Time is flying these days, I've already completed two and a half months at Hewitt Pottery. It has been hard trying to juggle everything but I guess that is something everyone has to figure out for themselves. Work, commuting to work, time with my husband, part time job, friends, groceries, laundry, email... the list goes on and on. Blogging has fallen on the list of priorities, forgive the short posts. Last week I made mugs, here is a photo of them ready for the kiln. They are decorated with glass and/or slip, they will not have a glaze over them so that the clay will show through after being salted during the wood firing. I really enjoyed decorating them, I love the slip trailer. My first attempts are conservative, I was just happy when I made a continuous line. The last mug on the right was a tribute to my friend Jo from New Zealand. I was practicing leaf designs and the silver fern popped in my head. I did not have a reference to go by, so next time I'll be more precise.
Juice cups! Seriously, I am thrilled to be making anything. I joined the Hewitt Pottery team at the furthest possible point from making pots. When I arrived it was straight to loading the kiln, then firing it, unloading it, cleaning pots, the sale, mixing clay (good photos coming soon from that week), then cutting wood. Phew! Now it's my favorite time, time to make pots. Juice cups! Here is a photo of my first few pots. I guess I made about 80 to 90 over the past 3 days, I aimed for 30 a day. I trashed many from the first day and kept about a fourth total from the week. By the end of today I felt much better about shaping them. Turns out I was holding the rib wrong in like eight different ways. Not flat enough against the profile (originally holding it 90 degrees to the pot, 30 to 45 degrees is better), moving my the rib up and down instead of holding it steady, I was using the wrong edge of the rib (I know, two choices and I chose wrong, come on), etc, etc . But thankfully Mark saw all these errors over the past few days and set me straight. I've just got to keep making them so that they can get even more fine tuned. I'm not even going to discuss their feet, I am aware they need work. Feet will be addressed next week. More juice cups!
Hewitt Pottery is having their summer kiln opening this weekend and next, August 29th/30th and Sept 5th/6th (Saturday 9 til 5 and Sunday 12 til 5) . I know that I should have mentioned this earlier, but we were so busy getting ready that I haven't had time. Here are some photos from yesterday's preview. Unfortunately (or fortunately) a lot of these pots now have new homes. But come out if you have a chance, there are some beauties left and new pots not previously seen saved for next weekend.
Last week Mark took us to Washington D.C. to visit the Freer and Sackler Galleries.
In addition to seeing the current exhibits, we visited the storage facilities of each museum. In the storage facility, accompanied by a curator, you can take out most pieces, handle them and take photos. One of the oldest pieces we took out was a Neolithic vase from Northern Thailand from 1000 B.C.E. The people that made these pieces have been dead for centuries, yet these pots survive. I was informed that they find a lot of ancient pottery shards in trash piles and old wells. (Note to self: if you really never ever want someone to see that ugly pinholed piece with the kiln goop droppings, you might want to dispose of it in several different places.)
A few of my favorites were the Shoji Hamada pieces (the big platter that I am holding, the plate, and the tea bowl). I had only see these in books, so it was quite a thrill to hold them. I also liked this tea bowl with bamboo decoration (bottom photo), artist unknown from the Edo period. This Shigaraki tea bowl (top photo) was another one of my favorites. The Sackler gift shop had a fabulous selection of books on ceramics. I purchased Shigaraki: Potters’ Valley, published in 1979 and reprinted in 2000, by Louise Cort, curator of ceramics at the Freer and Sackler galleries. It contains a lot of information on tea-ceremony wares as well as a complete ceramic history of the Shigaraki area of Japan.
This month I started a one year apprenticeship at W.M. Hewitt Pottery in Pittsboro, NC. I am so excited to have this opportunity. I hope to gain more wood firing experience and refine my throwing skills. Things have been going well so far and I am thrilled to go to work everyday.
Last week we started loading Mark's massive kiln. It took 5 full days to load in all the pots made by Mark and his two other apprentices Joseph Sand and Alex Matisse. I also helped roll thousands of wads for the pots (thanks Alex for the secret double and triple wad rolling technique).
On Tuesday evening the firing started slow using gas to dry out the pots. Formal stoking with wood started last night and continues on until late Friday. May I add that we are currently experiencing a miracle with the weather. On Tuesday it was 100 degrees (with the heat index in some areas at 105). Today was a lovely and pleasant 82. It was a perfect day to fire. I had a cool and relaxing 4 hour shift around lunchtime.
The top picture is after 4 days of loading. The photo is from the front of the kiln. Then next photo is the stack that was placed in the very front on day 5 (in front of the first photo's stack). The last photo is from the side door where the large pots are placed.
My friend Jason is back in town and as promised he supervised power tool time. Inspired by the large platter workshop, I decided I needed some larger bats if I want to make larger pots. I was introduced to the skill saw and the sander. We decided to stain/seal the bats with a deck stain that Jason had on hand. I gotta say these are the prettiest bats I've ever seen.
I attended a 3 day workshop on coiling large pots taught by David Stuempfle at Central Carolina Community College in Siler City, NC . David demonstrated how to make large coils that were an even thickness and proper length for the pot base. He showed how he attached the coil in a rhythmic motion with his thumb and middle finger. This was followed by a wooden paddle and anvil with a similar premise, paddling the clay with a consistent force and rhythm to make the walls. There were also weed burners involved. Always fun to add fire when throwing.
The pots I made were not that great or even made it through the whole process, but I got a tremendous amount of practice and feedback about how to improve. It's always good to have someone help you work out the kinks when learning a new technique. I think I have some concept of the fundamentals of coiling and just need hours and hours of practice...and hours.
Sometimes what you need comes and knocks on your door. Bakerworks Construction was knocking on doors in our neighborhood a few weeks ago offering all types of house renovations from kitchens to decks, no job is too small. Hmm. I've need shelves in my basement for a couple of years now, this seems to be as good a time as any.
I unfortunately have not had much exposure to building things myself, no one in my family has ever built anything that I can recall. My beloved does not have experience in that department either (he's an awesome cook and bass player though). My friend Jason, who is in the band Red Collar, promises he'll show me how to use different saws when he gets a break from touring. I can foresee needing these skills when building my future kiln. My first lesson, the jigsaw, should be soon, maybe at the end of July. Until then, I'll use Bakerworks.
In two half days the guys turned my basement into an efficient workspace. What a change it has made! Why didn't I do this before now? This renovation tripled my space for ware boards. It also forced a much needed organization of the space. My wheel is now stable and at the proper height. The guys used wood that was left by the previous owner of our house. I like the weathered rustic feel it gives. Check out the before and after pictures. The before pictures are obviously at the bottom. Actually I'm a little embarrassed by the before pictures now, but it makes the after look that much better.
Bakerworks did an awesome job, I'd recommend them to anyone that needs work done. Oh, and no I don't work in a prison. There are bars on the windows in the basement to deterburglars.
The Pin Projekt Auction was a few weeks ago, but I am just now getting around to posting pictures. It was very successful and I was honored to be part of it. The Troika Music Festival will take place in many venues all over Durham November 5, 6 and 7, so mark your calenders.
On Saturday I attended a small afternoon workshop on large platters given by Hitomi Shibata at Starworks. I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop, one because Hitomi is a great teacher and two because the technique was so different than I had ever seen. Half of the throwing process involved hitting the clay into place without water. Twelve pounds of clay was placed in the center of the wheel on a bat. While the wheel was slowly turning the clay was hit with both hands rhythmically and simultaneously to center the clay.
Once centered, the clay was opened up with the palm in a downward motion at the center.
This was done until the desired thickness of the floor was achieved, approximately 3/4 to 1 inch thick. The center was widened more and more until the basic shape of the platter was formed, the walls were still very thick but it was opened to the point where the walls would begin. At this point water was added to smooth out the palm impressions.
The clay walls were coned inward and outward several times to get an even wall thickness. Then the walls were pulled to the desired thickness in a cylinder shape.
The rim was a little thicker than the rest of the wall because later as the walls are flattened more horizontal, the rim will thin. Gradually the wall was folded outward starting at the rim and working down the wall until a nice angle was achieved.
When throwing my bowl, it was at this point Hitomi kept telling me to make it wider. The bowl I made was much wider than I would have made without such encouragement. I did not believe that the walls could undergo that much stress until I was forced to do so. Starting at the rim is the key.
Since I can not articulate the beauty of MachuPicchu myself, I'd like to quote Hiram Bingham. "In the variety of its charms and the power of its spell, I know of no place in the world which can compare with it. Not only has it great snow peaks looming above the clouds more than two miles overhead, gigantic precipices of many-colored granite rising sheer for thousands of feet above the foaming, glistening, roaring rapids; it has also, in striking contrast, orchids and tree ferns, the delectable beauty of luxurious vegetation, and the mysterious witchery of the jungle." No doubt, this was one of my favorite trips of all time. The first photo is MachuPicchu from inside the ruins. The next one is the agricultural terraces (look how small the people are).
The adventure portion of our trip was a hike to the top of WaynaPicchu, the mountain that is generally the backdrop of most pictures and paintings of MachuPicchu (just like my photo). At first glance it appears difficult to climb but although the ascent is steep its not technically difficult. The path has no handrails and its edges fall abruptly to a deep gorge. With that being said, as we climbed I couldn't help but wonder how many had fallen off this mountain. You had to be in good physical shape and take great care with each step, one missed step and off you go. There were steel cables in some areas to provide support. Many times I climbed with hands as well as feet, there was security in being close to the ground. Also I was fine as long as I had one side of the mountain to cling to for safety. Once at the top I found it difficult to stand upright. I felt the wind could blow me off (see photo with bad posture). In addition I was also dizzy...altitude or fear or maybe both. Steven did not make it out on top. He had a quick look and said no thanks. The other photo is of MachuPicchu from WaynaPicchu (look how tiny MP looks). Once we returned home I searched the Internet for deaths/accidents at MachuPicchu. No searches came up with any statistics. The fact that the Peruvian government is not liable for these deaths could be a reason for not keeping up with such facts (or at least publishing them). The only thing I came across was " There have been some accidents and in every case the most difficult thing was finding the corpses afterward. " Yep, I climbed that mountain.
The pottery portion of the trip included a visit to Lima's Rafael Larco Herrera Museum. The private museum is said to house over 45,000 pots, many of which were collected in the 1920's by a former vice president of Peru. This photo is of the storeroom in which most pots were housed, they were stacked in many cases all the way to the ceiling. The museum displayed the best pieces, but photography was not allowed inside the main museum. The type of vessel that was most memorable to me was the stirrup-spout vessels. The spout, looked like a saddle stirrup and appeared to be how the vessel was carried. There was a graphic inside that showed how the spouts were made (hand-built), if anyone needs a demo, I can give it a try.
I have been working on something a little different lately. I was asked to donate a piece for the Troika Pin Projekt, which raises money for the Durham music festival Troika. In the past area artists have painted or carved old bowling pins to be auctioned off to raise funds for Troika. My contribution this year is a functional piece that looks like a bowling pin. While others are making a bowling pin into art, I am making functional art into a bowling pin.
My first attempt is a little short when compared to an actual pin, that's why I have two more in the works. The pot has a lip for pouring, hopefully it will be a nice decanter for someone.
The last picture is another pin that I need to finish tonight. I unfortunately had one pot come off in my hands while the wheel was turning due to the small area attached to the bat (that's why you always make extra). So for this one I added a coil at the bottom to stabilize it. I also found it easier to use the capping method to get a tall piece with a narrow neck. I'm starting to get the hang of these, I'm just a few pins away from changing my artist statement to, "I'm inspired by Village Lanes and the movie Kingpin."
My husband Steven and I are off to Peru tomorrow. We will be taking in all the beauty of Machu Picchu on Saturday. Adios!
Joe and Christy let me put a lot of pots in their last firing. They were planning on only firing 2 of the 3 chambers of their kiln when I had a "great idea". I had enough pots made to fill a chamber. They had the space, I needed to fire, and I wanted to see their new pottery. Perfect.
Most of the pots I wanted to fire were part of a commissioned 10 piece place setting order that included dinner plates, salad plates, tumblers, bowls, a large platter, a large bowl, a pitcher and a gravy boat. I also had a few teapots, tea cups, tea bowls and mugs. It was approximately 65 pieces all together. It was definitely a chamber's worth with all the plates, they tend to eat kiln space (these were glazed inside and out as well, not stacked). My pieces were spread throughout the 3 chambers, I did not have them all together in a particular chamber.
Every now and then the kiln gods cut me a break. In all fairness I think it was past due. I haven't shared those bad firings on my blog yet, maybe some other time. I'm enjoying this one too much to reflect on that right now. Let's just say I got results that I had hoped for or at least not too far from it. There was a nice reduction of the clay, especially in the first chamber. My temmoku glaze was the best I've ever seen it. The shino glaze that I used came out almost a tomato red. I was not expecting that but it looked really good when paired with the temmoku. It was a bittersweet firing because Joe and Christy had bloating issues with their clay. Hopefully by their next firing they will have that problem worked out. The two clays that I used had no bloating issues, Highwater's Zella Stone for the plates and the Starworks' white NC clay blend for everything else.
My favorite pot was my amber celadon teapot that had some black slip designs (top photo). I've used this glaze in kilns that had either salt or soda introduced into the kiln. I have learned to protect it so that the color does not get washed out. But it looked so much better without any salt/soda. I was also pleasantly surprised that a teapot finally worked out for me. Two months ago I would not have bet money on that one (see earlier posts: lids, disaster, etc). I guess the gods are stringing me along for a little while longer.
Loading the kiln took 3 full days, even with not wadding the pots in the 2nd and 3rd chambers. We used sand instead of wadding since salt would not be introduced into the kiln and there would not be much ash in these chambers. This worked well except for some of Joe's ash glazes in hotter spots. We had some pots stuck to shelves but for the most part no problems.
My only minor complaint during loading was the cold. I'm originally from Mississippi and that should give you an idea of my cold tolerance, I don't have any. It snows about an inch every 4 years down there. It's just not that cold. But fortunately Christy taught me how to dress warmly, a lesson that had not been necessary before. All I can say is coveralls are the bomb. Yes, I look like a tick on a blood clot, but I'm warm. Another obstacle that I was not used to was sleet and snow while carrying pots from the studio to the kiln. It is not easy carrying boards of green glazed pots 50 yards while pelted in the face with sleet at 30mph. Needless to say I left Wisconsin with a rosy cheeked naturally blushed face. Windy Ridge is definitely the most appropriate name for this pottery.
On Easter Sunday we had a short break from loading that included a hearty meal prepared by Christy's mom and dad complete with caramel brownies and peach pie. Mmm. Now for the firing. We started the kiln Monday night after loading. Joe candled the kiln starting at 11 pm. He left around 2 am and let the fire burn down. I think he got up to around 200 degrees. I showed up at 6 am and the temperature was around 125 degrees. We gradually increase the temperature about 50 degrees per hour for the first day. Christy ended up with the night shift on Tuesday night. I left around 11 pm and returned at 7am on Wednesday. It was a pretty easy stoking cycle going so slow, except for Christy's shift. I forgot what temperature she was at (maybe around 1100), but she was at the point where the firebox would get overstuffed when stoked from the bottom but it was too early to start stoking on the grates. She kept it going, but it was a lot of work. I think next time they have decided to stoke on the grates earlier. Reduction started around daybreak on Wednesday. From 1 to 6 pm we held the kiln near top temperature, trying to build up ash in the first chamber. Around 6 pm we got the first chamber to 2350ish and started stoking the second chamber. We stoked the second chamber for 3 hours with most cone 10's moving or at a half. We started stoking the last chamber when cone 08 was down, finishing that chamber in a mere hour and 15 minutes. I'm sure I'm slightly off on the exact times, I don't have the firing log for reference. There is also the cooked brain effect that happens after a while, when memory loss is at an optimum. J and C please correct me if I am wrong at any stage.
We let the kiln cool for a day and a half, opening it on Friday at noon. Unloading took no time, only a few hours. These photos were taken as we were unloading. The first photo shows the back stack in the first chamber. You can see a lot of my plates in the middle of this stack. The next photo is the pots just out of the kiln. Most of my pots are in the front left of this photo. The last photo is a picture of some early shoppers. These ladies were eager to check things out.