Pumpkin Love

I’ve spent most of this last week cleaning up after the firing and getting ready for winter, which seems to be coming sooner than later. I’m moving back to my cosy little insulated studio. Most people with winter and summer studios have one in Maine and one in New Mexico…mine are 60 feet apart.
I really need to get back on the wheel soon, but I’ve been planning the world’s coolest outhouse and for some reason, this has turned out to be the time for digging a big hole. I’ve been building a library for it for years. And I don’t mean the old Sears catalog!
I did have cold visit to Emmett Snead’s farm for some pumpkin pickin’ with Emily and Ellie Bird. He grows these lovely, warty old varieties.

Ellie hypnotized by chickens.

#5 Review

I haven’t posted much about my firing last week because I’ve been struggling with the results.
here’s my math…5 firings x 2 chambers = 10 chambers fired. I’d rate the salt chamber this time in the top two and the wood chamber in the bottom two. I missed reduction in the wood and I’m still troubled by that…I thought it looked right and without it a lot of the work in that chamber is pale and looks underfired. I don’t think that temperature is at fault here…cone 12 was down in most spots. I added bentonite to some of the glazes to make them stick on the raw pots but I don’t think that’s a factor. I feel a bit like I’ve fallen off a horse and I’m reluctant to climb back on. It is discouraging to produce so many mediocre pots. Hard to sell…hard to even look at.
I am excited by several slips in the salt; I’ve been searching for a surface that is more ‘satin’ than orange peel and glass and I think I’ve got a couple now. I’ve always known what I want from the salt…the wood is the challenge that I laid out for myself. I always knew that if wood alone didn’t seem interesting that I’d salt both chambers. I’m not sure if this is the moment to make that change. Rudi thinks I should switch, but he’s an engineer….and I’m an artist. Eventually he’s right, but I usually take a different route to that same conclusion. I’m not sure if that’s creativity or stubborness.

Palin Nation

As I write this, the republican faithful are gathering in the park just a block from LibertyTown and two from my home. I just took a walk around the perimeter, vaguely uneasy that people would think I was there to support her (NOT!). I headed out with my red Nationals’ baseball cap until I realized that that is the color of the day (or else pink). Obama was here a few weeks ago, so there is a certain balance in our world. It is hard to believe that anyone could possibly think that she is fit to serve, and it is hard not to be depressed by the fact that so many do. (And they are all here, right outside my door!).
The best news to report is that I hardly recognized any one in line, and the few I did know were no surprise at all. I’m not staying for her speech; I’d rather be in my studio, getting ready for winter, which seems to be coming quickly this year.

Nicky’s Garden

My pottery sits on the edge of Claremont farm in Caroline County, Virginia. This gazebo with it’s bamboo roof will whistle if the wind is right. The gourds add to the magic of this shelter in the middle of the garden.

Remedy: Feta, Eggplant and Onion

I spent many hours in front of my computer yesterday, looking at 500 or so images as I finalized my decisions for the Cape Cod Museum of Art’s exhibition “Clay: Cape Cod Potters” to be held next February and March. I enjoyed looking at the many ways we use clay to express ourselves and I was surprised at the high level of most of the work submitted. It will be a good show. My brain was cooked by the end of the day, and only a Parthenon pizza baked by Tony and served by Irini would revive me. That’s special sauce in the corner. A beer or two always helps, too (not pictured).

V.T.B. Vase pt. 3

If your still watching the vase that I made while doing a demo a few weeks back, here is the finished piece. It is the light colored pot on the second shelf from the bottom. Below are some closer views.

I fired it in the second chamber, where salt is introduced as the kiln approaches temperatures over 2000 degrees. I brushed a cobalt/iron slip over the little fish stamps and they show up quite nicely. Rappahanock Bluefish – a rare local delicacy!

I stamped the rim to add a little extra something to it. I like old commemorative pots and I sometimes write inside and outside of my own.

Make sure that you come back and visit LibertyTown…wonderful things are being made there every day!

A Tale of Two Chambers

Here’s a basic report:
I’m still a bit lost re: the wood chamber. It has me baffled. I’ll write more about that tomorrow. The salt chamber has all kinds of prizes. My mood swings between the two.

Wood chamber / front stack



Salt chamber / front stack



Salt chamber / back stack

First Glance

This isn’t a brilliant photo, but at least you can see that the pots are still standing. The little bit that I can see looks quite promising. I’ve been beating myself up since Saturday because I know I blew up a big sculpture and I’m hoping that it hasn’t taken too many others with it. Tonight’s preview has me excited again. Many of you will empathize with the roller coaster of emotions that occurs when you unload a kiln. Join me for the best part of the ride tomorrow.


2 chambers.
16 pounds of salt.
20 hour firing.
12 hours of sleep.

I’m happy to report that ol’ #5 went very smoothly. Jay and Rabah took the nighttime shift and once again did an admiral job of coaxing the slow rise that is essential to the care and feeding of my raw fired pots. I had a few fitful hours of sleep and then was joined by Beth and Matt who soldiered on for the rest of the day. It continued to be perfect weather…warm in the sun and 60 in the shade.

The rhythms and pace of the kiln have remained pretty regular, which gives me confidence as I continue to fiddle and tweak it.
(sounds like an English pub: “lets have a pint at the Fiddle and Tweak”)

The bottom of the wood chamber seems much improved. I need to rebuild the collection box between the salt chamber and the chimney. I somehow blew up the big sculpture in the salt chamber!?! That’s been bugging me ever since. I’m staying away today. Feeling pretty brain dead so I’m looking after some household chores, drinking good tea and watching a little football.

I’ll bring you a sneak peek tomorrow. Unloading is Tuesday. Here’s hoping!

Log book: before.

Log book: after.

Miss Ellie Bird, presiding.

Beth and Matt stoking the 2nd chamber.

It’s Firin’ Time!

No time for photos. Ignition is at 9pm. I’ve got 20 – 24 hours of fire to look forward to. I’ll report in tomorrow night. Go Red Sox!

Salt Chamber : Loaded

I’m headed out this morning to finish bricking up the ‘wickets’ (that’s the kiln doors, for those of you on the west side of the Atlantic. Then back home to rustle up some food and drink before lighting up at 9PM this evening. I have lots of new ideas in this kiln and I’ll continue to be a little anxious until Tuesday’s unloading.
Siting on the bagwall is a sculptural piece.

Wood Chamber: Loaded

There were several comments about the bottom of this chamber being empty, and, of course, Michael Kline had it figured right. I’ve only fired this kiln 4 times and I have struggled to get heat to the bottom. It is a very tall chamber (6′) and I worry that I’ll never solve it. This is the first two chamber kiln I’ve built and I still have lots to learn.
I did open the bag wall and lower the packing place for firing #3 (the ‘Kelvin’ firing’*), but all it did was drop all the ash on the bottom shelf and it ended up even colder. I would be happy to hear suggestions if any of you have any ideas.
Today I’m getting out to the studio early and will begin to load the salt chamber.
(* During the night time shift, Paul and Bill managed to switch the pyro reading from Fahrenheit to Kelvin! It was more than a little confusing until we figured it out.)


I got a late start today after 2 meetings in the morning at LibertyTown. Didn’t make it out to the studio until mid-afternoon, but I’ve been eager to get underway with loading the kiln and it felt good to make a dent. My title today refers to the weather…when I dreamed of building this kiln in the middle of the woods, this is exactly how I thought it should be. Perfect autumn weather that is supposed to last for days and days. This first photo is the view out of the kiln shed.

Here’s a layer by layer photo series of today’s progress in the wood chamber. I am meticulous and pokey about loading, and I still put too many pots in (I know that they need space, but it’s hard to overcome greed and the habits of packing a gas kiln for 25 years).

It’s really the beginning of the firing, since I start to imagine the flame as it passes over the pots, thinking about where I want that flame to come in closest contact.

The first layer is mostly planters with no glaze inside so I can fire another pot inside. I want to make lids one day and turn them into saggers.

Teapot Lids

I think my photos yesterday might have been a bit deceptive…I got several questions so here’s my attempt at an answer. Below is a before and after photo from the side. It is a very shallow bowl with a big flange and a little ‘spout’ which prevents the lid from falling when the tea is being poured. When it is leather hard I invert it (as seen here), trim it and then add a thrown knob…it is a much softer look than would result from a carved knob. I’m hoping that the curve of the lid carries the same line that the curve of the body has.

And Finally….

TEAPOTS. I really shouldn’t save these for last because my mind is turning to loading and firing now and drifting away from making. But, conversely, I can’t fire without making at least one batch. I figure there are 84 parts to make 14 of my teapots. (112 if you were willing to count the sprig that is my stamp and the ‘thumb thingie’ on the handle!).
I learned to love a good cup of tea at Winchcombe and I also learned the ideal pot for making that tea. I have several of Ray Finch’s and I strive to make one as well as he does.
In general I am opposed to cane handles over the top, but I’m making many more teapots lately and it makes for a good change so I’ve made a few. It seems too easy.
I make several different sizes…these are for one and 3 cups with one random 6 cupper.

Finnegan’s Folly

Dr. Seuss’ bird baths – tallest is 4 1/2 “.

V.T.C Vase pt.2

Now that the pot is leather hard I poured a slip on the outside. A slip is a thin coating of clay, something like the consistency of milk. I usually prop the pot upside-down. The second photo shows the sheen from the freshly slipped vase.

After the slip set up I applied a cobalt slip to the sprigs. Depending on the firing it could come out blue or black or somewhere in between.

I start loading the kiln next week. Meanwhile the vase will continue to dry and at some point next week I’ll load it in the salt chamber. Don’t touch that dial…

Bird Scratchings

Since I’ve joined the blogging nation I’ve discovered lots of new (to me) and wonderful potmakers. Ron Philbeck works in Shelby, NC and I’ve become a big fan. I need to own some of this lad’s pots one day. He has an easy way with sgraffito decoration and this is a planter of mine inspired by his work. I’ve never been too interested in drawing on pots myself, but this was fun.

Virginia Tourism Corporation Vase/pt.1

Last week 18 folks from Richmond visited Fredericksburg to spend a little time getting to know our town so that they can spread the word about what a gem we have here. They visited LibertyTown for a short tour on Friday and then I threw a couple of pots for them. I was shamelessly plugging my blog when Karen Hedelt from the Visitor’s Center suggested that I follow this pot’s journey from start to finish. I thought I’d give it a try.
Today I pulled a couple of lugs, attached them to the sides and pulled a couple of handles.

Fish seemed an appropriate theme for a pot that connects Richmond and Fredericksburg from the James River and the Rappahannock River via the Chesapeake Bay.
This shallow raised decoration is called a sprig and is made from a stamp that I carved. The other stamp is used to mark all my pots. I’ll apply glaze and slips tomorrow if it’s dry enough.

Firing Graph

As firing #5 approaches I am trying to get a little more focused on kilns and fire. I fired a small gas kiln about twice a month for most of 25 years. I could fill the kiln and be firing in 10 days if I needed to. It takes 2-3 months now to fill this kiln and I feel a little disconnected to firing with such a big gap. Plenty of time to forget whatever I might have learned the last time!
Today I took a little time to make a graph of the last firing. I wanted to see where I might make changes. The left hand column is in degrees F. in 100 degree increments, and the bottom represents each passing hour. It was a 20 hour firing. I want to lengthen the firing 2-4 hours and you can see here where the climb is a bit steep so that’s where I’ll be paying particular attention. The second red line is the salt chamber. So far, I am more satisfied with it’s results than the wood chamber. Lots to learn.

Pitchers and Planters

It’s been a while since I’ve made these pitchers and after looking at these photos I’ve decided that the next batch need to have short little necks…I’ve been pushing the long neck for a while and all of a sudden I feel the need to tilt the pendulum in the other direction. And so it goes…

Most of the pots I make are meant for the kitchen or the table, but I’ve also always made time to make pots for flowers and plants. The bottom of my chamber isn’t as ‘juicy’ as the rest and it’s a good place to put these.

I really enjoy slipping and glazing raw pots and that’s how I spent most of this glorious fall day. I plan to throw a bunch of teapot parts tomorrow and spend the rest of the week putting them together. I’ll start loading next Monday. I’d like to be finished by Thursday (I am a rather deliberate loader of kilns) and start the little campfire in the firebox Friday (the 17th) evening. I think Rabah and Jay will do the overnight shift. I’m starting to get excited.

Cupcake Wedding

On a beautiful autumn evening, Nathan and Cat were wedded on the farm where my pottery is. Great music and a simple ceremony under the gourd-laden gazebo was followed by a lovely meal of Thai food from Tarntip Restaurant and incredible cupcakes made by Elizabeth. I’m not sure that the photo is sufficient to see that the garnishes are mint leaves…and cayenne peppers. The chocolate ones were laced with mole’ spice!
I ducked out early to hang out with Hollis, who was visiting from Cape Cod for the opening of his show at LibertyTown last Friday. I’ll write a different blog about that. Hollis and I have been working together and talking about pots for a long time. He is writing an article about me for some future publication and we spent some time talking about where I’ve been and where I might be going now with my work. I’ll let you know if it gets published. Hollis wrote feature stories for years, so he ought to be able to make some sense out of my ramblings.

Lidded Jars

I’ve been saying for some time that the wider I get, the wider my pots get (or maybe it’s the other way around). Either way, I like these sturdy round forms. The taller ones in the background are better for a kitchen counter, but I guess in the end I prefer the presence of the wide boys.
I received an impressive package of material from Gail Turner today. Gail and few other Cape Cod potters have been organizing a big exhibition to be held next spring at The Cape Cod Museum of Art. I am judging the show for them and there are almost 500 photos submitted by potters and ceramic artists from all over the Cape! I have a nice connection to the Cape via my potter friend Hollis Engley and I think that this will be an interesting challenge. This is an unusual show for the Museum and should be a big deal for all involved.

For John Tilton

It really makes me happy to know that a great potter like John Tilton is taking a look at my musings. He asked for some photos of my pottery, so here’s my chance to tell you a little about my little piece of paradise.
I am commuting to my studio for the first time in 30 years; an 11 mile drive that leads me out Tidewater Trail to Claremont Farm. A one mile, nearly impassable, dirt road off the highway assures that this is a very quiet spot. I built these buildings with my great friend Michael Littlefield over the course of several years and I still feel like I’m settling in and figuring out where everything belongs.
The kiln shed came first and after a protracted dispute with the county I built the new studio last fall. I have no water or electricity, so it is a rather primitive site. I collect rain water and I have a very small solar panel collecting system to provide light. I wish I could go back to a kick wheel, but this old dog isn’t interested in that new (old) trick. So I run my wheel on a generator (a very quiet one) with the hope of one day installing enough solar to be entirely ‘off the grid’.
My kiln is fired with wood…a ‘bourrey-box’ type firebox for those of you who aren’t potters. I’m making pots for a couple of more weeks before loading up for firing #5.
It’s fun watching all my other fellow bloggers as we all seem to working towards a firing!
Thanks for watching, John!