Monday, January 30, 2012

Back to the wheel

All it takes is a single fired pot that comes out of the kiln just right and the next thing you know there are three boards full of similar shapes, drying in the studio.
Such was the case with the faceted Shino teabowl that leads the page two posts down. I wedged crushed granite into the Miller 750 clay body to give it some serious tooth, coned up a vertical shape on the wheel, pushed down into the cone, faceted the resulting thick wall, then pushed out the clay while throwing to torque the facets and push out the granite. The results are very rugged and wonky pots. Glazed with layered Shinos and a celadon ash, the pots have a rough but vaguely structured look to them. The Shinos work perfectly on them, filling some holes, not filling others.
So, I'm off on this group of pots for a while. Just threw three boards of the bowls, as well as several spoon/brush holders yesterday. Another couple of days throwing and I'll be ready to fire again.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A largely Shino January firing

Lots of Shino pots in yesterday's kilnload, and most of them in a white/gray carbon-trap recipe that came to me from the Harvard ceramics program in Boston. It traps well and presents different looks depending on how it's oriented to the flame. It also plays well with others, taking the poured Shinos and ash glazes that I layer over it.
Many of the pots in this load were brown Miller stoneware with granite grit wedged in to give it some character. I think you'll see that in some of the images. This firing got a bit out of control, when I couldn't see the top cones and had to go by the bottom, slightly cooler ones. Cone 11 flat at the top, bending a bit at the bottom. My ash Kaki glaze didn't like that much and ran on a couple of pots. It just hates anything over 10. I knew that, but still ...
Anyway, a good firing. I'll post some pots for you to see.
The photos: Top, a nice little Shino teabowl; big vase, layered Shinos; shallow bowl with McAndrew/Fitch black slip under the Shino; shallow Shino bowls with ash pours; standard Shino mugs with finger-swipes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

All loaded ... then wait

The next couple of days will be busy with various non-pottery things, which means that the newly-loaded kiln will sit quietly until Thursday. No time to fire over the next couple of days. The Shinos in there will have time to mature at 60 degrees.
This will be the third firing since Christmas, which means that the gallery in the back yard is full of pots, with more on the way with this firing. I'm trying to build inventory for the spring and summer shows. The path to the gallery is cold and white right now, after yesterday's ten inches of snow, and it's likely to remain that way. Few pots go out of here this time of year.
It's fine, though. I like working in the studio when it's snowing or raining or simply winter cold outside. NPR or iPhone music on the radio, pots building up on the wareboards, coffee nearby. Could be a lot worse.
And it appears I'll have a student intern from Falmouth High School working here for a couple of months through the Cape Cod Museum of Art intern program. That may mean I have to clean things up around here.
Photo: Top rear shelf, with vases glazed in layered Shinos and ash glazes.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter finally arrives ...

Snow started falling here in Hatchville this morning at about dawn. It's now after 2 p.m., there is a six-inch blanket on the ground and there are no signs of the snow stopping. So winter came to us, after all.
Dee had no massage clients today, so she's here doing bookkeeping and drinking tea. I am working in the studio, occasionally looking out at the snow, glazing pot by pot for next week's firing. Not a bad day.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Great photo of Ray Finch at work

This was taken today from potter Joe Finch's Facebook page, for those of you who don't see Facebook. A great photo.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ray Finch: 1914-2012

Dee and I met Ray Finch at Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire, U.K., about ten years ago. Toff Milway took us over to Winchcombe from his pottery, which is nearby in the Cotswolds. Ray was in his late 80s then, but still making pots. So was his co-worker Eddie Hopkins. Ray was gentle and courtly and seemed pleased to meet one of Dan Finnegan's students from the U.S. Eddie was lively and joking and wanted to be remembered to "Dan the Yank."
Now they're both gone. Eddie died in 2007 of a lung disease contracted from floodwater swallowed while he clung to the side of his house in deep water. Ray died yesterday, after a long life making pots.
Long before we actually met Ray and Eddie, I felt like I knew them both from the many stories Finnegan told while he taught our class in Alexandria, Va. 20 years ago. No one who paid attention in Dan's class (or at the bar afterward) could escape without knowing the personal geography of the old pottery at Winchcombe and its characters. And I know that a version of that story will appear soon in Dan's blog. So I won't risk making mistakes by telling Dan's stories here.
It's enough for me to count Ray as a kind of pottery grandfather. Ray taught Dan, Dan taught me. Before that, Michael Cardew taught Ray and Bernard Leach taught Cardew and so on. I don't claim any special knowledge or talent or skill because I'm at the bottom of that line of succession, but I do like being able to trace some small part of my lineage back that far.
We're a poorer place without master potters Ray Finch and Eddie Hopkins among us.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Going to sea for clay

Three big guys got into a small boat yesterday to travel from the Cape Cod mainland to an island that lies between Cotuit Bay and Nantucket Sound. I was one of those guys, lured to this deep sea (well ... not all that deep) voyage by the chance to dig native clay from the ocean. Pretty cool.
Some months ago, a clay bed seemingly rose from the water off the island and exposed itself to waterborne passersby. In all likelihood, a storm swept the sand overburden off the clay bed and exposed it. But we've got scientists looking into this. A friend, former editor and former softball player Dana Hornig, told me about the clay a couple of weeks ago. We decided we would travel out to the geological phenomenon and get a closer look.
So yesterday we loaded Dana's dinghy into my pickup and drove to Cotuit, meeting Lindsey Counsell at the town landing. Lindsey is another former softball player and is director of the Three Bays Foundation, a conservation group that tries to take care of the shallow water around Cotuit, on the south side of the Cape.
Three big men loaded down the dinghy, but the seas were calm and distance to the island was roughly 150 feet, so we set out. With Dana rowing, it took only a few minutes to cross the gut and haul the dinghy up on the sand.
What we found was a lumpy and sticky expanse of deep black clay, salt water from the rising tide slowly beginning to run through shallow channels and reclaim the clay bed until the next tide. I dug about 25 pounds of the clay and put it in plastic bags. We strolled about that end of the island, with Dana and Lindsey - both longtime Barnstable men - remarking on the way wind and tide changes sand islands. Then we rowed back.
The clay we brought back now is in my studio. As a throwing clay, it is very, very short. Virtually no plasticity on its own. I've wedged in some EPK to try to give it more stretch and a simple little bowl (fourth photo down) seemed to indicate that something like that might make the clay useful. I'll fire a couple of little buttons of it in my next bisque firing. If they survive, I'll put them in the next glaze firing, protecting the shelves by putting the clay button inside a scrap bowl, and see what happens. Most likely, it will melt. But maybe not. We'll see.
Meantime, I'm continuing to make inventory. Right now, brown stoneware plates are all over the studio. I threw 18 today. And more bottle vases are drying. Should be firing next week.
The photos: Dana Hornig at the oars, with the island behind him; looking over the clay bed toward the mainland; a closer shot of the bed; small clay bowl; plates drying.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Randy Johnston in Boston

Randy Johnston's woodfired pots at the Pucker Gallery in Boston are satisfyingly rugged and substantial. And, as always, it's good to see them there, where they can be hefted and handled and the broken and crawled woodfired Shino glaze and the rough clay body can be felt under the hand.
I sure do like Johnston's pots. There's very little precious about them. They're all about strength and weight and the happenstance of slip, glaze and wood flame.
The Wisconsin potter's show, "On the Edge of Chaos," is in the gallery on Newbury St. through Jan. 30. (As is Marguerite Robichaux's exhibition of landscape paintings.) It's well worth seeing, even if many of the show's original pots have been sold and replaced by other wonderful pots from the Pucker inventory. (And it's worth remembering that when a new show goes up in the downstairs gallery, the pots that didn't sell go into inventory upstairs. The gallery employees are happy to take you up to look at and handle them.)
We visited Boston Sunday, in part to see "Hugo" in 3D (go see it; a great film), but also to see the Johnston show. We met our friend Janet there and went over the pots together, occasionally in minute detail, particularly the lovely nuka-glazed pots.
Go see the show. Or check out the wonderfully photographed catalog in pdf form at And for more pots by Johnston and his wife Jan McKeachie Johnston, go to
The photos: Pretty self-explanatory. I wish I'd brought my camera, but had to make do with the iPhone version. Still, they get the idea across.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Good pots from the New Year's Eve kiln

I fired New Year's Eve, shutting down the kiln a couple of hours before we had to go out to a party. I overfired a bit, with cone 11 flat at top because I'd placed the cones far enough back to make them invisible to me. Clever on my part. So I went by the bottom cones, where the temps turned out to be about a half-cone cooler. No big deal, really. Minimal running of the ash glazes, which don't much like cone 11.
Lots of teabowls, shallow pasta bowls and a couple dozen mugs. Good to start the year with a decent firing.
Dee was off work, of course, and her sister Marcy was visiting from Albuquerque, so they helped with the unloading and critique.
The photos: Squared bottle, glazed in Bright Shino with ash glaze pours; personal pasta bowls with iron sponged slip and Shino glaze; a variety of thumbhole teabowls; two small bowls glazed in Shino, with copper red and blue ash pours.