Wednesday, August 10, 2016

If Poets Were Potters entry #3

by Redware Kipling

If your hands can hold steady while ten pounds of clay
Is spinning and bucking and having its way
If your first concern isn’t “What does it pay?”
And you can work twenty-four hours a day

If you are part painter, part sculptor, part test
Pilot, chemist, plumber, electrical whiz
If you can hope and can dream with the best
But keep that all real to manage a biz

If you can talk to crowds and sell your wares
Treating kings and common alike in the end
If you can serve people who share common cares
Trade glaze recipes or stoke fires with a friend

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With a mug – thrown and completely done
Once from the Earth, but changed as you spin it
Then you can be a potter, my son

Or daughter


If Poets Were Potters entry #2

by Edgar Plastic Kaolin

Once upon a midnight dreary
Eyes rimmed red, bloodshot, and bleary
Again my kiln is in no hurry
Waiting on the cones once more
So far I’ve barely bent cone 4
Only this and nothing more

Nodding off just kills my neck it
Dawns on me I ought to check it
Pull the peep hole from the back it
Shows a slightly bent cone four
Still a slightly bent cone four
Only this and nothing more

Maybe I’ll adjust the damper
This kiln's causing me to hanker
For a kiln I need not pamper
Computer-controlled so to ensure
I’d never again be stuck at four
Just cone four and nothing more

I’ll admit, I’m mildly pissed off
A month’s production will be kissed off
If this rocket never lifts off
But stays right here, stuck at cone four
Only four, and nothing more
It’s no wonder I stay poor

If Poets Were Potters entry #1

Pottery Fever
apologies to John Masefield

I must go down to the shop again, to the pottery, to the clay
And all I ask is a quiet wheel, good music throughout the day,
Warm water for my hands, and well-wedged clay, wooden tools honed sharp and right,
And bat pins drawing my throwing discs down so my first pull doesn't take flight.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tall Tales We Tell Ourselves

“Every lie you ever tell will be found out”, he said. “Every last one of them. You may be in control of your life, but not of your biography. And that’s true whether you write it yourself or not. In fact, your lies will leak out of your words faster if you write them yourself. Another might grant you the grace of continuing one of your deceptions. Maybe even most of them. But don’t fool yourself. They’ll be figured out.

So here’s an idea. Lie for others, not yourself. Advance their goodness even when you’re sure it’s not there. Be more mindful of your shared humanity than your rectitude. It’s not naïveté. It’s grace.”

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Home Base

There's a big boulder of granite -- nobody knows how big because nobody ever tried to dig it up -- but only the very tip of it rises just above the sod at the north end of the yard (in the shade of a long-spent, untended pear tree). That tip of a boulder acted as home base for thousands of hide'n'seek, kickball and baseball (played with a tennis ball) games (A home run was over the pines that lined the south end of the yard).

I used to cut that acre into walking paths and then, finally, after creating mazes, mow over the whole thing -- always after the grass was too tall to cut well. We mowed the yard with a series of cheap Sears mowers with bald tires and Briggs&Stratton engines that usually gave up the ghost by mid-Summer. Then we'd take turns mowing with a push mower.

Between the nine-apple-tree orchard and the pie shape of pines and at the edge of the property was our burn pile. Just about every other day one of us six kids would walk the burnable trash out there and set in on fire. On cold days we'd stand by watching styrofoam meat platters melt over cereal boxes. We could watch the image of the Wheaties athlete turning into a charcoal negative of itself. As black smoke sent rivulets upward into the sky, we'd warm our hands and enjoy the fire.

On hot Summer days like this one, we'd walk away from the fire -- leaving the only evidence of burning in the way the rising heat rippled and pushed its distortions through the air above the pile. Once or twice in my lifetime, we'd catch the adjoining field on fire. One of those times somebody called the fire department.

Across the yard and above the sand pile -- a sand pile we used for fun and Tonka Truck business, but dad put there to add sand to the mortar to build his rock wall -- was a tire swing. One of my brothers threw a weighted rope up into a horizontal branch of that huge walnut tree and then secured it around one side of an old bald, used tire. We'd swing high and we'd swing wide and just every now and then we'd swing around and kick off the trunk of that walnut tree.

And the walnut tree had a HUGE bee hive in its hollow. HUGE. I know it was. We used to poke sticks into it and then run -- sometimes making it all the way across the yard -- to safety. Sometimes we didn't make it. Bees are fast. They take offense at being poked.

There were two cherry trees in that front yard. They produced sour cherries (not that they tasted sour -- it's the kind of cherry they were). I ate as many as the birds would leave behind.

On the other side of the house was a catalpa tree. It was right out by Spring Mill Rd (Do you realize how close the spelling of "Spring Mill is to "Millring"? :) ). The catalpa tree was a big one and its shadow was entirely covered in square yards of wild day lilies. Adventurous and budding hoodlum impersonators, we'd smoke the hollowed, spent stalks of the day lilies. No, it didn't taste good. Yes it burned. Yes it was stupid. Was it the stupidest thing we did back then? Don't ask.

But the real glory of the catalpa tree was a long-ago sawed off branch that left four or five feet of horizontal, western saddle-shaped protrusion from the trunk, just about 8 feet from the ground. A fella could spend hours sitting in that saddle reading a book. Or so I imagine.

The sugar maple that grew closer to the house turned an impossibly brilliant orange in the Autumn. It was an orange of such florescence on a rainy day that I bet it could be seen through cloud cover from a satellite miles above earth. I'm guessing that the moon navigated the night skies by that tree.

And in the Summer, if you had the bedroom in the corner at the top of the stairs, you could enjoy itching all night as tiny bugs that populated that maple would completely cover the window screen. And the window screen kept those tiny bugs out of that bedroom to much the same degree as, say, chain link fence might hold back a fast-flowing river.

When I was twelve Mom brought home from Lumber Mart the very thing that changed the entire gravitational center of that yard. She bought me a basketball goalpost. From then on that driveway and that goalpost were the only thing that mattered in that yard. Maybe in my universe.

I had an AC/DC radio and I could listen to WNAP for hours. And hours. And hours. I shot baskets. I envisioned a car full of Indiana Pacers driving by, screeching tires, backing up, pulling into the drive, and challenging me to 2 on 2 games (I really only excelled at hoops when you reduced the number of players ). That never happened. I know, right?

That's the first hoop I ever dunked anything (a tennis ball) on.

The hoop was flawed. It had never been properly welded at the support, so if you missed and hit the front rim, the ball was likely to spring nearly as far in return as the distance from which it was shot. It was like the ball hitting the end of a springy diving board.

Up driveway from the hoop....and back about 7 years in time.... was the garage -- attached to the house by a breezeway. The garage was never finished on the inside. It housed the freezer. And junk. Lots of junk. The rafters had a few hundred (maybe?) bottomless galvanized garbage cans that were meant to be buried in the ground and used as what we in this day would call a compost cellar. It was supposed to rot away all the garbage. It was one of Dad's marketing schemes. Dad, as far as I know, never sold one. We didn't use one either (note my comment about the burn pile )

On the last days of the school year, I would come home through the breezeway door that faced Springmill Rd -- up the brick steps where Jimmy tripped on a wire used to deliver bundles of Indianapolis Star for us paper carriers. He bit all the way through his lower lip (I think he still has the scar more than fifty years on).

And as I entered the house from that direction, I'd be greeted by the late spring, early summer smells of mom having opened up the house, ironing on the Ironrite, and doing the first preparations for dinner (which we had with almost unwavering consistency at 6:30 every night. And mom worked full time. Let that sink in for a minute.)

And we'd sit together -- no TV, no radio -- just conversations, teasing, arguments, silence, and simple food. But not until we said in unison:

Oh Heavenly Father, who doth feed our bodies with daily food, feed Thou our spirits with Thy heavenly grace that we might truly serve Thee,

Through Christ our Lord,


Friday, July 22, 2016

Swing Low

I've seen him around town for a few years now. He can be seen most mornings walking the streets around the edge of town and out into the countryside. He's beating the tall grass and bushes by the roadsides, looking for aluminum and scraps of metal to recycle. 

The reason I see him quite often is because the scrap metal yard where he cashes in his finds happens to be 1/8 mile from my shop.

But what actually made me start noticing him is his partner. Ever by his side walks a small red Pomeranian tethered to his belt with about six feet of string. 

The dog looks like a miniature chow-chow and I suspect that even without the string, he wouldn't wander too far off from his pal. I'm guessing the string is for the man's peace of mind -- working as he does along busy roads.

One hot summer morning I stopped my van alongside him to ask if he wanted some water for his little dog. He mumbled a ‘thanks but no thanks’ as he reached into the pack behind him to show me that he carries water for the dog.

Well, this morning as I was riding my bike to work I passed him heading out to the scrap metal yard. This time he was riding a bike. I'd never seen him with a bike. And behind the bike he was towing a two-wheeled cart filled with his cache to cash.

And in the front of that cart the fellow had built up a little bench upon which sat the Pomeranian -- wind in his ever smiling face, riding his chariot like he owned the road.

I smiled too. Most of the rest of the way to work.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Another Review

Fast on the heels of the last review -- I logged onto my Etsy site tonight to the following review:

"I have been collecting functional pottery for thirty years and I have never been as enamored with any piece as much as I am with this one. It is stunning. 

Everything about it is exquisite and perfect; the shape, the fit of the lid, the rich autumn colors of the glaze, the beautifully turned acorns and lifelike leaf impressions. Just gorgeous! I can't believe you "threw" the acorns on the wheel! 

Thanks too for the surprise treats. My mother is an "acorn nut," too, so I plan to give her the pin. I designed a tile entry way for her home that is leaves and acorns because she loves them so much. I am thrilled to be able to pass along a little of your creativity. 

I will be keeping an eye on your site. I'm already loving other items :) Thanks for creating and producing such fine work. What a gem this is!!!"

Monday, July 11, 2016

Glowing Review

I get the nicest reviews on my Etsy page.  I thought I ought to share this one, written by a faithful patron who has supported me for years now:

"There are no words to properly describe how utterly beautiful this piece is. The colors, the swirls, the shape...everything gives off a feeling of utter tranquility and perfection. It's like walking through a meadow of irises as dawn breaks. Incredible work of art! As always, John, you're the master."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Wishin' and Hopin'

Wishin' and Hopin'

(no, that's not "Wishin' and Hoppin'", though I'll bet you read it that way first, huh? :) )

You're on "Let's Make a Deal!" and you're facing the three numbered doors. Monty Hall tells you that behind one of the doors is a million dollars (you just heard "meelyun dollllllars" in Dr Evil's voice, didn't you?)

...back to the story...

Monty tells you there's a million dollars behind one of the doors and you get to pick one of the doors, but behind the other two doors are mules. Much as you love mules, you pick door #1 in hopes of winning a million dollars.
But Monty's dealing doesn't end there.

Rather than first revealing what's behind door #1, Monty instead turns to Carol Merrill and asks her to kindly reveal what's behind door #3.

A mule.

Carol Merrill walks the mule off stage to much audience laughter. Mules are inherently funny.

But the deal making isn't done. Monty next turns back to you and says, "Tell you what I'm gonna do. I'll trade doors with you. If you want to, you can give door #1 back to me, and I'll give you what's behind door #2.

If you stick with door #1, you are wishing to win a million dollars.

If you take Monty up on the deal and trade for door #2, you are hoping to win a million dollars.

And that's the difference between wishing and hoping. And don't let Dusty Springfield tell you otherwise.

Real Dreams

He was showing me something on his computer monitor, so I happened to be standing over his shoulder and to his left when he opened his top desk drawer. In it I could see a whole stack of lottery tickets. Hundreds of them. Maybe. Okay, maybe dozens. I don’t know. I didn’t count them. But there were lots of them.

“What’s with the lottery tickets?” I asked.

“I like to buy them.” He answered.

“So, are those tickets winning tickets or losing tickets or what?” I prompted.

“I have no idea.” He said. “I just buy them and keep them in the drawer.”

“You mean you’ve never checked them out to see if they’re winners?” I continued.

“There’s really no point.” was his response.

“No point? What if one of them is a winner?”

“They’re not.”

“Well, if you’ve never checked them out, then how do you know there’s not a winner in there?”

“Odds.” He said. “The odds of winning are astronomical. The odds of winning are about the same as being hit by lightning. I’ve not yet been hit by lightning, nor a train (which occurs with just about the same frequency), nor have I contracted a rare blood disorder, nor have I defied the odds in any other way. Probability tells me that there is no winner in that drawer.”

“So, then, why buy the tickets?”

“They allow me to dream.” Was his reply. “I like to dream about the things I would do if money were no object.”

“Can’t you dream without buying a lottery ticket?”

“That would be utterly futile. I’m a realist. Do you think I can believe that money like that would just appear out of thin air?”

“So, you buy lottery tickets so you can dream?”


“And you don’t check them out because you’re a realist?”


STARwhite Carolina Clay

I've had this North Carolina stoneware in the shop since last Autumn. I bought it to use with my sunburst glaze, but it has the annoying property -- fired cone 10 gas -- of creating only one or two blisters per pot....each right in the very center of the most important visual space of the entire piece.
So I put the clay aside.

Meanwhile, this Spring I resurrected my working with porcelain and came up with a look I like. 

Then one day I happened to be thinking porcelain but looking at my languishing stack of STARwhite clay.
Hmmmm, says I.


If my dog, Breeze, drank black coffee
I’d make sure my mugs fit his paws
His dewclaw could wrap ‘round the thumb rest
The rim wide enough for his jaws

We’d take our coffee out on the back porch
The red birds would sing us awake
As we sat hip to hip on the swinging bench
Everything rosy, everything jake

I might turn to him and ask “What do you think?”
He won’t look. He might flick an ear.
And though he has yet to utter a word
I know he likes having me there

That’s just how things are with me and Breeze
I’m a man of too many words
And Breeze, the quiet but thoughtful type
Just sitting, enjoying the birds

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Profiles In Love

I read somewhere that dogs recognize profiles. The idea behind the study was that if you ever wondered why dogs respond in predictable ways to other dogs with pricked ears or a certain sweep of the tail, slope of a back, or bulk, it’s because they recognize those general dog silhouettes. That’s how they seem to recognize their own breed. And that’s how they recognize each other – though they’re as likely to take such recognition cues from smell as they are from sight.
My dogs have always seemed to prove the rule. My Malamutes have always seemed to recognize the outlines of dogs that appear similar to the dogs they already know. Breeze seems inclined to think, for instance, upon meeting Deacon (the Lab) that Deacon is okay because he appears much as his friend, Jewel – a very similar looking leggy Lab.

And that’s also why my Malamutes have always seemed particularly alert when they come across other Northern breed dogs – Huskies, Samoyeds, and other Malamutes. When Breeze sees pricked up ears and a tail curled over the back, he immediately seems to suspect “family”. 

And so it was the other day as Dar was walking Breeze in a neighborhood they don’t usually walk, Dar’s attention was caught by some movement off to her left. In the back yard of a nearby house was a Malamute. And not just any Malamute either, but a Malamute with a profile so similar to our dear, departed Ariel’s profile that Dar's breath caught and she stood there frozen. Her heart raced for the split second it took before her brain could remind her heart that there was no hope. It couldn’t (of course) be her beloved Ariel.

And then she looked down beside her. There stood Breeze. Frozen in his tracks. Full recognition in his eyes. And hope. His heart wasn’t getting the message of reason. Such a hopeful optimist, bless him.

They walked on. 

Breeze looked back.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Things Aren't Always What They Seem

See that pie plate over there on the wheel? Yeah, I know. It doesn't look much like a pie plate.

I was throwing jars early this morning with the clay I'd brought back to life with water and my pug mill. It was really lifeless and sloppy while working on the jars. So I figured I'd make pie plates -- where soft and sloppy would actually be to my advantage.

Funny thing, though. This third or fourth time through the pug mill and the magic happened. As I was centering the first pie plate it dawned on me that the clay had come to life. So I made a taller pie plate with a spout and, you know, a place for a handle in back. So you can pour your pie. Or beer.



What would happen if potters
Started making guitar player faces?
What if we broke into grimaces
Even though we’re just turning vases?

What if, while wedging four-pounders
We sneered for all that we’re worth
Or mimicked an expression of abject pain
Like a woman enduring child birth?

Oh! Better yet! What if we envisioned
Adoring fans holding out candles
And adopted naughty, lascivious grins
While languidly pulling our handles?

Would our pots reflect our hip attitude
If we looked like we couldn’t care less?
It seems to work for guitar players
Could this be the key to success?