Saturday, June 30, 2012

Three pots in October show, one pot in use

I got the good news about a week ago that three of my faceted teabowls were juried into "Concepts In Clay," the October show of the Cape Cod Potters at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis. Potter Ellen Shankin of Floyd, Va., was the juror. I don't know the exact numbers of pots and potters, but the museum's big room will hold the work of more than 30 Cape potters and sculptors. More about the show when it gets a bit closer.
I love being in a gallery or museum show so that people can see my pots. But display like that amounts to the theory of claywork and a pot in use in someone's home is its practice. I say this because when we got to the home of our friends Trudi and Brad Hennemuth in Lincolnville, Me., last week, there was one of my simple cylindrical vases in a window, loaded with lovely orange flowers. (Sorry, someone's going to have to tell me what kind they are ... ) I love to see pots being used.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A little black-and-white goodbye from Maine

We were Down East last week for Dee's brother's memorial in the little town of Lubec, Maine. It's a tiny fishing town far to the east on the Maine coast, hard up against some Canadian coastal islands. Jim Dorchester died last November, as longtime readers of this blog may remember. He lived near the clam flats just outside Lubec for most of the past 40 years, a man committed to a Thoreau-like existence on a small piece of land with a simple house, no indoor plumbing and only a modicum of electricity.
His 63rd birthday would have been last Friday, June 22, and 29 members of his family and even more local friends gathered to celebrate his life. Friday, the family hiked out on the Lighthouse Trail at Quoddy Head State Park, looking out toward Grand Manan Island, shared memories and then walked the length of the up-and-down cliffside trail, scattering his ashes along the way. Saturday evening, family and friends gathered at what is now his girlfriend Marilyn's home, played music, ate potluck food, drank beer and wine and shared more memories.
There were four generations of family in Lubec for the event, including the next one, still in utero. Our son Marcus came out from Seattle, joining most of his cousins on that side of the family. It was a good time and Jim was sent off well.
Some photos of our trip are below: Dee clasping a pot with some of her brother's ashes; Jim and Marilyn's house, with friends and family; Dee's cousin Sue Potter and Jim's girlfriend Marilyn Alexa; rock musician and cousin Jeff Potter, performing on the harmonica; rocky shore at West Quoddy Head.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Back at the clam beds

I promise these will be the only pictures on the blog this summer of hardshell clams and people digging for them. Not much changes in clamming - a sharp rake, a stony bottom, trying to read the signals coming through the rake handle as it scrapes across the bottom, knowing when it's likely there's a clam in the rake, and in the end a full half-peck of clams (locally called quahaugs). Then the paddle back to the truck and a cup of coffee afterward.
This was the first time the usual clamming crew headed out this year. At least, the first time to get clams for ourselves. We went a couple of weeks ago, but that was to get clams to send back to North Carolina with Mike and Tammy Race's daughter Shaina.
This time we all brought clams home. Mike and Tammy, Bourne neighbor Josh Albright and myself. You go clamming when the tide is low. Tide waits for no clammer, as anyone who lives near the ocean understands. So we were out there near Buzzards Bay a bit after 11, digging not long after that. And we returned about an hour later, with two half-peck baskets, one limit for Mike and Tammy, one for Josh. I was just hired help, since my shellfish permit is issued in Falmouth and is not good in Bourne.
It was cloudy and a bit blustery, but lovely out on the beach of the small island where we pulled up our boats. It's hard work, this business of yanking clams from the mud, but it's good for conversation or, if you choose a spot far from the others, silence.

Photos: The arrival at the clam beds, Tammy eager to go over the side and get to work; Mike digging; Josh checking his rake; Tammy sorting; the clams.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Malcolm in the mail ... well, in the UPS

Got a small box this afternoon from the UPS guy. It had a Fredericksburg, Va., return address, which made me think it was from Dan Finnegan. Opened up the box and found a fully bubble-wrapped pot with "Horace" handwritten on the tape holding the wrap together. Dan's called me that for years, after a story that is too long to go into here.
Anyway, I opened it and it is a very simple, un-Finneganlike little plate, fired in someone's wood kiln. I thought Dan had gotten all simple and earthy on me, then I noticed that the stamp was either an M or a W and certainly not Dan's. Mystery.
Then I rummaged through the box and found the note you see in the photograph of the plate. "Malcolm Wright!"
Years ago, when I'd only been making pots for a few years and Dan was my teacher at the Art League School in Alexandria, Va., I saw the short film "Bridge of Fire." It's the story of the friendship between Vermont potter Malcolm Wright and Karatsu, Japan, potter Takashi Nakazato. As a young potter, Malcolm worked in the studio of Takashi's father, Living National Treasure Taroemon Nakazato. The two young men knew each other then. Years later, they met again and decided to throw pots in each other's studio and glaze and fire the pots as they would be finished in that particular studio. It's a terrific film, well worth tracking down, and it was an influence on me for years, particularly after I went to Anderson Ranch in Colorado for two weeks with Nakazato.
I don't know for sure if Dan remembers that story, but I suspect he does. And hence the arrival of the little plate. Thanks, Dan.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cups and facets and biggish bowls

Yesterday's firing went more or less by the book, gaining heat steadily from 8:30 a.m. until about 4 p.m. No problems, no sudden shutdowns, no muffled explosions. Scarily routine. I have too long a memory for troubled firings, perhaps. I haven't had one for quite a while.
Lots of small bowls in this one. Faceted teabowls, cups or condiment bowls, depending on your nomenclature. Last firing was largely Nuka, but this firing had more of a variety of glazes. Carbon-trap Shino with Shino and ash glaze pours, glossy iron Kaki, straight ash celadon, Temmoku, a few scary copper reds.
I had tried a new way of faceting small bowls a couple of weeks ago, so there are lots of them in this firing. A more defined wire pattern to the faceting, due to my purchase at NCECA of a coiled wire from a Canadian pottery supply shop.
And I've had some luck with larger shallow bowls the past few weeks. Here's one.
Back to the wheel tomorrow.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fish cakes for breakfast, kiln firing ...

Dee's Mondays off from June to early October often start this way, with breakfast on the deck under the umbrella. This morning, while the kiln was warming up in the studio, it was scrambled eggs and sweet red peppers with ham for her and fish cakes (striped bass) instead of eggs for me. Black coffee in Ron Philbeck's flower mug for her and in Michael Kline's slipped and combed teabowl for me.
Also on the table, a very nice and vinegary jalapeno hot sauce recently brought back from California by our friends Bob Skilton and Jo Ann Muramoto. "Coyote's Howl" is made in Arizona by Southwest Specialty Food (, which looks like a really cool website). This is not a paid endorsement, but the sauce is really good and great with fish cakes.
I've now done one turn-up on the kiln and, if things go as planned, we should be at cone 9.5 around 3 p.m. I'm going to try to keep the temp down a bit on this one. Wish me luck.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Signs of the season on Cape Cod

This post is more or less an opportunity for me to get a photo of my cousin Wendy onto the blog, a picture taken by her mother or father probably around 1949. My younger brother Tom took a lot of time in the past few months and put together old family photos, dating back to around 1910. This is one of my favorites. It's Wendy and what are no doubt two of her father's catches that day, brought in from a beach on Martha's Vineyard.
The photo is a mark of late spring on Cape Cod and the Vineyard, when shoals of striped bass feed in shallow local waters on the far end of their annual migration from the Carolinas and south. Up here Roccus Saxatilis is called "striper." Down south it's often called "rockfish." Either way, a heavy fish, a good fighter and a good meal.
This time of year, we often take our food from the land and the water that surrounds it. We've eaten mussels, hardshell clams, bluefish, striper and squid in the past couple of weeks. Lettuce, peas, rhubarb, strawberries have all been harvested by this time. It's a good time of the year to live here; not too many tourists on the streets yet, but lots of good food.
Below Wendy and her two stripers, I've posted a 41-inch fish that came this morning from the waters of the Cape Cod Canal. Friends of ours have a friend who catches fish but doesn't eat them. So he unlocks our friends' garage door and puts whatever legal bass or blue he's caught into their refrigerator. This morning, I got the two bass from the early fishing. One went to our potter friend Kim Medeiros and her family and the other came here, to be scaled and filleted and eaten by us and other friends.
Dee's peonies are in bloom, another sign of June, and so that you don't think I've abandoned making pots, the lineup of shelves for this weekend's glazing and firing.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Running away from the shards ...

We went down to Truro and Provincetown tonight, to join old friends Brent and Kris McCullough. B and K were married at the same hour of the same day we were in 1970, but several hundred miles apart. We met them on Martha's Vineyard a couple of years later and have been good friends ever since. Kris is a dietitian and Brent is the best photographer of the natural world that I know.
We met at the motel for a bit of wine and then drove into Provincetown to stroll the cold and Janauary-like streets (damn, what crappy weather ... ) and had a good dinner at Napi's.
I love Provincetown in the off-season. Here are a few photos.
Tomorrow I begin glazing for a firing later in the week.

Piecing together the shards ...

OK, maybe one of my blog-readers can help with this. I had had multiple explosions in the bisque kiln when I opened it last night to check on the dryness of the pots. The greenware was reasonably dry when it went into the kiln and I had planned on leaving it there at 160 F for about 20 hours, to insure they were fully dry. That's my routine and it works 99 percent of the time. After the pots are fully dry, I turn up the kiln and they bisque to cone 07. I rarely lose any pots this way.
The first photo you see is the bottom shelf of my bisque kiln as I found it this morning. Those thousands of shards were once two 10-inch slab plates, made into slabs by pounding them out with my fist on the wheelhead. They were about a half-inch thick and, I thought, pretty thoroughly dry.
The other photo is from the top shelf of the bisque kiln, former baking dishes built from thrown bottomless walls and attached to similarly pounded and rib-flattened slab bottoms, about 3/8 of an inch thick. You can see that the baking dishes blew apart at the joint, which makes sense to me and points to the likelihood that they were not thoroughly dry when they went into the bisque kiln. The joint was thicker than the walls or the floor of the pot. Somewhere between ambient temperature and 160 degrees F they blew apart.
I can understand that. My mistake. I've made those mistakes before and it just reinforces the lesson of starting with completely dry greenware. What I don't understand is the other pots (and there were several more than I'm showing you) and their thorough disintegration at that low temperature. Were they still too wet? Does the pounding of the clay set up multiple stresses that result in these explosions? Was the phase of the moon to blame?
I'm kind of at a loss. Any ideas?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bottomless casseroles ...

I'm just about finished making work for the next glaze firing, which ought to come late next week. The final pots made over the past couple of days are bottomless casseroles. Well ... they're casseroles that are thrown without a bottom, allowed to dry a bit, shaped, then attached to slab bottoms. I've picked up one of Doug Casebeer's methods and begun hammering out slabs with my fist on the wheelhead. The pounding tires the shoulder, but in the end compresses the slab more thoroughly than the slabroller does.
I also had a visit this week from Vanessa and Gregory Gilkes, part-time potters who live in Harleyville, Pa., and were here on vacation. Woods Hole potter Annie Halpen sent them my way. Vanessa and Greg are thinking about moving the pottery studio out of the basement and into the light of day. Good idea.

I'll post the photos of the casseroles and then head out to start building a new front door for the studio. Dee and I have been talking with our builder friend Mike Race about adding a gallery to the front of the studio in the fall, so the door that I build won't have to last into the winter. Good thing.