, chopped into pieces the size of a pencil eraser (or 2 T. olive oil)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 stalks celery (optional)
2 large potatoes, cubed to the size of dice
1/2 cup water
1 cup half-and-half (or whole milk)
Salt and pepper

Shuck the clams (over a bowl so that you save the liquid from inside the clams) and chop the entire clam into pieces no bigger than a dime. Conserve the liquid. (If you use steamer clams, steam them open, save the liquid and chop the clams.)
Render the salt pork in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Cook it down until the pork pieces are crispy and brown. Set them aside. Saute the onion (and celery, if you're using it) until soft, then pour in reserved clam liquid and potatoes. If the potatoes aren't covered by the liquid, add enough plain water to cover. Cook until the potatoes are almost soft, then add the chopped clams and cook another few minutes. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. The clams themselves are fairly salty, so be cautious with the salt. That's your chowder base. It can be made ahead and heated at mealtime, adding the half-and-half or milk just before serving. Re-heat the chowder once you've added the milk, but DO NOT BOIL. If you've used salt pork, you can sprinkle the cracklings into the soup.
Good luck and good eating.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Making new gallery space

Over the past few weeks, Dee and I have been (occasionally) painting the big room over the studio to prepare for a slight change in the way we use it. It's been spare space for us since we moved into this house, used as a gallery one weekend a year during our holiday sale in December. Otherwise, it's been a rarely used guest room and once in a great while (when Sunday night Masterpiece Theater conflicts with big football or baseball games) the place I go to watch televised sports.
Now we're painting the darkly stained barnboard walls a gallery white, pulling up the vaguely rose-colored carpet and installing linoleum across the whole room. Then we'll build some movable screens and the room will be turned into half-gallery, half-guestroom/workspace.
The plan is to use the multi-windowed gallery space to display particularly good pieces that come out of my kiln, saving the gallery/shed in the back yard for most of my output. We'll see how that works, but I've thought for a while that the very best of what I do sometimes gets lost in everything else. This will be a way of separating out the pieces that I think should have higher price tags.
Dee is home today, her regular day off from her massage business, and is painting the trim on the window frames. We've got some cold spring rain falling outside today, which is good, because if it was a sunny day my live-in painter would be out digging somewhere.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Building July inventory in March

The past few days here on Cape Cod have been as pleasant as it ever gets in March. Temperatures in the 50s during the day, sunny skies, crocuses in full bloom in the yard and green shoots pushing up in all the gardens. For those of us who make things to sell to the market of summer visitors, it's a reminder to build inventory.
So I fired yesterday, a kiln filled with chowder bowls, mugs, vases and teabowls. I opened and unloaded this morning. It was a quiet firing on the Shino side, with the carbon-trap trapping very little carbon. That happens sometimes. But the Leach White Ash glaze took the spattered iron slip very well, showing iron red and brown against the pale white ash glaze. And the dependable temmoku with copper red and white ash glazes over the rims looks good.
Here's a selection from the firing. The chowder bowls are inspired by two handled bowls that our friends Denise Marcoux and Chris Bromfield bought from potter Paul Jessop last fall in Barrington. Here in New England, clam chowder and fish chowder are popular local soups and calling these bowls "chowder bowls" will help the buyer figure out why he or she needs them. So, thanks, Paul (and Denise, who told me I should make some), for the inspiration.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How do you like my new pots?

There are days when I should just not go into the studio. Especially if I'm about to fire and need to glaze pots. Like yesterday.
I don't understand what it is, but it may be something like a batter being in a slump, or a pitcher who can't find his curveball, or a basketball player who can't hit his jump shot no matter how many he takes. (I know about that last one; I spent a whole high school "career" looking for my jumper.)
Nothing felt right yesterday, all the glaze buckets were too heavy, the pots didn't look or feel good, everything was a mess, I couldn't hold onto the feet of pots for dipping into the glaze. I should have just gone for a walk in the rain ... or anything other than what I was doing. Instead, I pressed on, dropping one cup, kicking the leg of a table full of pots and losing four or five of them (that's the top photo). I worked through the afternoon, the studio closing in on me, ash glaze chipping off the rims, picking up wet shino-glazed cups and leaving finger marks. All the stuff you tell first-year pottery students not to do.
I quit for the day when I had the two bottom shelves filled (third photo from top), which even on a good day is my most time-consuming glaze chore. I shot a picture of it, covered the glaze buckets and went into the living room, where Dee was sewing curtains, and lay down on the couch. Blanco, our 20-pound white cat, saw his opportunity and draped his fat, furry body across me. I was done for the day.
I don't know why there are days like that, but there's always one every few weeks. This morning, I went back into the studio and everything worked. (The second and bottom photos.) It's all just fine now. I don't get it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Getting a drink to take to the studio ...

Non-potters who are in our kitchen for the first time always laugh at the plethora of the cups and mugs in and on top of the cabinets. I know the potters who read this blog will not be surprised to see these pots, since acquiring small pieces of fired and fucntional clay is a bit of a professional hazard. But it's fun to see what other people drink from in their homes.
This bunch is entirely random and doesn't show you the other pots that line the tops of the cabinets to the left and the right.
Here's a bit of a guide: Top shelf, second from left is a tall amber ash Dan Finnegan tumbler; next to Dan is a John Leach millenial mug; then a Chris Gustin shino tumbler from a cup-trade deal we all had one firing at Chris's anagama near here; then a simple cylindrical Dennis Davis mug, bought while I was a student of the late Virginia potter; then a Ken Sedberry mug bought near Penland during a drive in the Carolina mountains many years ago (at least, I think that's a Sedberry).
Elsewhere in the cabinet: Barking Spider mug, another Finnegan, a couple of pieces by Steve Lally, two fine salt-glazed Toff Milway cups, a small Bill Van Gilder cup, a Joe Bennion next to an Angela Rose, a couple of Mark Shapiros, one recent teabowl by Brandon Phillips, a couple of small Willi Singleton cups, a Jennifer Dyson from her days as Finnegan's apprentice. Invisible because it's in the dishwasher is a fine and capacious Paul Jessop tankard that often holds ice water or giant amounts of coffee when I'm in the studio, and a nice Doug Fitch mug is sitting with cold coffee in it on the slab roller. And there are lots more scattered around.
So, as if the world needed more pots, I'm back in the studio preparing for a firing in a couple of weeks. Threw about 20 mugs today, and some vases. Yesterday made more squared bottle vases for the bottom shelf of the kiln. More tomorrow.
Thanks for tuning in.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A visit with two lovely Greek dishes

This beautiful Greek vessel - called a kylix - is in the museum at Delphi in Greece. It's an elegant thing, about nine inches in diameter and decorated with a simple drawing of Apollo on the interior. We saw this in the museum in 2008 while visiting the old mountainside complex of temples, treasuries and athletic complexes well outside Athens with our son Marcus and his Greek-American wife Anastasia Pantelias. Part of Anastasia's family lived in a town not far down the mountain just two generations ago.
The kylix was a broad and shallow bowl set on a tallish foot and was used - according to online sources - as a drinking vessel at celebrations. This one dates to around 480 B.C.E. A similar kylix, which I found online, dates to a similar time and is credited to a potter named Kachrylion. I have no reason to think Kachrylion made this one, but isn't it reassuring to know that some actual potters are remembered 2,500 years after they made their last pot?
The other Greek dish is more contemporary - a plate of fresh summer toppings for souvlakia grilled at the Pantelias home in Avlidas during that same vacation.