Well, How Did I Get Here…? *

In the summer of 1977 I was on a 2 month bicycle trip through New York and New England when I received a letter at a post office that I had previously arranged to visit. I still recall sitting against a tree, excited to read the words of the girl that had taken my heart with her to England the year before. She had been working at the Guildhouse in Gloucestershire, England and was moving on to Japan…would I be interested in taking her place as a pottery instructor? Well, I never had any aspiration to travel overseas. I had already crossed the US on 4 different occasions, often hitchhiking, but I was an impoverished student and never imagined that I’d have the means to travel to Europe. This was not the last time that I made a spontaneous decision, but I decided on the spot that I would agree. I was frustrated with my college education and this seemed like a fine alternative. There was no pay involved, but room and board was provided, my needs were few, and it just felt right.
I spent that autumn working for a rock n’ roll producer friend of mine to earn some cash and the following January I bid a teary farewell to my friends and family and boarded Freddy Laker’s cheap flight to Gatwick Airport.I don’t remeber too much about the journey except that I shared an aisle and food with a couple of nuns and an American on the coach trip into London kept pronouncing the river Thames with a soft ‘th’ rather than ‘Tems’ as it should be. What I do remember is walking up the hill on a cold, dark and snowy evening to this incredible building where I was to live for the next 6 months, feeling rather like I was playing a part in a fairy tale!
The Guildhouse was a new building, but constructed from Cotswold stone that had been gathered from 7 ancient and decrepit buildings and built in the same architectural style as the rest of the area. Cotswold stone is a rich, warm yellow sandstone that, even during the gray winter weather seemed to glow from within. I was met by the two white-haired ladies of the house, Mary and Martha (how biblical!), and given dinner in front of the giant hearth situated in the great hall. It was an incredible introduction to a place that still seems to exist in an earlier time.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s next thrilling installment of ‘As the Wheel Turns!’
Completely unrelated, here are a few photos of my visit to Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago.
Edinburgh Castle


View from the castle with the Firth of Forth in the distance (or is that Forth of Firth?!)


An imposing setting for a castle!

* thanks and a tip o’ the hat to David Byrne and the Talking Heads for today’s title…
P.S. don’t be alarmed by yesterday’s lily white tea set…I took a photo of every tea that I was served on my journey! And yes, Hollis, my arch enemy parry and I are doing pitched battle daily!

Home Alone…

It’s been just about three weeks now since I left for the U.K. I had two incredible weeks in Scotland including a visit with one of my oldest friends, Jan, and my newest, Hannah and Paul.
I can’t  truely describe what it means to return to the Cotswolds, where I write today. In some ways, this is where my life began…I lived here in this picture postcard place in the years 1978 and 1979, working first at the Guildhouse where I taught pottery to senior citizens and handicapped children. Although I didn’t know much, if anything, about the Winchcombe Pottery then, the Guildhouse was full of their glorious pots. Everything we ate from, cooked in, served in was made there and it wasn’t long before I made my way there for the first of many visits until I wore Ray Finch down and was offered a job. The rest, as we say, is history, and 35 years later it is a place that I still hold very dear.
The pottery was a vibrant place then…in addition to Ray and his son Mike, the team was full of brilliant makers and serious characters! Eddie Hopkins, Toff Milway and Nori DiMontigny all added hugely to my knowledge of pottery making and the world in general. There were other craftsmen working on the site who made life (especially tea time) even more quirky and exciting. Steve Marchant has been turning wood since I was born and watching Will Hall’s exquisite furniture making skills was a real treat.
If you were to ask any of these lads what my most important job was they would say that it was to make the tea. Every day at precisely 10AM and 3PM I was to provide tea for 9 or more hard working people and any visitors who happened by at that time. It was a ritual that caused me great stress at the start…imagine me, a very hairy young American making tea for an army of Brits! Everyone had their own special mug (of course) and each wanted their tea a particular way…the first cup poured or the last cup poured or diluted by half or one or two sugars…I needed a flow chart to keep it all straight and i could repeat the entire thing even today… that’s how serious I had to take it. We had precisely 15 minutes before everyone jumped up and returned to their work, so it was a major crime if I ever I was late  ringing the bell to summon everyone to the tea room.

I will remain here at Toff and Georgie Milway’s Conderton Pottery for the remainder of my stay and it seems a good time to record more of these reminiscences. I am in charge of the garden, the shop, the cats and the parrot this week while T and G are in holiday, so it seems like a perfect time. I will also give a little review of my travels since my arrival. It seems a great indulgence to have time to look back. I hope that you’ll find it of interest…

Hannah’s Revenge!

Sorry for the lack of photos, that’ll have to come later.
When Hannah and Doug visited us last year we heard plenty of whinging about inadequate clays. Today in her workshop she tried to foist more of that filthy red stuff on me and I did try…but I’m not up to such a radical change in just one afternoon, so she’s given me some old, stiff stoneware, just to keep me on my toes!
The workshop is tomorrow and we’re ready to go…Hannah’s got a cake in the oven and several more should arrive before we get started. Life, as ever, is rough! It is wet, windy and cold…my favorite whenever it reaches 100f back home.

A Preview Before I Go…

    24 hours from now I should be in the air, approaching Maine with Nova Scotia on the horizon and Edinburgh as the terminus of a too long but worth it journey. I will do my best to share some of the highlights of my travels, but it has become ridiculously jam packed with goodness so who knows how often I’ll find my way to a computer. I won’t forget you, dear reader, I promise !
    I’m more than ready for the break and the chance to recharge.  Hannah has written a nice blog about my workshop at her studio in the west of Scotland that will be lots of fun. I’ll see Hannah a couple of more times, but our plans for a reunion tour with Doug seem to be kaput! I wonder if they don’t believe that they can convert me over to the dark (red clay) side?!I will visit them both at Hatfield (what if I arrived Saturday evening to camp and spend Sunday visiting?) and I’ll make my way down to Doug’s place in Devon for a few days in mid July. Returning to my home away from home in the Cotswolds, The Milway residence in the village of Conderton, nestled up to Breedon Hill, is why I have been coming back for many, many years. I have so many friends there from the days when I was a part of the Winchcombe team and the cozy villages that dot the hills are also old friends by now. So are quite a few walking paths, churches and pubs! I’ll spend about half of my 7 weeks there.
When I return it will be full speed ahead towards the Hill Center Show in D.C. at the end of October. Here is a sneak preview of the potters involved! Have a great summer, everyone, and don’t forget your sunscreen…















Under Attack!

One of the many pleasures of my studio in the woods is getting to watch the birds. This is the first studio I’ve had without a cat or three so I can feed the birds with impunity! My feeders are morphing into a bit of a sculpture right outside the window from my wheel. 
I was dismayed and puzzled last week to find everything knocked asunder and I could only imagine that a storm had caught ahold of it, but it kept happening and things were strewn in a very un-wind-like way!
I borrowed this great motion sensitive camera from Jason G. and below are the culprits! The little S.O.B’s destroyed my little English phone booth feeder last night.
Now that I know the enemy, I can make a plan to thwart them!
But that’s not all!!!
(keep reading)

Boots is on the trail!

Google won’t let me show you this photo right-side up, but long time readers have heard me report on the pottery-eating mice in my studio in the past!  Below is more evidence…I never know when they’ll take a bite!

A Week to Go


Everyone needs a ‘Sentinal’ in their garden!
    I have been way too busy lately, but not a lot of my time has been spent on the pottery biz. A couple of big events at Libertytown (including a yard sale of seconds) and a great wedding (congratulations, Anna and Jym!) have filled up the days, and in theory I am getting ready for my trip to Britain next week. I did speak with Hannah yesterday to firm up my plans…she was not her lively self after a long ‘Spring Fling’, but I trust that she will be revived by the time I get to her place in the west of Scotland!
    In my last post I neglected to mention that I will be helping Toff Milway at “Potfest in the Park” at the end of July, so I’m hoping to see some of my new old friends there (Margaret, Christine et al)


Next Month, Next Year and some Old News

I am starting to change my mental gears as I prepare for my 30th(!) visit to Great Britain this summer. I have an exciting trip planned…I will fly into Edinburgh, Scotland and spend a couple of days there before touring in the countryside before visiting old friends. Then it’s on to new friends…Hannah and Paul will be putting up with me for a few days. I will do my best to entertain some of the members of the Scottish Potters Association and, in a twist that I find delicious, I will teach the Brits to make teapots!? I think that there might be a space or two remaining if you happen to find yourself in the west of Scotland.From Hannah’s I will drive south to the Cotswolds, my home away from home since 1978 when I first visited. Toff and Georgie Milway are incredibly kind to maintain my little Cotswold cottage for me when I’m here in the U.S. (lol) and I’m anxious to see all my friends there. I’m still figuring out my trip to Devon and Mr. Fitch (if you’re reading this, Doug, I’ll phone you this week), but I do plan to get there at some point. I’m sure that he owes me a beer!
The good news keeps on rolling…check out the listing below for next years adventure!
Kevin and I led a kiln building workshop at Penland 10 years ago and they have asked us back to do the same trick again. Check out the other lads that will be joining me! Hot stuff!
And, in case you remember that salt kiln we started months ago, I finally got a welder out to the site and we are ready to set the arch, although I have no idea when we will get to it.

50 Shots of Courage

I won’t fire again until the autumn, but I am trying to get a head start before I spend a good chunk of the summer with my British ‘cousins’. I’ve been doing lots of testing lately, and I love to sell my test tiles! You will notice that these are my classic ‘juice cup’ form. Very mystical stuff…I’m no Doug Fitch, but I do think about getting a proper video camera…this is fun!

Me and Donna Summer

A couple of tiny films, sorry about the sideways viewing!

Bandana via Warrenton

I wanted to share some photos before this event joins my line-up of sweet memories…
Naomi and Michael’s pots

Several week-ends ago I drove over to the home and studio of Warren Frederick and Catherine White. They were hosting an afternoon potluck/demonstration/sale with Michael Hunt and Naomi Dalglish for a group of pottery lovers from Washington, DC. Michael demonstrated the making of a Korean “Ongii” pot, traditionally used to make kimchee. It was a wonderful to see!

These beautifully made slabs, thrown and stretched on the floor, are then shaped in an arc before being joined to the slab base that he’s pounding out below.

 The arc creates the rudimentary flared shape of a pot and a second on top curves in towards a neck.

Here he is adding a coil to draw the neck in further. I didn’t get a picture of the hammer and anvil paddling that did most of the shaping, it was too captivating to remember.

Michael is kicking the wheel the whole time. It looks like he’s throwing here, but that would be a bit of an exaggeration. The paddling makes for very strong walls that can be stretched thin as a result.

Warren and Catherine’s anagama kiln
A studio scene

9 years ago I taught a kiln building workshop with Kevin Crowe at Penland…Warren and Catherine were our guest artists, Naomi was one of our students and it was there that she and Michael met! And we 5 will all be exhibiting together this fall at the “POTTERY ON THE HILL” show in October (with 10 other great potters!).
My own pots don’t owe a lot to asian ceramics, but I love most anything made out of clay and it is always inspiring to around folks who are masters of their materials.


This piece will be available this month at LibertyTown’s annual Patrons Show. Tickets go on sale Friday (Thursday if you are a “Friend” of LibertyTown…and I ain’t talkin’ Facebook friend, either!). We have 50 wonderful pieces of art and craft donated and we then sell 50 tickets for $150.00 each. At the end of the month we have a drawing and as each # is drawn, that patron gets to pick their favorite work. The big black planter from yesterday will also be included, filled with beautiful plants! (sorry, Caroline!)

to 5″ high

Now, Where was I…?

So, I figure that if I publish 8.3 photos a day I will be paying the low, low price of a penny per photograph. What else can you buy for a penny?…and what do kids do in place of penny candy? I used to love to go to Vick’s, the creaky old corner store of my childhood. He had an ancient oak and glass  candy counter and behind it were dozens of choices…peach stones and mary janes, licorice and pretzel rods…all it took was one quart bottle with a deposit on it and you could fill your pocket! But, I digress…
I spent today slowly going through the pots from the firing, parsing the results from my latest effort. I could have used more heat, but it really was worth taking a chance to change things up. There are lots of tasty pots and some of the large vases are really quite excellent.
Second Chamber

Second Chamber
First Chamber
Large Planter.
21″ high 
24″ high

Turn this pot inside out!

A rare mishap in this firing. There were very few seconds at all!
Bread Plates
Extra large teapot

The Last Freebie

Somehow I had one more photo left in my 1GB of free Picasa storage so here’s a little view of another glorious spring day in the Old Dominion! We unloaded the kiln today and it was full of excellent work.

I made lots of changes, both to the kiln itself and to how I fired it, and there is still much to digest, but I feel really good about the results. There are, of course, many questions and maybe I’ll find a few answers as I take a further look at them as the week goes by.
I do plan to ‘pay the (google) man’ for more photo space; it looks like it’s $2.99/month and there is a short delay before it’s available. I’ll show you lots o’ pots then. In the meanwhile, allow me to tell my right-hand man, Jason, who missed the unloading (he’s out west for a much deserved holiday) that all is well and you got a bunch of sweet pots waiting…and some shelves to grind!


Thanks to everyone who took the time to help me keep at this blog writing thing-y.
I’m heading out to light up the kiln for the 12th time today. As ever, expectations are high and I’m always eager to throw sticks on a fire.
I hope to resume normal activity here next week when everything settles down. I think I’m just going to ‘pay the man’ for more space. Any other solution requires more of me than I am able or willing to do.

My last blog post!?

So, Blogger changed everything up (they never asked if I wanted them too) and now I am unable to upload photos…they say that my picasa site if full and I must pay for more space. I didn’t even know that I had a picasa site for my photos, let alone that there was a limit. Now they want me to pay them . Does anyone know what’s going on? Without photos, I can’t see the point of this.


Getting the proper fuel for my wood burning kiln has been a struggle over the past few years. Pine slabs are at the top of the list, but most of them end up in the chipper these days. But Mr Coleman has a yard full and he was happy to deliver it for a very fair price. Happy days are hear again…


I wrote last week about my attempt (and failure!) to capture a swarm of bees that showed up on the farm by Paul and Emily’s house. We were all a little sad that they got away, but it turns out that it was a perfect practice run for the my 2nd attempt in a week. And this time they were my own bees! 
Jason and I were talking in my studio when he heard the bees a’buzzin’…real loud. If you play this little video you’ll get a good idea of what we heard and saw. It was not normal behavior and we both reckoned that we were watching a swarm begin. And that’s exactly what happened. Over the course of 10-15 minutes more and more bees left the hive and the cloud that they formed, swept side to side by the wind, kept growing larger.
We then noticed that there seemed to be an assemblage of bees gathering at the base of a cedar tree, just 15-20 feet from their original hive. What your seeing above is a river of bees; a big cluster on a low branch that is brought to the ground by their own weight, so the rest of the bees just spilled along the forest floor. At the top of this same photo is the branch that I’m holding in the following photo.
Jason lopped off the limb and I moved it into a new “super” as you see below. We actually cut three or four more branches with smaller clusters, hoping that we got the Queen . There was no way to gather the thousands of bees that were left on the ground, but I was pretty sure that she would be in the middle of the fattest group.
You can see the original hive to the left… they hadn’t gotten far.
I just gave the branch several hard shakes and most of them dropped right in. That’s the first and biggest branch that I’m taking out below.
Within minutes (seconds?!) the bees were beginning to build comb on the new frames You can sort of see them below. We then put a cover on top with a small gap for ingress and egress…there were still thousands of bees in the air and on the ground. We watched for a while and I started to worry that we hadn’t captured the queen. We took a 20 minute break, went back to look, and just about every bloody bee was in the new box!!! They are extraordinary critters and Jason and I were riding a high all day.
We also checked on the old hive, fearing that it was abandoned, but it was chock-a-block full of bees, honey, larvae and ‘queen cups’, the funky cells (they look like a peanut in it’s shell) that the hive produces only when they need a new one. Did I mention extraordinary?!
Meanwhile, back in the studio, I’m entering my last week to make pots before the glazing and loading begins. Mugs are everywhere and I only wish I could justify making a hundred more. They were flying off my fingers with ease.
We also cast the second in a series of molds to make these tiles that appear to be book shelves. This is the frame that we use. i very rarely use plaster in my working world, but it does have it’s place. I did a lot of sculpture in college using it as a medium in its own right, rather than as a mold to make something else. I would color batches and pour them in layers. 
Last, and by no means least, is my newest best friend, Maple. Little sister to Ellie, she is absolutely captivating. I get to hold her a lot and nothing lowers my blood pressure better!

Fast Wheel, Firm Clay

I finished off this little sculpture today…
…and I mowed the grass, slipped and decorated a dozen oval cream jugs and threw 45 small mugs. It was an excellent day. 
I sometimes think that the “slow wheel/ soft clay” movement is a bit too precious. I’d love to teach a workshop one day with today’s blog title as the theme. I do like my clay to be somewhat firm but I have some extremely stiff clay from Highwater at the moment (I am NOT happy) and I’ve been waiting TOO long for the promised replacement. Thinking more and more about Laguna B-mix…

Wee Ones

This is a very big teapot. Perfect for your next garden party. Click on the box in the right corner for full screen wonderment.
Ever since I built my big-ass wood kiln I’ve really cut back on the smaller pots that I used to make…bud vases, creamers, little cups and bowls…I used to make lots and lots but they don’t go very far in filling the kiln and I keep running out of time to make them,
    For many years my work was all meant for the table and many of the pots that I made used less than a pound of clay…a six or eight pound bowl was BIG. I’m giving myself more time to make this time around and I made all those monster pots earlier so I’ve taken advantage of the last week or so to revive some other ideas. 
     Back in the Winchcombe days Toff and I would discuss ideas for little pots that would fit the negative spaces left between the pots we usually made.
    I’ve got a bunch of sweet little oval creamers underway as well as the flasks shown here.
With just two more weeks of making until I need to start loading I need to start putting some bigger lumps of clay on the wheel but this has been fun.
Honey Pots, etc. The green lines are food coloring

A Good Week

I spent a lot of time in the studio this week with little to distract or divert me except for the swarm of bees that I almost captured! Teapots and baking dishes, bud vases and creamers have been flying from my fingers! To day I finished making a mega teapot and then threw a dozen honey pots (I am trying my best to revive interest in this once noble pot!)
It’s a well known fact.
Think of your favorite comfort food…
Up to 4″ tall
Lugs for handles
1/2 and 3/4 pound cream jugs 
Here is my newest film titled “White Tree”  they are covered in bees!

Today’s Soundtrack via Satellite

This first song is the Beatles, early on, and the casseroles are accompanied by Loggins and Messina.

I can’t edit these little vignettes in any way, but I’m delighted that my cheap little Casio blogging cam can also record even quiet sounds along with video. Won’t wonders never cease!?

Teapots and Cinema Verite’

There’s one detail missing from each of these…first person to guess wins a prize!
We’ve set a date for an April firing…#12 in a series… and now I’ve got to put my head down and get some serious mud slinging going. I’ll be teaching a one day ‘American’ tea party (you know what I mean…!) workshop at Hannah’s this June, so I thought I’d better make a few to take along. I’ve also got small milk jugs, 4 nice lidded casseroles and oval baking dishes in progress. Big fun!

Another Quiet Week-NOT!

One more night’s sleep and I’ll be as good as new after a particularly busy and fruitful week. After a whirlwind visit (38 hours), Michael and Ron are now safely arrived in Cape Cod., no doubt eating disgusting things like clams and oysters etc.!
I urge you to write Ron and ask him what he’s doing here!?! Some kind of Shelby gang sign is my guess…
We had a grand visit, staying once again on the farm thanks to Steve and Nicky. We ate barbecued tofu and hotdogs with Paul, Emily, Ellie, Maple and Jason on Tuesday evening and enjoyed a leisurely morning with breakfast on the porch and a walk down to my studio and kiln. For some reason the bees went nuts on us and I got a couple of stings as we all ran around flapping like mad to brush them off.
Another gang sign from Ron which puts Michael into a dream state.
We spent Wednesday afternoon unpacking pots at LibertyTown, having lunch and a very brief walk through town before it was show time.
Lunch at Sammy T’s
A couple of dozen folks showed up for pizza, beer and an excellent introduction into a variety of decorating techniques from the NC boys and our very own Trista Chapman.
Ron started us off with tales from his journey to sgrafitti decoration on red clay from the quieter salt glaze that he made for years. He talked about getting comfortable with imagery and the whimsey of his work in spite of the simultaneous desire to make ‘serious’ pots…what is a serious pot? 
My pots are as serious as a heart attack…
MK and RP paying close attention
Trista Chapman has a studio along the river here in the ‘Burg. She started her pottery career in Richmond before moving to Fredericksburg to join Phil Chapman, another local pottery legend. Trista works with a white lo-fire clay and a multitude of colorful Duncan underglazes. She layers multiple colors and patterns, one on top of another, to create a wonderfully integrated and wildly colorful body of work. 
I’m sure it must have been funny…
Michael came equipped with his beautiful brushes and spoke of patterns and wax, wood, salt and alkaline glazes.  A blog he wrote recently provoked a conversation about the way we make pots day after day. Making big batches is not unusual, but what happens if you make little batches?
Mk decorating a DF pot
I think that everyone enjoyed themselves and left with plenty of food for thought. We went back to the farm and stayed up way too late, telling tales. The lads left in the morning, and I am so glad that they took the time to visit and share their ideas with us. It was way too short, but sweet just the same.  
Just days before, I helped Jason and Misha and Trista as they begin to learn how to fire a gas reduction kiln. We didn’t get great reduction, but It’ll get better as we figure it out. This kiln was built for raku but should be perfect for their needs. It;s been years since I fired with gas. I know how to do it, did it for years, and I never really enjoyed the noise and moving parts, but it’s fun to revisit it.
Trista, Jason, Dan and Misha
Ah…the first view…
And, as requested, the cruets I was working on. 

Knob Knews

I’m working on a bunch of cruets and I threw dozens of these knobs.
Now I’ve got a completely  different idea for how to make them…
I love making bottles! I always think of Ray.
creamy goodness, with regards to the real jug maker…the other DF

Deco-Rotation Demonstration Invitation

Just one week from today there will be an historic gathering  of brush wielders and slip carvers at LibertyTown Arts Workshop in Fredericksburg (our fair city) Virginia. In addition to the North Carolina travelers (that would be Michael Kline and Ron Philbeck) we will be joined by our very own Trista Chapman and her pots of many colors. Rumor has it that Brandon Philips might make an appearance as he winds up his trail drive to the east coast. Call us at LibertyTown for more details… a multitude of potters, pizza and beer should make for some excellent entertainment! 540-371-7255