Thursday, April 29, 2010, Man!

Heh. The old man's still got it. Fifty soup mugs this afternoon. I know what I'll be doing tomorrow. Fifty mugs to decorate and put handles on. I'll probably put on some old Hot Rize to while away the working hours. Loud.

Time to resurrect some old thoughts on the original

I've discussed this topic before both here and here. Maybe this skepticism is just part of my long-running, deeply-studied asupermanist beliefs, but I have to wonder...

Why is Superman depicted as muscular? Doesn't he just derive his super strength from the fact that he is an alien from outer space? Couldn't he just look like Woody Allen or something equally non-muscular and still maintain his super strength?

I mean, the comic book writers already threw out the principles of physics -- of leverage and notions that at least hinted of strength when they had Superman go from "leaping tall buildings in a single bound" to actually flying. Flying isn't a strength thing. And yet they never even really try to explain the forward and upward thrust. Superman just went from jumping to levitating and the writers didn't even bother to tell you, the reader, how.

Like we don't care?

From the moment a science fiction book or movie comes out, the immediate response is to pick apart the impossibilities inherent in the science of the fiction. Yet Superman gets a pass?

Heck, even if his skin is impervious to bullets, wouldn't he still be pushed back at least a little by the impact of a projectile fired from a high-powered rifle? The answer is obviously, "No". In fact, Superman can stop a speeding train, though a train obviously has the mass and momentum to simply carry Superman along with its forward motion, should he stand in front of it.

And I'm no mathematician, but wouldn't a normal man's mass be to a train about the same thing as a large bug would be to an automobile? Are we expected to believe instead that Superman has the same mass as a train? And even then, wouldn't the train's forward momentum cause one hellacious crash if it ran into something of equal mass? And Superman, impervious skin or not, should at least end up in the next county after the impact, no?

And if Superman does have this Jupiterian mass, he goes ahead and marries Lois Lane anyway? Are you kidding me? As if the notion of getting carried away in the throes of passion isn't enough to contemplate with a human that can crush a ball bearing between his fingers, now we have to believe that he weighs a few tons? Heck, is there even a comfort setting on a Sleep Number Bed that would allow a superhero with a mass that equals the average 80-car freight train to sleep comfortably? ... much less keep Lois from rolling his way all night as the mattress caves the whole bedroom inward toward him?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Last Few Days

A few posts back I pictured some pitchers I had just thrown, I got a few more done that evening, and I thought I'd show how I finished some of the newer ones.

I mentioned that I'd be finishing the platters that I threw that same day as pumpkin plates. Here's a process shot of how I finish those...

Starting on Saturday, I got the following pots made. Starting with pie plates...

I finished some with this rim and swirl pattern. Simple as can be. I'll do some in the red glaze and some in the green...

Others I finished with this weave designed rim. Of these, some will have the swirl on the inside. Others will have a new glaze dot pattern I've been imagining for some time now...

The day I trimmed and decorated the pie plates, I started work on these casseroles. The first has a new lid idea -- echoing the pattern on the base in the center of the lid, with the handle arching over it.

Last fall I started doing these lids with a herringbone weave instead of the basket weave I'd been using. Yesterday's came out nice. I like the contrast with the undecorated base. It gives me the illusion of being able to reach into the basket -- as though it might as easily be seen concave as convex.

All in all, a productive couple of days around the pottery.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Observations From The Dude Ranch

I've given this some serious thought over the last few minutes, and I just don't think Cow Birds, as an idea, is going to go over very well.

Sure, they don't take up as much pasture, hardly eat any grain, and as a methane producer -- even en masse -- they hardly add to the global warming problem at all...

Trouble is, milking the suckers is nearly impossible. And even if you can get them to hold still long enough to pull your milking stool up alongside 'em and start filling your pail, it takes darn near the whole flock just to get one gallon of milk.

They just aren't practical.

Don't even get me started on how hard they are going to be for cowbirdboys to lasso and brand. And don't tell me...
"This is a job for SKY KING!"

Whoopee ti yi yo
Git along little birdies
It's yer misfortune
And none of my own

Whoopee ti yi yo
Git along little birdies
You know that Wyomin'
Will be your new home


Some other fundamentally bad ideas:

David Caruso picture frame levelers.

40 Grit silicon carbide drink coasters.

Bead-stringer’s mittens.

Braille pyrometric cones.

Waving good-bye from a helicopter

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The New Ceramic Absence

The current issue of Ceramics Monthly contains an article -- one of CM's regular "Comment" features at the back of the magazine. The article is titled "The New Ceramic Absence" and is written by Glen R. Brown. The article discusses the current state of ceramics in art.

I don't pretend to understand everything Dr Brown is talking about, but the article spurred the following thoughts. My apologies for my inablity to link to the article. No doubt, if you could read the article, my response might hold greater meaning. But a number of you are CM subscribers. So in the name of continuing the discussion, here are my thoughts.

Seems to me that the American ceramic artist could have chosen to set themselves a better table than the one they built atop the three legs of:

1. Solipsism
2. Novelty
3. Rage against Ward and June Cleaver.

I’d absent that table too. Did, in fact. Not much fun to sit at such a table full of the privileged expressing their angst, and then audaciously accusing as “ignorant” those unwilling to sit at the table with them to indulge their ceramic rants.

Probably not ignorant, though. Most “got it”. No, really. They did. They just decided that it wasn’t inherently engaging. And if there were those who didn’t “get it”, it’s probably because once the work required the accompaniment of words to convey the message, in the long run, the work and the words still didn’t match up. The tortured explanations didn’t clarify the expressions.

Further, though it is human nature to rubberneck at a tragic accident, few wish to stare at carnage for long.

So a small, self-supporting clique with clan-like tendencies, appreciating their own esoterica by employing a vocabulary of their own invention, spun their wheels or thrived within big city galleries and academia.

Meanwhile the American ceramist thrived in a continuation of pottery stretching back through time, quite unselfconsciously putting their own stamp on that history.

Look up into the clear night sky. Your eye will catch stars and clusters at the edges of your vision. But as soon as you try to look directly at those points of light, they disappear (technically, your rods – denser in the periphery of your retina – can see light, while the cones – concentrated toward the center – see color, but confuse the eye’s search for fainter light).

Trying to create “art” with ceramics seems to often be like that night sky. Try too hard and fail. But engage in the process, and soon all the peripheral elements can come together to create a whole greater than the sum of those now in-focus parts.

Too much freedom, paradoxically, seldom leads to creativity. Give me no direction other than “new” and I’ll come up with nothing and meaninglessness. But give me a direction, and in very short order, I’m likely to achieve new AND meaningful.

I remember reading of an interesting study. It was observed that, given a playground full of children with no fence to define that playground, the children are inclined to stay clumped together in the middle of the playground. But as soon as the playground area is defined with a perimeter fence, the children suddenly play with abandon – utilizing that entire fenced-in area.

Seems to me that American art ceramic has spent the past fifty years clumped in the middle of the schoolyard – intimidated by academia and some gallery-induced aesthetic to believe that only certain ideas and concepts (ironically, in the name of TOTAL freedom of expression) were worthy of consideration. So they glommed onto an acceptance of new-is-inherently-superior as a goal. And they also acquired some warped sense that there must be something inherently inferior (either intellectually or aesthetically) to what struck them as commonly attractive.

But all the while there have been American ceramists -- unintimidated by academia and the galleries – quietly going about the business of creating great, distinctively American work and letting the future and the public -- if they wish to do so -- categorize it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Shedding Light

If I'm in the dark?
Don't send me a letter
I couldn't read what you write.
No, send me a candle
I could use the light
And the warmth of the flame might feel nice too
Might remind me of you

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Early Morning Trails

Money could not have bought us tickets to the wonderful concert Breeze and I were treated to on the early morning trails.

Far overhead, on three trees -- each tree with a different degree of hollowness and size, creating three distinct pitches -- three woodpeckers were trading drum rolls back and forth and together. Then they'd break into woodpecker laughter.

Breeze and I just stopped and enjoyed it for a few minutes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Good Throwing Day

I love throwing pitchers.
I rewarded myself for getting through those 20 15 inch platters (to be turned into pumpkin plates -pictured below-) by throwing a few pitchers. As soon as I shut off the bisque kiln that's going right now, I'll get back to a few more pitchers.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Squares, Weaves, and Ropes.

It's always fun to come up with a new idea. For some time now, I've decorated the rims on my broad, shallow bowls. Usually I do an understated milligrain, "egg and dart", or an even more subtle concentric carved line.

I've been wanting to make some more squared off baking dishes (and some pie plates -- yet to come) and it suddenly dawned on me some ways I could bring subtle but meaningful expression to them.

I started working on these this morning. It's been an exhilaratin' day!

I'm anxious to fire them and see what I've come up with. I should get around to that next week!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dear Mr. Safety

Dear Mr Safety,

I read on the internet somewhere (and so I’m sure it must be true) that the odds of winning the lottery and getting hit by lightning are about the same.

Last night, on a scratch-off lotto ticket, I won $5.

Should I now be worried about an inevitable subsequent lightning strike?



P.S. Is there such thing as low-voltage lightning that would be, like, the equivalent of my low-dollar winnings? That might not be so bad.

Dear Rod,

Here's a tip that I, Mrs. Safety, and the whole Safety family did around our home:

As everyone knows, lightning never strikes the same place twice. That's just good science.

So what we've done around the Safety house is this: Whenever lightning strikes in our yard, we mark the exact place where it hit. To date, we currently have seven places marked -- seven places in our yard where lightning has previously hit. By marking those seven places, we now have seven places of refuge where we can go, stand, and wait out the rest of the storm, safely assured that lightning has already been there once and cannot return.

Peace of mind? YOU BET!

And just so we can quickly find those places of refuge in any storm, we clearly marked them with 20 foot high flagpoles that we can see from anywhere on our property.

I hope this helps!

Mr. Safety

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Holmes County Pottery

Late last night (around midnight) I returned home from a trip to Wooster, OH. I went to Wooster (does anyone hear the word "Wooster" and not think someone just can't pronounce "rooster"?) for the Functional Ceramics Workshop. I hope to post some impressions of the presentations after I get my thoughts together. Meanwhile...

One of the highlights to my Wooster trip was the chance to visit Cary Hulin's "Holmes County Pottery" again. Cary has built himself a wood-firing potter's paradise in the heart of the Amish Country of Northern Ohio. At this time of year, while Spring is postively BURSTING out all over the countryside, the drive over the rolling hills brings a eyeful of breathtaking beauty around every curve in the road.

By the time you get to Cary's bucolic bit of heaven, you're already in a slowed-down state of mind. Holmes County Pottery fits right in with the neighborhood that consists of a lawnmower sales and repair place, a harness shop, and other family businesses, spaced between smallish farm fields (the above photo, I snapped through the driver's side window. The brown blur to the right is a two horse team plowing just such a field).

Turn to the right and up the steep drive and you'll head right toward the shop, behind which is the covered wood kiln. The place was so tidy and inviting, with the front of the shop completely covered with planters hanging from the eves and large floor planters gracing the walkway.

As you walk from the drive, here's your first view of the immense wood kiln (one of the biggest in the Eastern US)

Cary (with the help of his neighbors) had just fired the week before. Due to the Hulin's lending such a huge helping hand in the Wooster Workshop doings (Including hosting an after-workshop party), they didn't even take the time to unload the firing. Here's a preview -- of particular interest, as this weekend is the Holmes County Pottery's Spring Kiln Opening. Cary said that he's fired this kiln 40-50 times now and this firing is EASILY in the top five, results-wise. Having climbed in and looked around, I can attest to the pottery quality -- just gorgeous.

Maybe some other potter has a more inspiring view above their wheel. If that's true, I've sure never seen it.

If you're ever in Northern Ohio, I highly recommend a visit to Cary's place. If you love wonderful pottery, and you could stand to catch your breath from the too-fast pace of life, you owe yourself this visit. In fact, this coming weekend would be perfect. You'd be there for the kiln opening.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Adventures In Recklessness

Mr. I-Didn’t-Overthink-This-I-Just-Did-It here. Yes, I know the name is cumbersome. Just call me John.

Anyway, when my body was still young and agile enough to take total abuse, and (as fate would have it) I still had the same relatively tiny, mostly useless brain, I used to hook up my first malamute – the legendary "Bear" – with a harness that was actually (don’t tell Bear) an adjustable nylon mesh horse bridle. To this "harness" I hooked a six foot leather leash.

Yes, I know this is high tech. And if you’re like me, you'd probably like me to go over the details one more time -- your having probably missed a nuance or two.

One dog? Check
One bridle/harness? Check
One six foot dog leash? Check
One cheap Schwinn bicycle? Check
One reckless twenty-something guy? Check

I simply HELD the leash in my hand, and Bear would regularly pull me for anywhere from 5-10 miles.

Bear loved to run. I've never owned another dog with Bear's heart for running. We ran in the morning – usually 6-8 miles together. We'd do the bike thing in the afternoon. Bear loved running so much that if I wasn't ready when he was, he'd nudge open the back porch door, grab and pull his leash off the wall hook and drag it to me wherever I may have been. I can't tell you the number of times I'd hear the "dra-a-a-a-g *click* dra-a-a-a-g *click* dra-a-a-a-g *click*" as Bear would, with the handle-end of the leash between his teeth and metal clasp dragging, come bounding down the basement stairs to come and get me out of the shop (back in those days I had my pottery in the basement). I can still hear the sound of him coming to get me for a run. God, I loved that dog.

Reckless as the activity was, we really only had one bad accident. Starting up was the diciest part of the whole thing. Bear was at full potential energy and the wobbling bike was the least under control in the first 50-100 yards. We had just reached full speed – probably 30-40 yards into the run – and my front tire hit a big rock. I flew over the handlebars – one end of which caught me in the groin and ripped a big hole in my jeans – maybe a convenient hole, were I to not already have had a zipper in pretty much the same pant-u-lar location. I was still stunned, laying there on my back mentally assessing whether I had actually permanently damaged any body parts when Bear came back to where I was laying. He stood over me looking down, tongue lolling, and with his usual expectant look saying…"so, like, are we going to finish running, or are you just going to lay there?"

Sensitive dog, that Bear.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Clean Corner

Dar went crazy and totally cleaned the shop. My wheel corner isn't clay-coated anymore. Turns out there were actually two wheels under all that dried up clay.

Remember that weird Emerson, Lake & Palmer album cover? ...the three badly drawn in profile?

Turns out that the one farthest away would actually be smaller if the perspective had been drawn correctly...

I'm going to be leaving for Wooster and the Functional Ceramics Workshop at the end of the week. I'll look forward to connecting with some old friends while there. Maybe while there I'll figure out why no potters from Ohio either blog, have websites, or Etsy. It's been a bit of a mystery, given how many potters there are in Ohio.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

At The Masters

{all spoken very quietly}

Frank: Well, if you are just joining us, we are wheel-side at the Master’s Pottery Tournament. The leaderboard shows Aerni up by a 24” pulled handle, but in the last four pots Bauman has been closing the gap.

Bauman has taken the wheel.

Roger: It looks as though Bauman has chosen his belt driven Pacifica Glyde Torque wheel with, of all things, heavily grogged stoneware. A mistake?

Frank: I don't know, Bauman has had some struggles of late with high-speed pot fly-offs. I had the chance to talk to him before the tournament started. He believes wheel speed and clay placticity may have cost him both the British Open and the US Open. Maybe the grogged stoneware is an extreme measure but, you know, Turner has been using a toothy clay ever since his PPA (Professional Potter’s Association) win last month.

Roger: I think there’s a downward angle toward the judge's side of the stage. I wonder if Bauman will play that angle for a break, and go for extra height before expanding the size? Sometimes the impression of early pot height maintains that illusion in the finished pot.

{Bauman throws his pot}

{the crowd lets out a collective "oooooh"}

Frank: Well, it looked like Aerni left a door open for Bauman on that last round, but I wonder if the judges will score this performance high enough? The pot’s got size, but little else.

Roger: Yeah, tough break for Bauman. Looks like he tried to play it safe and impress with size instead of expanding and going for greater shape and proportion.

Frank: Well, in today's game you just can't leave that proportion at home. You gotta have game.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Influential Potter Series #4: Jane Graber

I didn't have any takers on the guessing game I posed a couple of days ago. I asked anyone who wished to, to guess who the potter is who created the work in this picture...

I might just as easily (and to fun effect) asked, "What's different/special about the three pots in the picture?" I did pose that question to one group of friends. Perhaps the most interesting response -- and the response that gets most to the point of why I find Jane to be such an influence on my pottery -- was from my friend, Frazer who guessed, "...they all have very pleasing shapes and proportions that look exactly 'right'."


I live with nearly forty of Jane's pieces around my house. I have them on shelves in my kitchen. I have them on shelves in my dining room. I even have them on a shelf in one of my bedrooms. And I pick them up from time to time just to examine them, wonder, and learn.

Yup. Live with Jane's pottery and learn about pleasing shapes and proportions that look exactly 'right'.

And here's why the lessons on shape and proportion carry such impact...

That's right. My friend, Jane, makes the finest stoneware and redware miniatures in the country.

It's almost shocking to be able to pick up one of Jane's pieces and have it elicit exactly the same feelings, the same sense of proportion as one might get from the full-sized version.

I've heard it said that a good way to judge the success of a miniature is to photograph it and see if thus removed from its surrounding context, it is impossible to judge the size of the piece. I think I just illustrated that Jane's pieces do, indeed, pass that test.

Jane has no internet presence, but I was able to find at least two sources if you are interesting in investigating her work further.