Grand Champion ribbons for our Junior Girl Scout Troop 407 project (front and center)
This is the cigar box Molly decorated for her part of the Troop 407 Ohio State Fair project.
I haven’t posted in a long time. I’m going over to my webpage http://www.primalpotter.com to post our family vacation photos in the photo album, but I thought I would put a few here as well.
This year, like most, we stayed closer to home: Hocking Hills, in Southern Ohio. A trail ride at a horse camp on the way, a tour of the gorgeous Ohio Caverns, and then backpackign and camping at Hocking Hills State Park.
The first day we hiked Old Man’s Cave and Cedar Falls — eight miles, in all, with light packs. The kids did great, espcailly Molly, whose short legs had to do double time.
The second day, we hiked Conkle’s Hollow, which was an exercise for mom in trying to look calm as the kids traversed rocky ledges above the treetops… I kept picturing that scene in “Last of the Mohicans”. But it was lovely, my kids were surefooted, and the whole experience was well worthwhile. (It probably burned a few calories, too! I got my second “five pounds lost” gold star at weightwatchers.)
My girl is ten…
Molly at horse camp…
Friday night, we went to the Center for Visual Arts gallery at the Toledo Museum of Art for Edith Franklin’s retrospective show. The place was mobbed with people, and Edith gave one of her marvelous, signature “speeches”, telling the story of where she started and the life she has built around clay.
You go, girl
Sky Cheif is the black and white one… Captain is the big red one with the white forehead… others are Whirlwind, Espresso and Charcoal.
We are halfway finished building the big octagonal dovecote for them. It will sit on the platform next to the swingset, where the little playhouse used to be.
The carrot-and-stick, measure-and-grade, results-oriented way we teach
children in all other subjects doesn’t mesh well with the teaching of
art. If anything like a creative voice can survive and be nurtured in a
traditional school environment, that’s a testimony to the hard work and
innovation of a good art teacher. Art instruction often amounts to
“deprogramming”, and it’s a tall order for large batches of kids dumped
in a teacher’s lap for measured periods of time (and on a pathetic
Education researchers have claimed a child’s attitudes toward learning
are pretty much set by the age of seven. So what do we teach little
kids? The kindergarden trace-your-hand-and-make-a-turkey projects are
all about following instructions and making it “right”. How else can it
be graded? I put the beak on the BACK of the thumb, so my turkey could
admire his lovely finger-tail… I was told it was wrong, and eyed
suspiciously. Slow student, or troublemaking anarchist? Granted, it was
1966, and some things have changed.. but a teacher who is required to
process 30 students and produce grades can hardly be expected to nurture
the little Jackson Pollock who would rather throw paint than trace
turkeys and color pilgrims.
In the culture of school in general, kids are taught to value the “A”,
and that to get an “A” the work needs to be perfect. Bayles and Orland
consider, in Art and Fear, Ansel Adams’ contention that “the perfect
is the enemy of the good”.
“To require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is
predictable; as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work
toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more
tightly to what you already know you can do – away from the risk of
exploration, and possibly further from the heart of your work.”
(Grad school, anyone?)
We forget, when we applaud and fuss over a child’s first scribbles, that
we are applying pressure… that when we hang the green-cloud-on-a-stick
tree and the wobbly but recognizable house on the refrigerator, ooohing
and ahhing, we are assuring that our child will repeat that image
again and again… and still be confused when the 400th bit of art
offered for the fridge doesn’t get the excited parental reviews as last
year’s. (What parent can sustain that level of excitement year after
So the kid decides that he/she used to be good at art but isn’t anymore.
Couple that with graded art projects at school, and it’s no wonder most
adults draw like third graders. That’s when we quit trying.
Two radical ideas I’d like to throw out, though I could likely be talked
out of either of them:
First: Maybe art education should be about technique, mastery of tools,
practice in using a brush, a pen, a wheel, wood carving tools, print
making, etc — with the end product be dismissed as less important than
some kind of improvement or evolution with the hands-on, technical part.
That would avoid situations where a child’s creative vision, however
valid, is invisible to the teacher… or worse, where a well intentioned
teacher goes all self-esteem-camp, gushing over a piece that the student
barely applied himself to, and knows is no good. It tarnishes the coin
of the realm (praise, and approval) when it is given out to all.
Meanwhile kids could be exposed to the widest possible variety of art
and artists, images and demos, and visits to museums and guilds, without
expectation that they should choose one or follow a path.
Those who have the hunger to create or the confidence to express
themselves can then do so safely outside the realm of teachers, peers,
grades and expectations, having been handed the tools to do so. We can
teach a child handwriting and grammar but can not teach her how to write
her own poem; the soul of artistic pursuit cannot be taught, and takes
place internally anyway, outside of the academy. We see more inspired
individuals without the material skills to make their work than the
other way around.
Second radical notion: maybe not every kid was meant to make art, any
more than they were all meant to be mathematicians or mechanics. The
“every child was born an artist” idea is a good one, but in a more
organic culture, some might best express their muse in architecture, or
gardening, singing, cooking, or civil engineering. What we are born with
(and what can be squashed) is an imagination unique to our souls, and a
potential to find a channel for it.
But before industrialized civilization (and education) it was a given
that not every citizen was fit to be a “scribe”. Some personalities,
intellects and body types were better suited to herding sheep, building
cathedrals, shoeing horses, making cheese. Now, they would all be lined
up in rows at desks (and medicated if they were unable to sit still),
and taught the same stuff. Those who can’t read or write well learn that
they are stupid, not that they are possibly ill suited to bookishness.
The sad part is that those who might have been happy to put
transmissions in jeeps, or tend and nurture the elderly, or fly off in
ambulances to help the wounded — are made to feel “less” than the
academics with extra degrees and bigger paychecks.
By the same token, kids give themselves up as “bad at art” (how many
parents tell their kids, “I can’t draw… I’m no good at that…” as a
model?) The truth might be, “That’s not my medium”… or “I have not
practiced enough with these tools and skills to be able to make anything
satisfying”. Pile on an expectation of instant mastery — by Friday, for
a grade — and no chance to learn from mistakes — and it’s not
surprising that so many budding artists die on the vine.
If we teach skills, tools and technical abilities, with no regard for
the product, we remove the pressure and provide every opportunity for a
kid to find the one medium that sings, that matters, that inspires. And
if they don’t… OK. It’s not their road.
In the end, I am less concerned about students who come out of school
unable to make art, than I am about what I see as the cause: too many
students come out of school (and home, and life) unable to trust their
own ideas in ANY realm. They are taught to emulate teachers, peers and
TV stars. They are obsessed with doing it “right”, as if there is only
one way. And when you have lost touch with your own soul, what source is
left for creativity? If you don’t know yourself anymore, what is there
to make art about?
Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“We teach boys to be such men as we are. We do not teach them to aspire
to be all they can.. We do not give them a training as if we believed in
their noble nature. We scarce educate their bodies. We do not train the
eye and the hand. We exercise their understandings to the apprehension
and: comparison of some facts, to a skill in numbers, in words; we aim
to make accountants, attorneys, engineers; but not to make able,
earnest, great-hearted men.”
“The popular education has been taxed with a want of truth and nature.
It was complained that an education to things was not given. We are
students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and
recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a
bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing. We cannot use
our hands, or our legs, or our eyes, or our arms. We do not know an
edible root in the woods, we cannot tell our course by the stars, nor
the hour of the day by the sun. It is well if we can swim and skate. We
d of a horse, of a cow, of a dog, of a snake, of a spider. The
Roman rule was, to teach a boy nothing that he could not learn standing.
“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”
“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of
instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of
inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands
mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin
without fail. It is a grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of
seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of
OK… that’s all I’ve got. Anybody who read this far… why? It’s a nice
day, go play outside (lol)
Kelly in Ohio
The ten homeschool moms on my deck had all claimed a pizza crust and topped it with pesto and goat cheese, or olives and veggies, or tomato sauce and motz… I was scooping ember sout of the oven to get ready to bake. I had asked them earlier to keep an eye out for a black and white bird, explaining the saga of the pigeon and my disappointed boy.
It was still bright but the sun had just angled off to give us some shade when my friend Valerie shouted, “There he is!” She had seen a flash of black and white going down into the neighbor’s yard.
Sure enough, the next thing we knew, Sky Cheif was perched in the mulberry tree above the pigeon coop — but so was Molly’s cat, Peekaboo! She was in stalking mode, climing toward the bird. We waved our arms and hollered, but it looked pretty grim until bird took wing.
After a while he found his way under the coop, then climbed against the wire front rtying to get in. When he entered the cage on top, Molly shut the door and trapped him in. We waited around a bit to see whether he would figure out my ingenious pigeon-trap hole, until finally I just reached in and caught him and stuffed him in with the others.
When Connor got home from the library, he was a happy guy. It’s so cool to think this bird just spent the day off who-knows-where, having adventures, and then came home to bed. I wish we could mount a little camera on him.
Anyway, it’s late, and I’m off to bed. Happily ever after.
Last weekend on an impulse (ok, and impulse inspired by being unable to zip my last-resort shorts) I attended my first ever weight watchers meeting. I took Jeff with me, and we joined.
Since then I have been getting some kind of weird enjoyment out of using the etools to coordinate my lunch points with what is at the farmer’s market, how many miles I rode on my bike, and how many servings of vegetables I was able to cram into the menu.
After 16 years of living on this street — years in which the road crew came every year to dribble little globs of tar in the cracks of our battered old shoulder-less, sidewalkless,streetlightless road — today they are actually tearing up the old asphalt! One truck drives ahead of a machine that looks like a combine, but instead of spitting soybeans into the truck with its dinosaur-necked conveyor, it spits chewed up street. It took the top several inches off, neatly chewed off the ends of all the driveways on the far side of the road, and then a giant sweeper-truck thing followed behind cleaning up crumbs. I suspect our side is next. A new road would be great! Especially considering that we pay Sylvania Township’s pricey taxes and get little in return.
Sky Chief has flown the coop. Connor has been going out every day to feed and observe his pigeons, looking for signs of pairing up and trying to figure out which ones are male by their behavior. The handsome black and white saddleback with the groovy marvel-comics name “Sky Cheif” had clearly been a male, and campaigning heartily for a mate: cooing, dancing, the whole nine yards. But the latch was left open, and now he’s gone.
Tyler spotted him soaring out over the neighbor’s house this morning, west and then south. We are heartened by the fact that Hillsdale — the place where we bought him — is North, but he may have been circling to get his bearings. We had been told that we should keep them shut in for “a couple of weeks” so they would settle to a new home, and it’s been a week and a half.
I took a saws-all and drill out there and cut a narrow hole in the roof — in theory, small enough for a pigeon to squeeze down with his wings folded — but impossible for a pigeon inside to use as an exit, with wings spread. I put a bottomless cage over the hole, in case the pigeons inside weren’t up on my theory, but so far nobody has tried to make a break for it.
Around dusk we will watch for Sky Cheif’s return in earnest, imagining in our optimism that he will evade hawks and cats, ignore the homing call North, and come back to his potential girlfriend and a handful of peas and millet. Updates as events warrant.
The stupid woodchuck has eaten my replanted broccoli, cabbage, brussels and kohlrabi for the last time. It’s almost too late to replant, even with my hoop house. The neighbor (who has dogs) has cabbages the size of my laundry basket. I have chewed stems.
The trap we set was ignored, at first, then distainfully buried with sand as he redesigned his massive burrow under my back fence behind the currant bushes. This is war. I intend to make a hat out of him if he won’t go peacefully — the kind with a face in the front and a tail hanging down the back.
The boys got their proficiency test scores back today, and everybody did great. Tyler in particular will be happy to know that he is working at 8th grade level in math, since he starts at a bricks-and-mortar school next year for the first time ever, and imagines that every kid will be on the same page and he will be floundering. They haven’t seen them yet, because they are at Aunt Jenny’s house (my sister in law from Bogota) having the first of an ongoing series of Spanish lessons. We’ve been using the Rosetta Stone program for two years now, but having the courage to speak, and being able to carry on a conversation, are a different set of skills.
I have signed Connor up for swimming lessons at a scuba shop within bike riding distance, so he can finish his lifesaving merit badge. Tyler had baseball camp this summer, and Molly had a week of horse camp, so this is just for Connor. Jeff and I are going there once a week as well, for a deep water aqua jogging class that is supposed to be really challenging. We’re approaching 50 and our kids are young, so I feel like if we don’t get into shape now, it will get harder as time goes by.
I also found a yoga class within biking distance!
Now I have to get moving. I started a fire in the woodburning cob oven at 3, and have made 3 batches of pizza dough. 10 homeschool moms are coming for “mom’s night out” at my house tonight, BYO pizza toppings.
Cross your fingers that skychief returns…
So we went to the lake with my folks for the weekend, and I talked my dad, Jeff, and son Connor into going to the Hillsdale farmer’s market on Saturday morning.
I was just going to get beets to pickle, but we ended up in this barn we like because one end is full of bunnies and the other full of ducks, with lots of cages of chickens in the middle. It’s an auction.
I saw a little banty hen who seemed very sweet. She was broody, fluffing out her feathers and acting like she was protecting her chicks — they had either taken her off a clutch of eggs or taken her babies away (several boxes of chicks were there, for sale.)
So I registered and got a bidding card. I’ve done this before, at this place — bidding is fun.
I bought the frustrated mama hen, and one other. Then my dad took the card and bid on a dozen feathered-out bob white quail chicks to release in his woods.
Meanwhile Connor is standing around talking to the pigeon guys. There are guys who breed them, race them, etc. and there were some beauties in one cage called “saddlebacks” — red, black and “blue”(grey). Five birds in cage 217.
My dad had paid him some money for taking dead trees out of a swampy spot at the cottage, so he came and got the card and prepared to bid on lot 217. He was kind of nervous and wanted to do it right (he’s that kid) — but the place was crowded elbow-to-elbow with mostly men, mostly farmers, veteran auctiongoers with cigarettes in their mouths and bid cards in their shirt pockets. Connor’s grandpa stood behind him, leaning on a cane, but let him do it himself.
So the auctioneer starts the bidding at 3 dollars a bird. My kid does some quick math and holds his card up, nodding at the auctioneer in a perfect imitation of the old timers he’d been watching.
“threeandaquarterthreeandaquarterthreeandaquarterthreeandaquarter…who’s gotthreeandaquarteronlot217?…threeandaquarteronce.. threeandaquartertwice…”
I’m across from my kid and can see him standing there all excited and nervous… and all around him these old boys in John Deere caps, arms folded, half grinning at how cute he is. Not a single one of them would bid against the kid.
SOLD, to the happiest boy on the planet, off to the library tomorrow to figure out how to build a dovecote.
What a good day. I got rolling this morning and worked on bread. I made a nice loaf of multi-grain, but I also ground a gallon jar full of whole wheat flour. I used mason jars to pre-measure the dry ingredients for a dozen future pizza crusts, not lined up under the bread machine awaiting a kid with a chore-chart tag that says, “pizza night”.
Then I filled the tupperware boxes I have had for years, with the recipes for my favorite whole grain bread machine recipes markered on the tops. The wet ingredients are written as well, so the kid who makes a bread machine loaf can do it with no problem.
When it looked like I had more cherries than we could use, I put out the word on my furgal-homeschoolers yahoo group that I was looking for “sharecroppers” — folks who would like to come and pick berries and give me a token share. I have had a lot of company! Two stoppepd by last night to taste, and three came this morning to pick. They took Connor with them afterward to go pick black raspberries at another friend’s farm. Tyler and Molly and I went to the nearby fruit market, and to a greenhouse that is closing for the summer and selling “as many plants as you can fit between the stripes of tape on the counter” for ten bucks.
I am plotting against the groundhog in my yard who –amazingly, considering his size — was seen perched on the TOP RAIL of a four foot chicken wire fence. What now? Razor wire?
I made my first batch of tabbouli, with bulgur wheat, lots of fresh parsley and mint form my garden, and chives since I didn’t have scallions.
More homeschoolers came this evening to pick cherries — a quaker friend and her son, and two other little boys whose mommy was teaching yoga at the botanical gardens. It’s funny — I woke up this morning and tried to stretch in a productive way, sighing that I remember NOTHING of the yoga sun salutation I used to do. My excuse for not doing oga has been that when I got on the ground, my little kids would climb on me… but they’re grown now. So I need to start again, for the sake of my back, my shoulders, my potter joints.
So when the yoga teacher came to get her boys, we talked kefir and yogurt, kombucha and kraut. She is opening a new yoga studio and hinted that she will have space for artwork. Funny how things line up just the way they should! And a yoga class I can bike to!
I pitted more cherries while Molly made hot dogs for supper. Jeff taught his class at Lourdes College tonight, and came home to flip through library books looking for good hiking trails for the boy scouts.
Tomorrow is a local farmer’s market. I am thinking about pickling beets.
This year's Crosby Festival has its usual array of artists from around
the country, in Ceramics, Fiber, Glass, Graphics, Jewelry, Mixed Media,
Painting, Photography, Sculpture and Wood. The festival is a nice one,
held every year at the Toledo Botanical Garden. It's a lovely place with
little houses (formerly part of the neighborhood) now housing artists
guilds, herb society, glass blowers, photographers and the Toledo Potter's
Guild (where I ride my bike to teach adult classes every week.) So guess
who got the blue ribbon for Ceramics? Clayart's own Richard Aernie.
He and his potter/partner Carolyn came to town Thursday night and set up
an artful display of elegant pots with those delicious, complex glazed
surfaces. Molly and I got to chat with them Friday night after the
members-only opening show (Richard sat patiently with a chinchilla on
his shoulder, listening to Molly go on about her pets.) Yesterday Jeff
and my boys got home from a week away at scout camp. They were sunburned,
mosquito bitten, pungent and filthy. Once they were all showered up, and
the hazmat team had transported all dirty laundry into the washing
machine, they settled in and Jeff made a nice dinner (chicken piccata).
Richard and Carolyn joined us when the show ended for the day. They
were tired and steam-broiled, after a long day of heat and rain. Jeff
and the boys had gotten up at dawn in canvas tents 50 miles away, and
were a little weary themselves. I had spent a lot of the day in a hot
parking lot with the girl scouts -- (and then dealing with the EZ-up that
went up-up-and-away, Mary Poppins style), so I was also a little
sunburned and thrashed. In spite of it all, we had a lovely dinner
together, and shared some interesting beers. Molly found a fellow
animal lover in Carolyn (whose ceramic handbuilt dogs just exude
personality, and who works in animal hospitals -- Molly's dream job!)
Richard was very patient with my "academic" questions (lol) as I hauled
pot after pot from my cupboards for him to look at, wanting to know
what he sees, what he likes, what he thinks. Several clayarters were
on the dinner table after dessert... several more were discussed, even
if I didn't have a pot we could hold in our hands. Today was the last
day of the sale, and we rode over for a last look at the show. The
quality of pottery there was (IMO) uneven, from the awkward to the
sublime, but Ann Tubbs and her majolica are always a joy, and Tom Marino
from our guild had a booth not far from Richard's. It feels marvelous,
this week, to finally have my life organized, my refrigerator and pantry
full, my house clean enough for entertaining, and my garden burgeoning
in the rain. It has been a very long time since I've had the breathing
room to enjoy good company, time to read, and morning coffee on the
deck. The constant nagging feeling that I need to be doing something
(at home, if I was at school, or at school, if I was at home) has
dissipated, and I'm hearing the strains of my long forgotten favorite
song.. "Summertime.. and the livin's easy"... (And I'll be darned, my
daddy's rich and my mama's good lookin'...) This weekend, for the
first time, I kind of felt myself turning a corner in another way.
Maybe it is because my taxes are done and my house in order, or maybe
enough time has passed after the round-the-clock-pressure of making
for my show that I have caught my breath. But for the first time in
over a month, I am actually wanting to get back to the studio. I have
been taking care of business, catching up on bookkeeping, planning a
soda kiln and buying the guild's displaced Skutt... but I have not
even been able to THINK about making pots, except for my guild class
demos on Thursdays. I think I had a potter's version of post traumatic
stress ;0) Even just the smell of the EMU studio's newspapers I'd
used to wrap my show pots made me feel a little nauseous. So this
week, I will begin the process of reclaiming my studio, which is
currently piled with unpacked boxes from school. I hope to begin
reclaiming a sense of fun in my work, which was rare in school with
so much to master and so little time. I look at color, pattern,
different media, and think, "What would I make, if I could make
anything I want?" because I can... now... Life is good, potters
are friendly and supportive and marvelous and inspiring. Like the
bumper sticker on an artist's trailer said, "People are wonderful,
Business is great.. Thanks." Yours, feeling blessed by long days
and good kids, big bowls of backyard currants and cherries, and an
on line community that brings me friendships with people I have
never met... Kelly
I meant to keep a daily journal of the stuff I got done in June, but it got away from me. And I would have been embarrassed to admit how much had gone UNdone when I was trying to get myself graduated! (Winter clothes to the attic, finish my taxes, etc… )
After a good weekend, Jeff and the kids home from camp, potter/visitors in town for the art fair and a house finally clean enough for company — I am falling into a rhythm. I clipped on the pedometer this morning,a nd between yard work and the treadmill I totalled 6 miles.
The kids each head for the cherry trees every morning with pickign buckets I rigged (sawed-off plastic jugs with the handles pipe-cleaner-wired to a beltloop). I made 22 pints of jam: bush cherry, sour cherry, red currant, and a mix of currant and some wild grape juice I froze last fall.
Life is berry, berry good.
Happy birthday to meeee
I’m a hundred and three
I’m off to my hammock
in the shade of a tree
I don’t want to go to the studio.
It’s not just “meh, don’t feel like it” — it’s more a sense of dread at the thought of unpacking my EMU studio stuff, reorganizing, starting fresh, sitting down at the wheel. I was so immersed for so long — day and night, toward the end — that I can’t even wrap my mind around it now.
It’s like when I brought my first baby home, after a long and somewhat traumatic hospital stay and a painful, exhausting labor. I couldn’t even look at any of the free stuff — ( like diaper bags and notebooks) – that the hospital sent home with us. Just looking at that hospital logo, and the institutional colors I had stared at during labor, made me feel queasy. When I went back to the hospital after that, for other procedures, it was with all the enthusiasm of the dog being dragged into the vet’s.
It’s like that. I was unpacking pots from EMU and the gas-reductiony smell of the school studio clung to the newspaper, bringing a wave of mixed emotions. I went out and stuffed the unpacked boxes into my own studio to deal with later.
I am still planning and working. I put in a bid on a big Skutt kiln at the potter’s guild that’s in need of rewiring, and am researching the possibility of building a caternary arch soda kiln at my folks’ place at the lake. I am sketching ideas, but they are miles from what I was making the last two years. I need to figure out, after all this time, what I want to make, just for me.
I can’t bring myself to finish putting my MFA pots up on the website. I don’t want to look at them, in real life or in photos. All I see is what’s wrong with them, esp. the thrown ones, and how I would remake them next time — but I have NO interest in remaking those pots.
I guess I need a little distance, recovery time, a chance to “breathe in” after a very productive push.
My momentum has not slowed, though. I get up in the morning and attack long neglected house projects, purge rooms of the too much stuff that collects everywhere, making weekly runs to recycle, donate and dump. Things marked “FREE” disappear off my front curb in a day. I go all day, and work on my bookkeeping and taxes when everybody goes to bed.
I think I need to start making a list of what I’m getting accomplished every day. I tend to go to bed with a mental list of what ISN’T done. Maybe I’ll blog it here. I can say that for now, things are shifting; making strawberry jam with Molly today, and picking and pitting cherries for a pie, all seemed as important to me today as the perfect shino jug did a month ago.
Sabbatical, I’m calling it. It sounds better than studiophobia.
My kitchen window, over the sink.
When we added on the master bedroom, I lost my kitchen window. I put a mirror up instead, with a little window box for herbs, and a fake picket fence like the ones in the back alleys of Petersbug, Michigan.
I cut whatever I could find growing in my back yard and put it in little cups. It makes me happy. and the mirror reflects the big window across from it, so I can still see birds and trees from the kitchen sink ;0)
Temmoku chick waterer based on an old crockery one I found in an antiques catalog.
Chick waterer with dorky half grown teen chick. I shoul dhave taken this when they were little anc cute.
I should explain that a conversation on the clayart list about studio space inspired me to photograph mine.. especially since I just cleaned it. I finally brought my hanging plant home from the windowless EMU studio and hung it here. It seems happy.
These tall shelves are more like a rack, with boards that can be pulled out with a load of pots. The top is full of other people’s bisque: former students, friends, and unfinished projects. I need to grow the resolve to get rid of them one of these days.
The shelves on the left are covered with thick plastic on the back and have plastic that can be pulled over the front, to make an impromptu drying cuboard (for things with handles or things that need to dry slowly.) Those big boxes up on top are the pots, pots and pots from school that need to be sorted one day — there are twice that many stacked in my EMU studio. I am thinking about renting a storage unit just to put them all out at once and make decisions.. maybe pretend it’s the gallery and install my “show” for a practice run.
The lady next door has an in home day care, so I get to spend warm weather days listening to one of my favorite sounds: children’s voices. Their sandbox is right next to my studio deck, but hidden by a trellis and grapevines, so I get to hear all the in-depth issues discussed by 3, 4 and 5 year olds. It seems like those were my kids’ voices just yesterday…
More tall shelves, these were trash picked — and a short shelf unit that has a plaster wedging board for emergencies. (My good one is under the window but sometimes you need a spare.)
My valentine from my kids is on the door, with pots drawn on it..
This big table used to be in a conference room. It’s heavy and white and easy to wipe down, and it hides all kinds of stuff underneath. The wheel under the right end is plugged in and ready to go, all I have to do is pull it out and then “park” it again when I am done. (My brent is on the deck outside. I’ll post those pics tomorrow when it’s light out.)
One way to make the most of studio space is to stack and stash. Tall shelves are full of glaze chemicals (the small amounts.. big bins are in the garage under the slab roller.) 5 gallon buckets of glaze are under the table (along with a big rubbermaid of clay and a creative industries wheel.) Around the windows are glaze tests on nails, and the light suspended from the ceiling is one of two heat lamps, which can be pulled lower to fast-dry pots.
Those two long louvered windows were salvaged form a remodel at my parents’ cottage. We built the place around the windows. (lol) The sink drain is connected to a buried 50 gallon drum buried in the ground, full of rocks and poked full of drainage holes. The sink faucet is connected to a garden hose that can run from the spigot on the house in the warm weather months.
The rolling bin with the three drawers by the sink holds my drill mixer and my “milkshake” mixer, measuring cups, rubber gloves and dust masks. The net bag on the front of the sink is full of sponges.
Here’s Molly doing her homeschool homework in my newly cleaned studio…
And the peeper frogs are talking, tonight. Now if my darn hens would start laying, it would truly be the season of promise. I am thinking about taking my crock pot ou tthere tomorrow and showing it to them, and having a serious talk about productivity.
So I got a call early this morning from my local post office, asking me to plase come and pick up my bees. What a lovely thing! I spent a warm spring morning on the deck putting new pale beeswax foundation into my wooden frames, while Connor and I worked on his essay, and the bees hummed impatiently in the shade of the patio table.
By afternoon they were snug in their hive. The Nanking bush cherries are blooming today, and the forsythia. The odd red buds are falling off the maples, and dandelions and lawn clover are sure to be next.
I wish I had asked the breeder to mark the queen with a dot.. I never can find them once they are in the hive. But they seem to do fine without me.
I teach my last 101 class tomorrow! Next week I give the final, and that’s that.
This was on a poster from some student show that I brought home from NCECA, but no artist was named.
It’s horrible and oddly fascinating. I can only imagine that some prof challenged the class to make the ugliest thing possible. I don’t think I could do as well as this thing.
Wish I knew who made it.
And today… the poison ivy.
I had kind of a meltdown in the van last night, coming home late. I thought I was handling this all pretty well, finals week, teaching, schedule craziness, and oh yeah — the pressure to come up with a stellar show in the next month that will justify to family, friends and profs the madness and expense of these last two years.
So after I unloaded some cedar splits at the kiln site I drove home in a funk, called Jeff and ended up in tears about — I’m not sure what, exactly. Everything.
I want to be done so badly I can taste it. At the same time, the short period of this degree that is left drives home a new realization: whatever hasn’t happened by now is not likely to happen. Too late, I’m kicking myself for not taking another sculpture class — a place to explore “outside the box” of functional ceramics or printmaking. I’m counting on the calendar and have to be realistic about just how many more times I can fire this kiln or that.
I have a list in my head of things I meant to master, wanted to learn, hoped to try before I was done… not likely, now. Never mind that I’ve come a long way with my skills of throwing, design, clay/glaze, firing, etc — all I can see is what hasn’t happened, yet, and won’t happen before June. Profs I should have used better as a resource, a library I barely tapped, gallery openings and field trips I missed because I lived too damn far away, or folks forgot to tell me they were happening.
And I am a little freaked out, as well, that my staked out “territory” in the EMU studio will soon be emptied out. I sat at the wheel the other night looking at a hanging plant I bought before school started, two years ago, to hang in my space. I guess I was thinking “ambiance” and “air quality” for the hot, windowless room… now it’s barely surviving, dusty and dangling under flourescents between waterings. What did I think this was, a coffee shop? I look at my postcards and images, things I pinned up over my wheel, my little drawing board and coffee maker. Mentally I am already boxing things up to take home. wondering where that plant can hang in its next, luckier life in Toledo.
I can’t even think about the fact that Patrick, who has felt like a brother-in-clay these two years, has his show the second week in May and is headed home to Tennessee… see ya, bye. How the hell can people just leave? How am I supposed to get my shinos to flash and carbon trap right, without Patrick to help me fire them? Who will I confide in over Woodchucks and Chuck-Berrys at the Side Track? Damn, I’ll miss the Side Track.
JoAnne and her sculptures, Nancy, Jay, Jonathan and the other grad students are “gradual students” — school teachers with day jobs, going to school a bit at a time over several years. Patrick and I had the short runway, the two intense years of all we could stand, and we’re done.
Last year I spent a lot of time laughing with my profs, and this year I spent a lot of time arguing with them. I don’t know whether that all evens out, whether they are pleased with my progress, or ready for me to leave, or indifferent and on to the next thing. It occurs to me that this cycle of people appearing and disappearing only feels odd to me, not to the profs who have seen a decade of students cycling through.
One of my final exam grades in Dr. Rubenfeld’s seminar class is for a project that’s in the kiln right now, hopefully firing without incident, to be glazed and refired and cooled in time to turn in on Thursday. It’s based on a Lana Wilson piece, since I did my presentation on her work for the class. It’s a stamp-crusted altar (miles from my focus these last two years) and lousy with symbolism. ;0)
Finals next week coincide with five days of my boys’ Ohio Achievement Testing, also out of town (they are enrolled in an on line school and required to take them) — so that should be a real merry go round. I filed for an extension on my taxes, since an extension on my finals and MFA show didn’t seem likely.
Anyway, I got up this morning and the sun was shining, so I decided I needed some good old “work therapy”. I started with pruners at the edges of my yard, cutting and pulling out wild grape vine and rolling it into bundles twice my size to haul to the curb for the chipper truck. I pulled out old flower beds, cut out volunteer mulberry trees along the fenceline, pulled up my posts for the old raspberry beds, moved cold weather seedlings to the hoop house, cleaned up the bee yard and planted clematis there, pruned the plum tree, cleaned out the henhouse, started a new compost bin next to the old ones, put up some fence, sorted tomato cages, stacked firewood, took apart my raku kiln to clean up, stacked brick, set up my studio rain barrel for the summer, hauled tubs of wet scrap clay , made a slab lid for a big casserole and fired the bisque kiln.
The kids had heard me on the phone with a tree service talking about getting estimates on removing some problem trees, so they took their homeschool books and sat in a “threatened” mulberry, declaring that like Julia Butterfly Whoever, they were going to live in the tree and save it from danger. Unlike Julia, their plan didn’t last an entire year. They barely made it to lunchtime.
So now I am scratched, splinter-stabbed, sunburned and bone tired, but not so soul-weary as yesterday. I soaked in a hot bathtub with three inspiring books that are now bristling with bookmarks, scribbled with my ideas for the studio tomorrow. I have taken to writing my “priority” plans on my bathroom mirror in red dry-erase marker, because once I get to the studio, other responsibilities fade in my mind and don’t get done. (We got a call from the electric company last week threatening to disconnect our power. If I had written “PAY BILLS” on the mirror, see, we would have been fine.
I’ll keep plugging. Once school is done, my studio stuff boxed, my peers scattered, my grades issued, all that remains will be the pots — so that’s where my energy is going. Whether this whole thing was a good idea, I’m still too close to see. My dad isn’t sure why I need a graduate degree in ceramics (he’s still not over the one I got in Folklore). My mom is supportive but would probably be more impressed if my husband had matched socks in his drawer, my house was clean and my kids didn’t have to forage for meals. But Jeff says this was a good idea. He says even if nothing more ever comes of this degree, it was hard, and I did it, and the kids watched me do it, and I should be proud.
Whick feels kind of like congrats on the new baby, when I haven’t gotten though labor yet.. but I need a positive voice right now. Patrick is as weary as I am, and the profs have dim hopes of the job market for MFAs. I’ll take sunshine wherever I can get it. And after my “day off” today, I’m ready to get back to work in the studio tomorrow.
Four inches of snow the week after Easter… can we be done with this, please?
My kids and I made Patrick his own little Easter basket… lol
I have to agree with Vince that Pittsburgh is a visually arresting city.
I didn’t expect the color, the variety of old brick and new glass, clean
streets, striking architecture and surprising public art, wide rivers,
dramatic bridges, and neighborhoods on every horizon that climb a
I drove my van to NCECA Wednesday afternoon, just a 4 hour trek, with
Patrick Green and the unstoppable Edith Franklin. Grad students Joanne
and Reem followed in their own car, and Jay and Jonathan came a day
Patrick and I dropped Edith at the Westin to find her traditional roomie
Barbara Brown, and then we rolled our little suitcases into the splendid
old Omni hotel. I must say my daily life is not quite so
chandelier-intensive. Grand ceilings, polished wood, brass and luxurious
trappings… we were on the 14th floor, and I couldn’t see the street
from my room. We did have a lovely view of some decorative stonework on
the roof edge across from us, though. Patrick was a long way from his
misty mountaintop in Tennessee.
Joanne and Patrick and I shared a lovely room, and Reem graced us with
her presence for part of the time. I think it was significant that the
bed made the biggest impression on me: long, fat white pillows, soft
white sheets and a fat duvet with a white cover. I arrived at NCECA
already really tired, after a marathon of
wood-salt-loading-firing-unloading late nights, and I stood in the hotel
room for a long moment considering that I could spent the whole three
days in that bed, and nobody would know the difference.
I did some-and-some.. skipped anything too early in the morning, let
myself sit and enjoy conversations without feeling like I needed to be
running to the next place and the next. Old bull philosophy. I left my
camera in the suitcase, and my laptop in the van.
The clayart room was a joy… emails I could connect a face to, faces I
am so glad to see year after year, an interesting array of pots, and
random and surprising generosities. I came home with heirloom tomato
seeds, two kinds of salt licorice, a couple of delightful little pots —
and I got Jean Lehman’s mug in the exchange! Woohoo for me!
(Vince, Barbara Brown got your box…)
The show at Standard Clay was delightful, and Carla did a heck of a job.
The Orton Cone Box show was the best I had seen, and I always enjoy the
La Mesa tableware show. A great Bruce Cochrane piece, and Lana Wilson’s
new work is fun as well.
On the advice of unnamed sources — and a quick perusal of the catalog
— I skipped some of the bigger shows. I am not entirely dismissive of
disturbing, ugly or concept-over-craftsmanship works, but neither am I
willing to spend the day on a bus to visit ceramic pigs in bondage or a
butthole with teeth. I was more interested in seeking out the work that
makes me inspired, or covetous. The Artstream gallery is still the best
show in town.
Reem Gibreil gave a fascinating slide lecture as part of the grad school
sessions… Lee Burningham and Nan Kitchens blew away a room full of
people with a slide documentary of what the high school kids were able
to do in a week (an incredibly detailed 16 foot wall mural) … I got to
talk to Janet Koplos about some issues and ideas for my seminar class
presentation… gathered signatures of potters, both famous and
soon-to-be-famous, in my little autograph book… (and one… well,
never mind.) I spent time with the old cliff-jumping boys from
Appalachian Center for Craft (now on to new jobs in other places) —
bought a fat Chinese paint brush, a sponge tipped throwing stick, cheap
but tricky Chinese Clayart tools, and a subscription to Ceramics Art and
Perception and Ceramics Technical. I had squirreled away money for NCECA
and then Patrick got us a travel grant from the art department, so
instead of thinking ahead (two more tuition payments) I splurged. No
I had a nice lunch with Tony C., and another with the EMU grads, Dave
McBeth and our own EMU prof Lee. When we were talking about how your
teachers’ voices affect your work, Lee laughed himself silly over Jay’s
image of we grad students (like cartoon characters), with “this little
Italian woman on one shoulder, and this skinny Chinese guy on the
Again, agreeing with what has been said: a few of the panel sessions I
attended, with high hopes based upon the titles, turned out to be
panelists reciting their resumes and talking about their own work,
apropos to nothing as far as I could see. I am easily disappointed,
though; half the classes in my college course catalogs years ago left me
sighing later… wonderful topics that lose all appeal when presented as
Patrick was happy to see his old friend Dave McBeth. The EMU grad
students stopped by the clayart room, were made to feel welcome, and
ended up connecting with clayart minds who knew a lot about whatever it
was they wanted to know, from paper clay to glazes to the best place for
With my kids at home as big as they are (and, of necessity, more
independent now than they were when I first started school) I had no
worries about how things would go at home without me. I was only as far
away as the cell phone in my pocket, and I got calls all through the
weekend asking about the area of a polygon, telling me what came in the
mail, or just checking in to see what I was up to. When Connor reported
that Molly was on the computer reading LOLcats, Tyler was doing play
station, and he was building with legos, I said, “Who’s in charge of
sighing and crying because you miss your momma?” Without skipping a beat
he responded, “Oh, we do that in shifts.” They like to humor me. My 14
year old redhead is just now taller than I am, and even little Molly is
I called Jeff at work, from NCECA, when he was having a really bad day.
I asked him what he wanted me to come home with, he said, “A job!”
I am grateful for the encouragement I got from clayart friends about my
impending MFA show, and the good wishes for whatever comes after. It
feels to me exactly like being in the 8th month of pregnancy: I’m
excited, preparing, but also weary with the whole process. I’m looking
forward to the “due date” because it’s going to be a wonderful show…
but dreading the “labor pain” required before it’s all done.
Because many asked: my “due date” is the first week in June. I picked
the Ford Hall venue instead of the student union so I could bring my own
food. My reception will be Monday evening and the show will come down
Friday. I’ll have a postcard, and I’ll blab it on clayart as always.
Overall, and with the short notice to organize after New Orleans fell
through, I’d say NCECA was pretty successful. And while the schedule may
look like “not much for studio potters”, as some have said, the moments
I remember from any NCECA years later have more to do with the pots I
saw, the friends I enjoyed, good restaurants, bad jokes, thought
provoking conversations and a general recharging of the creative
And now, I need to get my butt to work. I have two presentations to
plan, a term paper to write, and I am late for my Clay Times deadline
(sorry Polly!) — and tomorrow, it’s back to homeschooling, bill paying
and the long drive to EMU.
Kelly in Ohio (currently willing to relocate. Want a resume?)
I woke up in Pittsburgh, PA (What a great town!) and now I am home, tired enough to feel like I half dreamed the entire NCECA conference. More on that tomorrow, after I sleep, unpack and process a bit.
Tonight we colored eggs, as is our usual custom. As I dipped and smudged, waxed and brushed, my head was full of bright majolicas, Russel Fouts’ smoky surfaces, the shiny little jewels in the Artstream trailer, Liz Willoughby’s carbon trap shino glaze, Jon Singer’s vivid glaze experiments on eggshell-porcelain. We buy dozens of eggs every year and all five of us jealously guard our numbered portion, unwilling to give up a single perfect white canvas.
I know we’re all much too grown up for this egg hunt business, but who can say no to a holiday that involves Spring, chocolate, bright dyes and paints, ancient fertility images, and the Biblical reminder that “Hope springs eternal”…
Now I have top secret Bunny business to attend to — and a hot bath — and my own bed. Rooming with Joanne, Patrick and Reem was more about all-night conversation than real sleep, and it will feel good to curl up next to my own hubby (and hope the kids aren’t up at dawn).
This was the day Molly and I fired the salt kiln. It was the best firing I’ve had so far.
We spent the day, cleaned up the kiln yard, finished up before 9pm, got to ^7 with the tip of ^8 just bending. Molly befriended Casey the sculpture student and got to see how soem great power tools worked.
Patrick stopped by to advise and suggest when I was stalled, and later, my Jeff drove up from Toledo (the boys were invited to a sleepover) and helped me salt it. 16-18 pounds of rock pickling salt.
I’ll photograph the best pots for the blog ASAP.
In the background is one of the lovely grey glaciers of slush native to my area. These can be found well into the spring thaws, on the edges of parking lots and in roadside front yards.
Shino and wood ash soy bottle.
Stoneware, iron-impregnated porcelain slip and wood ash.
I melted some bits of broken blue glass bottle on this one.
Tripods are hard to photograph.
Flashing slip and ash drips.
Light shino and wood ash.
Crunchy little guy.
This was my most ash-blasted pot, right from the firemouth.
I laid the biggest amphora on its side, right inside the firebox. I put it on seashells I picked up in Florida (which instantly froze to the wadding… ironic) and though they left a signature, it’s nowhere near the ash blasted anagama pots I am used to seeing shell marks on. Interesting, anyway. I am amazed that even though the embers of this firing had encroached on all sides, the bottom looked pretty clean.
After my last post, Iput away the laptop. It was dark, and cold, and I had short of spent myself on blather for the evening. Reading over what I wrote, a lot of it sounds crabby… I also realized , when I was looking over how I dole out my time, that I spent SIX hours a week just driving to and from school. Sheesh.
Anyway, after my tea-and-blog break, I headed back to the kiln around 10:30 and Patrick and I fired together for a while. Everything looked good, we had a nice glow going, and you could see the substantial coat of ash settling on the pots. We began side-stoking through a peep, into a narrow gap I left between the front and back shelves. One of Patrick’s really tall pots was wadded on bricks on the floor near this middle stoke port, and peeking through a hole, we could see that it had squashed down its (stupid frozen) wad in the back and was touching the shelf. Patrick pointed out that it seemed to be in an ash shadow at that part of the foot, though, and maybe wouldn’t stick.
I saw throguh the peeps that one of my little canteen forms that had been perched on its rim got knocked into the middle stoke embers by an errant slat of wood, but that’s OK. I put a few really loose pots right in the firebox doorway, hibuse-style. Everything in the kiln is an experiment. I find it interesting that what I want out of a firing now is not necessarily marvelous pots (though that would be fine) — it’s INFORMATION. What made this color, flash, mark? What made the melt work, or not? What caused this problem, what do these slips/clays do in wood?
When it got dark, it got colder. We had chatted with a local man who came to pull recyclable metal out of the dumpster, and our friend Gypsy the painter (who just graduated with her MFA) stopped out to say hello, but unlike firings on warmer nights we didn’t have a lot of visitors. Since it was too cold to sleep and the van didn’t look like a cozy bed, I sent Patrick home to bed at 11pm and settled in.
I assure you, I was a vision to behold. I was a fashion statement from head to toe… from Jeff’s hunting cap — which kept scooting upward atop my stringy, ashy hair for that “Mr. Peanut” look — to the smears of black soot on my face — to the layers of smoky, smudgy clothes, right down to my partly-melted-by-warming-my-feet-near the stokehole boots.
During one restroom break I pondered my image in the bathroom mirror. I used to have the nicest hands, great nails, soft skin, pretty rings. As a potter (and especially these last two years) my hands look more like a stevedore’s. My arty or feminine outfits have been stacked untouched, since my daily choice of wardrobe has more to do with clay chunks than self expresssion. I’m not especially vain, and don’t think much about the shoes and accessories and hairstyles that are supposedly a woman’s focus.. but when I graduate, I plan to reclaim some of my previous style. I am certainly functional but would like to be decorative as well.
Anyway, I got into the rhythm of the firing, hearing the kiln breathe in or out, gazing (with my dark torch glasses) into the various peeps to see glazes melting on yellow-hot pots, shiny as a bright white version of a candied apple. Stoke side, gather wood, park in front of the firebox to stoke and warm up.
One of my 101 students, a young Japanese kid named Hiro, stopped after 2 am when the bars closed just to see the fire. I had waxed poetic about the wonder of a wood kiln at high temperatures, and he was fascianted with how beautiful the fire was — the way it moved like water, splitting around bricks and pots, feathering through passageways and past the peeps. He was also amazed at how clearly visible the kiln was inside when the fire dies back and you can see all the way to the far end. It’s as if the heat magnifies the far end of the kiln, magnifying detail — all in vivid bright yellow light.
I showed Hiro how to stoke and he helped out for a bit before he headed for home, leaving me to the peace of 3am. I really felt safe out there; maybe because it was so cold that no mugger or rapist in his right mind would venture out. The tarp shelter made it feel cozy in there… and the “fireplace” provides such ambiance.
Patrick came back around 4:00. Cones six and seven were long gone in the front, cone nine was starting to bed. At the far end, cone five was bending at the tip. I was doing OK but getting sleepy, and the cold of my stoking seat has worked its way into my butt and thighs — so I laid back the drivers seat in the van as far as it would go, turned on the car long enough to get the heater going, then turned off and tried to get some sleep.
I stayed in the van for two hours, dozing off, getting cold, turning the car on, dozing off… I finally gave up and went back to the kiln, where at least it was warm.
The sun was rising when it started to look like we were ready to wind it up. In the front, ^9 had arched over and was hanging straight down like an icicle off the edge of the shelf. ^10 was pointing at the horizon. ^5 was curled over in the front, and more importantly, we were just about out of cedar (which we chose for the low melting point of the ash, especially late in the firing.)
I will admit that I was not at the top of my game. Th eolder I get, the less I am able to think.function or make decisions when running on no sleep. In retrospect, my original plan had been to close the damper at peak temperature and clam the kiln, back to front, filling every glowing crack between the bricks with newspaper dipped in clay slop.
Instead, I quit stoking the firebox, since that end of the kiln was at temp and we’ve been asked not to exceed ^10 — and kept stoking the side port, to give the cooler end of the kiln a little catch up time. But when I peered back through the firebox stoking port, the shiny melted pots in the very front had lost their shine and had a lot of unmelted fly ash stuck to their fronts. Noooooooo! That was what we were trying to avoid. It’s a complicated loop — the only way to heat pots so that ash will melt is to stoke with wood… which blows ash onto the pots .. which then needs to be melted… how the hell do you stop? In a big anagama that fires for a week and is shut down section by section, it would be more logical.
The only thing I could think to do was to brick up the firing ports to slow down the ash drift. (I was going to shut the damper, remember? But stoking the side port changed all that…)
So bass-ackward and without any of my original plans, I closed up the kiln after 25 hours of firing (and twelve of candling.) We cleaned up the kiln area and took down the tarps as the sun rose in glory over the plant-ops parking lot.
Honestly, as rewarding an adventure as the firing was (and it’s not over yet! Pots still to come) I really felt like crap. My eyes were smoked red, my hands full of splinters, my lungs suffering from the kiln smoke — my mouth tasted like old bongwater. I needed food.
We chose the Denny’s near my highway home for our post-firing debriefing. I spent a lot of time during the long night thinking about people I know — like David Hendley — who fire their own kilns alone, and wondering how I would feel about that. Two days ago, I thought it might be nice to fire this kiln alone. By this morning, we agreed it would be nice to have a THIRD person who might at least come and stoke a shift in exchange for pots in the kiln. A “silent partner” would be perfect, imo, to avoid that “too many cooks” effect.
Patrick pointed out that this felt like a really good “team building” firing. While P. and I get along well, it takes a real open and honest communication to fire a kiln like this and respect the weight of each other’s opinions, know when to weigh in or step back — and help your firing buddy know where the lines are.
I was glad to have him around. At least three times this week he had a real light bulb idea, a solution to some problem I couldn’t wrap my head around. And a few times I threw out an
idea as well, to which he gave a visibly impressed thumbs-up.
So… red eyed, filthy, soot-smudged, stinking of fire, but heartened by breakfast, I headed home down the highway. Jeff was pleased to hear we had finished up so early; when I got home he met me at the door with a cup of warm decaf, and he had the bathtub filled already. I soaked in the hot water until it began to cool, then crawled into my very soft bed and just blinked out for a couple of hours. When I closed my eyes I saw stoke holes and cedar wedges…
It’s evening now and I still can’t get all the way warm. I am going to send in this entry and go curl up by the fire with Jeff, two blankets, and three cats, and try to get warmed through. The fact that I can’t replenish the wood until they start making split rail fence in the spring means that I won’t be firing this again in cold weather. Patrick doesn’t plan to fire it again, at all — his MFA show is in May.
Maybe in better weather I will bring the pop up and my Jeff… have my cake and eat it too. Marital bonding AND school progress!
No, you don’t need to adjust the brightness of your monitor. It doesn’t get any lighter grey in Northwest Ohio/Southeast Michigan in March.
Bunji cords and plastic tarps to keep off the snow and keep out the wind…
Patrick’s a happy man. Tarp roof, frozen firing couch… it’s amazing what feels like comfort, when you’re “out in it”.
After heavy snow on Monday, when I got off the plane from Florida, and and ice storm on Tuesday, and Patrick’s schedule conflict on Wednesday, I had to abandon plans to fire the salt kiln alone before the wood firing with Patrick — and even had to postpone the wood firing.
We settled on a Friday overnight candling with the weed burner to dry the frozen shelves, and an early Saturday morning start time for buring lots of smoky brush and then starting the stoking.
My plan is to fire longer than we have in the past, to try to get a better ash melt and to even out the front to back. In previous ^10 at the front firings, we have had pots at the cold end of the kiln that didn’t even mature the ^6 glazes, and we’ve often had too much unmelted grit in the front.
So based on a lot of advice on the clayart list and a thorough reading of Jack Troy, I’m going to try to get the front to temp and hold it there until the back catches up… I’m going to do a small amount of side-stoking in a chamber I left open at the center.. and I’m planning to use only cedar at the end, because the ash melts at a lower temp than hardwood.
In this kiln I have three different claybodies, and Patrick has two. I have six different flashing slips and a couple of glaze experiments.
Thursday I came to school in the afternoon and glazed pots… I was kind of getting into a rhythm, and enjoying the process, since a) I have so damn many test pots that I am not terribly precious about any of them, and b) I am using the spray gun to get the thick-thin effects I like in ocher and shino. Sprayed glazes can look like sprayed glazes, or they can mimic the flame-path, ash-drift and shadow effects of atmospheric firings. It did (potentially) nice things on some of my textured pieces. In fact, the effect of sprayed-at-an-angle glaze from one side and ash/flame flashing from others might make some complex surfaces.
I especially enjoyed the decisions involved with loading the kiln and the considerations of where wads and shells could go, including what might lean against what in a mini tumble-stack. I am beginning to appreciate the concept of “painting with flame” and the cooperative relationship between potter and fire, accident and intention.
The “teamwork” aspect of this, though, is complicated. I was wished we had a whole firing “team” like we did last fall, when half a dozen students had work in the kiln and showed up to stoke a shift… but I am not convinced of that anymore. I suspect my friend Tony Clennell is right, that more on a kiln team is NOT merrier.
Even with a big group firing, the “firemaster” gets stuck holding the bag, from setting up the kiln and kiln yard, (which is a drive across campus from the clay studio) to making wads, loading, closing up, unloading, clean up…
Everybody who shows up to put wood in the hole for a couple of hours has no real idea about that part, or understanding of the hundreds of choices and decisions that went into the process. It’s like bringing a jello salad to somebody else’s thanksgiving dinner. You helped, but often you have no clue what the big picture involved.
With just Patrick and I, it’s a bit easier. We take turns being “firemaster” (translation: stuck with the lion’s share of work, but claims the final call on firing decisions.) Still, playing well with others means explaining all your decisions, debating the best course of action.. and feeling responsible for the success or failure of the other person’s pots.
As the firemaster for this wood firing, the thing that bothered me most about loading was making all the decisions for the placement of Patrick’s work’s in the kiln. I mean, he had two groups of tall jars: unglazed outside for the front, glazed for the back. Kind of a no-brainer… still, I hated to be the one to decide where the flame should lick that one or where the shadow should be on that one.
The temptation to just fill the whole kiln with my pots, dispense with diplomacy and negotiation and sharing, is big… but not bigger than the idea of spending three plus days loading, stoking, unloading on my own. I could likely stoke for a day and half the night but I’m happy to have some help with that other half of the night. In the past, when I have been able to bring my camper, it was nice to have Patrick sleeping nearby in those kind of scary hours of late night/early morning in not-a-great-part-of-town.
Anyway, Thursday I worked on loading until late, and Patrick and I went to Denny’s for a one in the morning breakfast before I headed to Toledo with the kiln half loaded, for a good night’s sleep.
I got up at and headed back to school. The cats looked bewildered about being abandoned yet again by the one resident of the household. My family has two weeks in Florida to my one, so I spent every waking hour of my snowed in days this week in my own studio, making kind of exciting (to me) work.
The hour up and down 23 has become familiar, and ranges from dull to nerve-wracking depending on weather. I find that a conversation on a cell phone, an interesting podcast or some BBC news can make it go faster – though about half the time I need it quiet so I can think, plan, solve design problems in my head.
I keep forgetting that I need to carry a tape recorder with me when I drive; I’ll be rolling along at 75 mph and suddenly the wording to my artist statement will volunteer itself, clear as a bell… last time I ended up calling my own answering machine at home and dictating the whole idea to myself for later.
Anyway, I went to the EMU studio and glazed a few more small pieces that I knew needed to sit in special spots I had made for them on the kiln shelves. Then I headed out to the kiln and spent most of the morning hanging upside down into the kiln, trying to roll wadding into balls. It seemed a little soft to me, but it froze as soon as I set it on the edge of the kiln. When I went to reposition my already-loaded pots to make room for new ones, I found that the pots were frozen to the wads and the wads were frozen to the kiln shelf. I had to go to the van and get my propane torch to thaw each individual wad on pots I wanted to move an inch this way or that.
Note to self: Next time, make wadding balls indoors and keep them in a warm thermos container.
Just as I was beginning to make some headway, my cell phone rang (well, croaked… my ring is a recording of a frog) and it was Jeff and the kids, just arrived at baggage claim at the Detroit aiport, home from Florida.
I drove to pick them up just as they came out to the sidewalk in front of arrivals: freckled, tan, rolling their suitcases and looking a little shellshocked at the transition
from sun and warm to grey sky and big snowdrifts.
I had originally planned to drive them right home, but the frozen wadding had slowed me down enough that I still hadn’t finished loading the kiln. It would need to be done and covered if Patrick was going to stick the woodburner in it for the night when he got off work.
So my poor kids sat in a van behind the sculpture building for an hour and a half while I finished loading the kiln. Jeff (suffering from the cold after two weeks of sunshine)helped me close off the top with kiln shelves and off we went, leaving Patrick the job of putting topping it off with soft bricks before he left the burner to candle for the night.
I drove home half distracted, worrying that the wads might only be doing their support jobs because they were frozen solid. What if, when they thawed, they flattened out and tipped pots?
I am writing these entries from a laptop, with my feet up on cinderblocks under the firebox stoking ports of the kiln. When I got up at 6 this morning and threw my gear in the van, there was half an inch of ice on my car and the snow was swirling again. It’s going to be 14 degrees F tonight, and we’ll be out in it, like my hardy boy scouts at Camp Alaska.
(Jeff and I seem to have crossed some kind of a line this year, past wistful “wouldn’t it be nice to live in a more temperate climate” to actually sending resumes out of state.)
I had stopped at a business on the way from Ohio and picked up maybe 50 yards of leftover evergreen roping, stuffing it into the back of my van. Once there was a little fire going in the firebox, I fed in the greens, getting a good sooty drift that settled on the pots to trap flyash later.
A peek in the firebox revealed that my wadding fears were justified: one of my big oval canteens that had been perched on its rim tipped onto a neighbor. That meant unbricking one end of the lid and rearranging the mess, while the small beginning fire was still burning. Only an hour into the firing and already I smelled like a forest fire (and my lungs felt like I had just come from a Who concert. )
Patrick relieved me so I could go teach my 101 (studio art for non majors) class. After we went over the midterms I showed them a power point of the history of kilns and firing: open bonfires, clamp kilns, updrafts, downdrafts, anagamas, climbing kilns, electric, with the corresponding pot-results… different effects at different heat levels, dramatic pix of raku firings and the results, ancient and modern majolica, lead glazed colonial ware, salt glazed crockery and arty pots.
Then I brought them over to the wood kiln, where Patrick stood in the swirling snow like Yukon Cornelius. I had them find (and explain the function of) firebox, dampers, pyrometric cones, flue, peeps, and stoke holes.
When class left around noon I went back to stoking. It’s 6 and I am still at it. Patrick bought bunji cords (which he calls shock cords) and put up tarps on three sides of our end of the kiln roof to cut the wind – which was great, because wind was bitter cold, and the snowflakes had been sifting onto my keyboard as I typed.
Now the sky is clear with a cheshire cat smile of a crescent moon, though the snow is deep and the wind wild… I have white ash drifting onto my keyboard now instead of snow.
Between paragraphs, I am stoking. We have abandoned the bourry box on top of the kiln as it seems ineffective and kicks a ton of smoke back in our faces; we just stoke through brick-wide portholes in the firebox.
I have been thinking about the environmental impact of burning this wood, and I think I have managed to rationalize it to my own satisfaction. Except for some waste hardwood strips from a defunct flooring company, every bit of wood being used in these firings has come from a maker of split rail fence. They are the angled cut off ends that result when a straight cedar pole is sharpened at each end to become a rail.
They are stacked in a pile, in the cuting yard, and when the pile is too big, the company burns the wood. So all this wood was going to be smoke anyway, only having acheived no purpose in the burning.
It’s funny to stoke the kiln realizing every stick of wood has been in my hands three times: loaded into my van, unloaded from my van to the kiln yard, and now into the kiln. It ain’t mel’s Stradivarius, but it’s certainly a connection to the process.
Now it’s 8:30 pm on saturday, and we’ve passed the twelve hour mark for stoking. I had been perfectly content to stoke all day (where else would I go, this far from home?) so I asked P. to just come back at dinnertime.
By the time he arrived I was doing OK, though hands and feet were in need of thawing. I am wearing two shirts, long johns, heavy socks and stretchy jeans under my hubby’s camoflage hunting coverall, with a hat, gloves, and a parka with a hood over it all.
But I needed to warm up, so I came to the absurdly overheated ceramic studio at Sill hall. I am now sitting at Diana’s desk with my laptop, stripped down to my inner layers of clothes and drinking warm tea.
I am going to pick up the pyrometer before I go back. I hate the thing, though. I hate that I end up firing to the temp numbers on the damn machine, instead of listening to the crackle and fade of wood between stokes, eyeballing the level of glow through the peeps, letting it go as it will. We are in no hurry. The cones have not yet begun to bend. Firing without the pyrometer feels like labor without the machines and monitors: a wave of work some rest… then a wave.. numbers. Hmmph. Who needs them?
Maybe I resent the measuring machine because, at this almost-finished point in my MFA experience, I am tired of advice, suggestions, “progress reports”, and any form of instruction… even what temp the kiln is at seems like an imposition on my train of thought. I am far from young, but I am reliving an attitude from my teen years — I remember thinking that if everybody would just leave me alone and let me run my life, I could get somewhere.
I am weary of criticism and negativity in any form — and it’s everywhere, in the bleak parts of winter around here. Somebody, somewhere is always predicting your plans will fail, your ideas are flawed, your hopes are naiive, the world is going down the tubes and it’s all for naught.
I catch myself in the process of complaining along with the crowd and try to put a positive spin on it in my own head… instead of rolling my eyes over how things are done, from politics to school to other people’s dramas, I think, “I would do this a better way…” and then make plans to do so.
I am al
so weary of the tug of war for my time, and the guilt I carry about it. My family’s gung ho, supportive “you can do it, mom!” attitude about my going to school (Jeff said, “We can do anything for two years!”) is wearing thin as we reach the finish line. Homeschooling is still going well, but I miss the kids’ evening sports and scout events, and leave most days just before Jeff gets home from work.
After a week apart, Jeff and I had a scant few hours together last night, and I crept out while he was sleeping this morning to spend an entire weekend firing this kiln. He calls my cell phone frustrated because he can’t find Molly’s girl scout cookie stuff, and whether or not he means it, I hear, “You should be home with us, making things go more smoothly”.
But when I am at home being a good wife/mom/homemaker, I get grumbling from Patrick about not pulling my weight in the studio, and doubts about my work ethic (!) from profs because they don’t see me around much (I’m here until midnight, after my evening classes, when everybody has gone home.)
The truth is, I spend 8 hours a week making pots in the EMU studio (not counting marathon firings) — six hours a week in my seminar and history classes — six hours a week at the Toledo Potters Guild, teaching throwing, mixing glazes, firing all my students’ bisque and glaze kilns, serving on the education committee and managing the guild website… and if you ask my kids, I spend every unscheduled moment at home in my own studio, making work for my MFA show. Probably 20 hours a week, if I count loading and firing kilns, pugging clay and paperwork.
My studio business, on line sales, craft fairs and wholesale accounts have been put on hold for these two years until I graduate. I’m hardly a lazy, blow-off college student who can’t remember to come to class. But it’s the place where I am stuck, at least for a few more months: no matter how well I am doing in one of my roles, I am letting somebody down in another one. Maybe time to adjust my giveashit meter.
Somebody said to me recently — in that “word to the wise” way — “You know, once you graduate, you’ll be in the REAL world.” A was dumbfounded. The real world is what I am taking a break from — after years of teaching college, raising kids and running a studio business — in order to get this degree.
Wow. I’m whining, aren’t I? And after that whole lovely paragraph about staying positive. Is it a bad idea to vent on a blog? Maybe. I’m not like the lady in the ad with the bottle of wine in hand, posting wildly… I’d have to blame sleepiness, and cedar smoke inhalation.
Time to stoke my shift. More later, with pictures.
This is a shot of my gallery model.. some of the pots are bigger than they should be (the ones on the wall) and the woman is a little overdressed… but it was fun.
Yesterday morning I woke up in the land of bougainvillea and grapefruit blossoms, buzzing bees and glorious sunlight… got on a plane (leaving Jeff and the kids behind) and flew home. The view from above showed dirty snow and standing puddles, grey flat grids of farmland and suburb. Grey sky, grey landscape. It was raining but giant plow-scraped mounds of filthy slush remained.
I headed straight for school, and organized my studio space to make some room to work. As the grad program has grown my space has shrunk: I find myself confined to a narrow table jammed against an end wall, with two overloaded shelf units…
The plan was to head for the cottage where my pop-up is stored and set it up in the kiln yard, load the salt and start firing. Nobody but me is willing to fire the salt, as the burners are not quite up to the job and it’s an all-day-and-half-the-night struggle to get it to temp, even if we candle overnight beforehand. (I laughed when I read on clayart that wood and atmospheric firings are a good “team building” experience… has anybody seen my team? )
But the reality was that, even if I was able to dig out and haul home the pop-up, I wasn’t going to be able to put my little gypsy wagon anywhere in that kiln yard, which was largely underwater. By the time I came out of my Monday night class, temps had plummeted again and the snow was deep and coming down thick… the drive home was not much fun.
I got home to three desperately lonesome cats. Oddly there were also two chirping smoke alarms, whose batteries must have died simultaneously… and one little plastic frog my mom gave me that cheeps when a plant is too dry, just twittering away.
Once I got the beeping to stop and checked the pets, in a moment of seasonal-shock self pity, I turned up the thermostat to 70. Al Gore can bite me. It sucks to be home.
Now I have to answer calls, hit the bank, buy chicken feed, fill a prescription, then drive back to school to glaze and start loading. I wish I felt more excited about firing this wood kiln. Patrick and I are planning a 30 hour firing just between the two of us… and if I don’t have my camper, I don’t have a place to sleep, a source of coffee, or any place to warm up between shifts. The sculpture building nearby will generally leave a door unlocked for access to a bathroom, which is nice, but campus is really not safe enough for me to feel very comfortable stoking the three-in-the-morning shift out there alone if Patrick has gone home to bed.
A better plan would be to fire in good weather, but I’ll be done (forever) by spring, and can’t wait around.
Forecast: snow every day this week, lows in the teens. Sigh. Did I mention it was blue, sunny and 70s in Florida?
My brother has offered to come to the lake with his big honkin’ truck and help me pull my pop-up out of the snow.. but I don’t know where I would set it up even if I got it to school.
I have to go figure out my plan. More later.
Tomorrow’s my last day in the sun, and I head back to snow country on Monday, all by myself. Much as Dannon and others predicted, I’m finding that a few days far from home/studio/school/winter has given me some clarity. I suspect I will land with a clear resolve and a plan of action focused by some thinking time.
I had no idea how stressed I had been until I got here and started to unclench!
I read Tony’s cautious clayart posts, the last week or two, and wondered whether winter doesn’t have some kind of universal dampening effect on our courage, impulsiveness and optimism. I guess for too many years, hard seasons and ice ages meant worry, about freezing to death, running out of food and fuel, and that wolf at the door.
I’ve traveled in cold countries and warm, and while both have their charms, there is no comparing the laid back lifestyle in, say, Hawaii, to the serious goal-focus of, say, Munich. My Southern pal Patrick just shakes his head about the bleak perspectives, negativity and general joylessness of we Northerners. (my translation, not his words.)
The timing of this Christmas-gift-trip seemed bad, in the middle of my last semester at EMU, but I am not exactly lounging in a hammock… the first few days, I built a scale model of the Ford gallery out of gator board, complete with pedestals and a 5’3″ cardboard cut out woman. (She helps me figure out where eye level would be, and get a sense of how people can move around the space.) I spent a couple hours every morning making mini versions of my pots and “installing” them in different ways. It’s a blast… a cross between a dollhouse and a blueprint, more 3D and “real” in my mind than sketches. I’m putting a photo on my blog.
The kids get to the beach once a day, and while I always plan (in my logical adult manner) to supervise from the beach while I do my homework, I always end up in the Gulf with them. One day the surf was so high that we rode the waves for hours, body-surfing — a glorious ride, which ends by being ground into the sand face first, churned head over heels, coming up spluttering salt water with seashell grit in your bathing suit and sand in your teeth.
Why is this fun? It’s the warm weather, I am sure of it. My kids, who whine about navigating the icy driveway at home to get the mail, spent the better part of an afternoon flinging themselves into a sea that flung them headlong back onto the beach, again and again. A kid who would normally go into dramatic agonies worthy of the NBA over a gentle poke from a sibling, can now walk out of the salty froth, blowing water out of both nostrils, scraped red from neck to belly by shells, and say, “Let’s go! Here comes another big wave!”
It’s been a good week, recharging whichever spirit-batteries wear low in the black, white and sepia of Ohio and Michigan winter. There are real strawberries, here, tomatoes that smell like tomatoes, roses and lemon blossoms in the yard, and little lizards that dart across my path. My own mom is here to both mother me, and spoil my children, leaving me time (once they’re done schooling) to go off on my own. I can step out the door without parka, hat, boots, gloves and bracing myself against the cold. I will go home and look for seed catalogs in the mail, believing that spring WILL actually come again.
I must admit, though, to vacationing “Averill style” (that’s my workaholic family of origin.) I put in a dozen miles on bike, treadmill and kayak, and worked on my art critic presentation for Dr. Rubenfeld’s seminar, but mostly Jeff and I rebuilt most of my father’s big boat dock, replacing splintered old planks with recycled composite ones. My throwing hands have softened but now I have calluses from hammer and crowbar. One day my mom took me to a salon (!) for a haircut, and as soon as I got back, Jeff and Dad sent me down under the dock to stand knee deep in black muck and crabs, to shore up a barnacle-crusted piling with an asphalt wrap and a bag of cement. I was the most glamorous dame in the swamp, that day.
Tomorrow we’ll do another chunk of the decking, before our traditional Sunday fish fry, then I’ll pack my bags. By Monday afternoon, I’ll be back in Detroit — without my hubby or my newly-freckled kids, who have another week of vacation. I have gotten word that 300 pounds of propane have been delivered to the salt kiln while I was gone, so my plan (barring high snow drifts or sleet) is to glaze my pots Monday night and fill the salt kiln, fire it off before I have to go home to teach my Toledo guild class (and grab a shower!) Wednesday — then get back and fire the wood kiln with Patrick, before I have to pick up my family at the airport Friday afternoon. If all goes well, I should have some nice pots by the weekend. I’ll try to blog but I don’t think I have wireless out by the kilns.
Kelly from Ohio, in Englewood, Florida… on my dad’s computer, in a room where my two lanky boys are asleep on a fold-out couch, and a great horned owl is ho-hoo-hooting from an avocado tree outside the window. Already planning for next week’s firings.. here comes another big wave!
Here’s the lobby… two six foot tables.
Yesterday morning we got up early, packed up the kids and headed for Eastern Michigan University. I went to class and gave my midterm, then met Jeff and the kids at the clay studio to load some pots in the bisque. We went out to breakfast at “The Bomber” with Patrick, then got on a plane in Detroit, and by suppertime we were in Englewood, Florida with my mom and dad.
The first thing to hit me was not the sun, or the warmth — though I have spent the winter, like my fellow midwesterners, clenched against the cold and zipped into a parka, skating across icy sidewalks and parking lots.
It was the SMELLS that grabbed my attention. Ohio and Michigan are frozen, outside, and dessicated by dry forced air heat inside. There is no humidity and we have the sniffles most of the winter.
So to wake up under an open window with orange, lemon and grapefruit blossoms wafting in… such luxury! Fat pink roses and bouganvilia climb across the doorway, and rosemary and basil grow like shrubs. I poked around the neighbor’s garden, spotting lizards and checking out his beehives, but mostly just SNIFFING things.
Stepping off the plane didn’t exactly shift me into vacation mode, though. This morning I went to the store and got white gator board, gridded off in half inch squares, and started a project.
Using a printout of the floor plan and dimensions of the Ford gallery where my MFA show will be, I cut out the floor, walls and odd cubbyholes of the gallery and put them together with T-pins and tape. My edges are wobbly – especially the pedestals, which I built to scale and put together with a glue gun — but it gives me an idea where everything might go. I even made a little person-figure to get a sense for where “eye level” should be.
Then I found the kids’ box of art supplies and mixed together modeling clay until I got a nice clay brown. Tomorrow I will start making scale minis of the pots I have already made for my show, and putting them in the gallery to arrange and rearrange like a little doll house.
I did manage to get to the beach with the kids, and tomorrow the library will be open and we’ll make our annual trek for books. I hope to find something on the art critic I have to cover for my grad seminar class.
It’s lovely to have a break, though I was unsure about how I could leave home with so much needing to be done now, now, now.
Anyway here are pix of my gallery model!
I just drove to EMU on my “night off” for a meeting in the gallery. The gallery director gave us a packet of forms and information — wall dimensions, checklists, available displays and pedestals, lighting info, everything we’ll need to set up our MFA shows.
I’m kind of excited, now. It was bewildering to me how fast two years has gone by, and now we are talking in terms of months. Now I am sketching pots perched on pedestals, hung on the walls, really tall pots in groupings on the floor…
I have a few decisions to make. I can choose the Ford gallery, a nice big gallery with white walls in kind of a nondescript campus building where the art department lives… for the first week in June, when everybody’s gone for the summer…
Or I can choose the student gallery, a smaller but modern studio with one glass wall, in the new mall-ish student center (as student union, food court, meeting rooms, etc.) in late May. (Everybody’s still gone except maybe the profs.)
If I choose the student center, there’s a freight elevator and a ramp, and it’s more accessible if my 93 year old grandma comes… but I will have to use the Union’s caterers ($130 for 36 cookies, water and juice.) On the other hand, if I choose Ford hall, I have to carry pots (and maybe grandma) up a flight of stairs, but it’s a larger space, and we can bring in our own food. (My hubby makes a lovely california roll sushi.)
Here’s the biggie: If I want to walk in the graduation ceremony when classes end in April, I have to finish my show and defense by the end of May. That means it has to be the student gallery slot, if I want to walk in graduation. I guess I have to decide how much I really care about the whole cap and gown thing.
I skipped it for my BA at Ohio State (too darn many people in line, and I was fed up with school and off on some adventure.) I did it for my MA at U of Oregon, and my parents flew out to watch. Now, though.. I dunno. Jeff and the kids would like me to do it, but the truth is, I’d just throw my hat in the air and get right back to work for another month and a half until I was REALLY done.
As much as I’d like my kids to watch me graduate, after all they have contributed during this two years of craziness, I’m tempted to dispense with the ritual and just focus on the show. If my friends and relatives are going to make the long drive north for something, I’d rather it be my opening/reception than the stadium full of cap-and-gownies.
Anyway I’m getting kind of freaked and excited at the same time. The upcoming spring break in Florida with my folks is a cross between an almost physical craving for sunshine, color and the smell of green grass — and a total panic about being unable to throw, glaze or fire for a WHOLE WEEK.
Especially since I plan to fire the salt and Patrick and I plan to fire the wood once I get back to town.
The kids — along with raffled pots — made $1200 for the Northwest Ohio Food Bank at the First Unitarian Church soup fundraiser. It was awesome. Toledo Potters Guild members, local majolica artist Ann Tubbs, and my bud Patrick Green from EMU donated bowls for the raffle.
The kids made enough bowls that parents could buy one to take home, and plenty more were left for sale to all the church members eager to sample from the two dozen crock pots of pot-luck soup (provided my church members as well.)
I had unloaded the hundred bowls (still warm, of course) the morning of the event, and my hubby and the kids helped me fill each one with water to check for leaks, and find and sharp and crunchy bits to sand down with emery boards.
We had a separate table at the sale for the half dozen “Lovely but Leaky” bowls… they all sold, as well.
It was great for the kids. They worked really hard. Kids are as aware as anyone of the unfairness in the world; maybe more so, because they can’t rationalize or write a check. It’s hard to save the world when you’re a kid. But with this project, they worked really hard, made something they cared about, and were brave enough to let it go — for the cause.
It was a lot of fun, but a little bit like having a baby… it will take a while for me to forget how much work this was and say, “Maybe I should do that again!”
I love how kids’ minds work. I brought a bowl of dry alphabet noodles so the kids (all ages) could sign their bowls by pressing noodles into the clay. (They burn out in the firing.)
When I saw little Veronica planning to put her name inside of the small foot ring she made for her bowl, I suggested that there might not be room, and she might want to sign her name outside the foot.
She did… mostly… ;0) I almost bought this one, but her family wanted it more.
This is the etching I did in printmaking last semester. I’m having a blast scanning stuff. I’ve never had one of these before!
This is a picture of a picture of our family, at Mom and Dad’s place in Florida last year.
Connor on the left.. Kelly, Jeff, Tyler, and Molly on the fence.
Last summer, in a moment of temporary insanity, I agreed to volunteer my Sundays in January to make bowls with 25 or so K-9th graders at the Unitarian Universalist church. There will be a soup-supper in February where the bowls will be sold (full of soup) and the profits will go to local food banks and soup kitchens.
I asked for and got advice and ideas from potters on the clayart list, which I am looking over for future projects, but for the first class I decided to use a tried and true technique. This is a picture of a few of the 28 bowls we produced last Sunday.
I found cheap plastic bowls (four for a buck) at the grocery store, and Jeff used the belt sander to grind off the flimsy foot ring. Turned upside down, these became cheap and plentiful hump molds.
I used a round cutter about 5 inches across to cut each kid a circle from a thick slab of white (buff) stoneware. I made a stack of paper plates with a clay “cookie” on each one, sandwiched between squares of plastic wrap.
When I got to class, I gave each seated kid a plate with a clay cookie on it, and put a big chunk of dark brown clay in the middle of each table. After explaining what we were going to do, I helped them make very thin little “snakes” and tiny balls out of clay. They pressed the darker clay into the “cookies” to make designs, and when they were done, I came around with a rolling pin. I put plastic wrap over the design, and gently rolled it flat in several directions.
If the dark lines got too “squished” or too fat, (like fingers on a hand that blend to make a mitten), they can then go back with bits of white clay to clarify the line, and we’d roll again. Some kids made bullseye dots by varying light, then dark clay.
The finished cookie, still covered with plastic, was then put design-side-down on the bottom of the plastic bowl. The plastic wrap was peeled off the back, and the kids used coils, slabs and balls of clay to build the sides of the bowl, paddling them thin with wooden spoons.
They finished bowls by adding a coil ring (scored and slipped) or balls, or other inventive feet. The littler kids just left them flat. I had everybody dig through a bowl of dry ABC noodles to find the letters of their names to press into the bottoms of the bowls. The noodles will fire out in the bisque kiln and leave an imprinted signature.
In the time remaining many kids made roulettes and stamps to be bisqued for texturing the next bowls.
I’ll post the next batch when I bring them home to fire.
Some of the kids’ bowls from this project have great looking feet…
Reflections on a pug mill at winter solstice
Not dust, precisely, to dust;
From stickier stuff. Not parched desert sand
But damp crease of Nile, rich
flood-given mud, the living fertile dirt.
Darwin sings us up from primordial ooze.
Genesis forms us, clay of a potter God.
From a spark, we come to be
in a uterine sea, are born
in glorious mess, born wet
into waiting hands, howling
to be what we are to become.
See, how it turns? Wettest fruit spawns the yeast,
it burgeons as fruit decays. May I pour you some wine?
Bread, from the damp of kneaded loaf?
Or tea in an ancient bowl, made by hands
that hundreds of years ago dripped from their bones and were gone?
Not to dust, we return,
but to mud: damp transformation, a new kind of growth.
Even ashes, once scattered,
will fertilize something,
come the rain.
See, how it cycles? No loss is complete.
Best intentions, gone soft in the produce drawer
will compost for next year’s crop.
See, how it rolls? The pot rim
gone loppy, vessels meant for grace
but failing, tossed
from wheel to slop, are never lost.
Into the pug mill I feed my failure, my ego, my well laid plans
scooped by the handful, clinging to fingers,
reluctant to be released.
The augur churns like the spin of seasons, the roll of earth.
and then: rebirth. New clay from old,
made plastic by lessons learned.
Possibility is primordial mud: the genesis clay,
born wet into waiting hands
waiting to be what is next.
Kelly Averill Savino
I am very excited about a pickle jar full of suspicious looking scum that a friend sent home from gym class with my son.
It sat on the counter, since I was away at school, until Jeff (understandably) threw it in the trash, but Connor dug it out for me last night when I learned of its existence.
The suspicious looking lump inside is a SCOBY — the acronym for “Symbiotic Colony of Bacterias and Yeasts”. It looks like a floaty thin white crepe, suspended in a puddle of stuff that smells like cider vinegar and wine.
It’s this SCOBY that is making me so happy. It’s the source of the sour, fizzy, fermented Kombucha tea that is supposed to be so good for health and digestion.
I quickly gave it a home: a big glass gallon jug of green tea, with enough white sugar for the SCOBY to eat and convert to bubbles and useful enzymes.
I will leave it on the counter for ten days, and then pour off the tea, bottle it to fizz up for drinking, then and give the SCOBY some new tea to colonize. The SCOBY will make more SCOBY babies for me to share.
It joins a lot of other little civilizations in my kitchen. The sourdough crock has a community of yeasts that bubble away, making me starter for bread, pancakes and other goodies. I am a benevolent kitchen-deity, and keep pouring off and renewing their ecosystem before they use up all their resources and pollute their planet to an unlivable Ph.
The wine yeasts in the airlocked jugs of elderberry and currant juice were left to kill themselves off with their own waste product (alcohol) once they used up all the available sugar. But other colonies — like my yogurt — are saved from one generation to the next, a leftover cup used to “seed” the next batch of warm milk.
I am hoping to track down some live kefir grains, the little cluster of living yeasts and bacteria that will turn a bottle of warm milk into that fizzy, tart, fruity, drinkable stuff my kids like so much.
This latest obsession is a spin-off of my pottery. I have been making some flasks and crock-like pots with little water “moats” under the rim, to allow a fermenting substance (like sourdough, or sauerkraut) to “burp” gasses without being contaminated by airborne yeasts, dust or fruit flies.
So I have been looking at historic pots, reading medieval recipes, reading about the big salt glazed crocks my grandma used to make horseradish pickles and other fermented goodies. And I found a discussion forum at mothering.com for traditional foods. My reading has reminded me that the earliest ways of preserving foods — by fermentation — produced a lot of live colonies that worked well in the human innards, helping us digest. I make sauerkraut and pickles but then can them, effectively sterilizing the contents for long shelf life. Canning preserves food by killing all the bad cooties that would shorten shelf life, but it kills all the good cooties, too.
So I am thinking I should go back to making the big crock of pickles in the corner of the kitchen, from which we help ourselves. There are no more general stores with pickle barrels. Too bad it’s the wrong season, now, to get pickling cukes. I’ll plant my own next year or hit the farmers market in mid summer.
I have found images of delightful old ginger beer bottles — the hot, sweet kind, not the insipid pop sold in cans. Jeff and I made some in the days before kids, despite the recipe that said, “Do not make this! It will explode! You’ve been warned!” We made it in recycled two liter bottles, so that when they puffed up like footballs we could (sssssssstt) relieve the pressure.
Maybe we should make some for Christmas… count backward form the explosion date. I also have a library book about fermenting vinegars. Too bad pottery isn’t as lovely or practical as glass for liquids like that… though I am making myself a lovely yogurt fermenting crock with a safe liner glaze.
Jeff made beer, one year, and that was fun too.
Meanwhile I have yogurt, kefir, wine, sourdough, each with its little civilization of single celled life forms making me more.
I remember one day pondering an orange with a furry green population of mold, wondering if that’s what humans are to the planet… a complex life form hastening its decay.
Hopefully we are a more renewable starter, like sourdough. Maybe before this planet is used up, a couple rocket ships full of “starter” can be added to some fresh new place, to multiply and grow and start the whole thing over. In optomistic moments I hope the great Kitchen Master has a plan and a purpose for humanity. I’d rather be part of a cosmic smoothie than some forgotten slimy lump in the bottom of the cosmic produce drawer! lol
Twelve crocks of sauerkraut
Eleven sourdough starters
Ten jars of kim chee
Nine tubs of yogurt
Eight jugs of raw milk
Seven blocks of tempeh
Six drops of soy sauce
FIVE… KE-Fir GRAINS!
Four sprouted loaves
Two miso soups
And a SCOBY for Kombucha Tea!
– Kelly Savino
I drove up to school Thursday evening before it got dark, and since Jeff got out of work early, he and the kids came along. Ty and Connor stacked bricks, and Molly gathered wadding balls and threw them in a bucket. Nancy arrived in time to unload her sculpture.
The first thing we discovered when we got the door unbricked was that it was NOT a ^7 in the front of the cone pack — it was a ^6, ^8 and ^9. So although we thought we had salted at ^7 touching, we were actually at ^6. It looked awfully hot in there, and I know that salting can freeze up a cone and affect the readings. Since we took the thermocouple out to spare it from salt damage, I can’t be sure what our final temp was, but judging by the matt-ness of some of the glazes, I am guessing we didn’t get much above ^6.
And no, I am not all eager to fire this kiln all over again, any time soon. It still seems like a lot of hours of commitment for a box of pots. The accidental nature of the firing is really appealing, but my time is so precious to me at this point that I want a more predictable outcome for hours spent. I do like what salt can do to an unglazed surface, but I can’t picture this being my full time mode of firing.
About half of my pots are going to get refired. A few look OK the way they are. The temmoku came out pretty nice.
This was an experiment with my pugmill-mix clay body from home, Vince’s all temperature slip in black, and a ^6 reduction temmoku glaze.