Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In my mind I'm dry in Carolina ...

... but only in my mind. Dee and I are in Wilmington, N.C., hanging around the state's ocean edge before heading inland Friday for the opening of the "Clay and Blogs: Telling a Story" show in Southern Pines. Unfortunately, it turns out the weather is hanging out in this part of the state, too. Rain has been falling for days here, with flooding everywhere. We just strolled the streets of Wilmington, getting about as wet as it is possible to get, but loving the views along the Cape Fear River and the coffee at Port City Java.
The rumor is that Friday's weather around Southern Pines will be sunny and bring out all the pot-lovers to the Campbell House Galleries for opening of the show Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. It promises to be a party, with many of the exhibiting potters present. Including us, if we can wade across North Carolina to get there.
We have already visited with two good potter friends in Virginia. We stayed overnight with Lorraine Colson in Alexandria, Va., outside Washington. Lorraine is a fine potter who sells at the Scope Gallery in Alexandria's Torpedo Factory art center. She and I were students together for many years there. Then we stopped for breakfast and coffee with Dan Finnegan, whose work will be in the Southern Pines show. (I've stolen a photo of it on display there from Meredith Heywood's blog.) Dan lives in beautiful Fredericksburg, Va., about an hour south of Lorraine. He owns Liberty Town art center, which has become the thriving center of much of the arts in Fredericksburg. Dan is a wonderful wood-fire potter, with a studio and kiln in the woods near soybean fields a few miles outside of Fredericksburg. And he's my former teacher, as well as Lorraine's.
We also stayed a couple of nights here in Wilmington with a good friend from our Virginia days, LeAnne Ward Smith, a university teacher here and a genuine Tar Heel and a lover of handmade pots.
That's all for now. We'll see you at the opening Friday, y'all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No, sorry, no McKenzie or Johnston pots

How do I write this without sounding pitiful? Ummm ... OK, here goes. A very nice Englishman on holiday walked down my driveway a couple of days ago. The sound of his feet on the gravel took me away from the wheel and the half-thrown serving bowl spinning there. "Hello," he said. "We're on holiday in Hyannis and I found you on the internet, and saw a reference on your website to Warren McKenzie and Randy Johnston."
That much was true. Several months ago, McKenzie and Johnston both had wonderful simultaneous shows in Massachusetts - McKenzie at the Fuller Museum in Brockton and Johnston at the Pucker Gallery in Boston. I wrote about them in a blog post, which is no doubt what this nice man from the Lake District found online.
At this point, we go a bit off the rails, though I didn't realize it at the time. Yes, I said, I'd seen the shows I wrote about. Lovely work, I'm an admirer of both, etc. "Yes, well," he said, "I've bought some of Mr. Johnston's work at the Pucker, but it's terribly dear, isn't it? These pots are so expensive at these galleries, even though the people at the Pucker were extremely nice to me, showed me all around all the upper floors, saw some wonderful pots ..."
Yes, I said, it's a great gallery. They let you look at anything, even if you're unlikely to buy. The conversation went on like this for a few minutes - gallery talk, high price of pots by well-known potters talk, and so on. "Well," I said, "We have two galleries here. One in the back yard where most of the pots are and one upstairs where the special pots from the kiln are. I'm happy to show you both." And I led him to the shed in the back yard.
"Look around, take as much time as you want," I said. "I'll be working in the studio. When you're through here, come on back and I'll show you the pots upstairs."
I went back to work. He was back quickly, after a very brief visit that I have come to recognize as the "ain't nothing I like in here" time period.
But I wiped my hands and brought him to the back of the studio, through the door and part way up the stairs to the pots that I think are my best. "I'm afraid I've made a mistake," he said. "I thought this was a gallery that sold McKenzie and Johnston pots. I see that that's not so."
Aha ... he thought he would find cheap pots here by famous potters.
"Nooooo ... I would never have written that," I said. "Or, I think, even implied it. No, all I have here are my own pots." (I was being polite; I know damn well that nowhere in my blog is there anything that implies I handle anyone else's pots, let alone Warren's or Randy's.)
He got to the top of the stairs, into the room where my pots are displayed. He kept talking about his mistake and about seeing Lucie Rie and Hans Coper pots at Galerie Besson in London, about the high prices at London's Craft Potters Association gallery. He never looked at the pots. Didn't stray from the top step, didn't wander at all in the small gallery.
He talked quite a long time, longer than necessary. And I was polite and contributed to the conversation, and then we went back downstairs and he said goodbye and walked back up the gravel driveway to his wife - not a pot-lover - who waited in the car the whole time.
I went back to throwing my serving bowls. It took a few minutes for me to be pissed.
And I still am.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The thrill of the grass ...

The headline on this post comes from the title of a baseball-related short story collection from Canadian writer W.P. Kinsella. Kinsella also wrote the great baseball novel "Shoeless Joe," which was made into the film "Field of Dreams."
I read Kinsella decades ago, when I romanticized baseball. Which I still do. Not the profession, not the incredibly skilled and wealthy major league ballplayers, but the game itself. The game is bigger than the major league players. It's about history and evolution and children playing it in neighborhoods with no adults to supervise them. I know people in England who feel the same way about cricket. The dimensions of the game, the field, the pitch, the distance between wickets, the distance between bases, the speed the ball is thrown, the way success and failure - personally and collectively - are defined by inches or centimeters. The way the ball bounces, the angle of the bat, the slip of a fielder on wet turf. Anything can make a difference.
Baseball is a game for boys played in its softball form by me and my friends - men in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. We have among us schoolteachers, one working and one retired financial manager, a housepainter, a jeweler, a potter, a carpenter, a cable television guy, a boatbuilder, a movie actor, a journalist, a number of sailors and tennis players, several fathers and at least one grandfather and a number of men whose professions and hobbies and family situations I just don't know. But these are working class guys, for the most part, smokers and beer-drinkers. Local boys from the mid-Cape area who gravitated toward this team because part of them never outgrew the glove and the ball and the bat.
Mostly, I think, they never outgrew the competition. A number of them put down their softball gear at this time of year and begin playing hockey.
We finished our season this past Wednesday evening, on the roughly maintained and rutted softball field at Barnstable-West Barnstable elementary school. (My team, The Radish, has been playing there for more than 35 years.) In the wet heat of a Cape Cod summer, I often wear a sleeveless t-shirt on the field to encourage some air circulation. Wednesday, I rummaged in the back of my pickup for a long-sleeve t-shirt. It was cool and the sun was going down and we could only get in about seven innings before it became dark enough to become dangerous to field hard-hit softballs. Winter is clearly coming.
Our season was supposed to end last week, but everyone wanted one more game, so we showed up again, picked our teams and played into the dark. A few more times at bat, a few more turns in the field, before the leaves fall and the snow comes again. We all take our own play seriously, though we all know we're only playing a game. Real life happens on either side of the hour or two of Wednesday evening down there on the grass.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A fine Saturday in Charlestown

I got up at 6 a.m. Saturday, hopped into my loaded truck and headed for Boston's Charlestown neighborhood for the Artist Group of Charlestown's annual Art in the Park show in City Square Park. It was a beautiful and cool September day, quite different from a year ago, when the show was postponed a day because of a day-long Saturday downpour.
This year it was sunny, but cool enough for fleece in the morning. My friend Judy Miller, a Rhode Island painter of wooden bowls and other things of wood, was behind me and the people came out, looking and buying. It was a good show, I sold some pots and made some money, which is always a good thing. And, as always, there were lots of nice people, some of whom buy pots.
I like this show because it's run by artists who like to bring good craftspeople to their town. Most of the organizers also sell their own work at the show, so they care about what it looks like to the buyer and the kind of people who come to sell. And at the end of the one-day show, after we've all packed up, we each get a single drink ticket for the Ironside pub down the street. We retire there with our trucks re-packed and share a beer with friends we only see once or twice a year. A nice thing to do.
Here are some photos of my display and one or two of some 24-ounce ash- and shino-glazed tankards that came out of last week's firing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pots off today to "Clay and Blogs" show

It is very difficult to choose a half-dozen pots to represent the things that happen inside the potter's head and inside his or her studio. There is no way to spread out the show entries to encompass mugs, teabowls, soup bowls, vases, big serving platters, condiment dishes ... and on and on and on. That's what I was doing over the past couple of days. (That and unloading Wednesday's firing. More about that later ... )
So instead of representing everything that goes on - intentionally or accidentally - in this crowded and untidy studio, I went with six pots that I really like, all from the upstairs gallery. I'll be shipping three small bowls and three teabowls. I photographed them this morning and I'll wrap them after I post this to the blog.
The part of my work that is still speaking to me in every firing is the layered Shino on brown stoneware that I started making last winter. I've got the temmokus, I've got the copper red (God help us ... ), I've got a recalcitrant and runny blue ash glaze (still needs work) and I've got some nice ash glazes and a few others. But the landscape that I most love in my own work right now is created in the accidental things that happen when Shinos cross each other, sometimes with a tributary stream of green ash glaze. So that's what's coming to "Clay and Blogs: Telling a Story" at the Campbell House Gallery in Southern Pines, N.C. this week. Hope you like it.
The show opens Oct. 1 and runs through the end of the month. If you're in the area, you should definitely come see it. Or make a special trip. There will likely be more than 200 pots from 50 potters from around the planet. A remarkable thing.
Go to for times and details.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Clear skies after Earl's departure ...

It seemed only fair to update you on the weather here on the Cape, after the past couple of days of fear and loathing on the Hurricane Earl front. The wind began blowing about 10 Friday night, shaking the maples but doing no detectable damage. The wind gusts were likely no more than about 40 miles per hour, something we feel routinely in this part of the world. Rain fell through the night, but the gardens needed it and there was no objection from the butterfly bush and the tomato plants. Or the rain barrel. Earl had weakened considerably by the time it passed south of Nantucket and headed for Nova Scotia.
Saturday was dry and cooler and quite a lovely day. The normally tourist-laden roads were nearly empty in parts of town. Some people may have been driven away by the premature threats of Earl Havoc. The rest of Labor Day Weekend promises to be fairly quiet. I put handles on brown stoneware tankards this afternoon. A couple more bisque firings and then I hope to get in a glaze-firing late next week before my show in Charlestown.
Two pictures for this post, neither of which was taken today, but both of which reflect what the weather looked like after the hurricane passed through. The top one sunset clouds from our yard, the bottom late afternoon at Scorton Creek marsh in Sandwich.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Update on Earl ...

Morning dawned still, cloudy and very warm today. Much like the past few days. South of us, Hurricane Earl was headed up the coast in our direction, maybe to pass a bit east of us. At the local coffee shop, things were more or less as they usually are. The same group of people at one table solving the political problems of the world, the same solitary newspaper readers and laptop fondlers, the same moms and kids. "Hurricane's Brewin'" read the top of the blackboard list of day's coffees. A bit of gallows humor here and there, as people who had already turned over the lawn furniture and filled emergency cans of water wondered what they'd do until the Big One arrived. One woman claimed that all she needed to get through the storm was tequila, blue corn chips and guacamole. (Actually, not a bad plan.)
I headed home via the Bourne shore of Buzzards Bay, to see what the waterfront looked like. Along Route 28, the road out of Falmouth toward the Bourne Bridge, snorkel trucks were pulled over to the side, brought in to deal with the trees expected to fall in the big wind. Out on the harbors, the water was smooth as glass, with a bit of activity here and there as the stragglers pulled out their boats.
No panic evident anywhere. No publicly expressed thoughts of Katrina-type disaster, or of the thorough upset brought in here in 1991 by the sudden appearance of Hurricane Bob, the last direct hit on Cape Cod. Just another big blow ... maybe.
At top, a Herreshoff 12 1/2 sits serenely at anchor at Barlow's Landing in Pocasset. Note the boarded-up summer house on the shore behind. Below that, hauling in the small boats nearby. Then, calm at Parker's Boatyard in Cataumet on Redbrook Harbor. Bottom, waiting for the trees to come down.
See y'all on the other side.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hello, my name is Earl ...

No doubt any reader in the coastal Carolina region of the U.S. is feeling the same way most of us are here on Cape Cod.
Bated breath, as they say. Wondering.
Hurricane Earl is out there somewhere south of us, churning up the Atlantic with 125 m.p.h. winds and drifting kind of north and west. More or less directly at the Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard area. Yippee.
Right now, Earl is predicted to pass a bit to the east of Falmouth, maybe taking a swipe at Nantucket and giving us more than a couple of inches of rain and wind gusts somewhere between 50 and 75 m.p.h. Which would actually be just fine with me. We can handle that, maybe with a few trees down around town. What you hope not to get is the impact of a full-on Category 4 hurricane with steady winds north of 140. That could do a job on us. Right now ... looks better than it could look.
Earl is the reason for the tomato photo. In addition to upending the lawn furniture, taking down the hammock, taking the pots outside the gallery inside for safekeeping, I also picked every ripe tomato I could find in the garden. Heavy rain and wind raise hell with tomato plants. And it's been a great year for tomatoes.
Meanwhile, weather aside, I've been working in the studio on bowls, faceted and otherwise. I've got a show in Charlestown, next door to Boston, in two weeks and am low on soup bowls and serving bowls. And a man in Chatham asked me two weekends ago if I would do a 20-ounce tankard to add to his collection. Twenty ounces, so I'm told, is a real pint in U.K. pubs. He collects them and liked my ash glaze, so I'm working on some for a firing next week. We'll see how that goes ...
I'll update you on Earl tomorrow, as long as the power holds on.