In the Studio Right Now

Atmospheric photography – 3 lb. bottles
Tea jars
Tea Jar lids
4 lb. bases
4 pounders ‘capped’ plus tea jars
I looked up from the wheel this afternoon…!


I am very excited to finally share the news that I hinted at awhile back!
Two dear friends of mine have spent many years overseeing the renovation of a wonderful civil war era Naval Hospital on Capital Hill in Washington, DC (our nation’s capital!). With the completion of this new community center they asked me to help organize a ‘signature’ event focused on the only thing I know, pottery.
I visited several shows last fall to do a little research and I had some very useful conversations with Bob Briscoe and Mark Shapiro and Michael Hunt and I drove home from Karen Karnes/Mikail Zakin’s Demerest show with a plan. 
Mark and I have had many conversations since….we came up with a framework and mission statement of sorts and then we had an interesting back and forth as we put together a ‘dream team’ to join us. There are so many great makers to consider and our formula was not scientific and if your not on the list please don’t feel bad…we are starting small and will grow as we get established.  We tried to choose a good variety of styles and geographical locations as well as considering folks who have already established markets in DC.
Here’s our 4 point plan:
1) Assemble an excellent group of functional potters.
2) Create an exciting market.
3) Raise awareness – educate the public.
4) Fundraising for a good cause.
I have never been very interested in the big shows that we have here in the US…hundreds of exhibitors…every craft imaginable…looking a bit like a gypsy encampment with everyone providing their own unique display. I have always admired the more focused shows that I’ve visited in the UK….there are lots of craft shows that specialize in a single medium, especially ceramics. It’s also not unusual that many of Britain’s best are assembled at the same show! We are just too big of a country for that to happen, but we can certainly aim to have some of the best!
    So, this show will be held in an intimate and elegant setting in a city that has great potential as a market for excellent pots.
    We have plans for a series of events highlighting ‘pots at work’. The Hill Center has a demonstration kitchen where classes will be held showing students how and why pots can be used in the kitchen.
    We will provide a uniform display for each exhibitor with the idea of bringing focus to the pots rather than to a particular display.
    I will continue to provide updates as time goes by. We hope to create a model for an event that can be held all over the country. The times keep a’changing and it is up to us to keep up. Stay tuned!

UMW Workshop!

I spent Tuesday entertaining (I hope) the students at the University of Mary Washington here in Fredericksburg. Jon McMillan (with the mug raised) took over the Ceramics department last semester and he has hit the ground running. We quickly made a connection and he is already doing great things for his students and the school. Like bringing me in to expose his students to the world of a working potter.
It was a good, fun day with an excellent lunch at Miso restaurant, my new favorite!
We will also open the first exhibition of work by the University’s art students at LibertyTown this Friday, so it’s been a great week for tearing down the town/gown walls! 

"the Art of Earth"-the (fake) Trailer

You asked for it, so don’t blame me! 
In response to the numerous (2) requests for a movie trailer I present to you for your viewing pleasure my very first film attempts. I’m no Timothy Ryan Poe, and I’m certainly not Doug Fitch or even John Britt, but it turns out that my little blogging camera is all a man needs to make the next Isaac Button classic! Sorry that the last one is sideways, I can’t seem to turn it upright. Check the last post for details.
Click the little box in the right hand corner for a bigger view!
Gratuitous slippage
Tony Clennel’s got nothin’ on me

Unleash the Beer* and Popcorn!

O.K., boys and girls, at long last you can see the film that rocked Fredericksburg last autumn, in the comfort of your own home! Ryan delivered a boxful of DVD’s to LibertyTown this morning and, just in case you can’t live without it, you can contact us at LibertyTown and we will promptly send you one.
The cost is $12.50 for the those of you in the U.S of A. and $15.00 overseas. Price includes shipping. 
                                                                 I accept all currencies! 
LibertyTown Arts Workshop
916 Liberty Street
Fredericksburg, Virginia
or email me at
I am just vain enough to know that I look like hell, but in my defense, the Virginia summers are sheer misery for me, with crazy heat and even crazier humidity. That’s my excuse…and that’s one of the many good reasons to be in Great Britain instead.


* I think I would go to the movies if they served beer…instead if you purchase a DVD of your very own, you can watch at home with your favorite snack and beverage. And you can yell anything you’d like at the screen…only I will hear you…


Jason and I have have been pretty pleased with our tile efforts so far and I hope to take the next step with them for this firing. I started playing with books as you may remember last fall….this is the next logical step. These first two photos are the originals that we will cast in plaster…they will be 8″x8″ when finished and I imagine a fair bit of hand decorating will happen after each impression is made. I plan to make several different ones so that they won’t get repetitious if using a bunch in a row.
Ready to make 2 1/2 lb. bread plates…3 dozen and one 12 lb. bowl.
I’ve been slowly finishing the big pots that I made last week. A lot of work for someone who doesn’t think of himself as a decorator. I’ve been working on this decoration for some time…but now it has a name…”Barrel Stave”…for what I hope is obvious reasons.
I’m saving this beauty for Michael Kline to decorate when he and Ron visit!
sort of a Ray Finch homage…

Kevin Crowe makes Seriously Big Pots!

We took a field trip yesterday to visit with Kevin Crowe and now we are feeling very inspired by this master of woodburning kilns and large scale pots. He and Linda are just about the warmest, sweetest folks you could spend a day with. I only wish we had more time. 
Three of the young residents from the Cub Creek Foundation also joined us and we had a very convivial day together, taking in their wonderful home and studio, talking pots and catching up as well as sunning ourselves on the deck over a tasty lunch.
Kiln shed
This is one of two chambers that come after the big tube in front

Inside the tube/anagama chamber
Copious amounts of tea!
The kiln is about 400 cubic feet altogether…a monster of a kiln that he fires twice a year with a great team of folks who come back every year to share the experience of a prolonged firing and they’re collective knowledge of the kiln produces fantastic surfaces.

More Big Fun

Once I got to the studio I started to finish the pots from the week-end big-pot fiesta. I am always aware of where the widest point of the belly falls and you can see here a couple of different ideas.
This little treat was waiting for me today courtesy of Emily, Ellie and Maple. They were rooting around my little ‘boneyard’ in the woods when I arrived!
I like the cider jar in the back
I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel like I’m really a big pot maker, but it’s been great to devout a good chunk of time to stretching my skills. Because these are made in sections they are a much more deliberate way of working. The pots that I typically throw end up being fresher. That’s next. Can’t wait!

Winter Work

I’m working on taking the wings off into space. 5″h
We’ve barely had a winter this year until this weekend, when temperatures plummeted and a dusting of snow fell, exciting the locals into another bread and milk frenzy. We are desperate to have a good ol’ panic here in Dixie.
I liked the grid pattern that appeared on the roof
After finishing all of the 1/2 pound test pots I very logically moved on to making some (for me) huge pots…10 – 20 pound pots. I’ve got me a second wheel and a propane weed burner and I’m having a nerve racking blast. I made 4 more beauties today (not pictured) and I’ll spend a few days finishing them off. That makes 13, which, if I kept them all, would go a long way towards filling a kiln.
I have a Greek friend who spent his teens making pots in a factory there that made reproductions by hand for the tourist trade. He was amazed that I made plates and bowls and jugs and teapots…in his world each potter specialized in a particular form and scale. Tony made 6 different 2 lb. vases and couldn’t imagine making something else.
My point is …how cool is it that we can shift gears so drastically and find pleasure in exploring all kinds of form and scale. I’ll never really be a ‘big pot’ maker, but I like the challenge and this weekend has been a blast.
There’s a ‘drinking bowl’ from my tests to compare.
Once I get these finished I’ll get down to more usual things. My hands are chapped and raw and I’m ready for more.

118 Before (2/7/20)12

It’s been longer than I care to admit since I’ve been in the studio making pots…but, I expect to be getting plenty of quality time with my Shimpo Whisper Wheel in the days to come.
When I first built my kiln I did a lot of testing…after 11 firings I have a much better understanding of it’s qualities and I decided that a good way to begin this cycle was with a series of tests. I’m always looking for something new and interesting or better. So I made these little cups/shot glasses/drinking bowls, gave them each a number, and then did a series of tests. I used a half pound or less, so they are quite petite. I have always enjoyed the challenge of making small pots that are also as elegant as a normal sized pot. Not always easy. Lots of ‘finger-tip’ throwing.
I’ve mixed kaolins and fluxes, did a 21 point triaxial blend looking for a black and blue slip, and tested some mixes of ash and local clay.
See the Valentine?

Messrs. Kline and Philbeck in the House!

On what can only be described as a whirlwind visit, LibertyTown is most pleased to announce, for one night and one night only, the highwire deco(*) troupe of Michael Kline and Ron Philbeck, lately of the northernmost of the two Carolinas. These two seasoned professionals will amaze and astound you with their feats of magic….see Michael’s brushes leave marks you never thought possible….watch as Ron pulls the image of a rabbit out of his pot!!! 
Join us on the evening of March 14th as we talk about making pots, surface decoration, selling and promotion and blogging about pots. We three have yet to share the same airspace so I’m really looking forward to this visit! And there will be pots for sale…more details below. Don’t miss out!
Michael K.
Ron P.
M. Kline
R. Philbeck
Michael K.
Where: LibertyTown Arts Workshop
When: March 14, 2012 – from 6:30-9pm
Fee: $12.00 includes pizza and beer! 
Phone: 540-371-7255 or contact me via email…
Space is limited (not really…)
* I really hate the abbreviation for decoration…deco just sounds inelegant…sorry guys.

How We Move On

Maple, myself and Ellie
Thanks to everyone who has reached out since Ray’s passing…he was laid to rest on Thursday amidst a multitude of family and friends. Ray’s granddaughter Clare (that’s Joe and Trudi’s girl) is compiling a number of people’s thoughts and writing on a website and she invites you to visit.
Jason practicing his ‘limbo’ moves…he’s got a ways to go.
Or was he showing me his ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ moves?
I forget….
But, of course, life moves on and we’ve been making slow and steady progress on the new kiln. We’re set to put the arch up, but now I need a welder to assemble the frame. That might slow us down. The arch form needs to be made before long and Jason and I worked on that some today.
I like to wrap the interior wall with ceramic fiber. It acts like the Tyvec fabric that builders wrap houses with. It keeps the kiln from sucking air through the joints in the brick. I don’t use mortar so this really makes the kiln tight. I’m particularly pleased with my new and improved spyhole. Shortly after I finished my wood kiln I saw this idea and I was envious…By cutting the bricks on an angle along each side it provides a significantly bigger ‘picture’ of the interior and gives you much more latitude in where you can place the cones. It took me a while to figure out how to cut it with the wet saw/grinder method but the came out great. It’s difficult to show it in a photograph.
looking from the inside out
looking from the outside in
Tomorrow is our Empty Bowls event. I think almost 400 bowls were made and fired at LibertyTown this month. After many years it is a well oiled machine with many people doing their part. Last year we raised more than $40,000.00! And, as always, it has been sold out for days. Thanks everybody!

Laborare est Orare

    “To Work is to Pray”
    Long before I met the man, Ray Finch’s pots changed my life. On a snowy night in January, 1978, I arrived at The Guildhouse, the craft school in the Cotswolds where I had come to teach. At this point, I had been working with clay for several years while attending several universities, mostly exploring the sculptural side of ceramics. As I entered the great hall of the Guildhouse, there was a spectacular fire place in the center and above the fireplace was a large charger (that’s a platter for you Americans!) with the latin phrase above inscribed around the rim. The phrase is the motto of the Benedictine order (and the city of Cincinnati as it turns out) and it was also adopted by the founder of the Guildhouse. Mary Osborne had commissioned Ray to make this for her and it continues to be a much treasured piece. Everywhere you looked in that place were fabulous pots made by Ray, by Cardew and many of the fine potters who were part of the Winchcombe team.
    I had never before entered a world that so wholeheartedly embraced and celebrated hand made objects. I am sorry to admit that at this point I had almost no knowledge of the history of pottery in Britain. How lucky then to end up just 7 miles down the road from this extraordinary pottery and it’s wonderful people.
   When I tell the story of my own pottery life, this is the point where I mention that I had a 2-part epiphany that led to my life as a potter. The first part being my entrance into the Guildhouse and the second, when a week or two later I first visited Winchcombe. I can still recall the sound of the sliding door that opens into the workshop and the earthy smell of a place where clay is king. Of course, in those days, you first met Eddie Hopkins as you entered and Ed always had lots of to say. Meeting Ray was a bit terrifying for me, really…Quiet people often leave me unnerved and if you ever met the man, you know that quiet is his middle name. 
    Ray was an island of serenity in a vibrant workshop full of characters behind their wheels and plenty of interesting visitors that always kept it lively. Ray took it all in, but remained on the edges, rather than in the middle of things. He had a strong internal life and was content to go through his days quietly, smoking a pipe while making pots or digging potatoes. 
I have too many stories to tell about this man who shaped so much of my life…to begin with, I’m guessing that if it weren’t for Ray I wouldn’t have known any of you folks out there reading this. 
    Here are just a few little pieces of memory that make my smile and cry at the same time:
Just as I arrived Ray was exploring salt glazing for the first time. The best education I ever got was standing with Toff and him while they were figuring it all out…2 great minds solving a big puzzle. When I last saw Ray in the summer of 2010 he was still making tests and firing the salt kiln! At close to 96 years old! It is only too appropriate that I and my 2 assistants began building my new salt kiln on the very day he passed.
    I usually spent the evenings finishing off the firing of the wood kiln with Ray. The work day at the pottery would end at 4:30 when everyone went home. I would tend the kiln while Ray went into the house for his evening ‘tea’ and when he returned he would often bring with him a couple of Newcastle Brown Ales and we would then finish off the firing together into the night. I would try to be a bit quiet myself, but I’m sure that I drove him a little crazy with my questions and babbling, not that he’d have let me know that. 
    I asked him once what he thought his legacy might be….not a question that he wanted to entertain, but he answered just the same. He felt that he had spent his life refining the somewhat raw ideas that Michael Cardew brought to our consciousness…those ideas included creating a working environment for his team that had purpose and meaning as well as refining the classic forms and decoration that Cardew used.                         When the red clay at Winchcombe finally played out (it was full of lime) he adapted the Bourry firebox to stoneware temperatures. There are kilns all over the world that use this idea. I’m not sure that Ray gets the credit he deserves for that. He also found a way to bring some classic slipware decoration ideas to stoneware.
   In his later years when I’d visit we would walk over the hill just across from the pottery and talk about the landscape of the Cotswolds and the rural life that, even there in that special place has been disappearing. He wasn’t a man to express regret, he was a pragmatist about the changes that life wrought while at the same time he pursued his seemingly idyllic life as a country craftsman. He was a man firmly rooted…in that place and in his deeply felt beliefs. Ray was devout Catholic and a man of strong conviction…he was a pacifist during WWII and refused to fight. (He served with the fire brigade during the war). I’ve often thought that it takes a lot of conviction to remain a pacifist when your own homeland is under attack.
   I could go on and on here, but I won’t. Most of you have probably given up reading to this point anyway. I appreciate the kind words that have been sent my way and if you haven’t read Hollis’ or Doug’s recent writings about Ray you should. 
    Ray was a great potter and an even better man and I am so grateful to have counted him as my friend.
It always seemed to me that he lived his own life by the words ‘to work is to pray‘. His life helped me to understand what that means. Peace. 
Here are just a few of his pots in my collection. I’ve been greedy and I’m proud of it!

Stoneware jug/ earthenware creamer

look at the lids on the 2 large teapots…I switched them to show that, while made years apart and fired in different kilns, they fit each other exactly.

Ray Finch – Rest in Peace

I am so sorry to be telling you about the passing of one of the true giants of the pottery world. Ray passed away at the age of 97. I’ll write more about this wonderful man later. If you ever had the chance to know him you should count yourself fortunate. He changed my life…and many others.

Old Friends…New Look

I’m still messin’ with all these templates. The photos are an excuse to post.

Ray Finch. Building the first salt kiln. 1978.
Johnny Leach and Nick Rees salting the last firing in his old kiln. ‘1990’s?
Young people have no respect
My youngest brother, Pat and his family.
Jennifer Dyson firing Johnny’s new kiln.


Uh-oh, I just discovered a way to change all kinds of things on blogger, so look out while I amuse myself. Today’s trick is picture in picture cleverness.

Filling a Void

I always try to hunker down during the holidays and I’m just now staring to feel the energy for another year. This is always a good time for sorting out the piles of stuff that accumulate during a year and I like to think that I can see some shape to the upcoming year as I get back to the studio.
So far, this is what I’ve got in mind.
Jason and I will make a serious effort to build the new salt kiln this winter.
I believe a couple of blogging gentlemen from NC will be visiting LibertyTown in early March for some sort of festivities.
I plan to spend the summer with my ever growing group of friends in Great Britain.
I’m also planning an event to be held in Washington DC (our nation’s capital!) next autumn. It’s still top secret, but watch these pages for further information.
And, of course, there are pots to make, kilns to fill and miles to go before I sleep.
I hope that you are all well and that you are ready for another big year. Thanks for staying tuned! Dan


11-9-47  “It will be some time before I can find time to reply. Visitors are incessant & correspondence so heavy that I cannot get more than 1/3 of my workshop hours for actual pot making. If I send you photos & publications etc. can I depend upon their early return-some are irreplaceable & all take time to get out?”
Sincerely, Bernard Leach

I have previously stated on this here blog that I am the luckiest man you’ll know…certainly the richest…and while I don’t do a lot of gift exchanging at Christmas, there are a few treats this year that are worth noting. The post card above is a real treasure…Bernard Leach complaining just like I do…never enough time to make pots! (you’ll have to ask Hollis to tell you the story about Leach that Byron Temple told us years ago!?!)

Life is good anytime a package shows up delivered by the Royal Mail. This one arrived courtesy of that wee red-headed lass in Scotland…strong tea, ornaments for all the friends that she made here (and Kit Kats!) Thank you, my dear!
Any day spent with Ellie is a gift!
Years ago when I had a big black beard a friend made a bunch of ‘Dan Santas’. I drag this one out most years.

I’m tempted to write something sentimental here about ALL the gifts that come my way each day, but let’s not get weepy here. I am feeling very grateful these days for all kinds of things, including those of you who take the time to visit with me here. 


“LIDDED BOX” Cedar burl and clay.
Earlier this year I began what is becoming a very fruitful project with my friend Frank. I hand him some random birds and he turns his imagination on! 
“LIDDED BOX”  lump of Coal and Clay
It’ difficult to see, but Frank has turned a small container into this.

A Perfect Pot

Of course there is no such thing, but it is the striving that keeps me moving forward. 
18″ tall…it’s (still) my favorite from firing #11.
Vase with 4 Handles… 19″ tall
4 Handled Platter…16″ wide
I fear that many of my friends misinterpret that fact that I’m never really satisfied with my work. When we unload the kiln I seldom find the ‘good’ pots very interesting…they’ve done their job as they should…it’s the things that don’t come out right that are intriguing…it’s the mishaps that present puzzles to be solved. It’s one of the reasons that I needed to move from gas firing to wood…I’m a man who needs a problem to solve!

Ask Mr. Finnegan

I never know what the proper protocol for replying to questions left by commentators is….here are a couple of answers to recent questions…
Loren asked about the tiles that we put on the bagwall:
There’s no doubt that putting all the tiles on the bagwall altered the flame path as it passed through the gaps between…we lowered the bagwall first, and my plan is to replace the tiles each firing. There seemed to be a lot more velocity to the flame as it passed through the narrow gaps. The pots just inside of the tiles were quite blasted with both ash and salt!
Several folks asked about how I define a ‘standard’ sized teapot. I make up to 6 different sizes of teapots (I wish more folks bought them!) so over the years they have all gotten different names. Mini, 1 cup, small, standard, large and extra large (sometimes known as megatron). The standard size is for sharing; it holds 3 pints of nectar!
And then there is the Kit Kat question. For all of my fellow Kit Kat lovers out there…I suggest that you contact your local elected representative and lobby them to break the embargo. Over the big pond in the land of Hannah and Doug and Paul and Toff and Georgie (you get the idea) the shops are full of orange flavored…and mint…and caramel…and dark chocolate!?  Here at home, milk chocolate is our only choice. Maybe if we refuse to pay the Kit Kat tax and hurl them into the harbor we can bring about change.
Stay tuned for more answers from our new show here at DFSP when “Ask Mr. Finnegan” returns for another installment.

Pots, Pets and Poultry

Lots of big ash on a standard size teapot.
A beekeeper needs to make honey pots
Small teapot
Standard Teapot
Miss Moneypenny chillin’
They came from the woods and through the grass. Runaway chickens

A Few Useful Things

These are just a few of the 100’s of pots that were in the last firing.
This is just a small (6″) ‘off-center’ cruet…but I love the gesture.
Small (and tiny) flasks.

A Few Birds from #11

my favorite
‘A Lurking Sympathy’ 
A Flock of Vases
Butter Dish
Pedestal Bowl w/ 4 Birds 
World’s Smallest Birds…(That’s a penny in front!)
Pedestal Bowl w/ 2 Birds

Selling Pots

Jeremy Gann’s “Dali” in the background.
After the hectic pace leading up to a firing, sitting with a good book, cups of tea and orange flavored Kit Kats sounds mighty appealing. But, of course, that’s a fairy tale. The truth is that we went straight from firing # 11 to a complete overhaul of the gallery at Libertytown in preparation for our opening on First Friday.
We had a preview on Thursday for our ‘Friends’ and quite a few new ‘birds’ flew the coop. All the littlest ones sold in the first half hour and then ‘the tree’ sold to some local collectors which made for a great start to the season.
Kathleen Walsh, Elizabeth Seaver, Rita Brown
In addition to new work from my latest firing we opened up our first annual “Really Big Show” with great oversized work by 7 LibertyTown Artists. AND we had our 7th (or 8th)  student pottery sale which was a huge hit. Folks line up before we open at 5pm and some take out bags to their car, then return for another armful.
Very early the next morning I hopped in the car and drove to Demarest, New Jersey to visit the ’37th Annual Pottery Show and Sale’. This has been a very successful sale for an ever changing group of potters for a long time. It is a fundraiser for the ‘Art School at Old Church’ organized by Karen Karnes and Mikhail Zakin, 2 of the ‘grande dames’ of American ceramics. They invite a couple of dozen mostly useful potmakers to set up inside the intimate confines of this quirky building. 
Mark Shapiro
I saw lots of old friends including Mark Shapiro, Matt Kelleher, Michael Hunt, Naomi Dalglish, Jenny Mendes and I met Jack Troy for the first time which was a real honor.
I bought a fabulous teapot from Ryan Greenheck and I know it’s a great show when it’s difficult to choose which teapot to buy! I almost chose two…there was nary a teapot worth the name when I visited the Philly Museum show last month so I could have justified another.
 I am beginning to plan a show of the same scale and quality in Washington , DC, next fall and I’ve been checking out shows to learn what I can. I talked to lots of folks who gave me good insight.It’s an intimate and amazing show of great pots and people. I’m back home now and theoretically things will slow down a bit. I’ve got lots of photos of my newest work to show and I should be able to sit still and do a bit more blogging now. I miss you guys!