Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Smokin' Grass

If you don’t have a Robin “Grass” Hopper in your collection and you think you should have I have to tell ya there are still a bunch of beauties in his shop. This dude has made some pretty amazing pots in his life and the depth of form and colour is mind blowing. In fact there were more killer pots this time because when I last was out here Grass was still throwing production ware. You all know when ya pick something up, ya have to put something down. He decided no more mugs, no more kitchenware. He also put away some favourites from the various prestigious shows he was in and now they are for sale.  Many of these pots really smoke!
Many Canadians would like to have a Jack Shadbolt, a Tom Thomson, a Alex Coville, an Allan Sapp or other such notable painter in their collection. If you are a potter your collection needs to  North America’s  Hall of Famers.

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There was a selection of Oribe inspired pots in the showroom that I really loved. Filet mignon taste and a hamburger budget.
I’m sitting in the Shadbolt Centre waiting for the Train gang to arrive. I was up early since I am anxious to get in the kiln. It is like the first day of teaching, or the anticipation of giving a public talk or the birth of your child. You have prepared for this moment and yet it still has you on edge. Will Murphy’s Law show up or will the wood hit the ball?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Robbin the rich

I landed on Vancouver Island to be picked up by one of Canada's best salt/soda firers Cathi Jefferson. Cathi should have a pot in any serious collectors stash of pots. Cathi let me drive her sexy Mazda Miata down the winding narrow roads to Chosin' Pottery home of Robin "Grass" Hopper and Judi Dyelle. We had a wonderful seafood chowder dinner surrounded by a collection of over a 1000 notable pots. Here is one cupboard loaded with pots that I'll let you do the guessing game with. If you can't name at least 4 makers you need to stay after school for some private tutoring.
It was Robin Hood's mission to rob the rich to feed the poor. Grass and Judi aren't rich in money but are loaded with great art and books. I don't think I need mention the surrounding gardens.   I made out like a bandit. Their generousity of gift and kind are heart felt. I had told Grass that the plate on my favourite book of his "Makin' Marks" was such a great example of his skillful brushwork. As it turned out Grass had put away the sister of that plate some many years ago and it was presented to me as a gift. I hope it fills my home with the wonderful energy I felt in their home. Grass also knew I was a fan of two old UK curmudgeons Harry Davis and Richard Batterham. They packed up a Harrry Davis luncheon plate and a Richard Batterham egg baker along with my killer bowl. What a wonderful day and night

Monday, September 28, 2015

Teach to learn

It seems whenever I go somewhere to teach a workshop I end up coming home having learned something new. I like this Ted Neal invention for scrubbing a soft brick to make it fit the door. It is a piece of 2 x 4 with a bunch of bottle caps screwed on it. You get to share a couple of beers with friends and recycle the caps and put them to good use. This works sooooo much better than rubbing the brick on a cement floor which I have done for years.
Because it was Culture Day at the Shadbolt Centre we had to keep the smoke down. Every time we did a stoke that was a bit on the heavy side the chimney would belch black smoke. John Neely is just across the border and I could actually feel his disapproval North of 49. The cure for the smoke was to throw a litre of water in the firebox. Just like magic the smoke would disappear. I recommend all USU students keep a pail of water handy so when that tall figure of a man with arms crossed at the window is watching over the firing you can clear things up rather quickly. The train gang cut, split and stacked the wood rather nicely for the firing. Easy to move around with a pallet jack. This is one of the easiest firings I have ever experienced. I'm on the ferry going over to the island to be picked up by Cathi Jefferson in her sexy Mazda Miata and then off to spend the night with Grass and Judi. Can't wait to see the old beans.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Train Gang- Shadbolt Train Station

It is Culture Day here at the Shadbolt Centre and there are hundreds of people visiting while we pull the train outta the station. Many have rushed up the hill to tell us we are having a major chimney fire. How do you stop a train??????? That has been the puzzle of the day as this kiln just wants to move. We have had Cone 12 at the front for some time now and the back has evened out with a good Cone 10 bend. It is a combination of a beautifully designed/built kiln, a great crew and some wood that goes off like kindling. Everything around here is so clean and well organized. I was embarassed to see Jay the teacher/tech going around with a spray bottle to clean the carbon off the kiln as we fired it. He can't help himself. I think the kiln is the car he wished he owned. Linda Doherty has been an amazing help here. She does it all and wants to be part of everything right from the get go. What an amazing energizer bunny. After we shut the kiln down they had pizza ready to cook in the pizza oven by the wood kiln. This was another of Ted Neal's constructions so it too is picture perfect. Today I do a making demo so I hope they don't all fall asleep on me.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Wild Rice

Yesterday my new found stoking buddy Frank " The Shark" Turco took me to visit the studio of Keith and Celia Rice- Jones in an urban area of Burnaby. They have a fabulous studio and house complete with gas car kiln and soda kiln. The garden is littered with some incredible sculptures of Keith's. I love the scale of his work. Keith is the sculptor and Celia is the pot maker. Both are extremely talented artists making some awesome work. We had tea in a house full of great pots- yes Richard Batterham of the UK was present and some great work by Aussie Paul Davis that I had not seen before.  Check out their website I keep tellin' ya how blessed I am to meet so many fabulous people in the clay family.
Last night at my talk I had a wee bit of Sheridan alumni present - Alwyn O'Brien who was my student in the first year of my teaching some 15 years ago, Freddie Rahn, Sarah Coote and my collegue Ying- Yeuh  Chuang who is now teaching here full time. Good things for good people. The train kiln is firing now and we have the luxury of trying to hold it back. It is hard to stop a train. Cone 12 has been down at the front for sometime and we have 9 down at the very back. We will work away at evening the kiln out. ETA is 4 o'clock so we have 4 hours of holding to come.  The train gang are all excellent. This is the easiest firing I have ever had. Toot, toot!

Friday, September 25, 2015

There's somthing about them

I am lucky enough to be billeted in the home of Gillian and Allan McMillan while at the Shadbolt Center doing my workshop. As chance would have it Gillian was born a few miles away from the UK pottery of Richard Batterham who is my all time favourite potter- EVER! There is something about this work that makes me love it. I think it was having looked at Batterham's pots that initially twigged my interest in expressive trimming. He puts on a damn fine handle as well. Andrew you would love this little jar which is like the bigger one I have but it is even nicer. Mine, I think being soft mint green is most likely pine ash where I think this small one could be something like walnut. It breaks on the high points into a warm chestunut brown. I have fondled it each morning and will until the day I leave. It is a little beauty! The creamer you can't appreciate the glaze but I think it was dipped in a local ditch clay(earthenware) and then glazed in one of his beautiful ash glazes. I have had a coffee out of his little cup. I love the size of the cup. I can't seem to sell small cups as people think they aren't getting their monies worth and think bigger is better. One of life's small pleasures is to wake up to nice pots.  Andrew- Stay honest to your pots while at WVU. I know you share my love of Batterham's work.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cat herding graduation diploma

At the end of 2015 I hope to qualify for my Cat Herding Graduation Diploma. Today we are glazing for the train kiln and there are a bunch of pots to be glazed and wadded. To add to all the confusion there are probably at least 15 different shinos. Oh but I wanted to try the Svend Bayer shino and it isn't here! So many shino options the cats are chasing their tails. It is a wonderful multi million dollar facilty here with a lake, and the most beautiful old buildings being used for galleries and all kinds of art , craft, performance, dance and music. How lucky to live close to the Shadbolt Arts Centre.

This is really the most organized ceramic group I have ever run across. The studio has a train, soda and pizza ovens built by Ted Neal. There is also raku, smoke firings, and plans for a new Blaau car kiln. Everything here is top drawer. Well, better get back to the Cat house. Actually it is more like a dog house since the wood firing team has more guys than women. Can't wait to load tomorrow and pull the train outta the station. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Planes, trains and automobiles

Yesterday I thought I would get to the Shadbolt Arts Centre in Burnaby, BC early by taking a red eye flight. I woke at 4:30 to get on the plane by 6am. Loaded on the plane only to be disembarked because of a leak of fuel in the wing. Better to find out on land than in the air. Delay of flight for 7 hours and then on to Calgary where I just got on my connecting flight. At the airport they had already rented my car because I was 6 hours late and should have phoned them. Really!!!!!!!!! How was I supposed to do that? So I went to another car rental place and got the last small car at the airport. So the plane and the car have let me down. It was a welcome sight to see a beautiful train kiln at The Shadbolt Art Centre and a great bunch of people to welcome me here. My assistant for the workshop is Freddie Rahn Sheridan College alumni. Freddie is an awesome maker and has all bases covered for my workshop here. Sheridan College has planted seeds almost everywhere I go. I am proud of this association.

I had a tour of the facility and lunch with the program assistants and the big boss. This is a multi million dollar facility. Tomorrow I will post pictures of what can be when a city gets behind the arts and actively contributes to a growing and vibrant arts community.

Monday, September 21, 2015

16 tons

16 tons, another day older and deeper in debt. - Tennessee Ernie Ford
It was my great pleasure to attend the opening of a show of clay work by my old friend Don Ross at the Ingersoll Creative Arts Center.  Don and his wife Maureen probably passed more than 16 tons of clay through their hands in a given year. In their hay day they employed 9 people and supplied pots to an international restaurant chain with locations world wide. There is still life after so many years of production. Don saw age 70 in his rear view mirror some time ago. (I'm not telling). He is still fit as a fiddle.
I often referred to Don as Canada's Harry Davis. He could make anything and make anything work. More than once he rescued me from some kind of kiln malfunction. So he has decided to make art instead of filling the room with good solid functional work. He has earned the time to step away. Congrats Don on putting such a nice finish on a remarkable career in the mud pits. It's a pleasure to know you.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Truck and silly nonsense!!!

Today while I was coiling, pinching, shurforming and building these "I don't know whats" I was thinking of my old Grade 10 French teacher Battling Bertha Andrews. I had trouble with language then and I still do.   She would hit me with a yard stick on my knuckles when I didn't know what to respond in French and yell out " That's truck and silly nonsense and I won't have it!!!! I loved English class but all else was a mystery to me.  Today when I was making these forms I thought this is truck and silly nonsense. What the hell will anyone do with these? Why don't I sit down and make some cups, or plates or casseroles???? Make life easy for yourself Mr. C. Come on man you can do cups, plates and casseroles with your eyes closed. Why are you torturing yourself? Why are you standing here loosing money? The answer is "I dunno!"
I passed Grade 10 French with a Grade of 52. In thanks mostly to my Dad who helped me do an art project that had us burning and colouring pictures into cork of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the streets of Paris.Much to my surprise and embarrassment my Dad showed up one day for French class and sat at the back of the class. I didn't get hit by the yard stick ever again. Thanks Dad I miss you so much some 35 years later.  What I learned from you is that the life of a potter is really just a bunch of truck and silly nonsense. You gave me permission to be the odd ball. It ain't so bad!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Shouldn't form come first?


I am often in awe of some of the fired surfaces that I see on Facebook. I look at the great surface and wonder why on such an uninteresting and "so what" forms. It seems there are potters that are interested with experimenting with the form and the tactility of the material and there are potters that are interested in the glazes and the colours achieved in the firing. Yes, there are potters that achieve both . It seems the wow factor of glaze and firing seem to be the rage right now. I must admit I really haven’t wanted on that train.
 I like to think form comes first.   Imagine a blind person embracing a large 100 lb moon jar made by one of the Korean masters. To wrap their arms around it and imagine they were holding on to the moon. Reach for the moon and embrace it!

I like the idea of making pots that blind people could enjoy. This could be a beautiful round moon jar such as those I drooled over in Korea or it could be a pot of mucho tactile quality such as those of Ronnie the Rat. Can you imagine the glee on the face of a blind person to have their hands discover a pig, a cat, a rat or some such critter on a tea bowl.
I’m off to the Shadbolt Arts Center in Burnaby, BC on Monday to fire a beautiful train kiln built by Ted Neal.  It will be a treat to drive a Cadillac. I made some moon jars with a twist.  A twist of the handle that is!  I’m enjoying messin’ with them. I haven’t much thought of the glaze. I figure if the form is strong enough and the pot is interesting enough then it will speak well enough for me. Check out the beauty of a unadorned beautiful moon jar- form, form, form!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Mini moons ago!

It seems like many moons ago since I was in Korea. It also seems like many moons ago since I was able to sit down and make some pots. For me it is always hard to get inspired until I see the fired product. I seem to have been rather busy with that lately and my schedule doesn't see many openings for listening to the radio and making some pots in my workshop. Sometime in early November which is getting kinda late for Santa I have some making time.
Here are some nice little mini moons and some other pots that are available at the opening of wood fired work at The General The opening is today so it is late notice although online is always an option. I can't attend the opening as it is a 6 hour drive one way and I teach a class tomorrow. This is the best pot shop in the country so go if ya can.

Unfortunately it also means I will miss the talk/presentation by Emma Smith and Unha Hill at The Carnegie Gallery Monday night on our fabulous trip to Korea. Hey both these events are worth the price of admission, so run don't walk if you have a chance. Oh yeah, admission is free so you can buy some pots with the money that is burning a hole in your pocket. Photo credit- Richard Skrobecki -co-owner of The General Fine Crafts.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Packin' it up!

This is the first Labour Day in 15 years when I wasn’t planning on getting up early to head into Sheridan College to meet a new group of eager faces. I will miss the students and the friendship of the many staff I grew to love at the college. Two of my ceramic heroes Grass Hopper and Ronnie the Rat Meyers both left teaching to make the best work of their careers and to teach more students than possible in a school setting. A life on the road and the studio is the road they followed. They paved much of that road for me.
I  spent the day avoiding the 40 degree heat in my basement packing pots for Rochester. I never feel I have my best. It is always in the next firing.
I head out to BC to teach a workshop and fire a train kiln in a couple of weeks. Trying to hook up with two of my favourite Canadian potters Cathi Jefferson and Jan Phelan.  As well I plan to visit Grass and Judi so the crazy pace continues. Home from BC and then off to Rochester to stay with Dick Aerni and Carolyn Dilcher- Stutz to do the  Flower City Invitational Potters Show Going to be in the presence of so many of the best in the country. I hope I don’t spend all my money on pots. It is a slight addiction of mine. I get home for a few days and then off to La Meridiana in beautiful Tuscany. We have a small group so it will be intimate and I’ll get a chance to work along side of everyone. There is

room if you have the urge.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Mud, sweat and beers!

Tradition after a firing is to gather for a crit of the work and talk about what we did right and what went wrong. What work sings and what work groans.  Our group is shrinking in numbers because it has called for such a large commitment.  Each firing takes the better part of a week outta your life and all eyes are on you and your work. I’ve always said “ You can shit the fans but ya can’t shit the players!” Players know the game, the rules and what is a walk and what is a home run.   It is one thing to sell a pot but to sell a pot to a potter is a whole other very discriminating audience. Ya, that may well be the home run.
We are getting a steady diet of looking at and discussing each others work. It is easy to make something and have your Aunt Harriet buy it or have the neighbours think you are soooooo talented and clever. Trouble with an honest critique is ya gotta be able to handle the truth.
From the movie “ A Few Good Men” with Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise-
Kaffee: I want the truth!”
Col: Jessop: “You can’t handle the truth!”
Does it look like a good critique is all that painful? It’s not, if you can handle the truth! It also so depends on trusting the source of the truth. We have gotten to know each other pretty well over the past year and there is trust. A year ago I couldn't sleep at night. Now, I sleep longer.  I always thought that the key to good teaching is honesty and trust. It is in place and

growth in the work is accelerating.
Photos are by our Wall of Flame photographer- Richard Rowe