Saturday, May 29, 2010

Small cups from me, commentary from another

I put handles on cups this afternoon, cups thrown yesterday. I tend to make big mugs, so I thought I would adapt a footed teabowl form to make a footed and handled cup. I threw about 25 yesterday and pulled the handles today. Always satisfying to see great groups of more or less the same pot sitting there drying.
Middleboro, Mass., potter and brushmaker Ron Mello's facebook page carried a link today to Wildmud Pottery's blog, which I've now added to the roll of blogs to the right. Wildmud is where Oklahoma potter Freeman Loughridge makes his clay and metal sculptures, in a studio on the Red River. I just discovered Freeman, so I don't know a great deal about him. But he appears to be a guy who's been making art of one kind or another for a lot of years. What caught my attention this time was his "B.P. Slick Petroleum Monster," a clay commentary on the disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Worth looking at.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Voice of a soldier's mother on a postcard

I was rummaging in a postcard bin in Fredericksburg, Va., about 15 years ago and came across this postcard. I did that sometimes, finding old images that told us today what people in the past thought was worth photographing and sending through the mail. Paper memories of places they had been.
"Penny postcards" were still just that in the '40s, cheap and perfect for tourists to send home to the friends and family who couldn't get away. But ordinary people were likely to use the postcard, too, because long-distance phone calls were relatively expensive and difficult to make.
Such, I assume, might have been the case for Beula in Houston, Texas, sending this sad wartime news to her friend or relative Merrill Cash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in February of 1945. World War II was nearing an end, but soldiers were still dying by the thousands.
"Arthur is missing in Germany since Dec. 24th. ...," Beulah writes on the postcard. "There is faint hope of his safety. I know the depth of despair."
We know this card was addressed to Merrill Cash in Chattanooga. But we don't know Beulah's last name or her son Arthur's, or his branch of the military. I've looked at online records of war casualties in Houston in 1945 and there are several Arthurs listed, but no definitive connection. The same is true of Merrill Cash. So my reporter's sources for this small story are minimal.
By late in 1944, the U.S. and its allies had crossed into Germany and were fighting their way toward Berlin. But the Battle of the Bulge was at its height in December of 1944. Though it was fought largely within Belgium, it would have been easy shorthand on the homefront to refer to it generically as "Germany." More than 19,000 Americans died in what amounted to a last stand for Hitler's forces. Arthur could easily have been one of the 19,000. Or he might have died in any of hundreds of skirmishes with German forces on the way to Berlin. Or he might have been in the Air Corps and been shot down. The postcard doesn't tell us.
It does tell us his age. "I won't forget the joy that has been mine - 21 years the mother of that fine boy," Beulah writes. And then she closes with what seems like the saddest and most anticlimactic of postcard benedictions, "Hope all is well with you - Love, Beulah."
Hope all is well with all of you on Memorial Day weekend.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hands back in the clay

It's been a while since I made pots. My life apparently demands a time away from clay at some point in the year. Usually it's in the winter, but this year I was conscientious about throwing and firing during the cold and dark months. But working on the new gallery space took me away from the wheel in April and I've just gotten back to it in the past couple of days. Faceted bowls, some taller vases, the teabowls that are usually the first thing I make in a firing cycle.
There's nothing spectacular to see in these pots. Not yet, anyway, but it's good to have the studio door open to the summer-like sun and air and good to make pots again.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Expensive pots in the gallery ...

Sooner or later, I had to price the pots that are upstairs in the new gallery. So I did that this afternoon. Can I actually get $50 for a teabowl? Or $100 for a medium-size pitcher? I have no idea.
I think any of you who do this for a living have been through this business of pricing work. What is a mug worth? $10? $20? $40? Or a cereal bowl? Or a dinner plate? Or the very best anything that you have ever made?
That's the problem I'm dealing with right now. The point of renovating the space over the studio was to have a gallery that will display the very best pots that are coming off my wheel and out of my kiln. I can remember a time not too long ago ... well, maybe 15 years ago ... when I thought long and hard about charging $10 for a mug. And was amazed when someone paid that for it. Today, I put $50 price tags on maybe 20 of what I think are very good teabowls. And everything else took prices that reflect that kind of value - $250 for a wood-fired pitcher, $100 for a vase glazed with Shino pours, $75 for a particularly good slab plate.
I can remember asking a student of mine 12 or 13 years ago to pick up a Phil Rogers teabowl for me when she was in London. She did, a lovely one. Also, shockingly, a $75 one. And now, at the Pucker Gallery in Boston, Phil and Randy Johnston and other such potters are getting $300 for teabowls. So I'm not there yet. Still ... $50 sounds like a lot of money.
But I've felt for a while that the kind of work I was making resulted a few times in each firing in some particularly good pots. The shapes worked just right with the Shinos, better than most of the pots. And shouldn't the best work be priced higher than the normal good work? That's the thought.
But I produce a lot of pots and my shed gallery is a bit of a jumble of clay, even when it's "organized." And the best stuff gets lost among the good stuff. Hence the new space, the good light, the relative isolation of these pots from their sibling pots. At this point, I don't even know who will get up to the new gallery. Access is via our dining room or through the studio. If I'm not on the property, no one gets to the upstair room. Which is fine.
But if I'm here, to whom do I offer a look at the upstairs pots? I don't get that many people dropping by to see pots, even in the summer. We're on an out-of-the-way road outside of town, populated by motorcycle riders and golfers heading to the local course. Some people find us via the website or the blog or the Cape Cod Potters brochure, but not that many. And there are times when I can just tell that my pots are not going to be what they're looking for. So ... do I offer a look upstairs to everyone? Do I wait for a clue from the pot gods that these particular visitors might want to see better work?
I know why we changed that room upstairs and I love seeing the way the pots stand in the light of the room. I don't think it was the wrong thing to do. I just wonder how it's all going to work out.

Great potter portrait from Doug Fitch

I just checked out the British slipware potter Doug Fitch's blog, which I know most of you already see. ( But I had to steal the portrait of Himself and his new cider jar. These blogs are as much about the potters as they are about the pots. More so, in fact. And we get a lot of pot portraits and we all love them. But I do love seeing a great portrait of a pot AND a potter. And that's what this one is.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Spring rains and the beginnings of the garden

This has nothing to do with pottery. Rain came yesterday just as I was about to mow the grass, neglected over the weekend in favor of the Green Mountains. So I didn't mow the lawn, but instead went out and shot some photos of some of Dee's flowering plants in the garden.
At top is a Mt. St. Helens, whose lava-colored blooms show up this time of year. Then some wet iris leaves ... I think. And a pot of lettuce plants with chives in the background.
Oh, OK, one pottery item. A woman and her grown son showed up unexpectedly yesterday on the gravel path leading to the shed gallery. I joined them as they were looking at pots. "Did you have a good time in Vermont?" she asked. I had never met the woman before yesterday, so I was surprised at the question. Turns out she's Gail Laughlin, an amateur potter near Philadelphia, and a regular reader of this blog. Gail also told me she particularly likes the Fetish Ghost blog, listed on the blog roll to the right. I think she's the second blog-reader (Otto Wenger was the first) to show up and look at the pots in person. And she took a few home with her, too. Thank you, Gail.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Many potters, great food in Vermont

We were away from Cape Cod for less than two days over the weekend, but driving up into the mountains of Vermont feels like going to another country. Winding little state highways, green mountains (oh, so that's why they're called the Green Mountains), red barns, newly plowed fields in the river valley bottoms, sheep, cows, horses ... it's not Cape Cod.
We were at Bob and Christine Compton's pottery and home in Bristol for the annual Potters Potluck dinner and general discussion of all things clay. Over Saturday evening, about 50 people showed up, most carrying a dish of some kind and a bottle or six-pack. Potters came from all over the state and even from Quebec in southern Canada. Nice folks.
Bob has at least three working kilns on the property, a gas-fired car kiln in his studio, a giant two-chamber noborigama outside under the big shed roof and a catenary arch salt kiln on the hillside. All get regular use. And there are raku and pit-fire kilns, as well.
He fires the big noborigama only twice a year, not a big surprise since each chamber has about 250 c.f. of packing space. (I think I'm remembering that right.) Big firebox on the noborigama (fueled by slab wood from nearby mills) and a brick chimney about 20 feet tall. He removes two panels of roofing from the shed when he does his 24-hour-plus firings, to keep smoke from gathering around the firing crew. The spring firing of that kiln is coming up some time in the next few weeks. Lots and lots of bisque pots are stored in the studio, ready for glazing and stacking. (And lots of finished inventory is in their sales shop on the ground level of their home.)
Christine is a weaver, turning out beautiful work that's on their website, and she spins yarn from local fleece. (Which includes the fleece from their two sheep.) And she's a great hostess and saleswoman of their work.
If you find yourself heading up toward northern Vermont, you should stop in. Talented and friendly people.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Potters' Potluck" at the Comptons' in Vermont

Potter Bob Compton and his wife Christine host an annual "Potters Potluck" at their home and pottery in Bristol, Vt. I've heard about it for years, but the time was always wrong to go up and be part of it. This year's different, though, so we're headed north tomorrow morning to join a group of potters from around New England (and maybe nearby NY state) for some pottery talk, a discussion of Shino and Celadon glazes, a bit of a pottery yard sale and some good food and drink. I'm bringing clams (dug a couple of days ago with Mike and Tammy Race) for steaming in wine and garlic, and a batch of red New Mexico chile.
I've known Bob and Christine for about 10 years and took a long weekend "Big Pots Workshop" with him a few summers ago. (The absolute cure for too much Cape Cod summer congestion is to drive to rural north-central Vermont for a couple of days and commune with the apple trees and the neighboring sheep.) Bob's a prolific potter and a prolific builder of wood kilns. He's got ... I don't know ... maybe six kilns on the property? Maybe more. I haven't been up there for a while.
And Christine is a fine weaver of wool and other fibers. Take a look at their website at
We'll stay overnight, then return home via Brattleboro, Vt., where there is good, cheap wine and cheese.
Photos: Top, Bob and Christine in front of their place, a multi-chambered noborigama and some pots, and the neck of a lovely blue pot.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New gallery is coming together

I've begun putting up shelves in the new upstairs gallery space and have moved a few pots up there. The bright white walls and the abundant sunlight do a pretty good job of lighting up the pots. I think I may have to put in a spot or two for a couple of the locations, which I think could use a bit more light. Still, the area is what Hemingway called "a clean, well-lighted room."
My idea for this space is to accommodate the three or four particularly special pots that seem to come out of each firing. I'm generally happy with my pots and never sell anything I think isn't up to my standards, but we all know that there are times in reduction firing, especially in Shino firing, that some pots stand out above the others. Those are the ones I want to be in this gallery.
I've got shelves on a couple of walls and am using a worn old dropleaf table that was our dining room table 35 years ago. I like that worn wood look. I've got to get another table up there and then use the wall space for a few prints. But that will all come together. Just thought blog readers might like a look at the way it's coming.
Also, I got my annual supply of Cape Cod Potters brochures this week. I have thousands, so anyone who would like to have one (or more than one) let me know and I'll put it in the mail.
Meanwhile, here's a photo of the cover. That jug in the lower left is mine, which makes this brochure maybe the third time this particular jug is displayed prominently. It's been in two Cape museum shows in the past two years. Which means either that it's a nice jug or I have only made one decent pot in that time.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day, everyone

Happy Mother's Day, all. My fellow potter-blogger Tracey Broome inspired this post with her own of her fine daughter and musician Wes. I thought I'd post a few photos of the mothers around us and the children that make them mothers. We're off in a moment for a Mother's Day lunch with Dee's mom, Jan Potter Dorchester, and with Dee's dad, Doug Dorchester.
So, here we go. At top, our son Marcus as a proud young fisherman on Martha's Vineyard, holding a scup he caught (or maybe Doug caught) on a fishing trip with his grandfather. Next, Dee and Marcus and his wife Anastasia, on their neatly gardened front yard in Seattle. Below that, Marcus and Anastasia with a wartime black-and-white image of the young lovers Doug and Jan. Then Jan a couple of years ago with a rapidly diminishing tray of something she knows I like to eat at picnics. And at the bottom, Dee and the two kids again, playing with the drills in the kids' mid-renovation bathroom, also in Seattle.
All for now.

Friday, May 7, 2010

New gallery space, cleaned up, ready for pots

We've been painting the space over my studio for the past month or so, off and on, and I spent a couple of days ripping up the rose-colored wall-to-wall carpet and loading it into my pickup. Last Friday, Mike and Tammy Race came over and helped me get the floor down. Mike's a builder and owns (and knows how to use) a gazillion power saws. Tammy knows how to put down flooring. So, in about three hours, we had the floor laid. It's a Pergo floor that looks just like a light oak flooring and goes down like a jigsaw puzzle with only right angles. I finished off floor where it meets the wall, with painted quarter-round molding. (Now, if anyone has any bright ideas about how to get the radiator cover back on the radiator, I'm listening ... )
For the moment, wooden Japanese screens divide the room. The end nearest the stairway (bottom two images) will be the gallery and the far half of the room (top two images) remains a guest space and work room. The rough barnboard of the room was stained a dark gray-brown, so we put on several coats of white sealer and finish paint, which brightened up the room considerably. It already has lots of windows, so there's a lot of light in there now.
Next step is to build and install the shelves and tables that will hold the pots.
This gallery will be an understated part of our home and I don't expect everyone who comes here to go up to it. For one thing, you have to enter through my studio, which is only open when I am here on the property. The current shed gallery, behind our house, will continue to have the majority of my pots and will be open every day, whether I'm here or away from the house. This new space will be for the best pieces that come from the kiln, and they will be priced that way.
Now, to build the shelves and make more pots.
Oh, and some family history - the big framed portrait is my great-great-grandfather Hiram Jackson, who emigrated here from the English industrial Midlands late in the 19th century and worked in the mills of New Bedford, later settling on the tiny island of Cuttyhunk, which is not far from here. Hiram was a member of a local lifesaving crew on the island. He died in 1893 with five other men when their lifeboat overturned in the waves of a gale as they tried to rescue people from the grounded sailing ship Aquatic, which was on Sow and Pigs Reef offshore. More than you want to know, perhaps, but our son Marcus and daughter-in-law Anastasia, who work in backcountry search and rescue near Seattle, might want to hear that they're carrying on a family tradition.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Extremely cool work in a very hot medium

I was in Brockton, Mass., Sunday afternoon at the Fuller Museum of Craft for the opening of Josh Simpson's show. Josh lives in western Massachusetts and makes glass. But "making glass" is considerably less than what he really does. You may know him as the glassblower who makes "planets," balls of intricately built, several-layered glass that are the size of marbles or the size of bowling balls. (See the "planets" above.)
Josh, in his "Infinity Project," places his "planets" in obscure and not-so-obscure places around the actual planet Earth, to be found tomorrow by a hiker or 500 years from now by an archaeologist, either of which would be left wondering at how this beautiful and amazing ball of glass crossed his or her path. You can read about this part of his life at his website, where you will find that the right proposal will allow you, too, to place a "planet" somewhere on the planet.
OK, enough raving about the balls of glass. (They are, however, remarkable. You gotta see them.)
But the show is more than planets - it's goblets, bowls, sculptural work that will remind you of a geode, vases, glass blown into copper cable baskets ... all colors all shapes. A great show. Worth the trip to the museum about a half-hour south of Boston.
As for Hatchville Pottery ... the floor went down in the new guest room/gallery last Friday. I've put in and painted all the quarter-round molding between the new floor and the walls, the furniture has more or less been moved into the guest room part and now I've got to get all the tools and waste material out of the gallery. Today or tomorrow for that. Then back to making pots.
Oh, and a bow to Tracey Broome down in NC, who a couple of weeks ago recommended the film "Throw Down Your Heart." If you are at all interested in music, banjo music, African music, or the American banjo musician Bela Fleck, you should rent this film. It's the wonderful story of Fleck visiting four African countries, bringing the banjo back to visit its ancestors. We watched it last night, getting it from Netflix. Well worth the time. Great music and great people.