Pottery Economics pt. 1

P3033951This little teapot sits tucked into a corner of my kitchen counter, always ready, willing and able to brew just the right amount of tea to get my day started. It takes a level teaspoon if the the tea leaves are ‘fines’…a heaping spoonful if it’s whole leaf. I usually steep it much longer than advised…I like it strong, and a tea cosy keeps it piping hot.

Many of you will recognize it as Muchelney Pottery piece. I bought it about 20 years ago and think that I paid about 38 pounds for it. That’s about $60 bucks these days. I never did know if it was made by Johnny or Nick, and I long ago decided that I didn’t care. They are both brilliant makers and their partnership over many decades is admirable. Johnny and I were both teaboys at Winchcombe when we got our start, and his pottery in Somerset is a beautiful reflection of that grand old pottery.

It’s GIO (glazed inside only) with a beautifully flashed surface from the wood firing. It’s a very different form than my own aesthetic…a low slung body and a flat lid with no catch…but, it’s small scale negates the need for a more sophisticated lid and I like how the line from the low belly follows through the spout. It is stained with years of use and brings me daily comfort. P3033950 But back to Teapot Economics…If we round off some numbers we see the following:

365 days in year


20 – years in use


7,300 days


=1 Pot of tea per day

7,300 pots of tea total.

Cost of teapot = 38 British pounds sterling divided by 7,300 cups of tea = 0.0052 British pounds per serving. (That’s less than one U.S penny)

Final analysis – Excellent value for the money

Next up: The price of all the tea in China.


Bubba’s First Christmas

P2133949I chose not to fight my way through the snow/sleet/rain today, but I’d really like to be making pots  instead of bouncing around the house. I’ve spent way too much time at the computer lately and that makes it even harder to keep the ol’ blog going.

I mentioned in my last post that I’ll soon be moving over to WordPress as I unveil my new website/social media conglomeration, and it seems like it’s just the right time. According to my blogger statistics I got over 1000 hits on my last post…but only 2 comments. Methinks that something untoward might be going on?

I’m spending so much time at the computer as a result of all the opportunities that have come my way this year…the latest is an invitation to the American Pottery Festival in Minnesota in September. I feel like an overnight sensation after a 40 year career! Each of these inviters wants different material for publicity and it’s forced me to rewrite a biography and artists statement and update my resume and pick out new photos…and I’m also working with Adam on photos of pots for the “shop” on my new website. So, yes, I’d rather be making pottery. But I am willing to do what it takes. I just worry a bit about getting all the pots made that I need…I won’t lack for motivation this year, believe me. The studio is beginning to fill up and I’m really enjoying the work…I have a small one-man show coming up at The Cooley Gallery in Leesburg and then my return to Bob Briscoe’s for the St. Croix River Valley Pottery Tour in Minnesota for Mother’s Day! That’s where most of what I’m making will go. I continue to bounce back and forth between birds and everyday pots and I won’t make any more ‘furniture’ for the garden until I’ve fired the ones that I made.

P1000962I’m playing with a little brushwork decoration which harkens back to my earliest work in Fredericksburg. That was inspired by the delicate decoration of Trudy Finch at Winchcombe. Her brushwork (and mine too, just not as well) was very calligraphic and I’m breaking that down even further at the moment by using a single brush stoke coupled with some sgrafitto, which I’ve always loved. I’m looking for a lighter background slip and a blue slip for layering on top in different ways.

A Winter Post

Last Night's Sunset

Last Night’s Sunset

I had hoped to show you a few short films from the studio, but as is too often the case, Blogger won’t cooperate. This seems fitting as I am about to move from this platform to wordpress. I am having a very sweet new website built by Adam DeSio that we should have ready in a few weeks. Adam is a very talented artist in his own right and I’m excited with what he’s done so far. I seem to always be a bit behind the times, but this new site will connect all of my social media stuff to my website and I will be adding a shop for all of you folks desperate to buy my work!? He’s encouraged me to join Pinterest which I just did, so more photos will be forthcoming. Just in case you don’t already spend too much time on your computer..

My studio door!

My studio door!

I grew up in Buffalo,NY and I still love it when we get a bit of winter here in ol’ Virginny, but it has slowed me down and giving my a major cold so I’m happy to see the big thaw coming this week-end. I just finished over 100 big mugs and next will be a bunch of smaller ones. But, for the evening it’s beer and poker…there’s more than one way to pay the bills!
Snow Lobster?

Snow Lobster?

The squirrels are great athletes.

The squirrels are great athletes.



Artistic Obligations

I have several exciting opportunities to show and sell my work this year and I’ve been revisiting the obligatory Biography and Artist’s Statement

“My work stands at the intersection of traditional and contemporary pottery.  I have a particular interest in medieval European salt glaze and 17th century English slipware as result of my training at the Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire, England, but my earliest work in clay was sculptural and those two disparate bodies of work continue to inform the pots that I make today.

I started making my own pottery in 1980 In Fredericksburg, Virginia. Making pots for a living is satisfying on many levels. I enjoy working long and hard and being productive, all of which are necessary to success. Of course, the opportunity to go in the studio each day and exercise imagination and skill is enormously satisfying. I believe that my job is to make each pot as well as I possibly can. No shortcuts!

Making pottery is a lifestyle choice as much as it is a career choice…it is an integrated way of living, where work and play and everyday life all dissolve into each other and that suits me. It also allows for a great deal of variety: not only do I make pots, but I teach workshops, exhibit, write a blog and promote a show.

My own pleasure in making pots is made all the better by the pleasure that they bring to others. I’ve sold most of my work directly from my studio and the opportunity to meet and talk with my customers brings me great satisfaction.

I enjoy the aesthetic challenges of making pots as well as the physical labor that being a potter and firing with wood entails. It is important to me that my work be finely crafted and made to a very high standard. I love the architectural qualities of clay, the permanence of stoneware, and the sweet magic that occurs when good pots, good food and good people come together!”

Any critique is welcome. I’d like to sound smarter than I am.

Dan Finnegan – Dumb Ass

Another good title for this would be “Pride goeth before the Fall”
My studio is a fairly primitive place…no running water and no electricity (I run my wheel on a generator) and the littlest gas heater I can get away with. This is mostly by choice, both environmentally and financially motivated and a wee bit dictated by location. I am overly proud of my self regarding this and I’ve paid a price this week that has put me back in my place.
I thought that this color enhanced the icy cold feeling!

When I leave the studio in the evening I turn my little heater off. This means it can be very cool the next morning…38 degrees F is not unusual. But Monday night’s big chill should have made me reconsider…and I didn’t. I discovered several big pots ruined by freezing the next morning. That hurt a bit, but I got over it quickly and then filled the studio with 8 pound bowls planning to leave the heat on all night. Which I did. But the gas ran out. And the bowls froze even worse than the previous day’s jars! I lost heart and left early (after buying more gas and leaving the heater on….again!), But not to worry, I’ll be back tomorrow and get back on the wheel. But I do hate work that’s gone to waste. 

Even a tough day is improved by wildlife encounters. Today I came across at least 40 turkeys feeding on winter wheat in a field near the studio! I’ve never seen so many in one spot before and I got to watch them for a while. That lifted my spirits!


I’ve never been a resolution-maker….I suppose that I know myself  too well for that. But I do have some projects for the new year to keep it interesting. Of course, the biggest wrinkle is my return to full-time pottery making…some great opportunities lie ahead and I’m so happy to be ready and available for some new adventures. My plan is to buckle down now and make pots for 3 straight months and then do 2 firings back to back in late March and april. That keeps me covered for my one-man show at Chris Cooley’s Gallery in Leesburg, Virginia in April and my second trip to the St. Croix River Pottery tour Mother’s Day week-end in Minnesota. My second one-man show is in July at the Washington Street Gallery in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Labor Day week-end you will find me back in the mountains, joining “The Soda Chicks and Chet” for their annual sale. That’s Gay Smith, Suzi Lindsay and Kent McLaughlin, part of the Penland community for many years. And then it will be time to prepare for the 3rd “Pottery on the Hill” show! A year can get filled up pretty quickly and yet there are still a couple of possiblities hanging that could fill in some gaps. And, of course, there is always a trip to England to fit in. I truely feel fortunate and excited and I’m grateful for all of my friends and supporters and you, gentle reader! Happy New Year!

It always tempting to show off all the special things I make…but mugs pay a lot of bills in my world and I make hundreds of them every year!
12″ high I made a few of these for Christmas. They were a big hit!
Toff’s dragon on top
My dad would have been proud to know that I was a bookmaker…
I’ve made several variations on a garden bench  22″h
These guys now sit atop various stacks of books (to 7″h)
I will add a bung hole to this to make it a true cider jar. 24″h
My friend Paul is a bookseller/bookbinder/restorer. He gave me these for Christmas and said he was tired of me making books out of clay so he made pots out of books! Fantastic!

Tim turns 50!

My second to youngest brother, called Tim-mo by our grandfather, is 50 years old today. It kind of hurts…thinking of how fast life moves. But move it must and a lot has happened since my last post.

    The 2nd Annual Pottery on the Hill show was another great event. Last year we were inventing everything, while this year, with a solid plan in place, we were able to make some improvements and add some events which added value to the whole week-end.
    Mark and Carol Hewitt joined the same group of potters from last year and were a wonderful addition. Sales were up 25% and we sold one of Mark’s giant pots! I had fun delivering it.
    We were also joined by Cheyenne Kim, master flower arranger, who led 2 workshops for more than 70 people, demonstrating a wide range of ideas for arranging in hand made pots. He was delightful and the arrangements in our displays added a lovely touch.
    Chris Cooley was our special guest on saturday. Chris recently retired from his career as a professional football player and now devotes all of his free time to making pots and running a gallery in Leesburg, Virginia. He gave 2 charming and informal talks about his love of art and craft and his particular interest in making pots.
    One of the nice things about the scale of the show (15 exhibitors) is that we can all go have a meal together, and being in Washington, DC that’s an easy thing to do. Great conversation and a relaxed pace made for another fine week-end.
    Since then I’ve feel like I’ve been catching up on years of odds and ends. With LibertyTown behind me and nothing on my calendar until April I am enjoying myself immensely, slowing down just a bit and trying to savor the days.
As the winter weather is taking hold, I’m heading back indoors to the studio and a pile of new ideas to explore.

Mark and Warren with one of Mark’s giant pieces!
Some of my work.
Louise Cort holding court with Ryan and Matthew.
The first bird holding a book. Made in England summer 2013.
…and the first ‘Library Bird’
Another view with spectacles that look like a bicycle.
I put this together in September, but just finished it this week.
A brand spanking new idea…garden stools.
New fence.
New stoking lounge.
And a visit from Fiona and Simon from England!

Monthly Update?

    I am just now getting into the groove of this life as a ‘retired gentleman’. The second annual Pottery on the Hill Show passed in a blur of great conversation, excellent sales and plenty of plain old labor to put it all together. The scale of the show is by its nature an intimate one and this ends up being one of its delights. Big enough to be of great interest to collectors and pottery lovers, it is also small enough for all the potters to spend time together and even fit into the back room of a restaurant to share a meal. Mark Hewitt joined us this year and he had fantastic sales, including one of his enormous lidded jars which I delivered to a house in horse country outside of D.C. It was great to get to know he and Carol better. In fact, the chance to spend time with these wonderful makers is one of the real pleasures of co-ordinating the show.
    We were also privileged to have Cheyenne Kim join us at Hill Center to arrange beautiful flowers in a wide assortment of our pots as part of 2 sold out workshops. He is a humble and quietly hilarious master.
    On Saturday, former Washington Redskin tight-end and present day potter Chris Cooley gave a couple of entertaining and casual talks about his love of art in general and pottery in particular. He was excited to meet us, a situation that he admitted that it was a role reversal for such a well known and liked celebrity. He has a gallery in Leesburg and is a great advocate for the work that we do.
    Of course, now that it’s over we’re talking about plans for next year already.
My assistant of many years, Jason, has moved south to the mountains of NC to work with Michael Hunt and Naomi Dalglish. I’m back to digging my own holes and handling all the odd jobs that make up a pottery life and I’m glad of it.
I have a bunch of greta opportunities next year. I’ll write about that next.

My work.
Samantha, Stacy, Bruce and Bob.

Louise Cort with Matthew and Ryan.

# 15

Too much time has passed to catch you up since my last posting. Let’s just say that ‘retirement’ so far seems just as hectic as ever. The transition from ‘Art Center Director’ to full-time potter is still quite new. Once my travelling shoes were returned to the closet I had to go on an accelerated making regime in order to get a firing in before the 2nd annual “POTTERY ON THE HILL” show in Washington, DC (our nation’s capitol!). I made plenty of pots and cleared out a few old things that have been lying around the studio (I think that there is still a serving dish from 2007 on the shelves.) Jason has also returned for a month or so before he moves back to NC to work with Michael and Naomi at Bandana Pottery and he has been a great help getting to this point. We still have to brick the doors up, which I despise, but otherwise we are ready to light up the kiln on Friday evening.

Bagwall Tiles and dishes.
Back stack / first chamber
First chamber done
I’m very excited about these new dishes and tiles… thick and rough!
Back stack – 2nd chamber
Front stack – second chamber
400 pots or so and lots of hope and expectation. A message from my friend Jill has prompted me to get back on the computer and write this here blog. I’m always amazed at the folks who say they read this, so, if that happens to be you, thanks! And how are you doing?!

British Birds

    Well, I am back home (again!) and, after 4 months on the road this year I am ready to hunker down and make things!!! I am in a serious organizing mode since my return, but I must get a bag of clay opened soon and see what happens.    
    I saw so many old pots on my trip to England that it’s hard to remember any one in particular. Maybe that’s a good thing…I’m looking for inspiration not reproduction. I will be posting photos from London for a bit, starting with birds and bird parts. There are a few Martin Brothers’ pieces included. They were my original jumping off point, but I enjoy all the different variations…I think of looking at old pots as building an encyclopedia of form and surface to feed my own creative ideas.

Church Pulpit, Overbury Church

My first bird with book in hand.
A gem of a bird.
Outer space bird?
Dead bird society.

So, it’s not really a bird…
Bird, woman, dog???

Home Away from Home

Toff and Georgie’s home in the Cotswolds

I depart for the U.K. tomorrow for my 34th visit. I first came to that Sceptered Isle in January of 1978 and I can’t explain how much I value all the time I’ve had and friends that I’ve made…I love being a part of this tiny village and the community that continues to welcome me. I always think that i should arrange a show somewhere with Toff, but then there is tea to drink and cake to eat and plums to pick and before I know it, I’m back on the plane home! But I’m open to suggestions…
Parry, my arch enemy. I have 5 lbs. of peanuts for you, pal.
The old bottle kiln at Winchcombe.
I’ll be recording my cider friends history.
Important to avoid the sheep poo.

"Just Before I Go- Again!"

    I leave Monday for my summer retreat to the Cotswolds (that’s England don’t you know!) where I’ll spend a month with Toff and Georgie Milway, beating the heat of Virginia and enjoying the company of my many friends there. When I return I must turn my mind to some serious wheel throwing to prepare for the 2nd annual “Pottery on the Hill” show in D.C. 
    This has not been a big year for pot making with workshops in East Lansing and Penland, my trip to the St Croix show in Minnesota and selling Libertytown all filling up the time.
    But I have been playing with a new variation on an old theme of mine and these slab dishes are the result. Mostly to amuse myself I have long made a body of work that I refer to as ‘Bedrock’ pots. Rough and stressed and often massive, they are the polar opposite of my finely wrought functional work. I have always kept a number of different explorations going with clay. It is too great a material to limit oneself!

    So, here is my summer tile and slab works…an old laboratory table top with a well liner as a base…

 …And…my favorite…my mortuary sink 8′ of enameled cast iron goodness! I don’t reuse my scrap clay to make new pots with…rather I dry it out in the tub and break it into chunks and then add several buckets of coarse wood shavings before slaking it all down and ‘harvesting’ it when it is still a bit sloppy.
 I have made a bunch of these tile frames and I soak them in water before using them. Lately I’ve been coating the inner edge of the frame with sand from the property to help with the ‘release’.
 I tried these little ‘l’ brackets as handles, but I don’t like them. I have another idea to help remove the frames a little cleaner. This frame is set on a piece of concrete backer board.
 Then I sprinkle dry clay inside.
 I just put a big handful in and then work it to try and fill the frame well. But I don’t strive for perfection….it’s the anomalies that I think make these work for me.
 Sticky stuff.
 Here I’ve finished forcing in…in the old days they called the stick I use for leveling a ‘slicker stick’.
Scraped and compressed.
 I place a board on top and press it down while lifting the frame off.

I use a piece of newsprint to keep the board on top from sticking.  

I then let them get stiff-ish.

This is a tile after I’ve flipped it back over with the dry clay on the surface.
 I place a piece of wood (or two) in the middle.
 And then I flip it over again, gently persuading the slab to bend over the wood form and give it shape. I use a paddle and or a paint roller to help give the curves that I want. 
These are thick!
 Once again I flip the slab back with my foam to maintain the shape.
 And then remove the wood block.
I’m trying different proportions of blocks/frames and having a great time. Lots of these small ones will be stacked on edge on the bagwall. I intend to glaze the inside square and leave the rest to the wood and salt..

Big News!

Here is the letter that I sent out to the artists and a supporters of LibertyTown. I have always called myself the accidental developer and I have been an even more reluctant administrator, so, as the song goes, “it’s been a long time comin’ but a change is gonna come…”

Twelve years ago I was looking for a new space to expand my tiny pottery school. It had never crossed my mind to start an art center, but the idea quickly took shape as I first looked through the glass front doors of the old plumbing supply building on Liberty Street. I  was looking for 2,000 square feet – LibertyTown is more than 12,000 square feet. So, there was plenty of space for the school and a whole lot more!

With the financial support of 23 friends and supporters we built a school, a gallery and 30 studios for artists and craftspeople. Once the foundation was laid in the early 2000’s, it has been the collective efforts of all the artists and students and clients and visitors that quickly turned LibertyTown into an important community and cultural center. Our visitors often tell us how much they value us and the diversity and quality of our work. I’m not sure that I really knew what it was that I was beginning all those years ago, but I am very proud of what it has become.

Now it’s time for LibertyTown, Chapter 2! I will be selling the business as of July 15th, 2013 to D.D. and Kenneth Lecky, two great young supporters of ours who are very excited about the prospect of making us an even better place. I am pleased to able to return to my own studio work and I feel fortunate to have found such a fine pair to follow my lead. They are both artists themselves and also bring great business experience and enthusiasm.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going anywhere…I will continue to live in the same home, work in the same studio (out on Claremont Farm), keep the same cat and sell my work at LibertyTown. I like to think about it as moving to the other side of the counter, where Aline and Beth will continue to hold things together.

The Lecky’s do have some exciting ideas but don’t expect major changes – they have a good understanding of what makes us work and their aim is to improve on what we’ve got and add more layers to the mix. It is my hope that you will continue to be just as supportive of them as you have been of me.

Thanks as ever for your support,
Dan Finnegan

Beth and Aline, LibertyTown’s heart and soul!
the Fredericksburg Spinners and Weavers Guild

Penland Wood Kiln – Casting the Arch

We needed, and got, one good week-end of warmish weather to cast the arch. We moved more than 6 tons of material by hand over 2 days time. A lot of hard labor, but done with great spirit!
Jim from Larkin’s special mix.
Applying the first course
The first layer

Working on the tube
Tossing balls of castable
After the second layer
Inside the tube
Applying a wash of neumann’s red

Looking out to the knoll, ready for pots!

More Kiln Building

This post takes us up to the point where we cast the arches. Notice the plastic at the bottom, hoping to cut some of the wind down.


Boat Building?
Ready for casting.

Building a Kiln

A story has to start some where and this one starts in early March when  Kevin Crowe and I arrived at the Penland School of Crafts to meet the 17 students and assistants who had enlisted in our kiln building boot camp. I’m not sure if any of us understood what a challenge lay before us! Kevin and I had come to Penland 10 years before to do a similar thing and, while we worked hard then, it was still a reasonable task. This time we had several additional challenges…a different (and bigger) kiln and crazy bad weather and a deadline to meet as Kevin could’t stay for the entire session.
We worked morning, afternoon and night for most of 8 weeks and by the time we left we had built the kiln and filled it and fired it twice. I’ll be posting plenty of photos as the days go by. 
The old metal frame from the last kiln was still standing when we arrived.
There has been a two chamber, wood burning kiln at Penland for at least 20 years. Those kilns were intended for relatively short firings (24 hours). This new model has the same 2 chambers with a small anagama chamber on the front. We fired for close to 3 days for each firing. The first time we used the local poplar edgings that are commonly used in the area. Not the ideal fuel for ash build up. Still, that first firing was excellent and the second time, with better fuel (a mixture of pine and hardwood chunks), was even better.
This is most, but not all, of the kilnbuilders.


The cold weather was the immutable challenge. Most days the temperature was below freezing…the wind often howled…it snowed…it sleeted… the water in the wet saw froze…!
Hot tea was vital for survival!

Starting the tube.
Floor of the salt chamber and chimney.
Glaze and salt chamber floors shaping up.
Jason and Kevin work on the firebox in the tube.
Exit flue and chimney. 
front of firebox
Next installment: Walls!

Fresh Curd Fridays

Hi, remember me?! 
I was hoping that the title would lure you back to make sure that I’m still around!
I am finally at home after almost 3 months of intense and wonderful adventures. I left Penland two weeks ago today and drove almost three and a half thousand miles since then to join the wonderful folks of Minnesota for the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour. It was as wonderful as advertised and and a completely fabulous time. And there is a lot of cheese curd in those parts…
 I drove back with Hannah McAndrew, who flew from Scotland to add her own special charm and great pots to the show. I hope to retell some of the tales of Penland and St. Croix, but as I get my two finger typing back in shape, I’ll restart with a few photos of herself as we wandered across this country of ours. 
All bundled up in Minnesota
Hannah stunned by the wonder of american baseball! (with Dan, Molly, Julie, Beth, herself, Jason and Dave.
Look for this owl slip-trailed on future pots!
A pensive pose whilst enjoying ‘frickles*’ in Georgetown, Kentucky.

(*You’ll have to guess…or ask.)

No. 14 in a series

 3 months making.
1 week waxing and glazing
5 days loading
28 hour firing
2 1/2 days of waiting…

    I’m just about to dash over to LibertyTown for tonight’s opening in the gallery (UMW student show). I’m mighty weary from this firing marathon and the pace of life continues to be on the edge of frantic. I have to leave for the Penland School of Crafts in a week and there is much to do before then. 
    The pots in this firing are intended for my trip in May to the St Croix Valley Pottery Tour in Minnesota. Bob Briscoe has very kindly invited me to join this incredible group and I really hope that these pots are  going to especially sweet. Hannah McAndrew is also making the trip from Scotland!
    I have to depart from Fredericksburg for Minnesota just 2 days after the Penland workshop ends, so everything has to be ready before I leave. It is not my nature to be so organized , but so far we are on schedule.
    We unpack Sunday and I’ll be back with a full report.

Back stacks
front stack, first chamber
bricking up the doors
second chamber, front stack
I usually show this shot from the firebox side.  It looks good from here as well! 
Michael Littlefield (waffle maker extraordinaire)…12th firing
Beth Sperlazza…8th firing…and Jackie…1st firing
Jason Hartsoe…5th firing


I’m getting near the end of a long making cycle, doing my best to finish the last few things on my list while suffering from a bad cold. I couldn’t possibly fire a kiln without mugs and I put the last handles on a large batch today (77). I still have to make some little soup bowls, but I can already feel the energy shifting within as I start to fill my brain with glazing and loading. Aren’t we lucky to have a job that involves so many different aspects of our bodies and minds?! Other than bricking up the doors to the chamber, I love each step in the process. I take way too much time to load, squeezing every bit of pleasure from that step in the process.

Is there a difference between a brain and a mind?

Brain Freeze

    I’m sure that it’s the coldest day we’ve had in some time…it won’t be above freezing for at least a couple more days. This is Buffalo weather, without the snow. I find it exhilarating, in small doses, but I am happy not to have to deal with it for months on end.
    This has been an unusual season for me as I’ve had to keep my momentum in the studio through the holidays and into deepest darkest days of mid-winter. I need to fire in about a month before departing for the Penland School of Crafts in early March. Kevin Crowe and I are leading a kiln building workshop for a the first month and then I will be joined by Michael Kline, mark peters and the kids from Bandana Pottery. Kevin and I led the same workshop there 10 years ago and we are looking forward to a reprise. Jason will be joining us as an assistant and there should be 15 -20 students…there are a few spots left if you know anyone who might be interested. There will be lots of tea to drink and pots to make.
    I always seem to be fighting for time in the studio as life tugs at me in so many other directions. Most of the time these ‘tugs’ are just as rewarding as studio life, but I never quite lose the sense that I need to make ‘just a few more pots’ than ever I do.
    Two weeks ago I took the train to the plane and flew to Boston where I met Hollis and his friend Kim. We spent a couple of days talking about wood kilns and firing and planning permission and fuel sources and brick v. castable. Hollis and I have been friends for a long time now and it is exciting to help him figure out this next step. When we first met we both spent a bunch of time in Gapland, MD, firing the wood kiln that I built with Bill Van Gilder. I think that Hollis has quietly had the fever ever since!
    From there I flew to Lansing International Airport via the Detroit Airport to teach a workshop in East Lansing to the folks at the Greater Lansing Pottery Guild.This group was begun in 1969 and was full of lively and enthusiastic potters who take their craft and their co-operative seriously. And they are a lot of fun.
I used to have a big, black beard…
    We talked about teapots (of course!) and all the various pieces that go along with a proper tea party. And  lovely Sarah, who got me invited via my blog, provided homemade lemon curd, clotted cream and scones for our afternoon tea. In general, I am skeptical about co-ops (LibertyTown is a benevolent dictatorship!) but this was an impressive organization and there was a lot for me to learn. My hosts were Pamela Timmons and Jim, wonderful craftspeople and easy to be around. we had great conversations and share a lot of the same views on life. That’s always so reassuring.
    I’m off to the Smithsonian today to hear a talk by Louise Cort as she accepts a prestigious award given her by the Institution. Look her up!
On the studio wall
Does it look as cold as it is?
I like how these two handles mirror each other.
Pots to finish up.

Blogpost #501

One of many happy moments in 2012… my first swarm!
I have neglected you, gentle reader, and Hannah has shamed me into returning to the keyboard here and saying a few words. The last year, like every other, has been full and productive and I find that it gets harder to remember what actually happened in any given year. I’d like to call it living in the moment, but it’s more likely creeping senility as the old brain cells slowly fade!
Nowadays, I can just look back at my old blog posts and be reminded of all that has transpired. 
Very handy!!!
So, here’s a few highlights:
Started the new salt kiln 
(update ; most of the brickwork is done, we need to cast a key in the arch.)
Taught a workshop at University of Mary Washington
Released the DVD of the movie made about me.
(copies still available!)
Hosted the Kline/Philbeck Roadshow at LibertyTown
Chased a bunch of swarming bees all spring long!
Fired # 12 in the woodkiln.
Spent the summer in Britain: 
(w-a-y too much to relate here…check out June and July and August blog posts where you’ll read about red clay and cups of tea and beer and cider etc.)
Firing # 13
Recovered from ‘Pottery on the Hill’
Resumed making pot s for a rare February firing.
And here we are are back in the moment. I need to buy a new vehicle and I’m thinking about getting a Ford Transit Connect. An interesting small van. But it might not serve all my needs, as there are big things planned for 2013 and you’ll have to stay tuned to get the news. I promise that I won’t make you wait a month. I am really enjoying my time in the studio. I have been able to keep my focus through all the holiday revelry and stay in the groove.
I hope that you are fit and optimistic for the year that lies ahead of us. Make good pots and have some adventure!
Pedestal Bowls

History of the Birds (pt. 1)

I posted a photo of a couple of my biblio-birds in progress on my facebook page a few days ago and got comments from both of the Bringle sisters so I figure I must be on to something! 
As this is my 500th post, I thought I’d mark it with a little backstory.
    I’m not sure what it is that is so satisfying about making these birds…parts of them are downright tedious and I did grow weary of them for a while, but after giving them a rest I’ve been back at it again. It takes a different state of mind to make them than throwing my ‘proper pots’ does, and it still feels luxurious to spend so much time on just a few pieces.   
    I first became aware of the Martin Bros. back in the ’70’s when I was getting into clay. There was an article in Ceramics Monthly (b/w photos in those days) about the 4 brothers who ran a pottery on the edge of London at the turn of the 20th century. They made an extraordinary range of work including what came to be known as “Wally Birds” after Walter, who was the idea man behind this series of pots called ‘tobacco jars’ modeled in the form of anthropomorphic birds. They were amazingly expressive and nowadays are highly collectable. They were salt glazed and I must have seen a few photos of them in an early salt glaze book as well.
    When I first learned about them it never occured to me that I would ever make anything like them, but they tickled my fancy and then receded to the back of my mind. I would bump into them in a book or auction catalog from time to time and then 8 or 9 years ago I visited a collector in England who owned dozens and dozens of them and I got a real good dose. I still had no idea that I ought to try and make them, but I sure found them intriguing.
    And yet, several years ago, on a goofy whim and completely out of the blue, I made one, or at least my version of one. I like to suggest that the final inspiration came from watching my bird feeder while throwing pots, but who knows…a preponderance of intriguing encounters, birds on the brain, asking the ‘what if’ question, and there you have it…one answered question has led to a whole new body of work. I have always made other things in addition to the tens of thousands of useful pots that have paid the bills all these years. Usually they are much more esoteric…I’m still not sure how to label them.
    I see my interpretations as more cartoon-like versions of birds than the fairly realistic Martin Bros. work. And I quickly found other forms to apply to the idea to.
A Martin Brother’s “Wally Bird”
    I often work this way…ideas fester and percolate for a long time and are usually rooted in historic work. I then use an idea as a jumping off point, but I’m not interested in reproduction. Whether it’s my desire to make work that is appropriate to this day and age, or whether it’s my interest in exploring or even my need to leave my mark on things, I find that I am most excited about moving an old idea forward, and at it’s root, that is what I think ‘tradition’ or ‘traditional pottery’ is all about. Tradition does not mean stasis, and our traditions continue to have value as they evolve.
    So, Here’s a bunch of photos from the last 2 years. I’ll post more soon. 


2 feet tall

* P.S. “The History of the Byrds” is one of my all time favorite albums…with apologies for lifting the title!

For Tony

I enjoy reading Tony Clennell’s blog…he’s a good writer and potter and he wears a good hat well. He also writes as if he is the only man with a handle fetish. Below I submit my own visual confession! I admit when he put handles on the knobs of his teapots a while ago, I was ready to surrender!
I haven’t made these lately because everything flat warps in my wood kiln. I’m working on it…

Chattered w/ash glaze poured and sprayed

Chattered first, then crackle slip with wood ash glazes.

Crackle slip, ash glazes

This one isn’t quite as bright as the photo.

John Glick Bowl

When I was a young lad, just discovering that there was a world where people made a living working with clay, there were very few ‘role models’ for life outside of Academia.  John Glick was one of the very few that I was aware of back in the 70’s and he continues to make wonderful pots with distinctive character today. When I first started writing this blog he contacted me out of the blue to compliment me on my work. That was a big deal for me…and a completely random act of kindness!
I just bought this bowl of his on EBAY and I’m really happy to be able to hold it in my hands and imagine something green in it. I’m on a cabbage kick at the moment.
Other potters that I knew back then: Cynthia Bringle (I took a workshop with her in 1976!), Dave Shaner and Byron Temple. Who else?

A Wonderful Weekend

The first fine misty rain that has since become a hurricane began to fall just as we packed up the last of the exhibitors and sent them on their way last evening. The timing was more than fitting for a flawless weekend in our nation’s capitol. Everyone arrived and got themselves situated throughout the day Friday and then returned for the Evening’s festivities. There is nothing like the excitement of a ‘first’time’ event…I was nervous as the day approached but once all of these great potters arrived and seemed to like the set-up, I was ready to enjoy my self. We had a wonderful crowd, some waiting in line to get first dibs! Sales were brisk throughout the week-end and we saw new collectors as well as folks who have been buying pots for along time. There were also plenty of people who saw useful handmade like this for the first time. To tell you the truth, it must have been a bit overwhelming…everyone arrived with a lot of work x 14 potters in an intimate setting! Most of us were able to have a meal together on Saturday night and as always, it’s often the highlight of these gatherings to break bread away from the show itself!
Michael Kline
Ryan Greenheck
Bob Briscoe part1
Bob Briscoe part 2
Sam Taylor
Sam Taylor
Mark Shapiro
Mark Shapiro
Matthew Hyleck
Matthew Hyleck
Warren Frederick
Warren Frederick
Catherine White
Catherine White
Trista Chapman
Stacy Snyder
Michael Hunt and Naomi Dalglish

Bruce Gholson
Bruce Gholson
Bandana Pottery 
Samantha Henneke
We sold many hundred’s of pots and met lots of wonderful people. Working with the staff at the Hill Center was a dream. It was a lot of work, and without Beth and Jason, my friends from LibertyTown, we would have been lost. We also had a great contingent from Fredericksburg which I’m really proud of!