Category Archives: pottery

Everything is fine?

fine1
fīn/
adjective
  1.  of high quality.
    “this was a fine piece of filmmaking”
    synonyms: excellent, first-class, first-rategreatexceptionaloutstandingqualitysuperiorsplendidmagnificentexquisitechoiceselectprimesupremesuperbwonderfulsuperlative, of high quality, second to none; More

  2.  (of a thread, filament, or person’s hair) thin.
    “I have always had fine and dry hair”
    synonyms: thinlightdelicatewispyflyaway More

 noun
  1.  very small particles found in mining, milling, etc.

adverb

informal
  1.  in a satisfactory or pleasing manner; very well.
    ““And how’s the job-hunting going?” “Oh, fine.””
verb
  1.  clarify (beer or wine) by causing the precipitation of sediment during production.
  2.  make or become thinner.
    “it can be fined right down to the finished shape”

    So apparently the formatting for wordpress hates me today.

  3. I can’t seem to get it to knock off this numbering thing.
  4. I’m stuck in what feels like history class from when I was a kid.
    1. I can even put things in closer

though I’m pretty sure I’m stuck here

Oh, uh, I have no idea what I did, but now the entire thing is correct and it looks like i’ve just made all that up. really I didn’t.

So Leah and I were talking about something in the car the other day and she asked me if a thing was fine. It’s getting blurry now that I’m trying to re-hear the conversation. “Was it fine?” or something like that. I sort of mumbled, “ya gesso.” and a drip of sweat fell from my nose onto my shirt. Which launched us into the meaning, and usage, of the word FINE. While I recognize the many applicable meanings, what I think of most often in reference to the word FINE is just sort of ho hum. No complaints really. No problems. Functional adequacy. (I just made that up) Nothing special to write home about. She threw back at me that there is a Class distinction in usage that isn’t fully conscious on my part. My dad used the GI bill after his time in the USMC and learned how to lasso numbers and get them to do what he wanted. My sister got that from him. I did not. Not that anyway. I got other things from him. But she got the numbers. My father is part of that great AMERICAN DREAM that the Greatest Generation believed in. His father, my grandfather that gave me my last name, got a gob with no significant education (maybe finished high school but I’m not entirely sure) in a Tool and Die factory in Youngstown OH. The factory moved to Conneaut is 1948. Because of his skills, he, like my steel worker other grandfather, was ineligible for the draft to serve in WWII. Essential services. They were made to feel good about their not fighting in the War to End All Wars 2.0. They weren’t cowards. They made a living and provided all the things they were supposed to, per that AMERICAN DREAM. I would imagine that household was fairly loud (Italian) and undoubtedly got pretty physical at times (3 boys). Grandpa watched his boys go off to the Marines (2 of them) and then a different 2 get college educated. The dreamers in the family weren’t my father. He got a numbers job with the State and turned that into one with the Federal Govt. Private Contractors were Civilian Employee back in the early 80’s. So he made enough of a living that we never wanted for the basics, not ever in my memory. So according to the terms of the American Dream, he/they did it right. And I can’t argue that. They did what they “knew.” Especially my grandfather and his Greatest Generation. Regardless of the ultimate cost.  Our lives weren’t hot new cloths and the latest sound system and dirt bike and a zipper jacket for everyone. Not that kind of money. But enough to get it done. My childhood was not brutal or a struggle by most any standard. I grew up a pink skinned boy in the 70s and 80s. Back the, being such a person gave me an advantage that I didn’t really know about for many years. Things were turning towards the toilet and they had absolutely no clue how weird it would all get. But the thing I remember asking my mother about that rings loud and clear after at least 35 (closer to 40) years ago was, “What class are we?” “Oh,” she replied, “there are no classes in America.”

Well, no. We were all taught this. Boot strapping your way to the top. Rags to riches blah blah blah. And here the big circle closes, we were shown that we as NOT Elites simply could not understand what made something FINE. So we blew it off as serviceable. We were shown movies and told stories about how the elite live. Of kings and queens, Tzars and Brahmin. I caught on at some point that this was not and never would be my world. Fine things were only ever glimpsed in museums or in images in TV shows or magazines. Never tangible or accessible. Fine of that sort was fairy tale. It’s that elite FINE that is unobtainable for the great unwashed.

“How’s that shirt fit?” Fine. “How does it feel?” Fine. “What do you think of the style?” Fine. Now set that conversation against a different background. Make it a costume made silk and linen designer shirt that retails for $900. One of those ones that go under Armani Suits. Brooks Brothers and all that. That is a very different FINE.

Drinking a cup of home brewed tea out of one of my cups is undoubtedly a different16th century Nipponese Tea Bowl

from drinking it out of a 16th century Bowl used in an actual Tea Ceremony. For one thing, I like the way I make my tea. The 1 tea ceremony I went to back in 1981 was interesting but I was 11 at the time and pretty overwhelmed at just being alive and drawing breath to really pay attention to just how amazing it was to live as an 11 year old in a little island in the Pacific that had been invaded by my people and was in the process of still occupying the land that was already in the midst of several hundred years of occupation. (Okinawa is a distinct people and culture from either Japan or China) So yeah. How well do you remember one more cool thing from when you were 11? I’m amazed that I even remember it. Flying sideways off a trampoline in gym class? Seared into my memory forever, up to the part where I lost consciousness. Tea ceremony? Yeah. I guess.

So all of that, right? True class warfare sort of stuff. Well. No, not that far reaching. But it is a usage distinction that is bred not taught. I was never taught to appreciate the feel of great/fine clothing or how it feels to interact with fine foods or furniture. The stuff we had was fine and we went on with things. And most likely is comes down to that lack of breeding, but from my perspective, that tea bowl, pictured above, that’s priceless and more that 500 years old, works exactly with the same utility and function as a Styrofoam cup pulled from a sleeve. Both vessels are fine. And it really depends upon who you are asking. I know things about pottery so I have an understanding (very course and base) of how pottery can ascent from the realm of craft into the place of ART which is so amazingly rare as to be nearly nonexistent. (think 1 in 1000 thrown cups might be clear of form and line and glaze true and hold form and just be effortless to hold and interact with in terms of balance or the way it stimulates my finger tips where I’m touching it and my lips and tongue where I press my face to it to consume fluid that flows across an area of that vessel to meet my mouth. Proportion texture form volume all contribute to experience. Why else are there 900 styles of beer wine booze glass? What exactly is a high-ball? And does allowing the pilsner to speed up flowing down the long glass introduce it to the back of my tongue first and does that really allow for a fuller appreciation of the more subtle flavors?

Or is it all exactly bullshit?

It’s a cup. It’s a shirt. A car has 4 wheels (usually) and gets me from point A to point B. I got to drive a 1968 Chevy Corvette Stingray. All original and the head liner was hanging down just a tiny bit and touching my head. While I did not get to OPEN ER UP!!!! I could indeed tell that this car was about the most ridiculous, ill conceived means of moving about that I had ever been in. There is no back seat. And it did have a trunk because it was not a convertible. Driving it wasn’t a stupid thing to do. Not at all. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do either. I was taking it to get brake work done. But I could just tell that new, spanky squeaky new, this thing was a rocket. A rocket with nothing but open roads ahead. Must have been an awesome illusion. Same illusion someone gets in a Bently or Rolls. It is a car. It’s fine. I have never been a Rolls or Bentley, so I’m guessing. Sure looks like a car. Still gotta change the oil. They break when the hit things. Whoop dee doo.

I guess I was just never introduced to the world of fine things. My world was full of things that were fine.

As an aside, I did learn a thing or 2 about boots. White’s Boots has been making their product if Washington state for a century. They know what they are doing. Custom built boots are the shit. These suckers cost me all my discretionary funds to keep in shape and in soles. If there is an issue, send them back and for a cost, they re-build them from the ground up. New boots. Boots that are fine. Fine for fighting forest fires or digging holes or walking around the block. But I prefer heavy boots. My idea of fine in this case is particular. imagine working an 8 hour shift washing dishes are Applebees wearing an Armani suit. Not fine. These boots. Totally fine. Please, don’t get me wrong, these ARE NOT $8000 boots. No No No. Nothing that stupid. They are just the exact same boot that people, men for the most part, have been stuffing their feet into for a long time. They figured it out. If there is a Chippendale version of boots, I don’t really care. I’m fine with them how they are. Did I neglect my step-daughter because I did not encourage her to look higher above the horizon and appreciate the fine things in life? Is that something that is even do-able? Does any of this matter? I’m willing to bet that no one in an Armani suit, sitting in a Bentley, is wearing White’s boots. They just aren’t. And I imagine that my thinking a car is a car and a shirt is a shirt is the entire point. I’m too stupid to even care that there is a difference. I guess being this stupid has it’s own benefits. I don’t have to pay the up keep on one of those monsters. Can you imagine what the insurance costs? And you know they have most than just liability. They have the kind of insurance that spells out how they can take whatever body parts needed to rebuild the Bently owner from other party. Regardless of who’s fault it is. I mean, I guess that’s fine.

 

Accidents Happen

Photo on 7-9-16 at 1.56 PM #2

My new (to me) inexpensive electric kiln was unable to get to temperature for the second time, in spite of having taken the electrical system completely apart, replacing a cooked switch and putting it back together. Which is just as well. The coils were spent. I didn’t buy the kiln (and a spare) for their coils. I wanted the bricks and the steel wrap and kiln furniture. I got a whole lot more than that. To be sure. But it was always about the bricks. Being able to fire the thing as many times as I did was a wholesale boon. But I need a kiln to fire work. It’s that simple. So Thursday morning(7/7), over coffee and the news it became terribly obvious to me that building a wood kiln to fire earthenware was going to be an awful lot of work and that it would never get done if I didn’t go do it. So I did.

 

The sad part is that I just moved all of the bricks I used, all the shelves, even the kilns, across the street and either into the shop, or behind it in the woods.

Now it’s all sitting in the back yard in a pile. A very orderly pile to be sure. The 2 kilns are largely unchanged besides having their bottoms removed. The 3rd kiln was completely disassembled. I used a portion of the brick creating the sprung arch of the firebox. The 2 solid cement blocks (on each side) are butters for that arch. These soft brick are then covered with a layer of clay brick that were piled in the woods long long ago before any of us were born. The remainder of the soft brick are under each of the kiln bodies. Because the firebox is stepped down from the kiln floor, I only had to set the kiln bodies on 2 courses of brick to make a pass through underneath them. Set in that bottom 2 courses, I left port holes that will be used to stoke each kiln to exact temperature.  Controlling two tubes from a single distant firebox isn’t feasible if I expect any sort of regularity in temperature throughout such a divided kiln. As it turns out, one of the kilns I used (intact) is about 1″ wider than other. Different make and model I guess. So the 2 courses beneath it don’t quite match up. This leaves a lot of air gaps. Rather than try and fill these gaps with more spun silica blanket that I only have a little bit of (thanks Josh) I decided to make a cob mixture and plaster everything in place. I guess it is more of an earthen plaster than cob. There is no organic material in it. Not at this point anyway. Everything is sealed up between the firebox and the 2 kilns. The tiny-ish gaps between some of the bricks will expose the clay/sand to the inside of the kiln. But only a bit. I’m hoping it’s not too much of a problem. Not a terribly big deal as it’s only clay and sand.

When firing wood kilns to higher temperatures than I am going (stone ware/porcelain is a few hundred degrees hotter F than earthenware) every single crack and seam pukes smoke and flames when wood is added and the kiln is plunged into a high carbon, reduction atmosphere.

I toyed around with the idea of taking all the kilns apart and turning them into a dog biscuit shaped cross-draft thingy. That was way way too much more work. And I can still do it if I want. they are intact at this point. I have yet to cut holes in the kiln lids. I don’t have the right materials yet to make both chimneys. I cut the 2 bottoms which were  cracked into something resembling blocks. At this point, 1 chimney is built. I sheathed these brittle cast chunks of spun silica in half of the original steel wrap from part of the kiln that was broken apart.

I have been exchanging emails with the person who’s kiln is my inspiration (at rootedclay.com ) and am amending my chimney plan. The additional weight around a hole, which isn’t meant to be there, causes the lid to weaken, crumble and if left unchecked, collapse into the kiln while it is hot. While the visual image of smoke and fire erupting from the shattered shelves and cups is beautiful in a powerful Oh Bother sort of way, it’s not something I would like to do more than imagine. There are a million million ways to wreck a pot. I’ve found a few of them. Many more will come to light.

As it turns out, this farm seems to be some sort of bed-magnet. I’ve had more beds in this house that I have either never slept on or only slept on for a little while. And I’m not talking about just mattresses. Several of the frames here were just frames when they got here. Futon frames are great for shelving. Frames, in general, are made of metal. At least the long side rails. These are usually angle iron of at least a large enough size to support a chimney make of a little refractory material and steel.

I’m pretty busy for the next little while so it could be a while before I actually get to this. A couple weeks at most I hope. I put  a few pieces of metal roofing on top of the kiln with a bunch of bricks on it to keep the water from hitting the clay/sand. We’ve had a few pretty good downpours the last few days and it’s stayed put. If the wind gusts get too bad, the metal will become airborne guillotines. Not great but there are an awful lot of bricks on there.Photo on 7-9-16 at 1.56 PM

WHEN RACCOONS ATTACK!!!

IMG950624

Sorry, that is an almost baseless accusation. I don’t know for sure that it was a raccoon that was trying to dig its way under/in to the barn doors. This has proved to be an exercise in futility in any case. But I do know that if the doors weren’t as well built and/or closed by dark, there would be far fewer birds in the barn this morning. I say it was a raccoon, rather than a squirrel or a skunk or a black bear, because Maly actually backed one of the little bandits up a fence post in front of the barn a couple of months ago during the night shift. He was back there screaming his fool head off, charging the fence. And there was Rocky, cool as a clam, perched on top of the 4×4 wondering how it was going to get out of this one. I have these stupid moments of compassion sometimes. I simply got a LONG stick and pushed it off the post top, INSIDE the barn yard and told Maly to come with me, which he did, reluctantly. He likes the praise that much. I call it stupid because that sucker keeps coming back. Keeps digging away at the castle wall. I’m sure it has young’uns out in the woods somewhere. Guessing. What do I know of raccoons? Besides their being micro bears. It doesn’t smell like skunk either. When they are around and messing with things, in my experience, they leave their ick, just a hint, simply to let me know they were there. Barn schmarn.

One aspect of the native clay project has taken a HUMONGOUS leap forward. When I was at the gravel supplier looking at their pile of “blue clay,” I pulled a good sized chunk of what appeared to be very clean clay out. About the size of a watermelon, the lump only had about 6 or 8 stones about the size of a chick pea. The rest went through a 1/4″ screen. I just got the sense that it would work. The clay feels right. So, I thumped some down on the wheel and PRESTO. Pottery. Rather than conduct a really accurate test, I didn’t change my water so the pots have a white scum on them. This is the fine clay that was suspended in the water. I don’t think it’s all that big a deal. These cups and bowls have some rocks and chunks in them. Not terrible. the kind of thing that seems manageable as long as the supply is consistent.IMG_0631

The bits and chunks are more apparent here. Also, notice how the right bowl isn’t round at all. It was when it went into the kiln. Same with the one resting on it. They went through the firing stacked lip to lip and the left one (smaller and on top) actually sank into the larger lower one. The clay was soft enough to move with little pressure (gravity) but not so soft it actually slumped and melted into a pool. A side effect of it having gotten so soft, it has moved into the land of vitrified clay. Flick it with a finger nail and it rings like a bell. A lot higher of a tone than the earthenware (red or white) that was in the kiln with it. These guys were on the top shelf of the kiln, so they were undoubtedly hotter than everything else in there. Not a lot lot hotter, but some. the kiln is set to turn off around 1950 F. That is what the bottom looks like. I think the top went to closer to 2000 F. Doesn’t matter as long as I can get the same results and more, a lot more, of the same clay.

IMG950626

I have a lot on my mind lately so I’m doing many things at once in an effort to get back to only a few things. Yesterday I made my first insulate bricks. At least, they are something along those lines. A different clay than the stuff used to make the cups and bowls, this clay is from under the pond across the street. These bricks are made of the same stuff that the Seed House inside walls are made of. Only, these things will get heated through quartz inversion (1000 C /1832 F).

The Work is heading into a more practical direction at the moment. I’m realistic enough to know that pottery is a luxury. Especially in what passes for our current local/global economy. If I can sell a few of these things this year, awesome. I feel confident that those who purchase them will be very happy with the improvement to their daily rituals. Most folks could really care less. I remember one of my Officers at the FD that refused to drink his coffee at the station out of anything but a styrofoam cup. New cup every time. A line of ceramic cups hanging from hooks right next to the coffee maker. Only styrofoam. It’s easier to toss it than to return to the kitchen, wash the cup and set it to dry. Ridiculous. He is someone who would never think about bringing something like my pottery into his day. This, to me, is an all too common state of mind. The difference between the garbage choked river in St. Marc, Haiti and Conneaut Creek is that we have curb-side garbage pick up. All those cups would be hammered into a plastic slurry on the beaches if it weren’t for that.

With the world seemingly, once again on the brink, I gotta find a way to bring something into the world that people will use. To get them to use it, they need to need it. We need to eat. We can eat soup from cupped hands if we have to. But we, as a North American 21st Century Society, have to heat the vast majority of our food. I’m looking for a way to make food preparation more do-able. Our time in Haiti showed me what cooking is like for most folks alive, RIGHT NOW. Smoky, smelly and dirty. I’ve read many times that lung compromise from breathing cooking fire smoke is a leading cause of death in women world wide. Lots of folks are traveling around the poor parts of Earth teaching people how to make Rocket Cookers and Rocket Ovens. That’s great. It’s awesome. I don’t happen to live in East Timor or Nepal or Burundi so I can’t sit in on what they are doing. I’ve chatted a tiny bit with one of those who goes. He’s busy busy and most of it comes down to experimentation with local materials so I’m on my own for the most part. The few tests I’ve done on the shallower clay look very promising. Same clay as the bricks. This is all very preliminary. Most of what I’ve come up with so far has left a lot to be desired. There is just so much iron in all the local clay that it melts at a much lower temperature than commercial earthenware. In addition to the 25 year hiatus, I only thought “using local clay” was a neat idea back then so I didn’t learn much about processing it. Learning it now though.

Market

IMG_0611

Today was the first day of the 40th year of the Conneaut Farmer’s Market. So said Jim. Today was also the exactly 2nd time I’ve set out my wares for sale. The first time was back in the early early 90’s at the Apple Butter Festival. Didn’t sell a single thing at that sale. Today wasn’t terrible. One woman mistook my price tags on the little blue shot glasses (left end bottom left corner of box) for $0.10 not $10. I didn’t figure that I needed to put the dollar sign on the price tag. I assumed it would be obvious. I was shocked saddened and confused all at the same time as trying not to laugh out loud in her face. This is a rough time to launch into a venture like this. In case you (whoever you are) didn’t notice, but things are really really bad and thesis will shortly feel like the Golden Age for most of us. Or maybe I’m just half crazy. Maybe not half crazy, as 3 of these little lumps of mud went off to be a part of  other people’s lives. Which is exciting. they don’t become alive until they have gone through the wash a few times.

I was taught that Pottery only belongs in the human hand. Not the Museum Pedestal. Once it goes onto that pedestal, it dies. when the vessel is warmed by the heat in my hands, or my lips pressed to the rim. This is where pottery comes alive. Where we begin to understand what life means. I’ll make a factual statement here. Having pottery in your life, will make it better. Pottery makes life better. Hand-made objects do that. Their individual flaws remind me that life is not injection molded. It’s dirty messy confusing and a bit magical. My life.

When I stopped at JT’s Bagels this morning on my way to the Market, a couple I recognize was sitting there having a Saturday at the bagel shop, and he says to me, “Nice Shelf. You make that out of reclaimed materials?” He was referring to the shelf that I had made and installed the day before that was, and is filled with my pottery, ELRONA roasted coffee (he roasts it about 3 miles from here) and the shoe box full of colorful potholders. I explained that yes, these were sawmill off cut, those were corn crib ribs, those were lathe from out on Creek Rd  in Kingsville. When I referred to the pottery, he informed me that “each one is different,” turned away from me and the conversation ended.

Someone bought a bowl the within about an hour of my putting the shelf up the day before.

I’ll put pics up next time I’m there.

People are funny. We see things how we expect them to be and any deviation from that expectation causes erratic responses. Especially when these people are looking at me and waiting for my response. (long hair giant beardo sgrnning so hard it looks like it hurts)

IMG_4260

big stupid hat don’t help much either. Leah made sure I didn’t have any breakfast in my beard. If they could only hear the inner monologue. Life is a goofy thing.

Way past Cherry Red

shop kilnssitting here contemplating the energy suck of my first glaze firing in my new (to me) Duncan Pro. 28×36″ of pure entropy earth. Luckily I’m only taking my glazes to cone 05 (1000 c/1900 F). Otherwise the little wheel in the electric meter would be whirling around so fast that the thing will likely go spinning off like a frisbee. I’ve upgraded from a 245×24″ EVENHEAT. Tiny little thing. I haven’t seen the bill for any of the power I’m using. Meter reader came by today and didn’t start turning cartwheels or make a ‘cha-china’ sound as she left. It won’t be cheap, and the new kiln will draw a lot more juice. I will also be able to go from an up-down-up firing schedule (one immediately after another- bisque->glaze->bisque) to taking longer breaks. Depending upon how the work flows. Got a new sieve that solves a lot of the chunky problems I’ve had with my glazes. There are a couple of pieces in this glaze load with what I hope to be my new white glaze. Super basic Majolica. Clear and white for now. Colorants as we go.

I have been at this pottery thing for a little while now. They have been logging in the woods behind the house for most of it. When I found out that they were logging back there, I felt gut shot. I’m still upset by the entire notion of logging. Beside myself, if you will. (To put it mildly) Livid approaches my feelings. The new knot under my left shoulder blade coincided with the noises getting a lot louder. They aren’t bothering with Amish and their little horses. These boys (fairly accurate assumption) are fully mechanized. Sounds like a damn tractor pull back there. They are showing the earth what’s what.

Well. As I sit and listen, I’ve been pouring over glaze recipes and firing schedules. Have you once bothered to stop and think about exactly where that all comes from? Giant Mountain Top Removal mines in W Va. Open pit mines in New Mexico and Kentucky. Massive gaping wounds in the ground. Converted into some refined product or other, usually at some great expense of energy. The damage their tractor-pull is inflicting on the land back there is a fart in a windstorm compared to a strip mine or MTR site. The great skidder tracks will be there for decades. The inevitable mountain of sawdust will be a weird mass for maybe that long. But the trees will return. The animals will return. They have no choice really. When the mountain top is dynamited off and bulldozed into the adjacent valley, it’s forever. And as a bonus, it leaks poison forever too. Bingham+Canyon+Kennecott+Copper+Mine+Tour

The Kennecott copper min in Utah will never recover. Not in a human timeframe. That jewel of a pond at the middle actually kills and dissolves the geese that accidentally land in it.

berkeleypit.jpg.CROP.promo-large2

The pond at the bottom of the Berkeley Pit in Butte MT has managed to mutate the microbes living on the geese that died landing in it into something that will eat the poison therein and somehow restore at least some element of normality in, again, not a human amount of time.

about-mine

This last image is just to show that the issue extends to everything. This rich red clay is what is called baseballclay. As in base ball field clay. Unlikely poison forever, it does promise to be gooey for a good long time.

So all my joy of being back at the wheel is tempered by knowing that art is one of the most destructive processes/pastimes ever created by humans. I’m trying to duplicate a pair of cupped hands. The first cop/bowl was attached to our bodies. Once these instruments were created, commodification and the accumulation of wealth followed.

oh yeah, massive environmental destruction slipped in while everyone was watching. I take no pride in my part. I recognize it though. I’m actively seeking local replacements. Local clay with an ash glaze fired with wood in a rocket kiln. There is a slightly less impactful way to do this. Or rather, it is my privilege to be able to find a less impactful process.

To the schleps driving those tractors likely don’t even think about the repercussions of their jobs. What has to happen for the land to begin to recover from their job. Can’t knock them really. They got a eat too. Probably have kids back in the nest waiting with open mouths, FEED ME FEED ME. All caught up in the rat’s race of fishing boats and braces, the Chevy Mustang and new shoes. With not a shed tear or backwards glance when their done for the day. Just hurts knowing. I red the other day that DiCaprio flew 9000 miles to receive some how-wash Environmentalist award.

wut rvr

Why pots?

A little over a year and a half ago a met Arnulf Esterer,Winemaker, at a meeting of young farmers from in and around Conneaut. A better way to put that would be, a bunch of elder farmers wanted to meet up with a bunch of younger farmers who were trying to figure out how to meet some of the elder farmers. Make sense? Arnie was described to me as an eccentric, you’ll like him, who never goes anywhere without a fork in his pocket. Can’s say as I’ve witnessed him deploying said utensil the few times I’ve spoken with him, but I’ve had his wine and I learned instantly what the big deal is about white wines. Not the cloyingly sweet stuff found at most vineyards around here. Dunno, dry crisp yummy. I learned what a proper Reisling tastes like. When I told him that I had heard that he was the most interesting person in town and that I wanted to work with him, he chuckled and said, “you don’t want to go into growing grapes. What do you love to do?”

“Make pots. Or at least once I did.” So he took me back to his house behind the winery and showed me his broken and glued back together collection of Hamada-san pots from the 50s. “You should make pots,”  he said. In my head I heard him say, “follow your own dreams, don’t follow someone else’s.” He’s got 3 generations from 2 local families working the vines at his place and they do an amazing job of it, the last thing they need is my thumbs getting in the way. So I’ve been sneaking up on them ever since.

I once heard that Zen is the act of trying to catch a rabbit that can read your mind.

oops, did someone say pottery?

Pots on the shelfSomehow I’ve managed to find space to start making pots again. Just sort of fell sideways into them. I’m not one to push any particular websites, but my sister got me onto Pinterest and things changed. Videos of traditional pottery villages from Northwest India where they have done the exact same methods for thousands of years. Nepal, Iraq, Ecuador, Japan, China Korea. When I was in college (BFA Ceramics) we got to watch the 3 or 4 videotapes and reel films on the little imagery available from Japan. Images were only available (to me) from the pages of Ceramics Monthly and the few calendars that floated to the studio from conferences and materials salesmen. The only time we got to hear and watch what any particular potter made, they had to come to the school or we drove forever away and dropped money I didn’t have. Now there are literally thousands of videos on youtube. Most of the giants have passed or are nearing their ends. I skated around the images of Koneko and Leach, Makenzie and Robineau.

I got to watch them in their own shops doing their thing. No pomp, no nervousness of the large crowd staring on with eager hungry eyes. Just the potter and their clay. Finding their stillness and pulling the clay into form in ways I can only guess at. The ENTIRE George Ohr collection.

 

Mind you, this man was a genius of the level of his contemporaries like Tesla and Edison. He spoke clay with a Mississippian’s drawl in the 1890’s. He went crazy breathing the fumes of the lead glazes he made from shot gathered by his boys from Civil War battlefields. Totally barking mad at the end. Utterly forgotten. Showed his wares at the Chicago World’s Fair. Actually made them and fired them there too. Sent a vase to the Smithsonians telling them that he was the greatest potter in the world. That they should buy all his pots. Carved it onto the walls of a vase. That’s brassy. A hero I dreamed of once. A man in what was, in his time,  a “woman” pastime. A powerful blacksmith turned to making these winged beauties from clay.

I’m no Ohr. I’m just some guy with no Plan B. No real, solid Plan A either for that matter. I walk among giants. Their footsteps are deep. Swimmin out into the deep end. The toughest part for me now, is figuring out what to make. The possibilities are limited only by function. If I don’t want to touch this thing to my face, then why would anyone else? Warren Mackenzie said that the things we interact in eating are among the most intimate things in human existence. They should be interesting to interact with, even when washing them after using. Who wants to eat off Styrofoam plates and those hateful red plastic cups? They make my soul hurt. Seeing how often they are what dinner was on back when I went into peoples lives on 911 calls. When emergencies happen, people drop everything. Literally dropped plates and cups on the floor. So I saw into lives I would otherwise never touch. All income brackets too. Paper plates and foam coffee cups. Just so they don’t have to wash them. Poof. Gone.

I knocked out a pretty good pile of cups and bowls with less than optimal clay that I’ve had here for at least 9 years. Ir froze and thawed out every one of those years. Fortunately the bags had no holes so the clay was workable once I broke up all the striations. The freeze/thaw had made the clay all plastic and delicious if a bit overly lumpy. Wedging muscles are not the same as building muscles. There is a bit of cross over with throwing muscles. They are hands and arms. Fingers mostly. And stillness. Wedging is a grueling chore until I get those muscles back too. The burning is in the backs of my arms. Milking the goat helps with the fingers. Fresh clay helps an awful lot. No striations. Like sandy cream cheese. Only a bit firmer.

Nothing has happened to the new coop. Well. Not 100% accurate. The chickens continue dust bathing in the sub floor. I’ve stepped on the rocket stove pipe that crosses in front of the door at least twice. It’s just what it is. Everything in it’s time. I’ve located 2 good sized stands on Phrag on the property across the street and a huge one by the stop sign across the creek. I think they may mow that spot. Certainly around there is mowed smooth. Former dairy. Now turned to seed. The barns are melting and the field is used on occasion to race 4-wheelers and snow mobiles. Life just is what it is.

This pottery thing really did sneak up on me. I’ve set the studio up so damn many times now with only a few pieces to show for it over the last 25 years. I’ve made more in the last few days than that entire period. One step, one step, one step.