Friday, November 27, 2009

Snowmen Delivered To Etsy Site

Yukon Sledcat Moose (Indian name" "Dances With Polar Bears") has delivered the year's first snowmen...

Frosty the Snowman
Was a jolly, happy soul
With a corn cob pipe
And a butto….

…hey, wait just a doggone minute…

…it looks like we have an impostor! Not only does he NOT have a button nose (his nose is made of terra cotta, and looks just like a carrot), his eyes are not made out of coal.

In fact, nothing on this snowman is made out of coal. He’s made entirely of clay. Or, I should say, “clayS” – Because the charm of this little man is that I make him from many different colored clays. He has a stoneware body, a different, darker stoneware hat, and a yet different stoneware scarf. And that scarf is itself a blend of colored porcelains and raw stonewares -- feathered together to make the intricate and interesting pattern.

And buttons? …NOT his nose, but his eyes and up his vest, are just little bits of clay that I’ve rolled between my thumb and finger, pressed into place, and then poked with a needle tool to make the appearance of “thread holes”. If you look closely, you can tell that’s how I make them because those buttons will sometimes crack around their edges when I press them into place. That cracking often gives the appearance of a twinkle in the cold man’s eye.

These snowmen are about 11” tall – same as a Ken doll, but without Ken’s awful looking cap of plastic hair.

If you buy this fellow, I will have my sled dogs (Ariel and Breeze – Alaskan Malamutes) rush them to your house!

…okay, Ariel and Breeze nixed the dog sled delivery promise. But UPS assures me that they will come through for us and deliver the snowman WITH NO SHIPPING CHARGE TO YOU!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Art Of Animals

There was an episode of Beverly Hillbillies featuring a chimpanzee that painted on canvas ..... to great critical reviews. A good-humored jab at “modern art” no doubt. But I’ve had some pretty memorable experiences witnessing animal behavior that probably has practical reason if you were to insist on analyzing it scientifically, but that from all appearances seems as though the animal is performing – and usually for the sheer joy of it.

For years I walked trails in the woods with my now departed malamute, Aspen – a dog who loved life so much that I have no doubt that his very musical howls were him laughing aloud. I didn’t often let him off leash because he wouldn’t always come immediately when I called. But if I was certain that the woods was clear of other hikers or runners (that’d really shake up someone’s day to be walking along a trail, only to be surprised by the approach of a large wolf-looking dog) I’d let him run.

The minute Aspen was off leash he would make a mad dash off-trail. He’d run in circles. He’d run in figure eights. He’d look for fallen trees and other obstacles just to jump over them. And it was beautiful. A silver streak. A blur of white fur, gleaming eye, hanging tongue, and a smile – joyfully jumping over branches and making hairpin turns around obstacles that weren’t there.

Potter that I am, I wish my pots had half the whimsy of an Aspen dash in the wood.

Betty is a friend who has always taken in strays and injured animals. I remember one year when she took in a very young flying squirrel that had obviously been orphaned. I was actually shocked to witness the circus act this little under-aged Rocky performed. He’d circle the small room, climb the curtain, tightrope walk the curtain rod and then, like a gymnast dismounting a balance beam, he’d throw himself with wild abandon into space, only to glide gracefully down to his starting point in the room and begin the circle again. And for what?

Again, science may analyze this playful behavior as some survival practice. It sure looked like the joy of art to me.

And what got me thinking about the art of animals?

On my daily trip to the trails I always drive by Winona Lake. Winona Lake is the second biggest natural glacier lake in Indiana. That’s not big. That’s just big for Indiana. At this time of year when the disparity in temperature between water and air can be so great, it’s not unusual for a mist to come off of the lake. And if the air is very, very still, as it was the other morning, that mist can hover heavily above the water. You can see clearly above it to blue sky, and you can see clearly below it to the water, but you cannot see through it to the opposite shore of the lake.

That’s just how I found the lake on my way to the trails last Friday. A low mist hung over the glassy surface of the water.

And just as I turned the corner toward the lake, a great blue heron rose up out of the water right in front of me. But it didn’t just fly up, up, and away. Instead, it flew just barely over the surface of the water and just below the mist that hung above. So with each slow, methodical beat of its wings it created an image that I’ll probably never forget.

For what seemed several long minutes the heron flew like this – each upward stroke of wing getting lost in the mist …… then beating again downward until the tip of its wing nearly touched the surface of the water. What’s more, this heron dance to which I was witness occurred in tandem, as the reflection of the heron appeared to be traveling just beneath it. Two birds flying in perfect formation, belly to belly...

Black wingtip touching black wingtip then parting and nearly disappearing back into mist.
Black wingtip touching black wingtip then parting and nearly disappearing back into mist.
Black wingtip touching black wingtip then parting and nearly disappearing back into mist.

...on and on for more than one hundred slow, lazy yards. A graceful waltz.

Go ahead and tell me that Aspen, Rocky, and that heron didn’t know what, or even that they were creating. I might half believe you.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

License Revoked

  I used the word "irregardless"
I also wrote "happenchance"
My poet's license has been revoked
I find myself cardless
Maybe it's in my other pants

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gates, Sidewalks, and Doors

I wonder sometimes how close we really are to knowing stuff. Really knowing stuff. I mean, when we look behind us, we amaze ourselves with the knowledge we've amassed -- and maybe even moreso the apparent explosion of knowledge in the past fifty years.

I sometimes get the impression that we think that we've been on the sidewalk leading up to the front door that will open to the "everything house" -- and we think we're really almost all the way up to that door. But I kinda wonder if there isn't quite a bit more sidewalk before we reach that door. In fact, maybe -- shockingly -- we're not even that far up the sidewalk after all. Maybe we're still relatively close to the front gate.

I think about these things and then I mostly just go grab a bone I've been working on, take it under the big spruce tree in the back yard and gnaw on it a while. Sometimes a gate is just a gate, a sidewalk is just a sidewalk, a door is just a door, and life's pretty good anyway.

--Breeze Bauman

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Etsy Uploads

Yesterday I spent several hours uploading pots to my Etsy page. I've had a very good month on Etsy and it was time to try to catch back up.

I'm also doing an experiment with some different clay to see if I can't revive an old favorite. I stopped making the snowmen when the clay I was using became untrustworthy. Yesterday I finished up four experiments and the preliminary results are hopeful. If they make it through the firings, I'll be introducing all new snowmen in 2009

Another favorite that I had given up on was the pear teapots. The shino glaze wanted to leave tiny chips around the lid after firing. I now have a new strategy for firing those. Again, if these make it through, I'll thankfully have another old favorite back...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Save Me From The Dolby'd Life

I remember when I got my first cassette player with "Dolby® Noise Reduction". It was pretty cool. Gone was the hiss of the tape. Gone were the crackles and pops from the LPs I'd recorded into homemade cassettes.

But the polish came off that apple pretty quickly. Gone along with those vanished hisses, pops and crackles were the sounds of fingers on guitar strings, and breathing woodwind players, and sounds of picks on fretboard ends.

Dolby sucked the life right out of my favorite recordings. Perfect was, in this case, not perfect. Those extraneous noises were very much a part of the vitality of the recordings. The noise reduction that Dolby offered me came at a too high price -- lifeless listening.

Perfection, as a craftsman's goal is admirable. There's a strange balancing act. Always a balancing act -- achieving an end result that, in its perfection both appears to transcend the means of its production -- while at the same time leaving the hint of the humanity behind the creation.

Craft has historically thrived when technology is perceived as a threat to our human expression. Man vs. Machine. John Henry vs. the Steam Drill romanticism. In this digital age when even much of our "art" is computer generated, there are still those of us who aren't ready to give up the hands-on exploration of human trial and accomplishment.

So, should thrown pottery be perfect?

Yes. In the sense of a craftsman's results coming close to meeting his intentions, yes. Perfection is a worthy goal. Control the medium. No excuses.

But just maybe that craft should also be a celebration of the idiosyncratic material -- clay -- a cussed substance that doesn't always stay where you put it, warps, shrinks, and cracks when handled poorly.

And just maybe the marks of the potter's hands as a reminder that process matters -- matters to lots of us humans -- should not be erased from surfaces, rather, be enjoyed as the part of a better whole.

It's not about celebrating imperfection or rationalizing lazy practice. It's not trying to accept a "it's good enough for..." mentality. The striving should always be there. The striving should always be evident.

I want my recordings to hiss and pop if it means I also still hear the squeek of fingers on strings letting me know that there was a living, breathing human behind the recording -- a human who was participating in the activity of filling the world with exciting, beautiful, thoughtful work.

And I want my pottery to have finger marks, double stamps, bent walls, irregular trailed lines -- not for their own sake -- not as added affectation to elicit calculated response -- but as evidence of process. I want those things that remind me that there was a striving human with lofty goals willing to risk time, talent, and not a small amount of hope that he/she'd be putting something of value into our shared world.