Monday, May 29, 2017

We Are Family

I set to the task of filling out another art fair application that asks for a couple of sentences about my work. We art fair potters have to come up with these condensed artist statements.  I dread writing them.  But yesterday I came up with this.  I kinda like it:

I'm part of that family of American potters raised on craftsmanship, detail, design, and function.

I pursue my part in that family endeavor by working in high-fired stoneware and porcelain, and utilizing and modifying glazes passed along by cousins of potters since the 1960s.

My hope is that nobody will end up owning one of my pieces without thinking that I put more of my life into that piece than the price they paid for it.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

It's All In How You Look At It

I had to look up the dates to see if I was anywhere near right. I was pretty close.

It was the summer of '68 or '69. That means I was about to turn 12 or 13. It was either the year of "The Summer Brothers Smothers Show" or it was the summer of the "Glen Campbell GoodTime Hour".

Unusually, for the Bauman family anyway...

We actually had a Television by then (when dad was alive we had two kinds of TV -- none, and ones that didn't work)...

...AND we were allowed to watch the summer replacement show for the Smothers Brothers comedy show -- even though we were never allowed to watch the actual Smother Brothers show.

I remember this because I really loved Glen Campbell's music back then. In my defense (and I'm feeling the need for one), treacly abominations like "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Country Boy (You've Got Your Feet In LA...)" were still years in the future. In 1968-69 Glen Campbell meant "Gentle On My Mind", "By The Time I Get To Phoenix", "Wichita Lineman" and other such greats that have more than stood the test of time.

And I can't wait to interrupt myself here, but: Everyone remembers the use of "Gentle On My Mind" as a sort of theme song for the show. But how many remember the use of the other John Hartford song, "Natural To Be Gone" that closed one or the other of the shows?

"What's the difference being different
When it's difference but it looks alike
You say I'm changing,
I'm not sure that's wrong

Today it may be natural
Sitting here discussing it
Tomorrow just as natural
To be gone"

Anyway, there we sat watching the show and Glen came on singing another song I used to love..."Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife"

As I remember it, I turned to mom and said, "I love this song". I'm not sure why I said anything except for the fact that, unlike many teens in that era -- an era that actually coined the phrase "generation gap" -- though mom didn't share my love of contemporary pop music, two things were true:

1. She did like good music -- good songs. She didn't reject music simply because it was current. No, she didn't like much of what was produced in the 60s, but from time to time she would give a nod to a good song.

2. I liked most of mom's favorite music (except opera :) ). Unlike most kids my age who rejected the music of their parents, I actually loved it. I loved the big band records -- Dorsey, Miller, Goodman, etc -- that mom had around the house. And I love Broadway musicals of the time.

So, I suppose, that's why I would have turned to mom with a tacit question in my observation "I like this (do you?)"

And I was really quite surprised by her response. I guess I should say, I wasn't surprised that she might not like a song I liked. What I was surprised at was that she so VEHEMENTLY didn't like it.

She said, "That song has exactly the wrong perspective on life."

Now, I was thinking this whole thing out from a boy's point of view. I was seeing a male singer's expression of self-abasement while praising his wife's self-abnegation. I was seeing a husband's humility at not being capable of giving a wonderful wife the life he thought she deserved.

But mom would have none of it. "First, she didn't give up "the good life". The things she "gave up" as described in the song are not "the good life". Family life is "the good life", she said. "The things the song says she "gave up" are material ... not what matters in this life. The life of the actual everyday housewife is the very life of value and meaning. The very."

Well, I couldn't really dismiss my initial perspective. I'm a guy who to some extent sort of lived out the song. As a fellow who chose to make a living by my creativity and wits, I unintentionally gave Dar a much harder life than she deserved. I'm a guy. I guess I'll always be hampered by that missing stem of a Y chromosome.

Besides, I was always going to love the song. I was addicted to maj7th chords at a very early age. And to this day, I've never gotten over them.

But now, given the distance of time, and the 20/20 perspective it affords, I've got to say that the IMPLICATIONS of mom's point of view TOTALLY flew over my head at the time. The implications of mom's point of view are mind-blowing.

That is, mom believed that the "dreams of the everyday housewife" are fulfilled in being what she was -- not in wanting or wishing or lamenting the passing or unattainability of some romantic "other life". It was in the satisfaction and fulfillment achieved in who she already was.

And here's the mind-blowing part: This woman, left behind by a man who left her with very few material prospects for hers and her family's future, her father a disinterested, disengaged, and unsympathetic retiree living a life of ease and disconnect from his distance in Florida, and her with 4 kids still at home to care for...

This woman who had to take a bookkeeping job so that she could maintain the roles of BOTH provider AND caregiver...

...rather than feeling a sympathy for Glen Campbell's poor everyday housewife who gave up the good life...

...STILL somehow saw herself living "the good life". The very good life.

And even in those toughest of circumstances -- that night in 1969 -- her having been widowed but 2 years before.... as we sat watching that TV show, having just eaten the dinner she fixed that evening, in the house she kept clean, wearing clothes she both paid for and laundered...

...and her sitting with us watching the TV show (but you just know she had to be contemplating that she would be getting up again at 5 AM to fix our school lunches before she went off to work yet another Monday)...

...and yet she saw herself living the good life. And she wouldn't budge from the position. She believed it. She lived it.

As a son, I'm amazed. What she was really telling me was that, to her, even I was worth it. And her life showed it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

All In A Day's Work

Early this afternoon, Breeze and I were out walking in a beautiful, relatively up-scale neighborhood in town.  As we strolled and sniffed (me mostly strolling and Breeze mostly sniffing) we happened upon a fellow out cutting his lush, deeply green lawn on a riding mower.

Then I realized what I was actually witnessing.  Instead of cutting his lawn in straight rows from street to house and back again (or from side to side…or, even still, on a diagonal), he was cutting the lawn in ever diminishing sloppy rectangles, turning indistinct 90 degree turns at the corners.

Well, I did what any thoughtful person would do.  I broke into a full run toward the man and his mower and executed a perfect tackle – unseating the man and knocking him to the ground.  There I held him in a headlock as I screamed at him, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MAN?!  THINK!!”

Breeze joined in and chomped him a couple good ones in the pants.

To his credit, when I finally let him up he said, “Sorry.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  Thanks.”

As Breeze and I walked away we saw him brush himself off and get back on the mower.  We lingered just long enough to watch him cut straight across the lawn. And on our return back past the place, we saw it had been finished up correctly – nice straight lines.

People, you can’t change the world all at once.  Just one soul at a time.  That’s how it’s done.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mugs Make It Home

Here are a couple of photos taken by friends who live with my pots.
 Green Mug w/Guitar.  My friend, Mike, lives out on in the Pacific Northwest. 

Oak Mug w/Cat.  My friend, Jan, from Michigan

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Know Thyself

We've slowly but surely been clearing stuff out around the pottery -- anticipating an ultimate move.  It means getting rid of things that haven't had any use for years.

This morning I took a load of scrap metal to the recycle plant (read: junkyard -- which also happens to be my next door neighbor).  The most interesting throw-away was an old cast aluminum electric wheel from the 60s.

Anyway, as I was pulling back into the north end of my horseshoe driveway I noticed an old pickup truck entering the south end. 

As I came around the bend, the driver of the pickup had exited his truck and was walking toward me as I was getting out of my van.

I knew what he wanted.  At least, I was pretty sure I knew what he wanted.  As part of my cleaning out the kiln barn, I had set two old Lawnboy mowers (including one, the engine of which I blew last week) out at the end of the driveway.

Where I live, that's all one has to do to get rid of things -- dead mowers, dead dishwashers, magazines, boxes of cassettes (all of which I've placed there over the last week).  Usually within the day -- often within the hour -- someone will pick up whatever's put there.

Well, as I mentioned, I thought I knew what the pickup driver wanted.  So it was my expectation rather than his heavy rural Hoosier accent that threw me as, walking toward me he said "Die takeyer parkinplace?"

I said, "What?"

He repeated "Die takeyer parkinplace?"

Since I thought he was asking permission to take my dead mowers, but apparently in some new language I'd never before heard, I asked once again, "What?"

And once again he said "Did I  take your parking place?"


I finally got it.  He was politely asking me if, having entered my driveway in such a manner to block my exiting, was he in the way?

"No, no.  I'm not leaving." I said.

THEN he asked if I was getting rid of the mowers.

I told him he was welcome to them and that, in fact, I would help him hoist them into the bed of his pickup.

"I LOVE mowers." he said  as he walked beside me toward the mowers and his pickup.  "Just love 'em." 

He was smiling rather excitedly for somebody about to take possession of two mowers with zero life between them.  But there you have it.  He was genuinely happy.

"It drives my wife a little crazy.  I've got probably about 35 mowers.  Maybe 5 or 6 riding mowers.  I'll pick up other old ones for parts and see if I can get 'em all running.  These'll be good for some stuff" he said as we lifted the older one.

I was thinking about the fact that having blown the engine in my mower last week, I was suddenly in the market for a replacement.  That, and the fact that I'd just the day before been discussing with my friend, Garry, about a friend of his who fixes old mowers for resale and turns out some mighty fine machines, I asked the fellow, "Do you sell the ones you fix up?"

"Oh no, I don't sell any of them.  I'm a hoarder."

He said it with a sense of .... I don't know ... pride?  He was more than fine with it.

Such clarity.   The man knows who he is and what it's about.  

While I go through life hoping in vain for an aerial view of my life, this guy is absolutely delighted with one simple bit of knowledge:  He loves lawnmowers.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Big Bird Week

I had barely left my home on Zimmer Rd, headed for the St Croix Valley Pottery Tour when two Sandhill cranes flew low over the road in front of me.  There's no mistaking them for herons.  They fly with necks outstretched.

And that was cool enough as it was.  A nice launch to my long journey.  But cooler still -- as I crossed the Wisconsin/Minnesota State line, two Sandhill cranes flew low over highway 94 in front of me.

Could it be?

Nah.  Obviously not the same two birds.  But the phenomenon was like putting quotation marks on either end of my long journey.

Then, on Saturday morning after saying farewell to Kyle Carpenter and Richard Vincent at Richard's pottery, I got back in the van and headed for Will Swanson's pottery.  I was nearing Swanson's when I went down a gentle dip in the road.  As I did, a pheasant flew across the road in front of me.  I don't spend enough time in the country.  The sight was a rare and beautiful thing to me.

Well, today I was out on the shore of Pike Lake and my attention was grabbed by a sudden flash of movement followed by a sizable splash about thirty yards from where I stood.  Up from the splash came a big bird.  A VERY big bird.

My first thought was that it was the bald eagle I had seen in almost exactly the same place yesterday. But, nope.  It was an osprey.  And it had missed its fish. It rose up from the lake and I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it -- mid flight -- shake water off itself just as a dog might do. 

It then rose and held stationary in the wind -- soaring like a kite. It's all wing and it was obvious that it could have held still in the wind almost indefinitely.  From its vantage point about 50' above the lake's surface it spotted another fish.

Down it dove, hitting the water with a mighty splash, diving below the surface, only to come up empty-taloned again.

It repeated the aerial hunt four more times -- each unsuccessful -- before finally flying off to a different fishing hole.

Birds fascinate me.  It doesn't surprise me that we humans have concocted as much myth and lore around them as we have.

My mother-in-law used to feed a particular cardinal.  For years the same red bird stayed around her home in inner city Indianapolis.  She talked to him (for the record, his name was "Mr Cheer").  At that age when it becomes hard to find the right gift to buy for an older person, we took to buying things with redbird motifs on them.  Dar stitched a sampler or two on the theme.

Now, whenever a cardinal flies across my path -- as they so often do as Breeze and I run the trails -- I imagine to myself that my mother-in-law is saying a prayer for me from her celestial vantage point.

Birds.  Love 'em.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Surviving Butterfly Wings

Back then one guy --Joe-- was a struggling potter about to make a big life-changing decision involving a great deal of risk in order to continue making pots for a living.

The other guy --Harry-- was at the top of his game -- generating a good income making and selling some of the best pottery being made in the country at the time.

The NEA awarded the meritorious pottery. The NEA panel knew good pottery when they saw it. 

And the NEA gave a five-figure grant to Harry -- no loss of inventory, no pottery required. No months of labor invested to earn tens of thousands of dollars. Just a check for thousands and thousands of dollars to put in the bank.

Meanwhile, Joe took the risk. He believed in himself and his potential as a potter. Oh, to some extent it also seemed the only thing he was capable of doing, but either way, he took the risk on his chances.

Joe went thousands and thousands of dollars into debt.

Adding insult to injury, Harry walked away with the Nation's stamp of approval to take back to the open market --- a stamp of approval that Harry can point to when he's across the aisle from Joe at the market -- that same Joe who was not at the top of his game, already struggling by comparison to Harry's pots. No, Joe wasn't at the top of his game. Yet.

Yup. The Nation spoke and decided who was the deserving potter and who wasn't.

Hey, buying public, who do you think you should be buying from? ...the guy we just told you is one of the 20 best potters in the country....
...or that struggling potter across the aisle there?

I know, right? A no-brainer.

Now it's 30 years later. We can see where the butterfly wing effects ended up.

The risk one potter took is the only burden he cannot currently bear. He didn't really survive it. Not in a manner suitable for somebody his age.

Harry is still making some of the best pottery this country has ever seen. I'm sure that Joe didn't mind such a wise and equitable use of his tax money though, huh?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Keeping Real

He never once wished
And he only twice hoped
He mostly kept his head down
And his nose to the wheel

He learned not to dream
Not to yearn, but to cope
To be steady, content and only
To suppose what was real

Fitting In

He was surprised to discover upon stuffing his ego into a box he thought would fit it, that there appeared to be a considerable amount left over.

He even sat on the lid to push it down. No way. It not only pushed back, it ripped the lid.

He checked the bottom of the box for the size. Perhaps he had picked up the wrong box, right?

No. It was already the biggest box he could find.

Does this box make my ego look fat?

Well, this is embarrassing, he thought. I wonder how many people have noticed how big my ego is? How's come I never noticed this? I thought my humility covered it.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Some pots from recent firings

 I really like these mugs.  Good thing, too.  Half of them (so far) have stuck to the shelf and became mine.
 Something I learned last year.  A simple Kemper tool DOESN'T carve so deep as to go through the wall.  But almost.
 I have another dozen of these lined up ready to fire.
 This glaze went orange as ever last firing.  Lots of crystals.
 I love the optical effect and the opulent glaze.
 A little Shankin treatment -- fake ash over matte glaze.
 I'm so glad to have my green glaze back.  The depth it creates with carving is unparalleled. 
 The last of the 182G around the shop.  Next load will be B-Mix and crossed fingers.
 Still love these when they come out like this one.
 I've got 10 more of these begging me to fire 'em.
 Baby got back.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


Maybe he's looking on from his distance, beer in hand. If so, I imagine he looks hopefully for signs that he left something -- anything behind. He looks to see if he mattered. 

And I'm guessing he sees something of himself -- a couple of grandsons he didn't stick around to meet but who resemble him -- one might even say strikingly so.

He set the life course for at least a few of his older kids. I'm sure he sees that. And the ones whose course he didn't help set, he did anyway. His absence changed the course of their lives just as surely as his overwhelming presence set the former's.

Life is busy. I'm guessing that most of us folk don't spend even a second of each day wondering about the folk who came before.

Besides, such wonderings don't net much. We can contemplate the butterfly wing inceptions to the winds that fill our sails today. But ultimately we mostly just keep our hand to the rudder. We can't control the wind. We just set the sail.

And it's hard to be nostalgic about people we never knew (though has built an entire business betting that we do so anyway). Heck, of my two grandads I only ever met one. I've wondered about the one I never met. What I know of the one I did meet, the disinterest was mutual. So I know that absent grandparents don't mean much.

Still, occasionally something will make us wonder where we came from.

Today, Dad would have turned 100.

W/Apologies To Cindy Walker

You give your hand to me
Tip a carafe and pour
You pick me up and see
I fall straight to the floor
I look just like a mug
But, buddy, there's no lug
I'm a yunomi

I’ll hold your warmest drink
I am the best tea one
A handled mug, I think
Seems so pedestrian
So come on, show some class
You hold me like a glass
I’m a yunomi

For I’m telling you, I’m art, I’m not a mug
Not a tumbler, a cup, or a stein
Exotic true! I cost a lot more too
So erudite and so refined

You give your hand to me
Tip a carafe and pour
You pick me up and see
I fall straight to the floor
Handles are so passé
That’s what the potters say
I'm a yunomi

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

It's Only A Paper Wasp

Say it's only a paper wasp
Hanging under my house's eaves
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believe in me

 Today is National Knock-Down Wasp Nests Day.  It's the last morning that temperatures will remain in the 30s (that's Fahrenheit for you metric folk).  At 30 degrees the wasps pose no threat.  Still, it's not a good idea to scratch them behind the ears.  They hate that.

 This morning's crack of dawn I was out with my 20' tree pruner, standing on a step ladder (my house's eaves are at least 25' off the ground).  It wasn't as dangerous as it looked.  No, really.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017


It’s that wire that no one sees but draws us to the magician’s hand.

It’s the true north that mysteriously keeps our needle pointing one way.

One day we hear the jangle, the strum of an E chord, the tip-of-a-hat in a G run, or the one-man-band of a fingerstyle song and we’re never the same. We wander through life with a different song in our mind. We notice everything guitar—of course in sound on the radio and in recording—but also the physical presence of the guitar in the background scenery of a movie set, in a commercial on TV. If we walk into a strange place and there happens to be a guitar in the room, little else occupies our mind. It calls our attention like an overheard conversation that sounds more interesting than the one in which we’re currently engaged...

“Oh, excuse me. Did you say something?”

Maybe it’s the sound that hooks us first but almost simultaneously we’re drawn to the guitar as a work of art. Curiously, in the horizontal position we view it as a practical tool to make our music. But we view it as art in the vertical—resting on its heel, that perfect balance, that anthropomorphic symmetry. Proof? --the guitar tester’s dance-- you know the one. You’ve seen it and you’ve done it. Play a riff, a chord, a song, and as that final strum is cast…we pick it up, left hand still holding the neck, right hand on the end pin…and we do that graceful pirouette ‘til we’re face to face with the guitar and the sound it’s making. Eyes take in the beauty from peg to bridge. Then the grin…

...Fred, meet Ginger.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Un-Instructible

I've started and stopped several times.  I get started and the same morass of too much assumed knowledge that I don't possess (which specific materials, what programs, what computer graphics terms mean), combined with too much unnecessary information helpfully offered by amateur youtube videographers always results in false starts.

I get nowhere.  And I just punked myself into yet another couple hours foray into the swamp again, thinking "This can't be that difficult.  We're not talking rocket science."  I was wrong.  Again.  It's not rocket science.  It's harder.

Last year I came into possession of a Silhouette Cameo cutter (no, I didn't buy it).  My goal was to shortcut the making of stamps for clay -- both patterns and name stamps for personalizing pieces.  It seems rather obvious at this point that the Silhouette isn't up to the task.  Looks like perhaps the Zing is the tool.

But other folks are using the cool photographic rubber stamp making process.  WAY beyond my attention span to learn via the internet.  I'd need hands-on instruction for that one.  Talk aboutcher lack of specific information about the materials involved.  I think you'd have to already know how to make these in order to learn how to make these.

So, back to foam cutting.

Did you know there are about a zillion kinds of foam?  Density, thickness, hardness.  Without being able to lay my hands on the actual stuff to guess which would actually leave an impression in clay, I have no idea on earth which foam to start to order.  So, I guess I could order some sort of samples.  But from whom?

Naive me.  I thought it might be as easy as being able to type out a name in a program like, say, photoshop, turn the name into a jpg or similar file, and shoot that over to a cutter that could zing out the name in perfect foam letters that I could stamp into soft clay.


Life is hard, but it's even harder when you're stupid., here I come.