Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Loving teabowls ...

I began making teabowls years ago, only a short time after I first got my hands on clay at the Art League studio in Alexandria, Va. It must have been a book of Japanese work, or a Hamada book, or some such thing. Maybe it was Steve Lally, making them next to me in Saturday morning's open studio. But early on I loved making and drinking from teabowls, and buying other people's teabowls.
I spent perhaps an hour one Saturday morning in about 1992 in Mark Shapiro's booth at the Baltimore ACC show, picking up and putting down faceted orange cups before finally buying one. We still have that pot in our cabinet here on Cape Cod. (And I have a better understanding of those few people at craft shows who come in silently and have to touch everything before buying.)
Dan Finnegan, then my teacher, paid me a great compliment one day in the Alexandria classroom when he offered to trade me one of his cups for one of mine. I felt like I'd made some progress that day.
A couple of years later, by this time teaching beginning pottery in an Alexandria city program, I asked a student who was headed to London to go to the Craftsman Potter's shop there and buy me a Phil Rogers teabowl. I loved Phil's teabowls ... still do, in fact. I'd bought one for $25 at a workshop, but had cracked it. She came back with a lovely ash-glazed cup which cost the equivalent of $75.
"Don't tell my wife," I said, as I cleaned out my wallet. Today Phil's teabowls cost considerably more than that up at the Pucker Gallery in Boston. This one, in the top photo, has survived uncracked.
I continue to make teabowls, lately faceting and torquing them to within an inch of their structural lives. I spend a fair amount of time explaining to browsing buyers what those drinking things without handles are. I should just say "cup" and forget "teabowl." But it's an old habit.
Other photos here: one-pound balls of B-Mix clay soon to be the shallow teabowls and simple mugs you see drying in the bottom two images.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Teabowls and garlic keepers in Wellfleet

The OysterFest in Wellfleet last weekend happened on two sunny fall days, which were also windy fall days. Much time on Saturday was spent keeping one hand on the tent to keep it from flying off into the ocean or town hall or Main Street, or somewhere. Forty-five pound weights on each corner of the tent weren't quite enough for a couple of the gusts. Wellfleet always seems windy that time of year, what with Cape Cod Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
It was again a crushing crowd of people, many of them buyers on Saturday, which is usually the better sales day of the two. Once again, certain pots got picked up and put down perhaps a hundred times each. I've got this one crackle-slipped and kaki-glazed mug that I swear is going to be worn out by lookers and never bought. I've still got it in my gallery. The same is true of certain serving bowls that were up near the front of the display. Look at serving bowl, pick up serving bowl, turn over serving bowl and look at the foot ring, put back serving bowl, walk on ...
I spend a lot of time trying to figure out habits like that. Some people seem to be driven to simply touch pots on their way by. That happened a lot with a pair of big vases at the front of the tent.
The more gratifying people are the ones who come in quietly and spend 10 or 15 minutes going from pot to pot, picking them up, holding them in two hands, trying them out. Those folks usually buy. Or they talk about what they're doing. One young woman said to me, after picking up about a dozen mugs, "I just have to touch them all." She eventually bought two mugs.
Two people - a man from New York Saturday, then on Sunday a Japanese woman from Harwich here on the Cape - picked up small teabowls, cradling them in two hands, lifting them toward their mouths. Clearly, I thought, tea ceremony people. And that was indeed true. The man bought a rough, faceted and Shino-glazed bowl that came out of the last firing. The woman spent a long time picking up small white bowls and then talking with me about her preference in teabowls and the customs of tea ceremony. She didn't buy a pot in the end, but will come here to look at more. Those are the kind of people who make selling pots a satisfying experience.
And then there was a small woman with an "OysterFest Volunteer" sticker on her sweather.
"Do you have any garlic keepers?" she asked.
"No, I'm sorry, in all these 150 pots there is not a single garlic keeper."
"Well, there's one at a pottery booth in the other parking lot."
"Why didn't you buy that one?"
"I didn't want to pay what he wanted for it."
"How much did he want?"
"Well ... I'll tell you, there's a lot of work that goes into hand-making a garlic keeper."
"I know, but there's less discretionary income among people these days."
"That's right, and it's true of potters, too."
"Do you have fun at what you're doing?"
"Yes, to a certain extent, but I have to sell these pots, also."
"I know, I know ... "
It wasn't a pleasant conversation. And it came on Sunday at about noon, by which time I'd been in my tent three hours, watched people by the dozens walk by and had yet to sell a pot. So I wasn't ready to tsk-tsk the price of some other guy's garlic keeper. I told her she should try WalMart, that perhaps they had figured out how to make a dime profit on $5 Chinese garlic keepers.
"I don't think WalMart carries them," she said, completely missing the irony in that sentence.
Probably a good thing it was the last craft show of the season.
And thanks here to fellow potter Lois Hirshberg, who owns a house in Wellfleet and put me up in a spare bedroom Friday and Saturday nights, sparing me very early rising Saturday and the battle through OysterFest traffic to get home Saturday night and return Sunday morning. Oh, and Lois also bought me the best fried clams I've had in years, from the Arnold's seafood stand at the lower end of the parking lot.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Leave the beach, come to the oysters

Saturday and Sunday, the little town of Wellfleet, way down-Cape near Eastham and Truro, will be filled with people chasing the wily bivalve. The OysterFest is in town, complete with shucking contests, music, lots of good seafood, decent beer, and many, many people like me selling things we more or less make with our hands.
Come on down.
Weather predictions vary a bit, but most seem to agree it will be windy. We've been warned by the powers that be to bring our tent weights. I go nowhere without them. It appeared for a while this week that we might get rain, but at the moment predictions are for sun. It's a lovely little town, with good restaurants and bars, and on this weekend with about 20,000 people squeezed into a space big enough for about a tenth that number. Never mind, though, it's a fun event and usually a good one for the vendors. The last gasp of "summer," so to speak.
So, do come if you're in the neighborhood.
As to the photo ... well, actually, it was shot in North Carolina last fall, between rain storms, but I'm guessing you could find a dozen or so places on the Atlantic beach near Wellfleet that would look exactly like that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's not all travelogue ...

I know, the last post was all about being a tourist and nothing about pots. So in the lead photo today are three soda-glazed teabowls from a firing two weeks ago at the Harvard ceramics facility in Boston. I fired there a few months ago, but didn't get everything into the load. So Crystal Ribich, the woman in charge of the workshop, got the last half-dozen of my pots in this month.
Nice results, I thought. Better than the first firing, which I think (and Crystal thinks) was a bit too tightly packed to let the atmosphere circulate as it should. These bowls showed much more of the effects of soda injection. These pots and a few hundred more will be with me at the Wellfleet OysterFest this weekend. Come to Wellfleet for the last celebration of the season, for good beer and many, many good oysters. It's a great weekend in the little town way down-Cape.
The past few days have been summer redux here, with temperatures in or near the 80s, bright sunshine and little wind. This is the kind of weather we hope for when the tourists have gone home and left the place to us. We got two good days of clamming in last Saturday and Sunday, paddling out to the clam flats each day. Then on Monday, Mike and Tammy called and Dee and joined them in paddling around Tobey Island in Bourne. Brilliant weather, flat seas, clear water in the rocks at the edge of Buzzards Bay. The cormorants were all over the rocks about 100 yards offshore. Potter Mark Heywood of Whynot Pottery will recognize the place where he clammed with us back in September.
And the habanero peppers are still coming in by the half-dozen from the garden. This handful is probably a year's supply of the hot little seedpods.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A few days far away ...

Dee and I drove to Down East Maine last week ... almost as far Down East as one can go, 450 miles to the 1,400-or-thereabouts-population town of Lubec.
The fishing town lies just over the bridge from the Canadian island of Campobello, also a maritime community. Dee's brother Jim lives in Lubec and we wanted to visit him and his partner Marilyn. Jim's not been well lately, so we wanted to catch up with him and with the town we last visited about 30 years ago.
Lubec is an end-of-the-road community. That is, it looks like most people got off the highway before the highway reached the town. The place has had a summer renaissance of a sort in the past several years, with a music school, a few good bed-and-breakfast inns (we stayed at The Peacock House and heartily recommend it and its owners Sue and Dennis Baker) and some renovated homes turned into summer cottages, but it still has the look of an old and worn New England memory. Civil war monument, hardscrabble waterfront fish piers and warehouses, one bar, restaurants that close for the year by the end of October, churches with congregations of a dozen on rainy October Sundays. It's not the kind of place where a visitor can find a New York Times. And probably that's a good thing.
Visitors are drawn by the remoteness of it all, the empty beaches and cold water, the seals in the channel between Lubec and the island and the bald eagles above, and some no doubt come for the preserved summer home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt on Campobello.
We came to see Jim and Marilyn in the old wood-frame house on Crow's Neck Road that Jim bought back in the '70s. He's made himself a life in the woods and on the water for more than 35 years, growing all his own vegetables, digging clams for consumption and for the market, working as a dependable framer and roofer on whatever carpentry job came his way. (Before he moved to Maine, Jim worked on my uncle Roger's carpentry crew on Martha's Vineyard and learned much of what he knows of basic house-building from my father, Paul Engley.)
We spent several hours of two days drinking coffee and talking with Jim and Marilyn. We drove often to Campobello (bring your passport), where we toured the Roosevelt home and drove the wet and empty roads. Dee went to the little Anglican church there on Sunday, while I drove to the vast crescent of black sand beach at Herring Cove and photographed rocks.
It was not a pottery vacation. We passed several potteries along Coastal Route 1, but communing with clay was confined to drinking from some of my old mugs at Jim's.
We took two days to come home, stopping for smoked fish at Capt. Vinny's in Lubec and then with Dee's uncle and aunt, Charles and Mary Dorchester, in Kenduskeag for a night of fish chowder and stories.
It's good to be home and back in the studio.
Photos: Marilyn, Jim and Dee; the Catholic church across from the Peacock House (Mass on Saturday afternoons); several wet rocks from Herring Cove.