Friday, December 31, 2010

Gam Bai

Gam Bai was a toast we learned in China that literally meant "dry glass'. So here's to you, bottom's up, down the hatch, cheers, here's lookin' at you, kid and get er' down ya! 2010 is about to end and I'm not sure I'm all that sad about that. Not that I want another year to go racing by but this one has sure been an up and down roller coaster ride from almost being stranded in Italy because of ash to a crazy hiring process at Sheridan and an economy that had moments when it was a graveyard out there and others when we were wondering if we'd have any pots left to sell.
Here are the last pots of the last kiln for 2010. They are some yunomi's destined for the invitational Yunomi Show at Akar Gallery. It opens in March but they are due now so that they can start the long process of photography.
I try to change mine each year. I always have the signature lug on the side. This year's lug bigger and better than ever. When I made them they looked like mugs sitting on saucers. I liked that since for me it was a salute to Britain and America which is the reference for my work. I am not from Japan so mine are really not yunomi's but a  mug with attached saucer and lug.
So my friends all the best of The New Year 2011.
As we start the New Year
Let's get down on our knees
to thank God that we're still on our feet.- Irish
Here's a beer and bump to all of you.
Tony and Sheila

Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa's a Wreck.

'Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck...
How to live in a world that's politically correct?
His workers no longer would answer to "Elves",
"Vertically Challenged" they were calling themselves.

And labor conditions at the north pole
Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.
Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,
Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.

And equal employment had made it quite clear
That Santa had better not use just reindeer.
So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had been removed from his sleigh;
The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.
And people had started to call for the cops
When they heard sled noises on their roof-tops.

Second-hand smoke from his pipe
had his workers quite frightened.
His fur trimmed red suit
was called "Unenlightened."

And to show you the strangeness of life's ebbs and flows,
Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose
And had gone on Geraldo, in front of the nation,
Demanding millions in over-due compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,
Who suddenly said she'd enough of this life,
Joined a self-help group, packed, and left in a whiz,
Demanding from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he'd ne'er had a notion
That making a choice could cause so much commotion.
Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,
Which meant nothing for him.
And nothing for her.

Nothing that might be construed to pollute
.Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.
Nothing that clamored or made lots of noise.
Nothing for just girls. Or just for the boys.
Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.
Nothing that's warlike or non-pacific.

No candy or sweets...they were bad for the tooth.
Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.
And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,
Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.

For they raised the hackles of those psychological
Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.
No baseball, no football...someone could get hurt;
Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.

Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passe;
And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.
So Santa just stood there, disheveled, perplexed;
He just could not figure out what to do next.

He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,
But you've got to be careful with that word today.
His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;
Nothing fully acceptable was to be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that he might
Give to all without angering the left or the right.
A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,
Each group of people, every religion;
Every ethnicity, every hue,
Everyone, everywhere...even you.

So here is that gift, it's price beyond worth...
"May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth.

"Notice:  This poem is copyright 1992 by Harvey Ehrlich.
It is free to distribute, without changes, as long as this
notice remains intact.All follow-ups, requests, comments,
questions, distribution rights, etc
should be made to .
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Are we really moving forward?

I got a note from Bobby Free yesterday about kilns. He is dismantling some old kilns and building his own.
Many of the Art schools today are ordering their kilns from Europe and they are computer assisted.  These computer systems allow remote control of the operation and even identification and problem solving by means of remote sensing. In this way the kiln manufacturer  can provide fast and efficient service worldwide by means of an external monitor. In other words you're up shit creek without a paddle if something goes wrong. Not to worry an engineer in a white lab coat will be on the next flight from Europe to help you get on track again.  Is ceramics really moving forward? Are students going to graduate from college with a tool box full of skills to make a living as studio potters? Who could afford these kilns much less the price of an airfare from the Netherlands to fix your kiln not working in Helena, Montana two weeks before your annual holiday sale?
Bobby you're doing the right thing. The kiln may or may not be pretty but the pots will be. My theory is some of the ugliest pots I've seen in my life come from the most beautiful kilns and some of the potters I know that make wonderful work have kilns that look like a pile of bricks with a chimney. Go figure!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Belly of the ROM

I had the privilege of taking the Sheridan students to the vault of the Royal Ontario Museum. The Curator of the European section had a selection of work to show us from the 1500's to the more contemporary 21st century work of Leach, Rie, Coper, Staite-Murray etc. Looking at this 500 year old work makes one wonder if we really have improved ceramics. One also has to keep in mind that all this work was fired with wood and later coal. No switches, no cones, no ramps, no high limit controllers. All done by eye!
I was very excited by this little wood fired lead glazed piggy bank. The students are all keen on having an 04 wood firing.
Here is a picture of me holding a Hans Coper vase. I always thought they were about 3 feet tall. The secret is to make small pots that look huge. I find my huge pots often look small when photographed.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I'm a Handle Whack Job

More from a handle whack job. I really never know when to stop. Handles upon handles. I almost never put clay handles on teapots though. I fear they will get broken on the faucet even before the spout does. They are also more of a nuisance to glaze but I thought should have a go at them for a change. Change is hard just before Christmas. Usually we're exhausted from pushing the clay. This year I'm exhausted from teaching and the pots are my sanctuary.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fresh Blood

I decided I had better start documenting some of my students beginning work. Yesterday I wrote to some of them asking for pics of their work so that I can archive it in my library.
Here is the work of the three that responded quickly.
Andrew Kellner- jug and plates- Andrew is the technician at the Burlington Arts Center
Lana Filappone- cups/teapot with hey check out the handles- Lana is the potter in residence at Harbourfront in Toronto
Mary MacKenzie- Aggressive Species- Mary is currently setting up her own home studio in preparation for a solo show at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.
They say the sign of a good teacher is excellent students. I'm proud of these students work. They are out there doing it-walking the walk.

Across the puddle.

A few treats arrived from Phil Rogers. Phil sent me a couple of his drawings and wee cup that I will use for bourbon. It is supposed to be a tea bowl I think but I like a handle on my tea cups. None of this holding a boiling hot cuppa  by the rim and the foot ring for this cowboy.
This has been an exchange of gifts sort of thing. When I returned from Graduate School I attempted to pay off my debt by selling some of my pottery collection. Since some of it was from the UK I sent it to Bonham's Auction House in London. All the work sold at decent prices with the exception of a ovoid vase by David Leach. It had a starting bid of 300 pounds. They wanted to return it to me at a cost of 250 pounds for shipping. That is almost $400 to pack and ship a pot. No thanks! I offered it to a friend -Phil.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Sometimes, you have to cut yourself a break. I've been doing these wooden stamp impressions and trying to get the glaze to cut me a break. I tried celedon, temmoku, ash glaze etc, etc.  I haven't settled on a glaze that pools and breaks sufficiently to really show off the pattern. So today after what seems likes weeks since I've been in the studio I painted into the impressions a Zirconium saturated glaze. My hope that this will show thru my glazes and show off all the work I've gone to. I must be out of my mind since this current work is taking me forever. Forever to stamp the cup, then forever to paint on the white glaze and then more forevers in washing the glaze off the high spots. I really think I need to give myself a raise on these cups.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mug and bowl

This past weekend at Sheridan we had our regular mug and bowl throw a thon  where alumni and faculty get together to make pots to be sold to raise money for the Clay Club which pays for guest artists, trips and travel , scholarships all and sundry to help the students in the program. Many of the great potters that we have produced showed up to make pots and three of the grad students now at Alfred showed up too. If you want to make great pots make pots.  If you want to be a teacher go to grad school. The pots of the students from the trenches were in my humble opinion by far and away the best pots in the house.
It was great to hear from the first years that were watching the proceedings say they loved the playfulness of the work being done.  They were in awe of the amount of clay being pushed, the casualness of the making and how we all pulled together for the program.
I sent a picture to my ex-student now at  Alfred about to be grad Jordan MacDonald where I piled up all the trimmings in the studio and piled them on my wheel and wrote him and said "I trimmed one of your bowls!" He answered " I bet you're glad my throwing has improved!" I threw some bowls and had Jordan do some of his casual drawings on them- they are absolutely delightful!!!! A wonderful weekend of art and craft.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Adrift at Sea

Sheila is back in the boat building business. It must be the immigrant memory of the boat ride to Canada from Scotland as a wee lass.  The latest one from the firing is the one with the angry wires sticking out from. I love the little bits of yellow glaze she put on the ends of the nichrome wire. She is having a lot of fun with the reticulated glaze by adding spoonfuls of stain and oxide by eye with no measuring. Also thanx to the advice of our clay supplier we switched to iron chromate to provide us with the black glaze. Again just add enuff chromate by eye to turn the glaze black. We had been using black stain but it was far to expensive to make a decent size batch of glaze. It is providing a rather leathery look to the surface. It's almost as if they are slippers and not boats. Yes, these are the shoes that every woman goes looking for in shoes stores across the nation that haven't been designed as of yet.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ba Humbug!

While I spent the day trying to get right side up in the pottery and spending today researching the Arts and Crafts Movement for my Art History class, Mrs. Claus was making our shop look seasonal. November and December are two of our best months in the showroom with gift giving and customers treating themselves. We fired a gas kiln yesterday full to the brim with bowls, bowls and more bowls. With my teaching gig I'm more like a part time employee around here so keeping the shop full will be a task. We'll be lucky to pull off two more firings before the day of Newcastle Brown Ale for breakfast and turkey for dinner.  The Newcastle is a toast to my late father a Geordie from Newcastle.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Upside Down

Since I got back from Cape Cod, a new quarter semester has started at Sheridan College and I have two new assignments that have pretty well turned my life upside down and hence my lack of attention to you my faithful readers. I am the Faculty Advisor for the graduating class and must whip them into shape for 4 soon upcoming gallery exhibitions. There are lots of great ideas but many are still struggling with the technical aspects of realizing what is in their mind. I also agreed to teach Ceramic Art History and this course can consume one's mind.
Home here at the studio I threw some of my "Big Rolls" and saw them today in a different way- upside down.  I think the next ones will have a thrown slab bottom and instead of adding a foot ring that will be a a gallery for a lid. These will be large jars instead of large casseroles. Often at school I turn students work upside down and it often benefits from this orientation. I think being upside down for awhile has given me a new form in my repertoire.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Handle Fanatic

My answer to almost everything at Sheridan is "It would look better with nice handles". Yes, I even put handles on plates and handles on knobs. I maintain it is harder to learn how to make handles than it is to learn to throw. Maybe it is that people don't want to take the time to learn how to pull a handle so they go buy an extruder. Not near as nice by a long shot.
I enjoyed Bobby's guest appearance. Don't worry about the he-man comment. I thought the wee peek into your day and mind was brilliant. And yeah the music sure beat The Beastie Boys. Keep up the good work, Bobby.
I was asked by Ann Kenworthy if Sheila might contribute to the blog. I asked her and she said "No!" So Ann there is Sheila's first blog title "NO!" She is a woman of few words.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Me and Bobby McFree

 It is my pleasure to turn over a page to my buddy Bobby Free. I am soooo pleased to see Bobby going for it as a potter in Montana. Me being the old bull and Bobby the young bull, it was a toss up to see which one of us was first at school to put the coffee on. We each knew we both needed our early brew and one would be there to have it brewing. Bobby could party all night and still be either #1 or #2 thru the studio door. I think we really cemented our relationship when he and Trevor carried me down  Yellow Mountain in China.  Bobby would eat the arse end of skunk if someone cooked it. He took great pride in eating dog, turtle, snake, and drinking pig's blood. He would eat anything that walked, crawled or flew except of course an airplane. Bobby being a self proclaimed ladies man he would put the hussle on any woman from 16-86. Here he is swooning the cook in China.

News from Bobby
Hello to all of Tony Clennell's devoted readers.  I’ve known Tony for
a about 3 or 4 years now and also had the pleasure of earning my
Undergrad degree while he got his Masters in Utah.  We fired kilns,
ate, drank and traveled through China together.  Tony taught me more
than I could ever ask or hope for.  He even convinced me to start a
blog.  Now that I’ve been blogging for about half a year I asked him
if I could be a guest writer…sort of spread the bfreepottery word.
Thanks a lot TC.
In this post I want to share a video I made and talk for a second
about how it came about.  First off you should know that I’m a maker.
I’m a potter.  I am completely dedicated to this way of living.  I eat
and breathe clay.  My name is Bobby.

In this post I want to share a video I made and talk for a second
about how it came about.  First off you should know that I’m a maker.
I’m a potter.  I am completely dedicated to this way of living.  I eat
and breathe clay.  My name is Bobby.

The act of making a pot doesn’t begin or end with your hands… that’s
too obvious.  Making is a continuous act of seeing. Making doesn’t
stop with seeing either.  Beyond seeing there is feeling.  Beyond
feeling is understanding.  Seeing, feeling and understanding can be
subconscious, yet they are skills that need to be developed.  How can
people develop intangible skills?  Do you know how to get to Carnegie
Hall?  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  You must actively look at
things.  And I’m not saying you need to go to an exotic place with
palm trees, or water falls or inside the latest Ceramics Monthly to
see something that makes you feel.  Chances are it’s right in front of
you.  When you’re on a hike and you look up at the most beautiful blue
sky and exclaim, “Oh what a perfect blue sky!”  Underfoot there is a
tiny blue wild flower or a grouping of rocks.

I wanted this video to be a step by step process of a new vase form
I’ve made.  While I was editing some very boring shots of myself I
noticed that the trimming section had the best light.  It had such an
amazing mood.  It felt the way I did.  I was tired and a little
lonely.  I had a kiln scheduled in a few days, so 5 am was my time to
work.  It was still dark outside and I was alone in the studio,
working quietly.  Afterwards, during the editing, I began to think
about what I was looking at. By using some different filters I started
to actively see and search for texture, line, weight, volume and over
all composition.  Like a flash I knew that the video wasn’t about me,
but what was happening around me.  It was like an invisible door
suddenly opened in front of me.  The only way to go was through it.
Instead of a “how to” video it had morphed into my own game of seeing
and into the process of understanding the way I was feeling.  Now I
get to play the roll of director, actor, composer, musician, and
potter.  This is my expression of that morning.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Rich Man's Beans and Weiners

For several years in a row I made a couple of dozen cassoles for a local winery owner for an event he called Cassoulet, Eh! I made these rather large 12 pound slightly curved bowls for the making of cassoulet. Martin Malivoire the owner of our fine neighoburing winery would give the cassoles to some of Ontario's top chef's and they would present their creations at a gala dinner in a nice Toronto restaurant. The food of course would be paired with some of Malivoire's wines and they would be judged by food critics, chefs and Sheila and I. Cassoulet was once the poor man's stew and is now a popular dish with the rich. It is a stew or casserole filled with lots and lots of fat, pork sausage, duck, goose, muton, rabbit and white haricot beans. The meal is generally cooked rather slowly.  This meal would stick to the farmer's ribs and keep them full for weeks. 
Even though Martin no longer holds the event I still have requests to make cassoles. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lobsta and Chowda!

Home from a very enjoyable workshop on Cape Cod. I was hosted by Gail Turner of Mill Stone Pottery. Gail is the real deal with a great little retail shop where she demonstrates and sells  6 days a week and if that isn't enough she takes work home to fire in her gas kiln and finds time to be El Presidenti of the Cape Cod Potters Guild. I was treated like royalty as I was fed and watered with all the seafood of my dreams. On Cape Cod any word with an "r" at the end is pronounced with an "a" "I went in my caa to a baa to buy a beeaa and a bowl of chowda and a lobsta! These were local lobsta's not ones from Alaskar. Oh, yeah if the word ends with an "a" you add an "r".
Had a day to go to the windy ocean and visit a cranberry bog. This is one very beautiful part of the world.
Thanx to Gail and the Cape Cod Potters Guild for a great time!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Double Down

Tomorrow is the last day of my quarter with the second year throwing class. We have the car kiln firing, another gas kiln and the big salt kiln. I have crits with the students in the afternoon but before we get into that we will have pot luck. They say you can judge the quality of a ceramics program by it's pot luck. Pity that I don't have enough money to take everyone the newly announced "double down' by KFC. The chicken is the bun and with bacon and cheese you got yourself a 600 calorie heart attack on a plate. My other option was to take in a Crispy Cream hamburger. A 1/4 lb burger in between to honey glazed Crispy Creme donuts. Gotta love the North American diet