Old Houses can have a different kind of attractiveness to them.
Oh, I understand that we don't all agree on that. One fella's "lived in" is another fella's "run down".
Same deal with clothes, I suppose. Some like the neat, intense
color-saturation and perfect wrinkle-free texture of polyester and rip
stop nylon. Others like muted flannel and denim that's not uniformly
faded as if by machine, but rather, worn by time and use to the shape of
Some like electric fired pottery with
glaze applied like paint and decoration characterized by complete
intentionality. And others like flame-fired pots with glazes a
marriage of vaguely controlled accidents and hope.
One person's driveway that needs
tending -- new gravel and better edges -- is another person's two-track
invitation to a more inviting, more mysterious place that just MUST be
full of stories and history.
Old houses have old plantings. Yews can still make neat lines, but one can no longer perfect their geometry.
Ivy weaves itself into a lawn so gradually that it's impossible to remember when it was restrained into shady beds.
Pines that started out as little more
than seedlings and dreams of eventual natural privacy fences, display --
once mature -- their own idea of what should and shouldn't be seen
beyond their border.
Some might see an old house that sits in
the middle of an industrial park and notice the scrap metal yard to the
West, the orthopedic giant to the North, or the heating and cooling shop
to the South...
....while some would rather feed their
pastoral imaginings by enjoying the hay field to the East as the
neighbor's John Deere pocketa-pocketa-pocketas its mowed hay into
windrows on a sultry Summer morning.
Check out the changes to my show schedule. I've added a few and cancelled a few.
The changes: Seasons, materials, firing schedule, glaze thickness. Few things stay just the same in a pottery studio. And the changes don't ever seem to happen one thing at a time. Neither do they happen when it's convenient.
Now that Custer Feldspar is no longer what it had been for so many years, and the substitutions appear to be fleeting, trying to get the same results from different materials is a challenge. But I'm getting close. I'm finally getting my green glaze close to what it had been. In fact, the new appearance is really nice in its own way.
This kiln load was hard-fought, though. I've made some adjustments to the kiln to alleviate a long-annoying hot-spot. As I failed to take that into consideration, the effect of cone 10 going down didn't really mean the same thing as it did with that annoying hot-spot warming the blind side of my kiln (I have peep holes in one side only).
Because I failed to consider that cooler cone 10, when I opened the kiln on Monday, all the green was gunmetal gray. I pulled out the old cones, set a couple of new sets on the still hot floor of the kiln (that way if they were going to blow, they'd do so right away and I could clean them out and start over). Once I was sure the cones were going to survive, I shut the door and simply refired the whole darn load.
It came out perfect. Best green glaze in over a year.
I hope I learned enough from that firing to skip that extra step double firing.
It's not ALL work around here. This past weekend, Dar and Breeze teamed up to finish their PAX (preferred agility excellent) title at an agility event in Merrillville, IN. The PAX is earned by qualifying in both events -- standard agility and jumpers with weaves -- at the same event ... 20 times! Our pottery schedule doesn't permit Dar and Breeze to get out as often as they'd like (or as often as most agility teams get to in order to score THIS many double-Qs). That means that Breeze's success rate is pretty darn good. I'm mighty proud of them. They've sure put in the hours of training.
I didn't have enough room AND it was
too windy to display my bowls standing up in stands (as is my habit)
last weekend in Fort Worth. Because of that, I found myself displaying
the bowls flat (imagine that? Displaying them just as they might be
used in the home?)....and I was putting them one inside the other.
I liked the way it looked -- especially when the bowls didn't match.
So, on the long drive home I kept envisioning making sizes of bowls that
would fit one inside the other....that would sort of "mix'n'match"
I just got back from the Fort Worth
"Main Street Art Festival" where I was greeted on Saturday by a nice
couple who said, "We bought several pieces from you the last time you
were here and we've been looking for you each year since."
It's flattering and rewarding to be remembered, and to have my pots grace the homes and lives of so many people.
This year after the festival the couple sent along some images of my pottery in their house.
The first is a close-up. The second shows that they live with cats. That's okay too. I can always make more pottery !
Why do people use pitchers in this day and age (I was asked)?
1. Because good potters keep making them.
2. It *might* be the most iconic item a potter makes. I know dozens of
guys who play instrumental music of their own composition....
You know how condiments come in those little plastic packets? ....you
try every which way to get them open, frustrated just shy of resorting
to getting some scissors....until you finally notice the serrated top
that allows you to tear the packet open?
Musical 'covers' and
pitchers are like those serrated tops. They offer an opening into better
and more quickly understanding what we're hearing or looking at (or
using). They help make the ambiguous less so. When a musician
plays a piece of music with which I'm familiar (a cover), I am given an
opening into better understanding where he's going with his own
Look at how a potter makes a pitcher and you'll
more likely know who she is, where she came from, what's important (and
not) to her, what she's wanting to say with the rest of her pots...
Pitchers are like google translator.
3. Pottery pitchers elevate the common use of pitchers. Do tupperware
or other plastic pitchers serve to function better? Sometimes. Maybe
even 'usually'. But if life is going to be reduced to MERE
function....as Anthony Newly sang, "Stop the world, I want to get off."
4. Pitchers are a potter's heritage. It's where we came from. We're
post modern folks trying to come to grips with a culture that accepts
'new' as superior. We intuit that that's not right, while simultaneously
acknowledging that nostalgia may not be an any better reality.
But embracing our heritage ain't no ways nostalgia. It's dues. And it's
pleasure. It's humility of the best kind -- grasping the reality of our
place in a long continuum, the timeline of which we can hope we aren't
even to the mid-point on.
Here is my first offering of three images as part of the internet
project for which the estimable John Tilton nominated me. I will start
with the simplest of ideas:
I was laughing right out loud. And I
was doing so before the internet ever even invented LOL-ing. I was
paging through the immensely huge "The Potter's Dictionary of Materials
and Techniques" by Frank Hamer. I came upon a listing for "Clobbering".
It's a term for over-embellishing pottery in a (vain) attempt to add value to it.
I love it.
Well, here are my TOTALLY UN-clobbered "sunburst" pots. They are (I
hope) nothing but simplicity, shape, glow, and function. Inspired in
form by my love for the paintings of Bruegel the Elder -- paintings of
taverns, dances, weddings, and gatherings -- all with contemporary
pottery of the day candidly captured throughout the paintings. And it
was all pottery that was so compelling in form, I wanted to reach into
the paintings and pull them out and hold them.
These pots have no
embellishment beyond the glow of an iron red glaze and a rutile stain.
It was my goal to show the beauty of an ungilded lily.
This is day #2 of the pottery image project into which John Tilton
nominated me -- the posting of 3 images of (my) pottery for each of the
next five days.
Yesterday I chose to post the most unadorned
(austere?), least decorated pots that I make. I love working that way.
While others may be off exploring the outer edges of the universe of
space and color -- the 64 box of Crayolas -- I find that I can still be
utterly fascinated by -- and never come to the end of what I can do with just the blue crayon, the red crayon, and the yellow crayon.
Still, I figured out early on that the decorating techniques I most
enjoyed utilizing were those that added texture and pattern to the
surface of the raw clay. Carving, slip-trailing, impressing. I like the
immediacy, the pleasure, and the POWER of working with a surface I can
Conversely, I never much enjoyed glazing.
I have yet to meet the potter who didn't enjoy the stage of naked
pottery as much or more than the actual finished piece. And that's
certainly true in my case. Since I do work in a manner wherein I
decorate the naked surface of the pot, I have the added pleasure around
my studio of enjoying a landscape of my own making -- pots with texture
Today I'll post three images of naked pots in process -- a
taste of what it's like to step into my shop. Tomorrow I'll post images
of how I solved the conundrum created by my love for texturing but my
dislike for glazing.
This is day #3 of the pottery image project into which John Tilton
nominated me -- the posting of 3 images of (my) pottery for each of the
next five days.
Yesterday I posted naked pots and mentioned that I
like decorating with texture -- carving, slip, stamping, etc. That
meant that some time ago I had to find or develop glazes that
accentuated that texture.
Back then I was once set up next to a fellow who did bronze sculpture. I found myself wishing I could achieve something
of that verdigris appearance in a glaze. That would solve the problem
of how to make textures stand out AND maintain the appearance of
"natural" surfaces I'm always striving toward.
I did lots of testing of barium glazes in my quest, thinking that they
were the ones that seemed closest to what I was after. Truth is, though,
I really didn't want to think of the problems inherent in producing
functional pottery with barium glazes. Besides, in all of my testing,
the barium glazes yielded a yellow over the textures. That wasn't what I
Then I stumbled upon a glaze that lots of potters
were using as a turquoise. It broke to a nice white over texture, didn't
contain barium, and added a pleasing dimpled texture to un-carved
surfaces. With a bit of tweaking of the chemistry to make the surface a
little more "buttery" and the color more in line with what I had in
mind, I came up with this.
This is day #4 of the pottery image project into which John Tilton
nominated me -- the posting of 3 images of (my) pottery for each of the
next five days. The first three days I posted images of current
As a bit of a departure, and by way of something of a
retrospective, I'm going to post three postcards I made a few years ago
when I found myself exploring ways to evolve the business side of the
pottery to adapt to changing times, changing economics, changing
capabilities (2000-3000 pots a year is getting harder as I age).
I came up with the idea that I could offer up my services as a workshop
presenter -- after all, 35 years of doing this might have taught me a
few things that others might be interested in learning, right? And
while a number of my friends were opening their shops to students, my
shop -- fantastic as it is with all the great tools and all -- is just
too small to accommodate any more than just me within its walls.
So, I figured if I was going to present workshops, my strong hand was
surface decoration -- especially that surface decoration done with slip.
I'd learned most of what I do by trial and error, which led me to some
unexpected places (and made for at least one very humorous discovery
when I learned that I had not, in fact, invented "feathering" smile emoticon )
Anyway, I advertised myself using the following postcard images. And
though I only had one taker for my offer of workshops (and scheduling
made even that one not workable) -- I did end up with some images that I
like and that somewhat sum up the previous 20 years of my pottery.
(yes, 1 or 2 of the images are like what I've already shared).
you find yourself curious about my process with any of the following
imaged pots, let me know. I've still got the workshop notes.
Day 5 of the pottery image sharing. It's been a great project and
I'm thankful to John Tilton for getting me to invest the time in doing
it. I've been introduced to some great pottery from around the world.
For my final day I'm torn between posting three of my favorite images
or posting some things by which many of the folks who buy my pottery
identify me. As the latter is something that presumably makes me
different, I'll go with those.
I noticed something developing in my
work around the late '90s. It wasn't a direction I followed by virtue
of some big plan. I've never had an aerial view of my life like that.
I'm a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other kind of guy. And when I get to
where I'm going, sometimes I stop, look around, and say "Oh. So THAT'S
how I got here. hmmm."
"how I got here" is that it seems, perhaps due to the amount of time I
spend running my dog on woodland trails each day, or the fact that the
year I moved to my little acre in the industrial park I started planting
trees to surround myself with natural beauty and shade -- whatever the
reason -- I have always tended toward glazes and forms that seemed
natural. I like glazes that appear to mimic nature. I try for shapes
that are timeless.
I am not funky.
So, here are some of the more literal roads down which I've taken my work.
I heard it
from the orchardman. He said it’s a rule of thumb. Green thumb in his case. I
know. I saw his orchard.
He said, “Stand here on this mound.”
So I stood on the rise of the dirt road I’d just been traveling down before this
sight caught my eye.
“Now gaze out over the trees.” He continued. “See those rows? Straight as,
well, straight as the rows of trees in an orchard ought to be.”
“Well, yeah, I see ‘em. It’s one of the things that caught my eye in the first
place. The tidy rows. But what really caught my eye…the reason I pulled out my
camera in the first place was because of the contrast. It’s a stunningly
“The contrast? You mean the straight rows beneath crooked branches?
“I’m kinda tickled you noticed that. I’d like to believe maybe I’ve learned a
little about how to live a happy and contented life by the way I’ve learned to
tend this orchard.”
“How do you mean?” I asked him.
“Well, see, a well-maintained orchard is planted in straight rows. That’s done
so’s it’s easier to measure a fella’s progress as he makes his way through the
orchard several times a year, first tending to the pruning, again to spray, to
more easily keep the grass mowed between the rows all Summer, and finally, when
it’s picking time.
But just as a good orchard has straight rows of trees, it’s only the crooked
branches that bear the fruit. The straight ones – the “suckers” --are what are
pruned away so’s they don’t compete for the tree’s energy.
Straight rows, crooked branches.
And that pattern continues on after the picking. Once the fruit is picked, it’s
a hurry-up to get it to market. To do so, we don’t waste any time. We take the
most direct route – the straight roads. The rails. Shortest distance between
two points, y’know?
But the tending and the mowing and especially the picking will have been hard
and demanding work. And nothing makes me a whole lot happier after I’m done
delivering the fruit than taking the long way home. The river road that
meanders a good ten miles out of my way. Maybe it’s still warm. Maybe the
windows in the truck are rolled down. Maybe I don’t turn on the radio, but just
listen to the sounds passing by and the crunch of my tires on gravel. There’s a
whole lot of joy and contentment in such a drive down a winding road. It’s the
rows and branches again. Straight to market to keep life on track. And the
crooked road home to enjoy the fruits of the labor.
Same deal with truth and lies, I say. No, really. There’s a good time for both
of ‘em in a happy and contented life. I figure I just have to figure out which
is the best time for either. I have to figure out which times to be straight
and which times to be crooked. It’s just rows and branches again.
And, heck, it’s not that hard. I figure it falls pretty much along the lines of
straight dealings and crooked tales. Deal the truth at exactly the times you
expect it to be reciprocated – cutting contracts, selling stuff, commitments.
But, to be honest, a well-told lie makes for the very best tales. Sometimes it
takes a good lie to tell the truth. Sometimes a fiction is the only way to make
us drop our guard – our defenses -- and laugh at ourselves. And God knows, we
need to laugh at ourselves. It’s how we ripen the humility that maybe makes us
the kind of folks others can take joy in. Maybe, anyway. At least that’s how I
Straight rows and crooked branches. That’s pretty much life in an orchard.”
I said my goodbye to the orchardman, took one last look over the orchard – the
straight rows and crooked branches – hopped back in my truck and pulled away. I
watched the orchardman disappear in my rearview mirror. I took the winding road
the rest of the way home. I had some things to think about.
He took in as much helium as his lungs could hold. He inhaled and he
inhaled and he drew the helium deep into his lungs. And those lungs
could hold a powerful lot of helium.
And sure enough...up he rose.
With his lungs full of helium he could float on air and he could fly around a room.
people would look up at him and cheer, "Look at the flying man!" And
they'd smile. They'd hire the flying man for parties and he'd fly around
their houses. And the people would clap as he floated by.
surprised looks from folks as he floated by airplanes. But they’d see
him smile and they’d smile back and through their little airplane
windows they’d wave at the flying man.
"But he talks funny." That's what he started to hear.
he didn’t talk. He didn’t care for the criticism. Anyway, talking was a
waste of good helium. He just flew. That’s what he liked to do. And
that’s what people liked about him.
But eventually the helium
leaked out. Helium does that. Helium is hard to hold and it can’t be
contained permanently. One day he found that he could only float limply
just above the ground. Then, finally, he came to rest on a park bench.
No longer the flying man.
And there he sat on the park bench, dejected. His flying days were over.
young girl who happened to be playing on a nearby swing set, hopped off
her swing and walked over to the no-longer-flying man. “What’s the
matter? Why do you look so sad?” she asked.
“Because I used to fly and now I can’t” he answered.
the sound of the no-longer-flying man’s voice, the young girl got a big
smile on her face. “Has anyone ever told you what a beautiful voice you
Eleven years ago, on the coldest night of the year, a tiny grey kitten
slipped under a white picket fence, sneaked up to the house, and stole
into the hearts and lives of the two people living there.
Tonight, on the coldest night of this year, a considerably larger grey cat slipped beneath a different fence.
“Well, hello little fellow.”
“Come on in. I’ve been expecting you."
“I knew you were coming. I fixed you some fresh fish. It’s on that plate there. I caught it myself. It’s what I do, you know?”
some really fine work you did back there. No cat has ever made two
people laugh, or love, or feel as you did for John and Dar back there.”
“Will John and Dar be okay?”
no they won’t. At least, not for a good long while. But you did what
you were supposed to do. And you did it exceptionally well. You were
just exactly what they needed, just exactly when they needed it.”
He closed the big door, he turned out the lights Even the one peeking through the floor. From this tiny world he declared (In dark of night) “Nothing surprises me anymore” “I do not like that”, “See, that there’s not right” “And that’s something I don’t care for” “I can’t and I won’t”, “That’s not worth the fight” “Nothing surprises me anymore” Then she came along and flung the door wide To toil and sweat to win dreams To one foot in front of the first one tried The surprise days of working redeems