The Promise of a Ring…

I spent a few hours cleaning up at the kiln site and taking quick peeks inside. I also pulled rings from the salt chamber. They show great promise and everything I could see made me hopeful!
Both chambers were hovering around 1200 degrees F. and felt too hot to look for long. This is always a time of the most exquisite agony.
Everything about the wood chamber felt better this time around and while I expect that the reduction in the salt chamber is still uneven, I kind of welcome that. There is a nice variation from light to dark that works just fine for me when it varies like that.
I am still exploring the active/passive dampers as they relate to the second chamber. Creating some back pressure seems to slow the cooling of the first chamber but really increases the smoke and flame in the second. It’s possible that this would give me more even reduction?
The cooling of the first chamber while firing the first is perhaps my biggest challenge.

And Now, The Wait…

The firing seemed to go as it should…better even temperature in the wood chamber with some new ideas about small side stoking to keep the front hot on both chambers. 18 lbs of salt. A good crew ( thanks to Jeff, Beth, Bill, Michael and Elliot) makes this all possible. And a couple of future stokers in Ellie and Baxter. Baxter enjoyed my rolling playpen!
I’m teaching a workshop at LibertyTown this weekend and I’ll be dashing out to the pottery Saturday night to see the results.
Of course, I’ll be out this evening with a flashlight to get a peek!





Firing # 6 in a Series

The world’s slowest loader of kilns is almost there. I added another day to the schedule, which is a great way to take the stress out of the situation. The salt chamber and Jeff are below. Jeff very kindly bricked up the door while I worked on the wood chamber. Did I mention that I’m slow? Not that I am apologizing for that. I don’t have a deadline at the moment, which makes it easy. And I enjoy the steady, thoughtful pace, especially in the perfect spring weather we are having.
There are a lot of pots in this chamber that could be pretty juicy if all goes well.

This is the back two shelves of the wood chamber. If you recall from my previous firing, this chamber was pretty awful. So I’m going into new territory with it this time. I’ve loaded two extra large handbuilt pieces and it is way more open than anything I’ve ever been around. I don’t know how it will respond. My theory is it can’t be worse than the last one! I still have the front stack to load tomorrow.
I’m changing the firing schedule, too. Up until now I’ve begun at midnight with the idea that two chambers might take 20 hours or more. But after 5 firings, the average length is more like 17 hours. So I plan to preheat Tuesday night and then begin for real around 5 AM Wednesday.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but I’m teaching a workshop at LibertyTown this weekend and there is still a space or two available for the hands-on part and anyone can come to the demos (for a small fee). Call LibertyTown for details.

Sprung is Spring

Today is the first day of spring and everyone and everything seems to have gotten the memo. Trees and bulbs and bushes are suddenly in bloom, rabbits are everywhere, a couple of red-tail hawks were courting overhead and lovely temperate weather seems to be here for awhile. Here in Virginia, we always hope that spring lasts for more than a week or two before summer bears down on us!

The last month has been close to frantic…lots of traveling (something like 10,000 miles) and now that I’m back home I’m loading the kiln for a firing next week. This is the official ‘before’ photo. #6 in a series.

I decided to set the salt chamber first this time instead of the wood. Trying to change the luck…or karma…or feng shui or whatever it was that undermined the last firing. This is the back two shelves loaded. I’m the second slowest kiln loader I know; Toff is even slower…I hope.
I’m still trying to leave more space between and among.

Cape Workshop Report

I got home early this morning from a wonderful visit with the Cape Cod Potters. Michael Giaquinto and his staff did a fantastic job of arranging the almost 300 pieces in the show. I gave a speech at the Museum in conjunction with the exhibition that I judged for them. It gave me the chance to talk about why pottery belongs in Art Museums and why it might be that it is a rare thing. Maybe I’ll post some of it later. I then gave a two day demonstration workshop for a lovely group. I really enjoy the chance to meet with fellow enthusiasts and from all reports, the attendees got their moneys’ worth! I like the challenge of teaching and entertaining at the same time and to that end I tell a lot of stories about my English training as well as giving some insight into my 30 years of making pots. It is still a bit odd to reflect on what is now a fairly long career as a potter, but it certainly provides fodder for telling tall tales.




Some of the enthusiastic workshop group.

Potter-azzi!

I made the trip back home in a day, with a brief stop in Port Chester, NY to meet up with my old assistant, Andrew Coombs. Andrew is Artist-in Residence at the Clay Center there and we had a great visit. I got a tour of center, had a nice conversation with the director, Rina Kashyap and an excellent meal before getting back on the road. This is Andrew in his studio. If you click on the photo to enlarge it you can get a better look at the sweet pots he is making these days.

Cape Cod Potters

Several years ago (5!) I taught a workshop for the Cape Cod Potters group that was very well received and I’m happy to be going back for a second command performance this weekend. The CCP asked me to judge an exhibition that opened a couple of weeks ago at the Cape Cod Museum of Art and the weekend will begin with a talk there by yours truly followed by two days of demonstrations at the Creative Arts Center in Chatham. I understand that the CCP is offering bargain basement prices for the workshop, including lunch, so if you’re in the neighborhood, there’s no reason not to join us! I usually tell lots of tales of my days in England while making a variety of pots. The photos below are from my last appearance there.



Kiln Shelves

I won’t load the kiln until I get back from Cape Cod in the middle of next week, but I’m doing all I can to be ready before I leave. Painting shelves always makes takes my mind back to Winchcombe. The wood kiln has about 140cu.ft of packing space and was fired every 3 weeks or so! That’s a lot of pots made by a team of 6. Anyway, one of my jobs was painting about 120 shelves, often in a cold, unheated kiln shed listening to BBC Radio 1 (Rod Stewart’s ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’…early Police…the Talking Heads). The kiln wash mix we used was alumina hydrate and wallpaper paste. After the firing we just brushed the alumina off and used it again because the paste, being organic, just burnt away. I’ve never tried this with the salt kiln. I ought to at least try? Today was a perfect day for this chore. I’m not feeling all that well and a nice mindless job in the sun was all I was up to.

Hollywood Preview

The confluence of traveling to England and back, 8″ of snow, postponing the firing and car trouble have left me out of sorts. I need to find new momentum. The only thing I’ve really accomplished lately was writing a ‘speech’ for my visit next week at The Cape Cod Museum of Art. I judged a big show there…a survey of potters from all over the Cape that opened last Friday to a throng of people. According to Hollis’s report, close to 600 people attended! There are some good photos on his blog. I will be giving a talk at the Museum Saturday afternoon (14th) and then teaching a two day workshop. Gail Turner, who has been working really hard on behalf of the exhibition and me in particular, reports that there is already a good group signed up, but if your nearby, please join us. The more the merrier. I’m sure to be writing more about it soon.
Today was much more productive…Paul Cymrot and I hung the “Hollywood” show at LibertyTown and I got the Jeep fixed. Here are a couple of preview photos. The gallery looks outrageous!


Kilnus Interruptus

I had a tight window of opportunity to get a firing in between my trip to England and my trip to New England and I was excited about seeing some of the last weeks’ work finished. But the gods have conspired to thwart me….7″-8″ of snow last night and car trouble means that I need a new plan. It’ll have to wait. I’m not happy about that….
Still the snow is absolutely lovely, the light fluffy stuff that piles up quickly. I started to shovel the lot at LibertyTown, but happily paid a guy with a little bucket truck to clear it all. I spent my childhood shoveling snow. I’m not too keen on it anymore.

I set aside each layer of the kiln in my studio before I actually load it. It saves time when loading and lets me know that I have the right mix of pots. This is the bottom layer of the salt chamber. I usually put planters there.

After the last firing I covered the firebox end with two layers of fiber paper to seal it from sucking air. The hard brick left an interesting pattern.
My kiln has a ‘gasket’ made of this stuff, with a layer between the inside and outside rows of brick. It is mighty tight!

My back yard on Winchester Street.
Yesterday.

Today.

LibertyTown in purple and white.

Secret Revealed!

One of the problems when writing a blog is that sometimes people read them….this makes planning a surprise a little difficult and that has been my dilemma the past couple of weeks. My best friend, Toff Milway, was turning 60 years old! last week and, just like his 50th, he was throwing himself a dance party. A ‘bop’ as he called it (he really is ancient). Now, he and I have managed to be around for many significant events in both our personal and professional lives over the years, so it wasn’t easy to convince him that I wouldn’t be able to be there this time. That meant I also couldn’t write about it here on the off chance that he would finally take a look.
So, last Tuesday I headed to Dulles for my 26th visit to Great Britain since 1978. It was a whirlwind trip that included a very important visit with Ray Finch. Ray is 94 now and has only recently stopped making pots. He doesn’t hear well, but his sense of humor still shines….and we had a great time talking about old times.

These are probably the last pots Ray will make. A bittersweet thought, especially since they are still nicer than most pots I make. Beautiful form, light as a feather. Still a Master…there aren’t many. If you are out there calling yourself one…cut it out.

This is the first powered wheel that Winchcombe used. Ignore the barbed wire, but if you look toward the bottom you’ll see two drums that were belt driven. Two holes were punched in the wall with the belt running through them to the gas driven motor that was placed outside. It was noisy and probably smelly. It was still in place when I arrived there in 1978. In many ways Winchcombe looked like something from the industrial revolution, or even earlier. These days it is very poorly looked after. Without Ray’s steady hand, the entire place has gone into decline. We all hope that some new energy will pick it back up one day. It is as significant a spot as St. Ives in my opinion.

My friend, Ken Hussell, lives in a row of cottages in Conderton and this is carved over the door. I feel privileged to spend time with my friends in this place where so much history has passed.

The day after the party we drove to Durham to visit with my godson, Hugh, who is studying engineering there. It’s another ancient place…the Cathedral was started in 1092, built to honor St. Cuthbert. There is also a Castle, all situated in a bend in the River Wear. It is a lively place and I always enjoy walking through college campuses. There is a palpable feeling; maybe it’s the energy produced by all those brains expanding?
Just north of Durham is this sculpture…”The Angel of the North”, the largest in Britain.

A modest street leaving the grand cathedral.

And everywhere, there is tea. My idea of heaven.

Now it’s back to work. I have to decide if I can squeeze in a firing before I go to Cape Cod next month.

Things I’ve Built Series: Studio #3

This is the kiln shed I built with Shannon Elder back in the ’80’s on Claradan Farm. I love stone and wood. We collected the stone from all over…mostly along the edges of farm fields, poking through the underbrush with sticks. We called it divining for rock.

Detail: This bit is made of granite cobblestones from the streets of Fredericksburg. They were probably ballast from English ships. I brought the red sandstone back from a trip out west.

Photography Stew

I grew up in the land of snow, but here in Virginia it is a rare thing. It is even rarer in England , but this winter has been an exception. Georgie, here, often gives Toff his making list and on this day asked him to make a snow jug…that led to the teapot. They are handsome…just outside the showroom in Conderton.

Over the years I’ve been drawn and painted and photographed by lots of folks in lots a ways. It’s the big beard factor, I suppose. Anyway, here’s a new approach. Mathew Seaver using sponge and water on a canvas covered table (Matt is the son of Elizabeth, our Artist-in-Residence at LTown).

This is a sneak preview of my newest project…’The Alphabet Forest’! Where else did you think that words came from?


Brick Icicles

I was searching for architecture blogs and came across these photos from a site called englishrussia.com. They are from a brick fortress in Russia that was used to test napalm. The heat produced melted the bricks and cooled into stalactites (or is that stalagmites?).



The Winds of Change…

Sad to say that our little spring break is over and winter is returning with a bang, not a whimper. 24 hours of big wind that sometimes herald the collision of two fronts. Canadian frost versus the heat of the Gulf of Mexico. Michael Kline reports the same weather in the mountains of North Carolina. I kind of like it, tucked away in my cozy studio. It was a day of quiet work…handles and sprigs the whole time. These are the lidded jars I was fighting with the other day. I knew I’d like them better when I got handles on them.

Finishing up the bottles.



Here are the two sprigs/small stamps that I like at the moment. Beth’s biscuit firing some new ones as we speak.




I’ve seen old Korean bowls with a fish stamped in the bottom…

Nice Article

I just got the Annual Report from Penland and it includes a ‘Donor Profile’ of myself…pretty cool. I’ve taught 4 different workshops at Penland and I happily donate a nice pot each year to the annual auction. It’s a wonderful event and makes that amazing place a pile of money. One year I volunteered to help which was a lot of fun.


Testing, 1,2,3

I threw a few dozen beakers/cups the other day to use for tests. I’m looking for a copper green that might work in both chambers and to improve on a a couple of shinos. Our brief but refreshing warm weather is being chased out by some strong cold and wind. Scary thunderstorms expected. That’s just not right in February.

An Off Day

I went to the studio today with a few specific ideas in mind…to make an even taller bottle (10lb) than the last few and some wide lidded jars. My ideas of form are classic and simple, but I have fun by exploring different variations of those themes. I want the bottles long and lean these days, and I had it in mind to make the jars broad based and ‘husky’, but, while they are all interesting, most didn’t really meet the mental picture I started with. It got me to thinking about sports and accomplished athletes at the top of their game. In spite of peak conditioning and great experience, a player like Kobe Bryant can score 61 points one night and 28 the next. The skill is the same, but any number of other forces can alter his game. Today felt like a 28 pointer for me. Does every pot have to be inspired? I’ll take a look again tomorrow, but I was off my game today. My theory is that I started with a giant pot without warming up with some smaller ones. But who knows, it could have been the wind.

Here are the first two pieces joined…3lb on top of 4lbs, firmed up with a torch between sections.

Capping with the 3rd section…another 3lbs.

The finished bottle.

Young Fredericksburg Exhibition

Another First Friday means another exhibition opening at LibertyTown and last night’s event was wonderful. This is the 4th year we’ve invited the young artists of Fredericksburg to show in our gallery and each year it gets better. (Bill Harris curates this one. There was a time I thought of him as a ‘young artist”!) Originally it was intended to be a show for college students, but we’ve found more enthusiasm from high school and even middle school kids and now we welcome them all. It’s great to see all the families who come and support the young artists. Lots of positive energy all evening long. We had more than 400 visitors!
I love the big handbuilt pots that come from Carter Corbin’s students and there are some great fish from Mirinda Reynolds’ class inspired by Neal Reed. (how’s that for name dropping?)

I’m not sure if I’ve introduced Miss Moneypenny, but here she is in all her athletic glory. She somehow gets atop the door and sits perched for quite some time. It’s a lot warmer there as the ceilings are low. I think of ‘Snoopy’ as the vulture…waiting for unsuspecting prey. Johnny Johnson’s painting in the background.

Bottle-mania

I finished slipping and glazing all of the wee bottles and then threw a dozen 4 pounders ’cause this is my newest obsession. I have to force myself to make other things, but this is what I’m most excited about lately. We would call these ‘Cider Jars’ at Winchcombe, especially if they had a spigot at the base. Turning fruit(pears, apples, grapes, rhubarb(rhubarbs?), parsnips et al) into alcohol is a noble and ancient craft and there was a time when we potters were essential to the preservation, distribution and serving of that elixer. I wish it were still true. Hopefully these will all find homes in spite of their archaic roots. I’m going to make one more batch of large ones soon. I’ve been carving more face sprigs at night. Good fun.


And, of course, miss Ellie Bird Cymrot, looking too cute.

Details, Details.

I should have been cutting wood yesterday for the firing because it turned warm and sunny, but getting to finish pots when they are ready trumps almost everything. I spend w-a-a-y too much time on the littlest details, but I also truely enjoy this part of the process. I said it before here, but I could put a handle on anything.


The game was a classic last night, so was the food and company. Thanks Michael and Shanti!

Super Bowls

Coincidence…or not?! The big game is tonight and I’ve been throwing lots of what I call ‘drum bowls’, they have a more upright demeanor than most bowls. I like the challenge that the change of curves offers and the vertical-ness presents a great surface for ash and salt to meet. These are 8-12lbs., somewhat larger than I usually make, but I’m determined to ‘go big or go home’ and I’m starting to worry about filling the kiln by early March. These will help.
I also threw a couple of boards of ‘minis’. Toff and I used to discuss pots that would fit in all the odd spaces left in a kiln in an effort to increase a firing’s value. I’ve been making things like this ever since. I like the challenge of making wee little pots that have the same detail and sophistication as bigger ones. 1/2 lb of clay. Some of the bottles will become mini bellermines.


A rare sighting of a purple Ellie Bird seen in her typical habitat!

Snow Day

I’ve resisted showing photos of our big snow today…almost 2″ which brings this part of the world to a complete halt. I wish I could have been making pots in the woods on such a rare day, but I’m building a wall in one of the studios at LibertyTown to create a little storage hideaway instead. In the meantime, until I get back to the studio, here are a few photos to tide us all over starting with one I appropriated from the web.
This is a great one of Ray Finch throwing a jug/pitcher with Eddie Hopkins in the background. This had to be taken around the time I was working at Winchcombe with these two icons of the English pottery world.

I finished slipping and glazing last weeks pots. I don’t often put images on my pots, but I find that some of my favorite fellow bloggers do a lot. Anyway, these two are planters.

I was lining the insides of a bunch of mugs and got to thinking about where I got the original ideas for the different forms I make. The finished pots come from my cupboard.


Pouring Slip

I raw glaze and slip most of my pots, but rather than dip them I invert them over a series of containers set in a wide plastic pan. This is a typical group; it varies pot to pot. This allows me to pour everything which gives me more control of thickness and drips. This whole arrangement is sitting on a banding wheel so I can rotate it with ease.

Here’s a planter perched upside down.

This 1 quart pitcher has been my #1 glazing tool for more than 20 years and I’ve never found another.

I was holding the camera left handed while I poured with my right.

A Good Week

It’s been a quiet week as I’ve been staying on the farm looking after dogs, cats and horses while the Cymrots are away. Our freezing temperatures have remained and I’ve been chopping through ice to keep the horses in water. But the days are clear and this is my kind of weather. In case you aren’t in the know, I grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. (average snowfall…96″) and I still like to have a taste of winter. Sometimes we seem to skip it altogether here in Ol’ Virginny.
The rest of the week has been full of potmaking…mugs and planters and finishing up a group of lidded ‘ginger jars’. I started making these only recently at Emily’s request. It seems my love of big fat jars is at odds with the counter space she is willing to devote to storage. I remembered this shape from Nick Mosse, an old Harrow student and friend of Toff’s. Now I call them Emily pots.



Weekend Update II

Living so near to DC, it is hard not to be caught up in Obama fever. I had dinner with Hollis and a bunch of friends who are all here for the festivities. As I am allergic to being surrounded by millions of people, I won’t be there for the event, but it was good to be in the midst of all these hopeful friends. I must admit that my cynical self can’t quite share their optimism. I’m not so sure our ‘system’ can be fixed…but I do hope.
I got to finish up a bunch of pots Saturday and this last one I dated to commemorate my 54th birthday, which was Saturday. Thanks, Mom!

We are preparing for our 10th Empty Bowls fundraiser and Sunday we invited our students, friends and fellow potters to join us at LibertyTown to make bowls. We provide the clay and firings, Kathy Harrigan (queen of Baked Goods) provided soup and other goodies. We have raised a stunning amount of money over the years and the community really rallies behind this idea. It has been a sellout year after year.

I’m including this photo of the young potter/blogger/birthday boy from college days at Arizona State. (circa 1976) Dig that crazy hairdo!?!