Thursday, June 30, 2016

Itinerant as a Tinker

As chance would have it I am plum out of my stoneware and have stooped to using porcelain. Perhaps no coincidence that I am also reading “The White Road” by Edmund de Waal. The first section on Jingdezhen was amazing as I recalled my 4 months there with the USU gang and memories flooded back. I’m now in England and South Carolina in search of the white earth.
I just love Wedgewood’s description of potters as cussed and independent. “This instability leads to short contracts, to potters off and away to the next place, as itinerant as tinkers, travelling tinsmiths, [preachers without a congregation), dogs.
I usually start by making some small pots as sketches for larger ones. If I poke the bottom in 4 places it gives me a flower pattern when trimming. I then give the foot a few bumps to create what I call a peony foot. I have not the foggiest idea what a peony even looks like but it gets the women. 

Colour shows up better on white and since I’m into colour this summer the porcelain is a good choice. At Peter’s Valley some of the student’s wood fired some Jack Troy porcelain and it was killer with shino. It almost looked like they glazed the pots in gold. I brought home a box of clay and am making some teapots to fire in Donovan’s kiln in Minnesota a couple of weeks from now.  Who said potters are as itinerant as tinkers!!!!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It used to be the "Norm"

I'm listing what were the hopes for a long studio life for my old buddy Normie Wheeler. We all hope we will enter our sunset years with our heads nodding and our wheels turning ever so slowly.  I don't know anyone that retires from pottery because they have something better to do. Sometimes it's health as in the case of Norm. The old body just won't do what the mind wants it to do. A life time of hard core athletics has left Norm painfully arthritic.
Norm is passing his wood kiln along to a couple of my mentee's that have a promising future. Sorry to see Norm go just when there seems to be a prairie fire of wood kilns being built across the province and the nation. Wood firing seems to be finally catching fire.  I'm sure he'll turn up to toss sticks.
When I built my wood kiln some 38 years ago there were few.  Ruth McKinley and a guy named Larry Davidson that made great pots. The market wasn't ready for his wood fired pots and he too left the bizz to become one of the most noted gardeners in the country.
The best pots in my 65 year history are being made today.  The quality of wood firing has advanced leap years in such a short time. One can lament on the great wood pots of history but I'm going to give a shout out to those making pots today. There are some great makers coming up and some of the oldies are still stepping up to the plate.
Sorry to see ya go Norm. Check out Norm's dough mixer. Who today makes their own clay??? 38 years ago it used to be the "norm". My uncle Jimmie used to say why would you pay for someone to add water.  You're paying for water!!! Best wishes, Norm.  Bon feu!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Neglecting the ones you love

I've had 7 weeks of visitors, workshops and breathing out. I poured myself a gin and sat down on the couch and faced my buddy Jack. I thought holy shit I don't come home to a beauty wrapped in Saran Wrap or a leopard skin camisole. I come home to my buddy Jack and I have been too busy attending to all kinds of things rather than him.  He loves me and I love him. So I went out to the beer store and bought him his favourite IPA - Headstock from Burlington Craft Breweries. Last time Jack and I talked was about different colours of paint for all the doors in my house. I had been told for saleability I should paint everything white or beige. Shit, I'm an artist I don't want a hospital ward. I want a home that reflects me. So I'm going to have a red, yellow, turquoise, blue and black door.
I was also told I lead a disjointed life- here, there and everywhere. What ever makes a person thing that? I'm home for almost 3 weeks to get pots ready for a show at Tom and Betsy Wirts in Minnesota, a firing with my buddy Donovan Palmquist also in Minnesota and then a show and workshop in The Hamptons in August. Many years ago as a student we had the legendary Harry Davis do a workshop. He said' Unless you have independent means learn how to make cups, bowls and creamers and make them bloody fast!" Hey Harry I'm eating off  your plate tonight given to me by Robin" Grass" Hopper. It is a no nonsense plate and the pick of the litter in The Cactus Lounge.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Life's Muddy Road

 Followed life’s muddy road from Peter’s Valley back to Aylmer to find a Rat imposter at the traffic lights here in town. Ronnie the Rat is famous up here North of 49. The muddy road took me from my friend Bruce Dehnert in NJ to my friend and tireless editor Lois Wilkins in Pennsylvania and then on up to visit the Rat family( Ron and Hester) in NY.  We sat on the beach and watched a Lake Erie sunset for at least a half hour. It was one of those rare moments lately of breathing in.
 I filled up my tank at a gas station on a First Nation’s Reserve. Wow, I filled the car for under $20. That would be more like $50 here in The Promised Land where we pay for our sins. High prices on gas, booze and cigarettes. I am blessed to have so many friends south of the 48. Gee with the economy tanking in the UK and the US election looking rather scary all roads just may all lead to Canada.
I came home to a fustercluck of events that threw me off my mojo so I went for a run this morning and got eaten alive by deer flies. An itchy start to my enthusiasm for some porcelain to fire in Donovan’s wood kiln. At PV we had some lovely carbon trapping in the first chamber and some killer colour in the salt chamber.  I have a show in The Hamptons in August so I hope to get some nice wood salt porcelain outta the Minnesota kiln. Donovan fires longer than I do so I am pumped to see the results. Also with the past 7 weeks of rich living I have some pounds to sweat off.

Here is a couple of hours of throwing porcelain yunomi’s . I’m going to throw more this aft. I know how long it takes me to trim porcelain so tomorrow will be long buttttttttt it is Saturday and for the first time in months I will be at home alone to trim and listen to the Blues on a Saturday night. Life is good for those of us that know that life is good.

Monday, June 20, 2016


I'm not at Yasgar's farm but I am at Peter's Vallery firing the noborigama. The kiln is a version of the Ruggles and Ranking chamber kiln. It fires like a rocket and we have Cone 11 in 18 hours and held it for another 7 hours. The second chamber was at Cone 7 when we were finished with the first. Totally length of firing was 28 hours.  We had a peak in the kiln as we need to unload tomorrow and it looks killer. The students are all in the studio making pots after  participating in a wellness clinic that includes wine, and bourbon. We went to the local pub for a beer after class and low and behold there were the gang from blacksmithing. Great minds think alike!  My students  filled the studio with some really great pots all in one day. I have been called a slave driver. Sometimes you get a group that exudes energy- this is one! Push them to be better!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

America's Best Kept Secret

I left the Koreans behind and headed for Peter's Valley, NJ to fire off the noborigama with 11 keeners.
We have the kiln loaded and it is firing. We plan to have the kiln off by around 6pm Sunday and open it on Tuesday morning. Bruce Dehnert is a magician at

firing and cooling kilns. To offer 5 day courses he has to pull rabbits out of his hat. Bruce is one of my favourite potters. His work blows my mind. Here is a ewer in a show in the gallery at PV. This wood fired  porcelain ewer with multiple glazes and slips is a steal at $300 US. I still think Bruce is one of America's best vessel makers.  How am I supposed to make any money when I am so tempted by these great pots.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Tell Heaven

On my run thru White’s Woods this morning I came up with the meaning of life. My Uncle Jimmie the potter used to tell me that less than 15% of a potter’s time was spent doing what they love to do- throw and make pots. The rest of the time was spent in maintenance- making glazes, making clay, cleaning, grinding, etc. etc. You know the list of 182 duties from my book.
So at the beginning of the love affair with clay you go to the guild or school and you make pots. Someone else does all the maintenance. Wow, this is soooooo cool being a potter. Then you go full time and find you have sooooo little time to make pots and soooo much maintenance to attend to.
I think the same goes for relationships. In the beginning you get all dolled up, go out for dinner and good times. The maintenance is left at home either already done or waiting for your return.  Then you decide to go full time. Maintenance, maintenance, and more maintenance. You need maintenance, the house needs maintenance, the yard/garden needs maintenance, the groceries, the laundry, the car, the book work, email maintenance, friendship maintenance and on and on.
Yesterday I decided not to go for my run in White’s Woods because I had too much maintenance to do. So I forget about my own personal maintenance in favour of all the other things that need to be done. I need the run for my physical, emotional, spiritual and mental well being.  This is my hour each day that is for me and yet I see this pile of other stuff and buckle in. I even skipped my music night to do the damn taxes. Dumb, dumb, dumb!
So full time pottery, full time relationships require some potting time. Some time to be creative interesting and thoughtful. I’m too busy is a piss poor excuse. You will always be too busy..
So if you are the lucky bugger that gets to go in the studio each day and magically groceries appear and are put away, the laundry gets done and put away, the house is clean, the damn book keeping is attended to and all the maintenance of life is looked after for you I suggest when you arrive at the Pearly Gates you just say “ No thanks Pete, I found Heaven on Earth. I’ll just be movin’ along!

These are some pics of a walk Cathi Jefferson and I took in White’s Wood. Food for the soul.