Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I enjoy it when I have time to make my way through my google reader to some of my favorite blogs. One I read fairly often is Tony Clennell's. I found this post of particular interest -- obviously because of the gourd/pumpkin connection, and my seeming preoccupation with the way glazes mimic natural surfaces. But also because his thoughtful tie-in to caring about how a thing is made matters deeply to me.

That's the subject for one of my longer, windier posts. But right now I've got to get these gourds into the kiln tonight. I made the ones above on Friday last. I also made more of the knobs (below) for the casseroles I'll be bringing with me to Louisville for the
St James Court Art Show this weekend. I'll be right on the fountain, just as I have been for the past 20+ years.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Functional Clay/Functional Life

There are so many pleasures derived from a life in clay, but none are any more profound than when the communication by creativity in clay meets a perfect end.

My friend, Rick, just posted this to a bulletin board of our mutual friends....

I was best man at a wedding yesterday, a couple who are old friends. His wife passed a few years back, and he and his now new bride found solace in each other's company, and it grew from there.

They are both in their forties, well established, and expressly said no presents. They wanted donations to a charity she works with, Helping Hands, that provides medical services to the poor in Central America. However, we wanted to give them something beautiful - we have a couple of pieces that we were given at our wedding that we still use, that grace our table beautifully, and thought it would be a fine gift.

We gave them one of John's acorn topped casseroles. All I can tell you is the look in their eyes when they pulled it out of the box was something else. She was fighting back tears.

Thanks, John. They'll get long and loving use out of that, and they'll never forget where it came from. ~Rick

This is the kind of thing I hope for when I throw a lump of clay down on the wheelhead and think to myself, "I wonder how, through my creative enjoyment, I could make something that others would enjoy as well?"

Many thanks to Rick for sharing the story. It made my day. It adds meaning to my work, and I'll think about it often as I spend the day glazing.

Drop A Pebble In The Water
James W. Foley

Drop a pebble in the water: just a splash, and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center, flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling where the end is going to be.

Drop a pebble in the water: in a minute you forget,
But there’s little waves a-flowing, and there’s ripples circling yet,
And those little waves a-flowing to a great big wave have grown;
You’ve disturbed a mighty river just by dropping in a stone.

Drop an unkind word, or careless: in a minute it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on.
They keep spreading, spreading, spreading from the center as they go,
And there is no way to stop them, once you’ve started them to flow.

Drop an unkind word, or careless: in a minute you forget;
But there’s little waves a-flowing, and there’s ripples circling yet,
And perhaps in some sad heart a mighty wave of tears you’ve stirred,
And disturbed a life was happy ere you dropped that unkind word.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness: just a flash and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on,
Bearing hope and joy and comfort on each splashing, dashing wave
Till you wouldn’t believe the volume of the one kind word you gave.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness: in a minute you forget;
But there’s gladness still a-swelling, and there’s joy a-circling yet,
And you’ve rolled a wave of comfort whose sweet music can be heard
Over miles and miles of water just by dropping one kind word.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Blackbirds Are Back

I've noticed that the blackbird flocks are getting bigger again this year. I thought what with all my too-busyness getting ready for the fall shows and servicing a super active etsy site (THANKS!), I'd revisit a favorite video and post...

About ten years ago, my small Hoosier town was nearly taken over by huge flocks of blackbirds. Watching those flocks fly into town was amazing. The collective flight of blackbirds is like -- remember those kid's toys -- you draw pictures with metal filings using a magnet? The flocks change directions so quickly and collectively that they look positively swarm-like. I wonder what'd happen if the lead blackbird had a turn signal go out on him?

Every evening from late August 'til late October all the trees in our town came to life with millions of 'em. They'd swarm in from the fields surrounding the town, settle into the trees and chatter for hours -- like school kids at a slumber party -- until they finally fell asleep.

Back in those years I lived in a house in an older section of town. All my neighbors were in their 80's. It was like being surrounded by grandparents -- and nobody watches out for you like grandparents. Through their mostly drawn shades they’d keep a watchful eye out for us. And, worried hens that they were, regularly they’d bring us baked goods. If we seemed to be working overtime with the pottery, sure enough, there'd be a rap on the door and a pot of chili, maybe some homemade bread would be there on our back stoop. We all gardened our small back yards-- but they canned their harvest -- and my wife and I reaped the benefits. Those were good years.

Next door lived a true country renaissance woman. Lacy was an energetic eighty-something (she carefully did not tell us exactly HOW 80-something) who told us stories of her rural Indiana life – a life that included the fact that she had given birth to her three kids at home. She had some pretty gruesome tales of home medicine – like stitching cuts on herself and kids. No anesthesia. Yikes).

Lacy was funny. I remember her getting almost too tickled to talk as she once recounted to me how, all summer long on her daily walks she would stop by a neighbor's garden and weave any new growth of a squash vine so that it trailed its way up the garden fence. The pay-off was in her actually getting to hear that neighbor explain the wonders of nature to his five-year-old son. “See Danny, how God makes the plant know how to vine its way up the fence so the squash don’t lay on the dirt?”

But boy, Lacy hated those blackbirds. Most of the older folks did. They feared ‘em as a potential plague carrier. In Lacy’s back yard were two enormous Ash trees. Every evening those trees would fill with blackbirds – so many and so loud you could barely talk over the bird’s chatter if you were standing under them. I was in the kitchen one such evening when I heard Lacy out on her driveway clapping her hands and trying to shoo them off.

I went down to my basement and, with a 1X4 and a flap of rubber, I made Lacy a very loud clapper. I made it so you could hold it in your hand (I band-sawed out a handle) and with a casting motion, clap one piece of 1X4 against the other piece hinged to it with the rubber.

I proudly took it over to her the next day. As evening came on, we gave it a try and, sure enough, the birds loudly exited – a thousand wings beating retreat.

But the next day, though they fled again, they circled and came back. Pretty soon we would use the clapper and they would barely stir -- maybe a few birdcalls twittered from the lower branches and “telephoned” their way up, informing the upper branch birds that it’s safe to just stay put.

Within a week I was taking a 7 foot 1X8, standing with one foot on one end, flexing the length of the board with as much potential energy as I could possibly muster out of that bent lumber – then letting go with full force against the pavement of the alley between our houses. The BANG!!! Was enormous, and the birds fled. But again…

…they came back.

It took me until way into the fall before I finally began to suspect that I was actually becoming the entertainment that was keeping thousands of blackbirds staying in our northern town when nature and the oncoming cold weather should have long-since moved them on. I imagined them there – thousands of blackbirds – brown-bagging the popcorn in from the fields – perched up on the branches like so many tiered theater seats…

…watching and laughing themselves silly at the crazy guy down below making the big noises with the sticks.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Music Bustin' Out All Over

This past Sunday I was at the Mount Mary's Starving Artist Show in Milwaukee, WI. The Starving Artist show is probably the most remarkable art fair in the country -- almost certainly the best selling day for pottery of all kinds anywhere, any day.

The show is held on a grassy area the size of a soccer field. The area is surrounded by bright orange drift fence. Though the gates don't open until the college tower bells strike 10 AM, the patrons begin to line up outside that drift fence no later than 6 AM. Armed with newspapers and other reading material, coffee, smiles, and quiet conversation, the line of people waits patiently for that 10 AM bell.

And the crowd grows. And grows. And grows. It grows until the lines at both entrances snake the entire length of that soccer field-drift fence, and then disappear around the corner. When the 10 AM bell does finally ring, the patrons race inward toward their favorite artist(s) to get their pick of work.

photo by Char terBeest Kudla

And why do they line up, and why do they rush in?

...because everything the artists bring to sell at the Starving Artist Show must be priced below $100. And MANY, if not all the artists, bring work that is regularly priced over $100 and sell it at the discount price. My good friend, Brian Beam, brought bowls that he regularly sells for over $300, and jars he sells for even more. Same with the nationally known clay team of Steve and Miky Cunningham who were selling mirrors and other pottery items for WAY below their usual show prices.

I've done the show for many years now, and I've never been disappointed.

This past Sunday, I also had the joy of having several of my musician friends from all over the midwest stop by my booth. And they all brought their instruments. Knowing they were coming, I brought my guitar and mandolin as well and we closed out the final hour ....and the hour after the show was closed down, jamming in front of my booth.

My good friend, Linda Kucharski (wife of one of the guitar players, Paul, pictured below) took some photos, and generously shared them with me. Here's one of me with my Shenk guitar...

Here (obviously, the show is over, and trucks have pulled into the grounds to pack up) I am playing with my friend from Minnesota, Editor at Minneapolis Star Tribune, and professional guitar player, singer/songwriter, Bill Hammond. ...

Here's my good friend, Marty Reynolds. Marty is a VERY well-known luthier/stringed instrument repair guy for the famous "The Podium" guitar store in Minneapolis. Marty has worked on the guitars of such musical luminaries as Leo Kottke and Pat Donohue. Here he is playing my Shenk guitar...

Here is that "Paul" I mentioned previously. He's a terrific guitar player who gigs around the western suburban Milwaukee area, as well as doing volunteer work for the "Guitars for Veterans" program. He's a terrific fingerstyle guitar player and founder of the Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitar website. Facing away from the camera is my friend, Marshall Hjertstedt -- a Chicago-area architect, singer/songwriter, and all-around nice guy.

And here Breeze gets in on the action...

Thanks to all my friends for coming by! Thanks for the love and support!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cherry Weissenborn Yesterday

I get the occasional inquiry, "Why does your google image ("avatar") show you with a guitar instead of at your potter's wheel?"

Well, if you've read my blog much, you know that music is a real passion of mine. Beyond that though, that guitar I'm pictured with is both an anniversary gift from Dar, and it's the fine craftsmanship of a good friend, Jim Shenk, of Goshen, IN. That makes it an instrument I treasure doubly. And that picture was taken just seconds after I received the guitar. A very happy memory.

Jim calls his shop "Wooden Music"

I've spent many enjoyable hours up at Wooden Music, watching Jim work, enjoying his instruments and seeing the new ones as he finishes them, and playing music with Jim and the many other musicians who hang around the shop. There are always other musicians hanging around the shop. The area musicians are like iron filings, and Wooden Music is a big, powerful magnet that draws us all to it. I've written about Goshen and Wooden Music a few other times in this blog. If you put "Goshen" in the search box above, you'll find several other posts.

But the thing that precipitated yet another music-related post is that I just got pictures of Jim's latest creation -- a "Weissenborn" style guitar. A Weissenborn is one of several types of "lap style" guitars -- that is, they are made to be played while laying flat in the lap, and fretted with a bar of glass, steel, or some other similarly hard material.

Well, a couple of years back, Jim got an amazing board of cherry that had been cut nearby in Indiana. I had never seen anything like it. It was figured with as much "flame" as any flamed maple I'd ever seen. The pattern was regular, remarkable, and simply stunning to look at. And it was BIG. From this one board, Jim built a full 16" jumbo guitar, a small Gibson "L" shaped guitar, and now this Weissenborn.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Playing Possum, or Pogo 1, Breeze 0

It's a chilly, beautiful morning here. I was up and out in the shop at 4:30 trying to get a kiln going. Out in the early morning darkness of the back yard, the dogs got ahold of a possum. Before I could stop the action, Breeze had rubbed both sides of his face in the stuff he'd just scared out of the possum.

He smelled so bad that he had those stink lines radiating from him like stinks do in the comics. So, instead of finishing up the glazing, I spent the first half hour of the morning bathing Breeze.

And the possum that the dogs had killed -- the possum I saw in the dim circle of light from my flashlight, lying still on its side with its eyes glazed over? It got up and walked away while I was in the shop washing Breeze's face. The dogs are obviously not exactly deadly assassins.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Bookcase

It occurred to me that I've got a way of illustrating several of the potters I've talked about recently in my posts about Indiana shows and my posts about my trip to North Carolina. In the bookcase above I have some pieces of several of the potters mentioned.

From the top left and working down left to right...

Top Shelf:

John Peterson -- squared-off large bowl/oribe glaze

Cary Hulin -- two gallon jug/celadon glazed, wood fired

Bob Reiberg -- raku vase (coincidentally, the one shown on the cover of Craft America)

Jo Severson -- small vase/Reitz green/black glaze (Jo's is right in front of one of my porcelain pitchers)

Second from the top shelf:

Jim Kemp -- platter/earthenware with velvets glaze

Larry Spears -- covered jar/copper red glaze

Tim Mather -- plate/copper red glaze

Third from the top shelf:

Antique Spode teapot

Ellen Shankin -- squared baking/serving dish/iron red glaze

Fourth from the top shelf:

Gail Russell -- Large porcelain platter with copper red glaze

Gail Russell -- small "yo-yo" jar with copper red glaze

Stephen Hill -- two quart stoneware pitcher with "Laura's Turquoise" glaze

Richard Aerni -- bowl with ash glaze

Dave Marshall -- small vase, low fire, fake ash turquoise glaze

Adam Spector -- large pitcher

One of my bowls is behind Adam's pitcher

Fifth from the bottom shelf:

Richard Aerni -- ash glazed bowl

Brian Beam -- footed oval small bowl

Two Mata Ortiz miniatures (under the miniature Windsor chair)

Jerry Krider -- wooden kiln puzzle (Jerry made these for all his Hoosier potter friends. Jerry makes his living with wood, but is also a potter)

Brian Beam -- another small oval bowl

Mark Nafziger -- large stoneware bowl/iron slip trailing under rutile blue glaze

Here's a closer view of Jerry's wooden kiln puzzle...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Carolina Continued

The first weekend of November is shaping up to be a great weekend. While down in Bloomington, Indiana last weekend (as I mentioned in Monday's post), I ran into Larry Spears. He seems as excited as I've been to head to Dillsboro in November.

Last week I heard from Donna Conley who is in the Piedmont Technical College Professional Pottery Program in Edgefield, SC. From the sounds of it, some of the folks from down that-a-way may try to make it up for the show.

Then I received an email from the "
Sawdust & Dirt" blogger, Michael Kline. Michael says that he's going to try to make it down to Dillboro at some point over the weekend.

It's going to be a POTTERY BASH! waHOO!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Back From Bloomington

My new favorite video....the Re-entrants

Bauman Stoneware/Bloomington/Saturday, Sept 4

What a great show!

I can't believe I never tried this show before. In my own home State. I just never thought about it. Bloomington is an incredibly vital little city. And I've never been in downtown Bloomington before this weekend either.

It's obviously a pottery town too. Every potter I know (and I knew almost every potter there) had a good show this weekend.
Larry Spears even took best of 3D. Never one to hold still and rest on previous work, this summer he's introduced some really creative wall sculpture.

Jeff Unzicker came down from Thorntown with his beautiful, mammoth floor pieces and shared a booth with nearly local Greg Schatz and his tasteful functional work. ...theirs was the first booth at the west end of the show.

The first booth at the east end was
Greg Neal Pottery. Greg has a knack for strong shapes and functional work that just begs to be used. He seemed to be having a great show.

My friend,
Bob Reiberg, was coincidentally celebrating his 40th anniversary with his bride, Sandy, during the show. My other friend from the Indianapolis area, Jim Kemp (who I think might just be the most creative potter in Indiana), was just a couple of booths away from me.

Two other potters of note:
Satian Leksrisawat of Louisville had his beautiful crystaline glazed porcelain pieces, and Lynn Fisher had her nature-themed pots.

Lots of pottery shop talk happened between sales! It was a great weekend.

I got in late, late last night. Still, I put in a respectable day trying to catch up and get ready for the next few shows. Etsy is still going strong! Dar spent the day packing the weekend's orders. I'm a bit too tired to write much. Sorry for the listing nature of this post, but maybe you can have some fun surfing through the links of the potters I mentioned. I'll catch up on news with tomorrow's post.

Friday, September 3, 2010


"I b'leev I kin fix that'n fer ya mister." Ed said as he discreetly used his tongue to tuck his chaw back between tooth and gum. "Let's jis bring'er inta the shop here and git'er up on th' lift and git a look under her soundhole."

"Ed, I'm so glad you are still around" said Mr Braun. "These are such impersonal times with mega-guitar shops selling self-service strings and things. Why, I remember when I was a kid. Back then there was a guitar shop like yours on every corner with a respectful fellow like yourself – all decked out in your uniform and bow tie, topped off with that dapper cap. Why, back then I remember my dad would bring in a guitar and someone would change the strings, check the tuning and even polish his guitar – all the while free with a smile and a respectful "yessir" and "no sir". Times sure have changed."

"Yessir" replied Ed.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Shout Out to Piedmont Technical College

Me (and Breeze) are (still) going to Carolina!

I just heard from Donna Conley, and she seems to be hinting that a few students in the Piedmont Technical College Professional Pottery Program in Edgefield, SC. might make their way to the Dillsboro, NC Pottery festival. If that's the case, show me a school ID and I'll give you a 10% discount.

But more important ('cause I'm not all about marketing...in case you haven't gathered as much from this blog), please introduce yourself(ves). I'd love to hear about your school and its program.

We're still in the midst of a heat wave (five days of 90-plus temps), and I'm still firing the kiln. I loaded up yet another glaze firing this morning. While I was loading the kiln, Breeze was cooling off after his morning walk...