Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saggar-fired, from Thursday kiln

Over the years, I've fired a few pots in sawdust-filled saggars inside the gas kiln. John Leach's saggar work was the original inspiration for doing this, and he remains the master of it. But I like what I get from this kind of firing. Covered stoneware saggars take up a lot of room on a shelf, producing a few small pots in a space that can usually hold a dozen or more. And I don't know what the market will be for these, but I enjoy the experiment.
And it seems to me that the best pots fired this way are simple forms. Anyway, we'll see where this goes. I'll do more.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Yesterday's firing ...

Not a bad firing yesterday, given that three small re-fire cups blew up and spread shrapnel everywhere. It's astonishing how far into the stack clay fragments can penetrate. I've had maybe one cone pack blow up on me in this kiln, but never a pot. Even a re-fire. Won't do that again ...
Aside from the artillery, though, it was a good firing. Lots of small vases, four side-handle teapots, a slab tray that may end up in the April show I'm doing in Boston, some black saggar-fired pots. Not a bad firing, all told.
It was a record for a short firing, also. No doubt the result of using the new silicon carbide shelves. The burners were turned on at 9 and shut down at 1:30. I might stretch out the firing a bit next time, but the glazes looked pretty much like they always do.
Here are a few photos: From top, slab tray with overlapping Shino and ash glazes; small vases with Shino, Oribe, Leach white ash and kaki glazes; waste clay vase with overlapping Shino glazes; side handle teapots.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

On teabowls, cups or "handleless mugs"

My good friend Dan Finnegan, the Virginia potter, yesterday posted a thoughtful little essay - complete with drawings and photos - on the design and pleasures of the mug. Specifically, on the curves that go into the form of the mugs he makes in the woods near the soybean fields outside Fredericksburg. He took issue with a blog post by that other thoughtful potter, John Bauman, who had extolled cylindrical mugs. Bauman responded with something like, "Your mother wears Army boots." Reasoned discourse, I call it.
OK, I'll let them fight that one between them. Both make terrific pots. But I was prompted to do this post because of the preview of coming attractions that appeared at the end of Finnegan's mug post: "Next Up - Tea Bowls: Overhyped Juice Cups."
I take this to be Dan's way of instigating yet another debate. Having been his student many years ago, and having been his friend many years since, I well know his feeling about teabowls. He disdains the form. Further, he ridicules it.
I have to say that I've never quite understood this stance, though I assume it comes from his English training. Across the water, no clay item related to drink comes without a handle. Sometimes mugs or tankards come with two. Or even three. Perhaps it's about grasping for your fifth pint of ale in the pub and being able to latch onto a handle no matter where you reach. I don't know ... maybe they just like handles.
But I was taken with the teabowl form early on in my pot-making life. Ever since then, I've made hundreds of teabowls - faceted, torqued, ragged-rimmed, dimpled, sgraffitoed ... you name it. As I write, the gas kiln in the studio has about two dozen teabowls cooling. Should be down to about 1100 degrees by now.
I like the form in part because I can make a dozen or two dozen in a short time, I can get a rhythm going in the morning and watch the forms change slightly as the pots are cut off the wheelhead and dropped onto the wareboard. Later that day, or perhaps the next morning, a footring is trimmed into the bottom and the pots are set aside to dry. I can get a lot of teabowls into the kiln and there are enough that I often test glazes on them. Right now there are a couple cooling in the kiln with a new Oribe recipe that I'm trying.
And, not an insignificant thing, I can sell teabowls. People buy mugs from me, but they also buy teabowls. But they rarely call them by that name. Usually, it's just "mug," or sometimes "handleless mug." I usually explain that I call them teabowls, but they are free to call them whatever they like.
When I have coffee in the morning at Coffee Obsession in Falmouth, I usually bring one of my own mugs, which have more capacity than my teabowls. Which means I get more coffee for my dollar. But sometimes I'll bring a teabowl, being careful to let the coffee cool just a bit so that the outside of the bowl is not too hot. (Yes, I understand that's one of the prime purposes of a handle, to let you drink very hot liquid while comfortably holding the vessel. So, it's a small sacrifice.)
My friend Janet, who sometimes comments on this blog, often sits at the same table with a teabowl and a Thermos of coffee, pouring when the coffee gets low in the cup. She likes teabowls. (She has a broad mind and also likes mugs; she's been known to show up in the morning carrying a very nice Dan Finnegan mug.)
My wife Dee uses the teabowls in our kitchen cabinets for water, iced tea, beer, port. Our wine-drinking friends were dismayed not long ago when we bought wine glasses; they liked drinking out of clay teabowls.
This is all about everyday living, not thinking at all about the tea ceremony. I have sold work that the buyers think is right for that formal and refined exercise, and I'm glad to have that new outlet. It also makes me think more carefully about the pots I have made and will make.
But teabowls for daily use - aka "overhyped juice cups" - will continue to come out of this kiln.
Photos above, top down: Ash-glazed teabowl by Phil Rogers, faceted teabowl by Mark Shapiro, squared teabowl by Jeff Oestreich, cut-rim and Shino teabowl by yours truly.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Making teapots, mixing glazes ...

Given that it's snowing here on Cape Cod, the temperatures have gotten down into the single digits, and no one seems to be coming to my gallery (big surprise), I thought that I ought to make a few teapots while I had the time. Now ... I don't much like making teapots, mostly because I do it so seldom that it's like learning each step all over again. And you have to let the pot body dry enough to be stable and able to drill the tea filter holes before putting on the spout. But it can't be too dry, otherwise the spouts and handles will not adhere properly. And you need to carefully gauge the hole for the lid, so that if you're making eight teapots you don't have eight different widths, consequently having to make eight different widths of lid ... and on and on and on and on.
And I hate making lids ... don't ask. I know, if I did this kind of thing all the time, it wouldn't be new to me each time. And maybe, like a trainable pot-making chimp, I would learn the routine and stop whining. I was on Skype with potter Angela Walford in Australia, the day I assembled the teapots, and I told her I much prefer cups - center 'em, throw 'em, trim a foot, out the door.
I still feel that way. How all you wonderful potters make these fabulous and beautiful teapots and enjoy it ... and then SELL THEM ... is completely beyond me.
OK, enough whining. I did trim footrings on all these side-handle pots, which makes them lift up and gives them some airiness. That's something I've just started to do on teapots. And after much frustration trimming the cutoff waste on lids, I decided I would make these little tiny chucks to hold the lids stable while I trimmed. Damned if it didn't work. See, I'm trainable ...
Now, back to sieving the seven glazes I mixed yesterday and hydrated today. Firing Wednesday or Thursday.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Revisiting "Bridge of Fire"

I had been making pots for only a few years when I saw the documentary film "Bridge of Fire." It was the story of collaboration between the American potter Malcolm Wright of Vermont and the 13th generation Japanese potter Takashi Nakazato of Karatsu.
When they were young men, Wright worked with Nakazato in the studio of Tarouemon Nakazato, Takashi's father and a Japanese Living Treasure. They lost track of one another over the following 20 years, but came together in the early '90s to make pots in each other's studios, fire in each other's kilns and have their work together documented brilliantly by filmmakers Dorothy Olson and Alan Dater. The film is available from Marlboro Productions in Vermont. Go to to find it.
I watched that film over and over again in the early '90s, watching the way the two men made pots - Takashi pounding down into ten pounds of clay to secure to the wheelhead what would become the base of a large jar; Wright extruding clay, then cutting apart and re-assembling the extrusions; both men serving their families dinner in the pots that came from the woodfired kilns.
In 1997 I went for two weeks with my friend Lorraine Colson to Anderson Ranch in Colorado, for a workshop with Takashi and Doug Casebeer. Takashi, whose English was good but not often used, taught by demonstrating. He made and fired many, many pots in those two weeks. All the time with a seriousness of purpose but a very easy laugh and a light heart.
I hadn't looked at the film in more than 10 years until yesterday. I sat down late in the afternoon and rediscovered why I loved it so much so long ago. The film is as fresh as it was in 1992, and as relevant. And having spent more than a decade making pots professionally, I saw many more things in the making process that I am sure I missed when I first saw the film. I'm going to have to watch it a few more times.
The images above were not made by me, but were taken from a variety of websites, including the large jar by Nakazato, from the Anderson Ranch site. Top, Takashi, with his pot below his photo. Third image down, Malcolm, with a wood-fired pot of his below that.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Nausika Richardson 1942-2011

Nausika Richardson, a wonderful majolica potter from Dixon, N.M., has died. I met Nausika nearly 30 years ago, when I was a news photographer for the Santa Fe New Mexican and she was a 38-year-old potter living in the tiny village of Dixon, in the Rio Embudo Valley north of Santa Fe. Nausika was one of the founders of the annual Dixon Studio Tour, held in November, and I was in her studio with a reporter to photograph her and her work for a pre-Tour story.
It was long before I wanted to make pots, but not before I wanted to own them. I bought a plate and a serving bowl that day, which we still use in our kitchen here on Cape Cod.
Nausika was a lovely and gracious woman. I've often thought we would drive up to Dixon to visit her the next time we were in New Mexico. Won't happen now. The image I've posted of her is the best I could find online. She was 68 when she died.
Here's a link to the Dixon Studio Tour, with some of her pots.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Seven things you probably don't know ...

I'm not entirely sure that I understand this concept, but I'm sure Meredith Heywood, prominent Seagrove, N.C., potter, will explain this to me in a comment. Meredith has asked several of us to post on our blogs seven things that people who usually read our blogs are unlikely to know about us. So, here goes ...
1) I am descended on one side of my family from a Portuguese barber. My great-grandfather, Antone S. Andrews (top photo, at left, in his barber shop), came to this country from the Azores islands in the late 19th century. He settled on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard with his Azorean wife, whom he met in this country. His barber shop was on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, which many years later became my hometown when Antone's granddaughter, Lucille, gave birth to me.
2) The first time I saw my mother cry was when we were returning to Martha's Vineyard from a rare trip to Boston and we missed the last ferry to the island. We were forced to stay overnight on the mainland, in the Hilltop House inn in Falmouth (now home of the Woods Hole Research Center). There my youngest brother, Tom, fell into the toilet. I'm the tall one without the hood in the photo above, taken the next morning. Tom, the baby of the family, is in my shadow, but appears to be wearing dry pants. The other two are brother Roger and sister Jeanne.
3) Dee and I have a son, Marcus, also a native of Martha's Vineyard, who lives with his wife Anastasia Pantelias in Seattle. From the time we lived on the Vineyard and later in New Mexico, Marcus was an outdoors kid. Now he and Anastasia are backcountry skiers and climbers most of the year. Both are involved in search-and-rescue. When he is not running computer systems, Marcus sometimes jumps out of helicopters (once they're on the ground) in pursuit of lost and distressed skiers, hikers, BASE-jumpers and others in trouble in the mountains. That's Marcus in the bottom photo.
4) When I was 13, I caddied at Mink Meadows Golf Club for E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, the man who wrote "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." He was a poor tipper.
5) Dee and I were married in 1970 on the Vineyard, then drove across the country in a 1956 baby blue Ford station wagon, in which we slept on a 3/4-width mattress. We drove north of Lake Superior in Canada, down into Minnesota, across the west (rodeo in Rapid City!) and into San Francisco. We settled in Oakland for several months, ran out of money, then fled home via the southern route to Massachusetts. I am still looking for a photo of that car.
6) I once beat a New Mexico U.S. congressman in a sled-dog race in the Jemez Mountains outside Los Alamos. The fact that he was coming off open-heart surgery had no bearing on the outcome of the race.
7) As features editor of The New Mexican newspaper in Santa Fe, I was a member of the New Mexico State Champion Trivial Pursuit team in 1985. Somewhere, I still have the gold-plated game token we won.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

This week's kiln

A rather thinly populated kiln this week. A bunch of tallish, slab vases on the top rear shelf, which left lots of air at the top. And not many tall pots anywhere, even in the normally thickly populated bottom shelf, which left similar amounts of air all through the stack. Pretty good firing, though, in spite of some bloating on some very thick red stoneware slabs and some thermoucouple shutdowns along the way. Gotta spend some time with a paperclip, reaming out the thermocouple burner, I think.
But there were some good pots in the kiln. Top to bottom: Slab vases with multiple additions and stamps, poured Shinos and ash glazes; tall slab vase with poured Shinos and ash glaze; three-footed slab plate with Shinos; three medium juice pitchers; multiple-Shinoed bowl.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

UK Potters tour is coming together

Doug Fitch and Hannah McAndrew touch down on U.S. soil April 5 at Logan Airport in Boston, a few days before the first of three workshops on Cape Cod, in Virginia and in North Carolina. I am apparently the welcoming committee and will be there to greet them and bring them to Cape Cod. Hannah tells me she's been reading about the Pilgrim Fathers, so perhaps we should stop in Plymouth on the way to the Cape and introduce her to a Pilgrim or two. Or perhaps a Pilgrim Mother ...
I'm only posting this now to keep people alert to the workshop here on the Cape or - if it's more convenient - at one of the other two sites. And Hannah was kind enough to send a couple of high-res photos for our graphics people, so I thought I'd post one.
Doug should have a photo or two coming in the next day or so.
Meantime, if you are interested in the April 9-10 slipware workshop here in Falmouth, sponsored by the Cape Cod Potters, let me know at Two days of entertaining and brilliant pot-making, each day with a free lunch, in the clay studio at Falmouth High School. It will cost $145 for CCPotters members and $165 for others, $75 for a single day. Falmouth High School art students attend free.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Further teabowl information from Thailand

I received this today from John Toomey in Thailand, about the two teabowls he bought from me last year. John gave the teabowls their names:

Hollis: You are too modest. Your readers should know that my tea teacher in Yokohama, Japan, highly praised both of these bowls when I sent her the pictures and that my guests for New Year's Tea for Year of the Rabbit (including Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Chinese tea masters) found both your "Snowy Rabbit" Tea Bowl and your "Evening Cherry Blossoms" (aka "Octopus") Tea Bowl stunning in combination with the very rarely used utensils of formal palace drawing room tea of the 14th century. I can hardly wait to see how they will blend with rustic wabi-cha utensils when the formal period is over after today's Chinese Lunar New Year and we get back to Zen-style tea. Your bowls, I think, will fit the requirement of the 15th century master Murata Shuko that utensils have the quality of "chill" and "withered", expressing the inner essence of true beauty that we still idealize in rustic wabi-cha today. (You can find all this on the internet.)

Of course, there is every reason for people to use the bowls as they wish, the more often the better--for snacks, dips, soups, floating flowers and candles, coffee, incense burners, whatever they like. Just hold them in you hands and experience peace and comfort like only fine down-to-earth pottery can give.

John Toomey Sofu (Ura Senke Tea name)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hatchville teabowls in Thailand

This past fall, John Toomey stopped here with a friend and bought two Shino teabowls. John is a tea master in Thailand and he told me he would take them with him back to Asia, to use when he hosts tea ceremonies in his teahouse.
True to his word, John did just that. And yesterday he sent a selection of photos of the bowls being used in Thailand. You can see some of them here.
I call these bowls "teabowls," though in fact most people who buy from me have no actual idea of what a teabowl might be, or how a bowl might be used in tea ceremony. And I am far from an expert, having participated in only a couple of tea ceremonies - one Japanese in Washington, D.C., and one Chinese at Anderson Ranch in Colorado. But I like to make the forms and I tell people their use is only limited by their imagination. Eat oatmeal out of it, or hummus, or coffee. Doesn't matter to me. Just enjoy the pot.
But it was flattering for someone like John, who does know about tea ceremony, to find my pots here on the Cape and take them back to Thailand for tea. And it was very nice of him to send me the photos. Thank you, John.