Friday, September 18, 2015

The Boys Down At Breadings

 The boys down at Breading’s ordered breakfast just the same as their fathers did. They hollered (seemingly to nobody) that they wanted their eggs over easy and their bacon crispy. You’d have to have been in Breading’s before to be aware of the window in the back wall of the big room that opened to the kitchen. Otherwise, you might think the orders simply appeared spontaneously.

The cigar boxes rested in big waist-high glass cases along the wall. Oh yeah, it was a cigar store. It started out that way, anyway. Breading's Cigar Store. It was one of the shops that lined the few downtown blocks along the old Lincoln Highway.

By the 80’s it wasn’t seed and feed caps you’d see on the heads. Oh, maybe some. They may have crowned some of the older heads. But the current knights of this informal town round table parked their pick-ups outside beside the banker’s and lawyer’s cars. And they talked about what they’re building that day.

And they built over Monoquet – the village’s first site -- where their kids hunted for arrowheads along the banks and adjacent fields of the Tippecanoe River. John Deere and their dads before them had already pretty much changed the rest of the county. Changed all but the winding waterways and glacier lakes. Together, Deere and the dads shaped the county into the neat squares of a quilted landscape that changes color with the seasons.

Three blocks to the south, engineers drove their East-West trains through town, pulling miles of goods from Pittsburgh-to-Chicago just as they had for over a century. Four blocks to the east, the North-South tracks served Detroit-to-Indianapolis trade. The boys in Breading’s, having grown up in the rail town, no longer even registered the sound of the train whistles as they blasted through town. When you grow up in a train town, your ears get habituated.

And their sons played in the Little League diamonds in the industrial park on the west edge of town. The sons played. The dads coached and bragged. The mothers wove the community together.

Breading’s is closed now. The Lincoln Highway has been broken into vestigial segments that you drive through or across on your way to somewhere else in the county. Nowadays, the two youngest generations don’t even know what the historical marker signs that dot those fossil sections of road mean. “Lincoln Highway?” “ This was a highway?” they ask.

But the tracks still go through town. And the Little League diamonds are still on the edge of town. The town grew to the north and to the east but somehow the west edge remained the west edge. Like a tree planted against a wall. All the branches had only one way to grow.

The growing upper and middle class who knew what they wanted, wanted the beautiful landscape and lifestyle of the lakes and the forests to the north and the east. And the growing upper and middle class who didn’t so much know what they wanted, at least knew that they wanted to keep up with where the rest of the upper and middle class was going to be. Gone are the lake cottages. Year-round homes line the lakes now. Every last one of them.

The town has continued to grow. From the small native village of Monoquet, to the taming and draining of the farm land, to the industry that grew around three foundries – all in about one century’s time…

…and finally to the orthopedic industry that now defines it as a small city. It’s now a high-tech town with engineers coming from all over the world for the opportunity afforded them by the demand for their advanced skills. Here they will raise their families and shape this town in new directions.

Here’s a photo, taken in the industrial park today. There’s a game going on. As I’m working in my shop, two hundred yards to the north of me, on the other side of the tracks, here’s the scene:

Thursday, August 6, 2015


If I heard the world the way a bird hears the world
I’d be but vaguely aware of the sounds on the ground
Of the traffic noise and the voices below.
What I would hear, though,
Barely audible (unless one is listening intently for it)
Coming from the distant tree line on the horizon
Is the echo of my own call
Call and response, call and response.
Your place, or mine, or somewhere in between? 

If I saw the world the way a bird sees the world
I wouldn’t see the world of walls and barriers
Of lines, and of your side and mine.
I’d see around corners and know what’s ahead
And the shortest distance between two points
I could fly to your side. As the crow flies.
That’s what that means. No winding roads or detours
Unless I was just goofing around. (I do that)
Sometimes I’d swoop around and loop around just because I could.

And if I felt the world the way a bird feels the world
I’d do the most unlikely act in the world
Except it wouldn’t be an act
It would be for real
I’d trust the unlikely. I’d trust the invisible.
I’d trust the air beneath my wings
To carry me home.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Old Houses

Old Houses can have a different kind of attractiveness to them.

Oh, I understand that we don't all agree on that. One fella's "lived in" is another fella's "run down".

Same deal with clothes, I suppose. Some like the neat, intense color-saturation and perfect wrinkle-free texture of polyester and rip stop nylon. Others like muted flannel and denim that's not uniformly faded as if by machine, but rather, worn by time and use to the shape of the wearer.

Some like electric fired pottery with glaze applied like paint and decoration characterized by complete intentionality. And others like flame-fired pots with glazes a marriage of vaguely controlled accidents and hope.

One person's driveway that needs tending -- new gravel and better edges -- is another person's two-track invitation to a more inviting, more mysterious place that just MUST be full of stories and history.

Old houses have old plantings. Yews can still make neat lines, but one can no longer perfect their geometry.

Ivy weaves itself into a lawn so gradually that it's impossible to remember when it was restrained into shady beds.

Pines that started out as little more than seedlings and dreams of eventual natural privacy fences, display -- once mature -- their own idea of what should and shouldn't be seen beyond their border.

Some might see an old house that sits in the middle of an industrial park and notice the scrap metal yard to the West, the orthopedic giant to the North, or the heating and cooling shop to the South... 

....while some would rather feed their pastoral imaginings by enjoying the hay field to the East as the neighbor's John Deere pocketa-pocketa-pocketas its mowed hay into windrows on a sultry Summer morning.

Check out the changes to my show schedule.  I've added a few and cancelled a few.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Getting Green Again

The changes:  Seasons, materials, firing schedule, glaze thickness.  

Few things stay just the same in a pottery studio. And the changes don't ever seem to happen one thing at a time.  Neither do they happen when it's convenient. 

Now that Custer Feldspar is no longer what it had been for so many years, and the substitutions appear to be fleeting, trying to get the same results from different materials is a challenge. 

But I'm getting close.  I'm finally getting my green glaze close to what it had been.  In fact, the new appearance is really nice in its own way.

This kiln load was hard-fought, though.  I've made some adjustments to the kiln to alleviate a long-annoying hot-spot.  As I failed to take that into consideration, the effect of cone 10 going down didn't really mean the same thing as it did with that annoying hot-spot warming the blind side of my kiln (I have peep holes in one side only). 

Because I failed to consider that cooler cone 10, when I opened the kiln on Monday, all the green was gunmetal gray.  I pulled out the old cones, set a couple of new sets on the still hot floor of the kiln (that way if they were going to blow, they'd do so right away and I could clean them out and start over).  Once I was sure the cones were going to survive, I shut the door and simply refired the whole darn load.

It came out perfect.  Best green glaze in over a year. 

I hope I learned enough from that firing to skip that extra step double firing. 


Monday, April 20, 2015

Breeze Bauman PAX

It's not ALL work around here.  This past weekend, Dar and Breeze teamed up to finish their PAX (preferred agility excellent) title at an agility event in Merrillville, IN.  The PAX is earned by qualifying in both events -- standard agility and jumpers with weaves -- at the same event ... 20 times!

Our pottery schedule doesn't permit Dar and Breeze to get out as often as they'd like (or as often as most agility teams get to in order to score THIS many double-Qs).  That means that Breeze's success rate is pretty darn good.

I'm mighty proud of them.  They've sure put in the hours of training.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


I didn't have enough room AND it was too windy to display my bowls standing up in stands (as is my habit) last weekend in Fort Worth. Because of that, I found myself displaying the bowls flat (imagine that? Displaying them just as they might be used in the home?)....and I was putting them one inside the other.

I liked the way it looked -- especially when the bowls didn't match. So, on the long drive home I kept envisioning making sizes of bowls that would fit one inside the other....that would sort of "mix'n'match" various patterns.

Here are some of the first ones.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Deep In The Heart Of Texas

I just got back from the Fort Worth "Main Street Art Festival" where I was greeted on Saturday by a nice couple who said, "We bought several pieces from you the last time you were here and we've been looking for you each year since."

It's flattering and rewarding to be remembered, and to have my pots grace the homes and lives of so many people.

This year after the festival the couple sent along some images of my pottery in their house.

The first is a close-up. The second shows that they live with cats. That's okay too. I can always make more pottery  !

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why Pitcher?

Why do people use pitchers in this day and age (I was asked)?

1. Because good potters keep making them.

 2. It *might* be the most iconic item a potter makes. I know dozens of guys who play instrumental music of their own composition....

You know how condiments come in those little plastic packets? try every which way to get them open, frustrated just shy of resorting to getting some scissors....until you finally notice the serrated top that allows you to tear the packet open?

Musical 'covers' and pitchers are like those serrated tops. They offer an opening into better and more quickly understanding what we're hearing or looking at (or using). They help make the ambiguous less so.
When a musician plays a piece of music with which I'm familiar (a cover), I am given an opening into better understanding where he's going with his own compositions. 

Look at how a potter makes a pitcher and you'll more likely know who she is, where she came from, what's important (and not) to her, what she's wanting to say with the rest of her pots...

Pitchers are like google translator.

3. Pottery pitchers elevate the common use of pitchers. Do tupperware or other plastic pitchers serve to function better? Sometimes. Maybe even 'usually'. But if life is going to be reduced to MERE Anthony Newly sang, "Stop the world, I want to get off."

4. Pitchers are a potter's heritage. It's where we came from. We're post modern folks trying to come to grips with a culture that accepts 'new' as superior. We intuit that that's not right, while simultaneously acknowledging that nostalgia may not be an any better reality.

But embracing our heritage ain't no ways nostalgia. It's dues. And it's pleasure. It's humility of the best kind -- grasping the reality of our place in a long continuum, the timeline of which we can hope we aren't even to the mid-point on.

5. Because pitchers are awesome.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Day 1: A Potter's Journey

Here is my first offering of three images as part of the internet project for which the estimable John Tilton nominated me. I will start with the simplest of ideas:

I was laughing right out loud. And I was doing so before the internet ever even invented LOL-ing. I was paging through the immensely huge "The Potter's Dictionary of Materials and Techniques" by Frank Hamer. I came upon a listing for "Clobbering". It's a term for over-embellishing pottery in a (vain) attempt to add value to it.


I love it.

Well, here are my TOTALLY UN-clobbered "sunburst" pots. They are (I hope) nothing but simplicity, shape, glow, and function. Inspired in form by my love for the paintings of Bruegel the Elder -- paintings of taverns, dances, weddings, and gatherings -- all with contemporary pottery of the day candidly captured throughout the paintings. And it was all pottery that was so compelling in form, I wanted to reach into the paintings and pull them out and hold them.

These pots have no embellishment beyond the glow of an iron red glaze and a rutile stain. It was my goal to show the beauty of an ungilded lily.

Day 2: A Potter's Journey

This is day #2 of the pottery image project into which John Tilton nominated me -- the posting of 3 images of (my) pottery for each of the next five days.

Yesterday I chose to post the most unadorned (austere?), least decorated pots that I make. I love working that way. While others may be off exploring the outer edges of the universe of space and color -- the 64 box of Crayolas -- I find that I can still be utterly fascinated by -- and never come to the end of what I can do with just the blue crayon, the red crayon, and the yellow crayon.

Still, I figured out early on that the decorating techniques I most enjoyed utilizing were those that added texture and pattern to the surface of the raw clay. Carving, slip-trailing, impressing. I like the immediacy, the pleasure, and the POWER of working with a surface I can still manipulate.

Conversely, I never much enjoyed glazing.

I have yet to meet the potter who didn't enjoy the stage of naked pottery as much or more than the actual finished piece. And that's certainly true in my case. Since I do work in a manner wherein I decorate the naked surface of the pot, I have the added pleasure around my studio of enjoying a landscape of my own making -- pots with texture galore.

Today I'll post three images of naked pots in process -- a taste of what it's like to step into my shop. Tomorrow I'll post images of how I solved the conundrum created by my love for texturing but my dislike for glazing.

Day 3: A Potter's Journey

This is day #3 of the pottery image project into which John Tilton nominated me -- the posting of 3 images of (my) pottery for each of the next five days.

Yesterday I posted naked pots and mentioned that I like decorating with texture -- carving, slip, stamping, etc. That meant that some time ago I had to find or develop glazes that accentuated that texture.

Back then I was once set up next to a fellow who did bronze sculpture. I found myself wishing I could achieve something of that verdigris appearance in a glaze. That would solve the problem of how to make textures stand out AND maintain the appearance of "natural" surfaces I'm always striving toward.

I did lots of testing of barium glazes in my quest, thinking that they were the ones that seemed closest to what I was after. Truth is, though, I really didn't want to think of the problems inherent in producing functional pottery with barium glazes. Besides, in all of my testing, the barium glazes yielded a yellow over the textures. That wasn't what I was after.

Then I stumbled upon a glaze that lots of potters were using as a turquoise. It broke to a nice white over texture, didn't contain barium, and added a pleasing dimpled texture to un-carved surfaces. With a bit of tweaking of the chemistry to make the surface a little more "buttery" and the color more in line with what I had in mind, I came up with this.

Day 4: A Potter's Journey

This is day #4 of the pottery image project into which John Tilton nominated me -- the posting of 3 images of (my) pottery for each of the next five days.
The first three days I posted images of current work. 

As a bit of a departure, and by way of something of a retrospective, I'm going to post three postcards I made a few years ago when I found myself exploring ways to evolve the business side of the pottery to adapt to changing times, changing economics, changing capabilities (2000-3000 pots a year is getting harder as I age).

I came up with the idea that I could offer up my services as a workshop presenter -- after all, 35 years of doing this might have taught me a few things that others might be interested in learning, right? And while a number of my friends were opening their shops to students, my shop -- fantastic as it is with all the great tools and all -- is just too small to accommodate any more than just me within its walls.

So, I figured if I was going to present workshops, my strong hand was surface decoration -- especially that surface decoration done with slip. I'd learned most of what I do by trial and error, which led me to some unexpected places (and made for at least one very humorous discovery when I learned that I had not, in fact, invented "feathering" smile emoticon )

Anyway, I advertised myself using the following postcard images. And though I only had one taker for my offer of workshops (and scheduling made even that one not workable) -- I did end up with some images that I like and that somewhat sum up the previous 20 years of my pottery. (yes, 1 or 2 of the images are like what I've already shared).

If you find yourself curious about my process with any of the following imaged pots, let me know. I've still got the workshop notes. 

Day 5: Journey Through Clay

Day 5 of the pottery image sharing. It's been a great project and I'm thankful to John Tilton for getting me to invest the time in doing it. I've been introduced to some great pottery from around the world.

For my final day I'm torn between posting three of my favorite images or posting some things by which many of the folks who buy my pottery identify me. As the latter is something that presumably makes me different, I'll go with those.

I noticed something developing in my work around the late '90s. It wasn't a direction I followed by virtue of some big plan. I've never had an aerial view of my life like that. I'm a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other kind of guy. And when I get to where I'm going, sometimes I stop, look around, and say "Oh. So THAT'S how I got here. hmmm."

And "how I got here" is that it seems, perhaps due to the amount of time I spend running my dog on woodland trails each day, or the fact that the year I moved to my little acre in the industrial park I started planting trees to surround myself with natural beauty and shade -- whatever the reason -- I have always tended toward glazes and forms that seemed natural. I like glazes that appear to mimic nature. I try for shapes that are timeless.

I am not funky.

So, here are some of the more literal roads down which I've taken my work.