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!?!

R.I.P. – Ratzo Rizzo

For those of you who are paying attention, I will now tell you about yesterday’s mystery.
A few days ago my assistant, Beth, mentioned that she had seen a big mouse or a small rat in the pottery studio at LibertyTown. Eventually, with the help of Stephanie’s dad’s Hav-a-hart trap, we caught him/her. I never got to see it until it was trapped, but it was apparently quite bold. It sucked the entire innards from 2 of Neal’s clementines!
The dilemma when trapping a critter is where to release it and somewhere out in the woods would be as good a choice as any. So I put the trap in a crate and the crate in my Jeep and drove out to the studio. (What’s really weird is that last summer I had a mouse that lived in my jeep for a few weeks and I’m pretty sure it went to Maine and back with me! But that’s another story.)
I then walked to the top of the field and through the woods to release him, thinking I had completed my mission.
At the end of the day I put a few little ‘dust catchers’ on the handles of some pots and when I arrived the next day and uncovered them, they had been nibbled as you can see here.

My first reaction was to blame the mice the reside in the studio but then I looked past the pots to a towel nearby and there was the RAT!!! And, alas, he had expired! I am still completely ‘gobsmacked’. I can accept that it followed my scent back to the studio, although it was a long way. But I have no idea how it got into the studio, which I built myself and know well. And why did it just go for these little ‘prunts’ at the top of some 18″ high pots covered in plastic? And then why did it die? I know that this photo might be a little bothersome, but this is how little Ratzo left this mortal coil and all he left behind are mysteries. The wonders of nature…

More Sprigging

I appreciate the responses to my last post and as you can see from the second photo I’ve taken a little advise by combining stamps and texture. The pot in the first photo has been slipped and I really like how it runs off the sprigs…it’s subtle, but it varies the thickness in a way I like. I’ll brush a little cobalt slip over the sprigs tomorrow and then I’ll be done. It’s great to be getting back in the groove. The days are chilly and bright and invigorating. To make a good day even better I joined Paul and Emily, Ellie and Bonnie for tea and homemade scones.
The third photo is a sort of a quiz. I unwrapped two pots with the identical damage this morning. I’ll tell you what happened tomorrow. It’s an odd story.

Sprig has Sprung

I’ve never seen myself as a decorator, but that’s mostly because I have a narrow sense of what that is. (I’m not proud of that fact!) When I use that word I’m thinking about work that involves brushwork like Michael or sgrafitto like Neal or even the overglaze work of Susan. Just the same, I have often made marks on the surface and even more often created textures. For almost 30 years form has been my constant, and I’ve explored lots of different surface treatments.
I’ve written before about my growing fascination with old German saltglaze and that’s my jumping off point for now. My favorite work often takes an old idea and makes it new. I guess that’s what I think I’m doing with the bottle below.

Mostly these pots are fat and jolly, but this one is pretty cool long and lean. The surrealist painter Rene’ Magritte painted a series of paintings that included dozens of bowler hatted gentlemen raining down out of the sky. That image of random multiples has always intrigued me…hence the raining sprigs.

It is very rare for me to make vase like this and not add a handle…or 2…or 4. But because it’s also long and lean with that hard edged neck I let it be. Because it is a bit severe, I added this scratchy texture to the bottom. I like the contrast. Those are seed beads pressed into the sprigs.

Tomorrow I’ll be back on the wheel. That’s always a good thing.

Bottled Up

I can never make these bottles without thinking of Ray Finch. Like Cardew before him, these were one of Ray’s signature pieces. When I was training at Winchcombe I took a series of black and white photos of Ray making one almost 4 feet tall! I’ll have to digitize them one day. Toff and Georgie own one of his that is salt glazed. It is on my ‘top 10 pots’ list. I covet it.
I’m making more these days, although the market isn’t the same. Sadly, I don’t know many bootleggers.
I spent part of today adding sprigging to this and a few others. It is a slow, quiet way to work. Rolling out skinny little coils and making lots of little pea-sized balls of clay. Pressing them into little stamps I’ve carved and sticking them on the pot. Doug does this exceedingly well.

Back To Work

It’s really good to be back in the studio; the weather was very English (cold gray relentless rain) for a few days and then turned to clear, bright and cold. I’m not as tempted to work outside and once I make that first pot the obsession is unleashed again. It is good to wake up thinking of pots. It’s only in the last few years that I started making anything of any scale. I have always viewed myself as a maker of ‘domestic’ ware…pots for the table and the kitchen and that remains important. But I am enjoying making bigger things and I started out this cycle with a group of 7 lb. bottles and vases. I throw them in 2 and sometimes 3 parts and I’m really getting the hang of it. I firm up the bottom with a soldering torch and the trick is getting it to stand up and still be malleable. So many choices to make…bellies and necks and rims and handles. This batch are on the skinny side. I’ll make some fat ones soon.

The last photo is this season’s ‘Epic’ pot. I’ve been starting each firing cycle with a coil built pot. I’m still not sure about this one. Making a bird was more elusive than I thought.

A New Season/ A New Cycle

After a long season of building (outhouse and emporium) and the end of the holidays, I am getting underway with work for my 6th wood-firing. I’m aiming for an early March firing so I will have new work for the first of two workshops this year in Cape Cod.
This could be a big year for traveling; I am also planning a trip to England in June (and maybe a surprise visit for Toff’s 60th birthday…he never reads my blog, so I think I’m safe here!). I used to get to England almost yearly. It’s been too long. It’s the LibertyTown factor.
I’m including some random photos from the holiday season. Today I’m happy to say I’ll be taking pictures of wet pots!

We’ve had a lot of weather lately…

Ellie in a Christmas hat!

Paul’s work in the woodshop

When you can’t make pots…make cookies!

…or fires and gingerbread!

A Face Jug Apologia

I am proud of the influence that my training at Winchcombe has on my work, but I’ve never been interested in reproduction. I want to make work that is rooted in the past but speaks ‘of and to’ the present. I really think that is what tradition is…slow evolution. Another way to say it would be that I don’t mean to appropriate but rather assimilate.
So, years ago, when my good friend Jerry Brent asked me if I would make him a face jug, my knee jerk reaction was an emphatic ‘No!’ It is somewhat puzzling to be born a Yankee and yet spend one’s entire career making pots in the south. I admire southern pots, but I have avoided the temptation to reproduce them. Years ago, the Blue Spiral Gallery invited me to be part of an exhibition of ‘Southern Potters’ ! That really kind of twisted my mind. Can a (recovered) Catholic boy from Buffalo, New York really be a ‘southern’ potter?
I’m still not sure…
Anyway, I got to thinking about Jerry’s request later on. I almost always do my best thinking later on. Now, Jerry is a native Virginian and has a great affection for the Old Dominion, its history and artifacts. I began to reason that it would do no harm and would make him happy if I set aside my rule and made him something that would bring him some small pleasure. So, later that year I made my first face jug and surprised him with it for Christmas. It was a big hit and from time to time I’ve made others and now it has come to the point that it is fair to call it a collection. The deal I made with myself was that I would make them for no one else. There are two random exceptions to this new rule that allowed me to break the old rule. Maybe I’ll write about that another day.
The photo above depicts most, but not all, of the “Brent Face Jug Collection”.

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Open House

Tomorrow is our Open House at LibertyTown and I have started a new tradition of saving a bunch of my favorite pots through the year for this event. We are open from 10AM until 5PM. I don’t have a lot this time around as my autumn firing was a bit grim, but I really like some of the new/old pots I’m making lately.

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus…

…and his name is Mr. Kline! A box arrived today and inside was this wonderful mug made by himself. I filled it with some root soup to make sure it didn’t leak (that’s a joke) and I’m happy to report that it works just fine! This makes us even, which is no fun at all. I may have to cook something up……. Thanks, Michael!

Photographic Endeavors

Photography has always been a week link in my pottery career. I’ve never been interested in learning…nor have I ever found a local photographer that could really do the job. So, with the inspiration of fellow bloggers John Tilton and John Glick I am beginning to teach this old dog a new trick. See the benefits of blogging?! It’s given me courage!
The shots below are done with my inexpensive point and shoot. I still need to replace my stolen camera, but I am encouraged by these first efforts. The pots are from my last firing…ol’#5. Feedback welcome.


We had a sold out crowd (that means 70) for our concert Saturday night. Gaye Adegbalola is a founding member of ‘Saffire – The Uppity Blueswomen’, as well as a solo artist of note. The blues is her speciality and her latest album, “No Shame”, is a journey through a variety of blues styles, from New Orleans to Chicago to the Piedmont. Her original and very personal music has a lot of support here in Fredericksburg and she was joined this night by Roddy Barnes on keyboard and Resa Gibbs doing backing vocals. It was a magic night. Gaye led everyone in a beautiful version of “Silent Night” to end the evening.

Winter Fish

I was inspired by Michael’s blog yesterday when he was writing about being reminded that he was a potter. Even when I was making pots full time I was always amazed at how little time we really spend actually making. There are so many things to be done. Now that I run an art center, I spend even less time in the studio. I haven’t made a pot since September. I don’t like it. Even with the holidays approaching I’m hoping to make a start next week on work for the next firing. I don’t have a date yet, but we get some mild winter weather so hopefully I’ll be ready in a couple of months.
All that is by way of an explanation for the ‘parrot fish’ pictured above. I was working on a table for my new photography studio. But stole a few minutes to make a little slab and try an idea I’ve had for a while. That idea didn’t work, but it turned into this fish. I might make more, on purpose.
I’m going back to LibertyTown tonight for one of the last in our concert series. Gaye Adegbalola is performing in the gallery. She’s a local (and international!) treasure.

(Don’t) Steal This Book

Don’t buy it either…
I was very excited to spot this new book that claimed to tell the story of ‘Dave the Slave’. Seldom do I pay full price for a book, but this promised to be fascinating, because, to the best of my knowledge, very little was known about this unique and wonderful pot maker.
Sadly, I find the book unreadable. The author’s family once owned Dave (or so he says) and, perhaps to assuage his guilt, he moved back to the south to research and write this book. There is so little known about Dave, that this guy decided he would make it up. I’ve never seen a book that uses the words ” might have; perhaps; maybe; if: may have; I suspect;” in almost every sentence. He even produces several pages of a family tree that is based entirely on the author’s imagination. Maybe I wouldn’t be so bothered if this was sold as fiction, but the title clearly says “The Life and Legend…” A legend is a story passed down from the past, not the fantasies of 21st century author.
I’ll happily send it out to one of my readers…perhaps I should ask for a pot in return…a second would be appropriate!
(Tip o’ the hat to Abbie Hoffman for the title)

Emporium Report

I’m just now feeling like my old self again after a grueling week and a half spent transforming our gallery into our new ‘Emporium’. I filled my trailer twice with furniture from Ikea and then spent days assembling…with the help of Beth and Elliot. Once we had the display in place Susan Wyatt then came and worked her magic, combining the beautiful work of more than 30 different artists into a cohesive and stunning display. Then it was time to open to the public. For the few loyal supporters who make up the ‘Friends of LibertyTown’ (we need more friends! who doesn’t?) we had a preview last Thursday night. A small but enthusiastic group attended and everyone seemed happy with the changes. That was followed by our monthly First Friday opening AND our annual ‘Student Pottery Sale’. We were mobbed and sales were fantastic. Saturday we were visited by a couple of dozen enthusiastic middle school art students who belong to an after school program. They ate, had a visit in the weaver’s studio, took our scavenger hunt and then I did a demo for them on the wheel. Great kids with interesting questions and lots of curiosity. Days like that are a good reminder of why I continue the struggle to keep our doors open.
By the time the kids left I was fried and I haven’t been very productive since. Lots of tea drinking by the fireplace and general clearing up of the various and sundry piles that always seem to accumulate on each and every horizontal surface I own.
Brisk sales continued all weekend and we are very pleased at the initial reaction to this new idea. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop in!

From Outhouse to Emporium…

I spent a few hours on a beautiful Thanksgiving day finishing off my outhouse ‘folly’. I reckon I’ll be making additions to it for quite some time, but for now it is christened with a few pots down the hole. In a couple of hundred years it might be interesting to a privy digger. I’ve got a goofy collection of books for this very important library. Here are a few images.

It’s been a week since I’ve been to my studio.The last few days have been jam packed with LibertyTown activity as we are embarking on an exciting new venture in our gallery. I’ve been thinking of this change for a long time, as is my way, and now that it is coming together I think it will be an excellent addition to the art center. We’re remaking the main gallery into what we’re calling a “Craft Emporium”. We’ve assembled 20 different pieces of IKEA furniture, built a new sales counter and patched and painted walls. With Susan Wyatt in charge of installation, we are filling the gallery with all kinds of handmade goodness. Mostly drawing from our own group of artists, we are combining our forces to create a very different kind of marketplace. After day one of the installation, Elizabeth said it reminded her of a museum store, which sounds just right. Here are a few photos of the gallery as it has been. Stay tuned for new and improved LibertyTown.

Just as a footnote of sorts…most of my best projects have a long ‘gestation’ period where I roll things around in my head, visiting and revisiting an idea from different angles, sometimes drawing and redrawing, picturing in my mind’s eye the new thing. And still, when it comes to the execution of the idea, there is always a need to be open to a change that makes better sense.


For those of you who are not salt glaze potters, you might not recognize the pattern that develops on the bottom of silicon carbide shelves during the firing (see below). It reminds me of the pattern on the black and white composition notebooks that I’ve been filling for close to 40 years. It’s probably a good case study for the chaos theory. Seemingly random and patterned at the same time.
One of the best books I’ve read in a long time is “Salt – A World History” by Mark Kurlansky. It is a fascinating look at world history through the procurement and control of salt all around the globe.
Salt is the only rock essential to human (and animal) existence.
Many of today’s roads follow paths once worn by animals seeking a source of salt.
Controlling the salt trade led to great power…the Roman Empire did it…the British did it in India (think of Ghandi’s great act of civil disobedience…going to the sea and ‘making salt’).
Until refrigeration and canning food, one of the only ways to preserve food was salt.
The Wielicka Salt mines in Poland date back to the 13th c. Miners have been carving in the salt for a long time and it is now a tourist attraction that contains a cathedral and a lagoon with boats and statues and chandeliers entirely of…you guessed it, salt. Toff Milway brought some for me and I used it in the first firing of my kiln. I think we might have sprinkled a little in the kiln at Penland as well.
I could go on, but I won’t. If your still reading this, you ought to get the book.

Caroline County Meander

I drove to the outer reaches of the county this morning to deliver some pots to the gift shop at the new Visitor’s Center in Carmel Church. They have a big fossil of a whale hanging in the lobby. It was dug somewhere nearby. As I headed back to my studio I took some back roads and discovered Boone Antiques, the biggest, baddest antique store I’ve ever seen. Really, it’s a warehouse and maybe as big as 30,000 square feet. Mostly full of old furniture, beautifully cared for and lined up as far as the eye can see (almost). Literally thousands of pieces. Nothing I could afford, but a real treat to see so much beautiful old wood. I have a thing for chairs and a couple of the photos below show the entire floor full of amazing ones. Probably 100 genuine Windsor chairs, each being sold for more than $1,000.00. Almost no pots, sad to say, but I did buy a nice salt glazed crock that I’ll show you later. This first photo is a three-drawer chest with the best fake books you’ll see.

Eventually I made my way to Bowling Green and had lunch at a little 14 seat restaurant that serves burgers and fries and Thai food! How can I resist? Tofu with cashews…mmmmm.

Solar Power

My studio is only 10 miles from town but it is very remote just the same. You could call it ‘primitive’ since there is no electricity or running water. It is certainly basic and one of the results of that is that I pay extra attention to managing my ‘utilities’.
Dave Twinberrow is an ancient friend of mine who still resides in the Vale of Evesham (England). He has a beautiful plot of land that is rich with fruit trees, flower and vegetable beds as well as various sheep, goats and fowl. There are also sheds both large and small all over the place and I had to ask him about it one day. Even in rainy old England, he explained that every inch of roof could collect water. I’ve always admired that. I think of his place as I’ve been developing mine.
Dave would approve of the little solar electric system I moved today. I bought this kit a few years ago for less than $200 and I think it is cool that even on this cold day it will produce enough light for me to work well into the night. I hope one day to put together a system that would drive my wheel for a couple of hours a day. That’ll take a bit of cash.

Of course, my outhouse project is part of my ‘green’ studio. This is the rear view (pun intended) 12′ high to the top. It’s coming together nicely. I love that curve.

Weekend Update

Next up for my ‘comfort station’ project is roofing and a door. I was trying to puzzle out why I’m feeling compelled to build this (aside from the obvious reasons…) at this time. Today’s theory has to do with results. After a rough firing, when pots that I had high hopes for have not met expectations, it is satisfying to make something that I don’t have to subject to the vagaries of kilns and firing. “plant a radish, get a radish, never any doubt.” (lyrics from The Fantastics). I plan to build a ladder up the back so that I can access the roof. All kinds of wildlife passes by when your up off the ground.

We have been putting together an ‘Empty Bowls’ fundraiser for a number of years and last night we had dinner with some of the other potters and coordinators as we plan for this winter’s event. It has become a wildly popular social event in town and a lot of cash is raised for a very good cause. Dinner was at Poppy Hill, a very good downtown restaurant. (pumpkin ravioli)