Monday, May 31, 2010

It Happened On Facebook

Marion Crane is getting ready to shower.

Norman Bates likes this.

Norman Bates' Mother does not like this.

Alpha Doberman is wearing the cone of shame.

Dug likes this.

LOBO just recorded "Me and You and a Dog Named 'Boo'".

Nobody likes this.

Gilligan screwed around with the professor's coconut two-way radio and broke it.

The Professor does not like this.

Maryann does not like this.

Skipper does not like this.

Thurston J. Howell III does not like this.

Ginger does not like this.

Lovey is not sure what's going on.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Paths Chosen

My friend, Jim, is a guitar/mandolin builder who has carved himself a very respectable (and respected) niche in the local music scene – both with his instruments and his playing as a guitarist.

This past half year or so, Jim and I have been playing music with a quartet of friends. On the drive to our friend Joe’s (where we play) we often discuss our respective lives as craftsmen. We take great encouragement from this comparing of notes and sharing ideas.

One such conversation I found particularly interesting.

Jim was talking about his journey from his first guitars to the ones he’s making now. Very early on in his guitar-building career, he started really designing guitars as he wanted to see them. Rather than more or less copy the great guitar builders who went before (after all, that "paved" road would have seemed easier) Jim started designing his own guitars. For better or for worse.

Jim is the go-to guy in the area for instrument repair. As such, he rubs elbows with every important musician in the acoustic scene in this area. One such musician for whom Jim does lots of work is a guy who is an internationally known Old-timey player of fiddle and banjo. This fellow of great reputation is known for his abrupt manner. He calls ‘em as he sees ‘em. And he saw Jim’s early efforts as a guitar builder as Jim foolishly and needlessly spinning his wheels and getting nowhere.

This fellow suggested Jim should be copying the masters who have gone before (Martin/Gibson for you guitar players) if he wanted to build good guitars.

Jim wasn’t quick to dismiss this guy’s advice. This guy knows stringed instruments. But Jim wanted to follow his muse. He WANTED his guitars to be different. Still, Jim was quick to acknowledge that there really was no good sense in re-inventing the wheel. Surely (he supposed) a trial-and-error approach to his building wasn’t really going to net him the best results. Was it?

Jim chose to continue to follow his muse. Wise guy that Jim is, of course, he realized that his building wasn’t REALLY simple trial-and-error. He did at least have a leg up by virtue of his repair work. He daily saw how good guitars were constructed. He also saw how even those good guitars (the Martins and the Gibsons) had flaws – flaws he could hope to avoid in his own building.

As a potter I saw SO many parallels to my own journey as a craftsman…

At my age I should be beyond this sort of introspection and navel-gazing. This sort of “what if-ing” should have been worked out and left behind in my forties when guys are supposed to have their midlife crises. But I often wonder, beyond the nature/nurture thing, how different would my pottery be today if I had set a different course for myself.

Like Jim (and his building), I started out sort of “following my muse”. But I did so without a clue. I had scant education in clay. I knew two potters – my professor from college, and his professor. All I knew was that I really enjoyed clay. Well, that, and I had few other career prospects in my future.

I made a decision that changed the course of everything for me. As a young twenty-year-old, I jumped right in to doing art fairs. I had never even fired a kiln on my own.

Now, instead of either following my muse or learning more from “masters”, I was in the deep end and having to survive. I think that the fact that I could dog-paddle right from the start – and continue that stroke for the next thirty years – actually tells a very large part of the story of why my clay work is what it is yet today.

I was always so busy making a living. I didn’t give myself the time to have “learned from the masters” when I had the youth, freedom, and lack of commitments to do so. I have spent most of my career needlessly re-inventing a wheel that only on its best days is even completely round.

This is a VERY long post, and it sounds very solipsistic in its approach. I’m sorry for that, but to get to the point….

…how do you readers who are involved in creative endeavors feel as though you've fared regarding having launched your work in public at the right point in your development? Do any of you feel, as I do in my life's work, that you probably could have stood to learn more before diving in the deep end? Any of you feel exactly the opposite? -- that following one's muse is all that’s really necessary, and all the technical stuff will just come on an “as-you-need-it” basis?

Really curious. I can’t go back, but I’m just curious.

Maybe you figure that it really boils down to: “you got it or you ain’t” as regards the spark of genius that sets the best apart, or that defines excellence?

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I got the last handle and spout on at about 8:30 last night. They'll stay under plastic over the weekend while I'm down in Lafayette. I might have some of them fired by Summerfair (Cincinnati).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Between Shows

I spent the past weekend at the East Lansing Art Fair. ELAF has quite possibly the best musical entertainment of any art fair in the country. It's one of the reasons I enjoy the show so much. Above is a picture of the front of my booth. But here's a picture from the back of my booth...

Yup. I always request a space in front of the main stage. And the group pictured is one of my favorite groups, "Steppin' In It" (with Rachael Davis). This weekend was the first time I had the pleasure of seeing the "Ragbirds" live. An incredibly versatile band -- perhaps the most versatile I've seen since "The Duhks". And yet another great musical act, May Erlewine, whose wonderful voice and strong songwriting was one of the highlights of my whole weekend.

I got home and got straight to work on some porcelain teapots. Today's hot Indiana sun helped me out with my decorating. With the sun's help, I was able to slip decorate these teapot bodies...

...and a short hour later, they were dry enough for me to put their covers back on and finish decorating those lids.

I've got 16 teapots in the works. They're all decorated and lidded. Tomorrow: Handles & Spouts! Then it's off to Lafayette Indiana's "Round the Fountain Art Fair" on Saturday. Round the Fountain is, I think, Indiana's finest art fair and always a pleasure to do. Maybe I'll see some of you there.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Springfield Old Capital

It took the better part of last week to get everything together -- unload kilns, grind the bottoms of the pots, mark and box the pieces. By Friday morning I was loading the van and a rental trailer (so we'd have enough room to bring the dogs along). We set out for the five hour drive to Springfield by noon and had an uneventful trip.

The forecast that had called for a sunny weekend was completely wrong. It rained all weekend and it's raining still. But the crowds still turned out for the show and we sold LOTS of pots and met lots of nice folk too.

I met a fellow potter from Canada. She wasn't doing the show -- just coincidentally in the Springfield area, traveling with her husband who had some business in the area. We talked pottery for a while, and when I got home I had the pleasure of visiting her site and making a visual connection between pottery and potter. Very creative, beautiful work too. Her name is...

Tara Lynn Franco.

Here's a snapshot of the work I brought with me to Springfield...

Toward the end of Sunday, Dar brought the dogs into the show area.

On Friday I leave for the East Lansing Art Festival. I'm excited about the show -- I haven't done it for a few years now, and I'm jazzed about the music that will be there (right behind my booth -- I always request the booth in front of the stage). One of the acts is a band that's become a fave of mine since I first saw them play at East Lansing several years ago. They call themselves...

Steppin' In It

Monday, May 10, 2010


Starting this weekend, I'll have a show every weekend for the next six weeks. Maybe I'll be in a town near you -- check out my schedule in the column to the left.

The firings are coming out quite good. Here are some from this morning's opening. Of interest: These pieces have all been journaled through their creation process in previous posts here.

The Pottery Shop (part 3)

...continued from here...


"Well what?" replied Sylvie.

Well, aren't you going to go get the compressor and set it up to blow across the tops of the bottles, do that flute thingy, and open that portal to another world?

"Now see...." said Sylvie, "'s just that kind of stuff I hate."

What kind of "stuff"?

"Portal" she said.

What do you mean? Isn't that a portal that just opened up on the wall there?

"Heck if I know." said Sylvie. "'Portal' is such a science fiction kind of word, you know?" if I'd called it something else you'd have tried to open it up -- maybe gone through it?

"I don't know, but I'm not going to be a character in some science fiction story. That I do know." Sylvie said with just the slightest tone of belligerence in her voice.

I really had more in mind something like a "fantasy", not science fiction. So just because you see it as science fiction you're not going to go through the You're just being silly. What if there's some really great stuff in that alternate universe?

"See?!..." She stared me down, and with sort of a smirk, continued, "'s just that kind of stupid......"alternate universe" crap that just.......ooooh!.....It BUGS me!"

OK, OK, settle down. What if you just do the compressor wind thingy and walk through that opening in the wall toward that really big tree? I think everyone would like to know where it leads, and I think it would be nice if you showed just a little cooperation.

"WHO do you think you are?!", she blurted. "What makes you think you can just order me around?"

I didn't order you around. I asked very nicely. And I might point out that I could have ordered you to do it. I don’t even have to ask.

“Oh really? Who the heck ARE you anyway, and what gives you that right?” She asked (and it was easy to see her temperature was rising).

Look, I’m John Bauman and what gives me the right is that I just now made you up. I’m making this whole thing up! It’s FICTION for gosh sakes! If I want you to do something I just write it and you do it. In fact, I’m the one who started the big rain storm, and…

“That was you? Well thank…you…very…much!!! My jacket is real suede and your stupid rain storm probably ruined it! Yes. Thank you very stinking much!!”

You weren’t wearing suede. I was specifically imagining you in a sporty Gore-Tex windbreaker. I KNOW that because I knew it was going to rain…..I mean, I MADE IT RAIN, DAMMIT!

“Nice language for a god-type being” she sassed.

I’m not a god-type being, I’m just the writer…

“You!!!!! A writer????!!!!!!” she could barely speak through her laughter.

I made no claims to the quality of the writing, I just mean that I am writing this bit of fiction. And getting back to the point, whatever I write you do. Look, I even named you Sylvie, but if I choose to, I can change it. In fact, I’ll prove it to you. You are now, heretofore, to be called “Karen”.

“I don’t feel any different” replied Sylvie. “And look, see that right there? I mean right between the last two quotation marks? Right after the word “replied”? What’s that word Mr. Smarty-pants, big shot writer guy? I think it said “replied Sylvie”. You seem to be rather impotent after all” By now the replies were coming rapid-fire. She was on a roll.

Look, this blog post is getting long. I’ve carried it through multiple days and most folks have probably just given up hope that you’d ever go through the port………entrance anyway. So won't you please? So we can get on with the story? What if I make you into a really great potter?! How about I make you like, say, a female version of Tom Coleman?

"Whoa! Now you are talking fiction. REAL fiction....
......but maybe we could deal here......

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Pottery Shop (part 2)

{continued from here}

It all happened so suddenly that if you were to ask Sylvie, she probably couldn’t recount it in detail – at least not the order of events. But just as she placed the last thrown bottle on the bat beside her, a gust of wind blew the shop door opened. As that wind swirled around and around the room, it made a very strange, multi-pitched flute sound – blowing as it did over the tops of those just thrown bottles.

That eerie flute sound was amazing by itself – caused as it was by a random wind. But what happened next had Sylvie rubbing her eyes in disbelief. She was still seated on the kick wheel’s bench, and facing the north wall of the shop. She watched with disbelief as suddenly the center of that wall seemed to disappear. In its place appeared an irregularly shaped opening. The gust of wind, the flute sound of the bottles, and now the opening wall – none of it seemed real.

The scene beyond the opening in the wall was at least as puzzling as the chain of events that seemed to have caused the wall to open in the first place. What appeared seemed to be a garden area – a large sunny and grassy area with a perimeter of well-tended flowers and shrubbery. In the center of that lawn was a huge oak tree. In the shade of that oak’s umbrella were several picnic tables, obviously loaded down with a banquet of food. And partiers. Lots of partiers standing and sitting around those tables. From her distance, Sylvie couldn’t be sure, but she thought that perhaps one of the men with his back to the opening was Doug Hively.

And then, just as suddenly as it all happened, the flute sound of the bottles stopped. And at that silence, the opening in the wall slowly closed.

Stunned and puzzled, Sylvie hurried across the room to re-shut the door that had blown open. It was still raining outside. The skies were still quite dark. As if it wasn’t obvious by the size of the back lawn mirage that it wasn’t actually the back lawn of Doug Hively’s shop, it was also sunny there…. but it was still raining outside.

“If I….” Sylvie began to wonder to herself. She sat back down at the wheel and leaned toward the shelf of bottles. With an eye toward that mysterious west wall, she blew over the top of the nearest bottle. IT HAPPENED AGAIN!

But it was only the slightest hint of an opening – so small, in fact, that had it not been sunny and light beyond and dark inside, Sylvie may not have noticed any opening at all.

“So there is a connection between the bottle’s sounding and the wall’s opening…” concluded Sylvie. “But there’s no way I can sustain the sound long enough … or with enough of the bottles to even make it so that I could look through the opening again, much less walk across the room to see if it’s an actual opening or if it’s just, like, a window or something.”

Remembering the compressor that Mr Hively uses to spray glazes, it occurred to Sylvie that there just might be a way to not only sustain the air flow across the top of the bottle, but to actually sound multiple bottles at the same time – much as that sustained gust of wind had done in the first place… be continued...

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Pottery Shop

Sylvie ducked under the portico just in time. The sky opened up, sending raindrops like so many ball bearings pounding down on the metal roof. Sylvie turned briefly to watch the torrent as it battered a nearby flower bed, bounced off of pavement, and almost instantly transformed the street into a river.

Then Sylvie turned back toward the door and started to knock. But the door swung open as she knocked. Though Sylvie hadn’t noticed, the door was already ever-so-slightly ajar before she ever knocked.

“Mr Hively? …….. Doug?” Sylvie called through the opening. When she got no reply she slowly pushed the door open far enough to look inside. In the dark that accompanied the storm, all that illuminated the small room was a single incandescent shop light. The light was the kind with a plain metal shade at the end of a cable that suspended it from the ceiling. It cast its cone of warm light directly over a large wood-framed kick wheel that sat along the south wall. This was the throwing room – the room where Sylvie had been taking pottery lessons for the past year-and-a-half with Mr. Hively -- one of the west coast’s many talented potters. But Mr. Hively was nowhere to be seen.

Sylvie cautiously walked in. She looked around the room one more time, and then walked over to where the lamp’s single bulb cast its glow. There on the work table of the kick wheel, Sylvie saw this note, pierced through and held in place by a single potter’s needle. The note read:

Use the kick wheel today
Throw a shelf of simple 8 inch cylinders
Use three pounds of clay.
Keep them narrow.
Next, neck the cylinders into bottles.


How odd. Sylvie plucked the needle from the tabletop, picked up the note and re-read it. The instructions were unusual because…. well, because that’s just not how Mr. Hively usually did things. Usually, if he wasn’t here when she arrived he just had her go over what she had been working on over the past week.

“Oh well”, thought Sylvie, and with resignation she hung her jacket on the back of a wooden chair, walked over to the clay pile, grabbed a bag of clay and started measuring and weighing the project’s clay. Next, from a nearby shop sink she filled a plastic gallon bucket with warm water for her hands.

Preparing the clay was exercise enough so that any chill she’d felt from the stormy weather outside was long gone. Still, the warm water on her hands felt good. And as she got into the kicking rhythm, and felt the spinning clay beneath her hands, Sylvie was soon lost in the mesmerizing activity.

What had first drawn Sylvie to pottery was a simple wish; Sylvie wanted to make her own place setting. Well, it seemed a simple wish at the time. She learned. It wasn’t as easy as she thought. But she did learn. And she did make that first place setting. And a second. And pitchers, and bowls, and vases, and…

It may have been the desire to make her own dishes that sparked her interest, but it was that first feel of clay spinning beneath her hands that really hooked her. Took her by surprise really. It was an unexpected seduction.

And as she worked her way through the fourth and fifth bottles -- half filling the shelf -- that feeling of the first time feeling spinning clay in her hands came rushing back. It always did. be continued.........

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Potter's Act Of Faith


I still get excited at the promise a new batch of clay holds. I think that's a common feeling among potters -- whether we just dug, mixed, or bought a batch. The new ton of clay contains the next month or so's worth of excitement, experiment, pleasure, and adventure. All the pots we've yet to make.


The work begins to take shape. New ideas layered on old ideas. The hum of the wheel. The feel of the clay. The hollow of growing pots and filling spaces.


(music by my new friend, Warren Malone)

I once heard it said that practice is the musician's act of faith. It took a few minutes for that to sink in. When it did, it really stuck with me.

There is almost always a degree of uncertainty in practice. Especially in the early stages. After all, practice is about training your muscles to work in concert with your mind. And between the two, there is lots of room for misunderstanding and mistake. "Did I really understand how this goes?", "Is it really supposed to feel like this (awkward?)?".

But ultimately a musician has to resolve to himself that he does understand where he's headed at least well enough to commit himself to the time and effort for the repetition ahead.

Sure, in the best of worlds that act of faith tends to build upon itself. Each new time stepping out on the limb carries just a little sense of the success of the previous step -- or the lesson learned from the previous misstep. But it's still always an act of faith.

And that's how I see glazing.

The glazes I most favor are those that contain a certain degree of unpredictability in their results. I want at least SOME of the results to be out of my hands and in the hands of the fire, the weather, and the variable kiln atmosphere.

And so I control all I can. I use a hydrometer so that I can control glaze thickness as much as possible. I carefully measure my glazes. I add new batches to old before the old is all gone -- that way I make the change as seamless as possible, and minimize the possibility of things going wrong all at once. I glaze only a few pieces with a new batch ... just to be on the safe side.

But in the end, glazing is still the most gut-wrenching time in this potter's life in clay. The serendipidy of result I wish for in a glaze is the very uncertainty that makes me hesitant to start glazing a whole period of my pottery production, thereby committing it to its final fate.

Eventually, I do it. I commit. In the faith that I've done all I can -- upheld my calculated, practiced, and certain end of the pottery cycle -- I cast my pot's fate to the step beyond that control. I glaze.

And, thankfully, I win more than I lose these days...