Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spinning

It was just a ¼ pound of clay. I cut it off of the corner of a big lump of clay and absent-mindedly kneaded it in my hand for a minute or two as my mind wandered. Then it began to dawn on me just how great this small ball of clay felt in the hollow of my hand. It was somewhat stiff yet still yielded easily to my thumb. Pleasantly dense with a fine tooth.

I walked over to the wheel and slammed it down on the wheelhead and got the wheel to whirring ‘round. Ah-h-h, this feels really good. Too small to really center it two-handed, but in seconds it virtually shoved itself easily to mid-wheel with nary a wobble.

So I started to pull it.

I’d been making 18” shallow bowls most of the day, so my mind was still set to that shape. First I pulled it up just a mite so’s my outside finger would have some ledge for purchase. Then I gave it a good pull.

The clay just came along and came along and like a song that verse after verse keeps building on a theme, the process drew me in. The rhythm of the wheel speed seemed perfect to grow this huge flattened cone and so I just kept working it. Every time I reached to the center to pull another ring of clay outward, there was more clay to pull. And so on, and so on, and so on, I returned to the root note and played another chorus.

Just a quarter pound, but I passed the 36” diameter after just five minutes of work. The wall of the bowl was getting so thin by 60” in diameter that when I bent low beneath the wheelhead and looked up, I could see the shop lights shining through the bowl wall.

Still, as thin as the wall had become, it showed amazing strength. It didn’t seem inclined to sag. At all. Once I’d pulled it out to 24 feet, I ran to the garage and fetched my bicycle. To my amazement, the clay proved to be so sag-resistant -- even pulled out to that diameter -- that I could ride my bicycle around the rim without distorting the bowl.

I got off the bike and got back to work. I had to see just how far I could throw this ¼ pound of clay.

When the outer rim reached somewhere around Wapakoneta, Ohio, I finally had to face the fact that I was coming close to maxing out the clay in that ¼ pounds. The wall of the bowl was, by then, only at a molecular thickness. And with a few hundred miles of diameter to the rim, I feared that, given the immense speed at the outer rim, centrifugal force was finally going to take its toll on my bowl.

But I had to try one more pull.

You may not believe this – after all, at that wall thickness, it’s almost impossible to see the bowl now – but the bowl now spans all of Indiana, most of Ohio, lower Michigan, and Eastern Illinois. I’m guessing this is probably a record diameter for a wheel-thrown bowl.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Moon





The moon is out tonight.

I know it is. It’s part of my kiln-checking ritual. On my way from shop to kiln building, I look up through the winter branches of my shop’s maple umbrella to check.

It’s there.

But even if I hadn’t checked, I’d have known. I didn’t get my back door closed in time. He followed me into the shop.

He’s been good company these past four hours. He and I relate.

Like the moon’s light I’ll shine
Many a time
But like the sun’s?
Maybe once

Darvin taught Karl taught Doug taught me. And somebody before Darvin taught him. Reflected light passed down, even if but the smallest crescent is evident. And there’s Richard and Tim and Jim and Mike and Michael and John a whole host of other lights reflecting my way. You see them too when you look at my pots.

Like the moon’s light I may shine
Many a time
But like the sun’s?
Maybe once

And then there’re the women potters whom I don’t know on a first name basis, but whose work inspires me even more. Ms Shankin, Ms Hamlyn, Ms Jefferson, Ms Davis-Woodard.

Like the moon’s light.

It’s 1964
It’s the folded-down back seat of the ’61 Ford Falcon
Jackie and I are laying on our backs and looking out the back window as our family makes its way up to Canada for summer vacation.
Geoff and Barry are in the middle seat
Little Jimmy is asleep in the front, his feet in Dad’s lap, his head on mom’s.
And Jackie and I are watching the moon follow us.
It neither passes nor falls back. It just follows.
It flies right through the tree branches as we speed along beneath them.

Oh Mister Moon, Moon, Mister Silvery Moon
Won’t you please shine down on me?

We sing. Mom taught us years ago, and we sing.

Like the moon’s light.

Monday, March 25, 2013

CH-ch-ch-changes

It’s been a long time, huh? 

 I intended to come back and finish that post that contained my best guesses about pricing. Really, I did. I figured, this being winter, I’d have plenty of time to get back around to it. 

 I’ve got lots of pots done in the meantime. Never enough, but lots. 

And I’ve had a number of very flattering emails from folks kind enough to tell me that they read this blog, enjoy it, and wondering whether I’d be continuing with it. I’m honored that anyone would take the time to read my ramblings. Life is busy for everyone these days, and I know that my posts aren’t always quick reads.
Beyond that, I know this Is supposed to be a blog about pottery, but it ends up being full of stories about my dogs, my music, my sports analogies – everything but pottery. Nobody has complained. I may never have attracted many readers, but I attracted an uncommonly kind and encouraging group of readers. 

 But I think the main reason I never returned to the blog is that I knew I was getting pretty near the end of my life as a potter. As such, I couldn’t figure out a way to have much to say about the life I knew I was soon leaving behind.

I’ve tried to keep this blog fun, upbeat, sometimes funny (at least, as funny as I can make it), and an encouragement to the pottery world. It’s a great life we have, this creative life in clay. And though I can’t help but be aware of the discouraging aspects – an academic world that mostly discourages it, a cultural trend away from heirloom thinking, and just the general cussedness of clay, fire, and water that makes the results (AFTER all the hard work) nearly as often devastating as thrilling – I always wanted this blog to be a place where readers could suffer those discouragements, but still come here and read the reasons that make it worth carrying on.

And now, ironically, I find that I cannot.

The immediate plan is to find work. Dar and I will both be looking for work (we have dozens of applications already submitted). The best we can hope for at this point is a full time job at as much over minimum wage as I can find -- and a part time job in addition to that. Dar will also be looking for a part time job and manage the sales of whatever pots we have left in stock. 

As soon as we find the jobs, we will be selling the house and pottery and trying to find a smaller and more efficient place to move into.

I’ll probably have to rent some space to store the pottery equipment in hopes that someday I may return to making pots. I could never again reaccumulate the kind of equipment I’ve amassed over 33 years. 

Realistically, I doubt I’ll ever again make the same work I’ve been making. For one thing, I’m guessing that I’ll probably be looking into firing electric if I ever manage to set up a garage or basement studio. I’ll have lots of new ropes to learn if I ever get back to it – different glazes and clays, marketing that doesn’t involve travel, figuring out how to fire only on weekends or days off – all stuff that thousands of potters deal with every day (there’re probably more non-professional than professional potters). I admire the heck out of weekend and late night potters. I really do. It’s a level of commitment and energy that I’m not sure everyone is capable of. Salute!

I haven’t decided what to do with the blog – whether to carry on and share the adventure of my change of direction, or whether to just leave it up as an archive. 

 Anyway, it’s been a worthwhile venture, this blog. It put me in touch with a whole family of potters whom I would probably never have met otherwise, as they don’t do art fairs. I’ve enjoyed others' blogs as well, and enjoyed the times when the same idea would echo throughout the blogging world -- giving an enjoyable multifaceted view of an issue that could never have been gained any other way.

I’ve got several shows scheduled (all the way through July. October , if I include invitations), and that’s what I’ll be aiming for – make as much as I can at them -- until some job comes through for me -- at which point I’ll cancel the remainder of the schedule and begin the transition. 

Thanks for reading! It’s been a pleasure.