Oct 27 2011

Potters of Japan

Someone the first part of this video series by Peeler Ceramic Art Films, on Facebook and I thought I would share it here as well.  I’m not sure what date these originally came out, but they kind of look like they’re from the 60s or earlier.  I love seeing these older pottery documentaries and hope you do too.

Part 1:

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.

Part 2:

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it's missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe.

Oct 22 2011


I like this time of night, after everyone has gone to sleep, I can slip out to the studio and do some late night throwing.  I’ve been working on a fairly big order of mugs, and I’m over half way there.  Some mugs are in the bisque kiln as we speak, and the rest line the shelves waiting their turn.  I have to shift gears now and throw some other things. I’ve found that the gas kiln just filled with only mugs (my kiln at least) doesn’t make for a very good glaze firing.  I have to fill the kiln with pots of a variety of sizes and shapes so the flame has different paths to go, for the kiln to fire off best and most efficiently.   Spent a good chunk of the day wedging clay, weighing out balls, and prepping my wheel for another throwing cycle.  I’m ready. In fact, I am boiling the kettle right now so I can warm up my throwing water and get going.  Its so much easier to get into a groove with no interruptions.

Clay MixerThe week before I went to Canada the last time, we mixed some new batches of native clay. As you know, we use a 1915 dough mixer to do the actual mixing, but we also use a converted concrete mixer to help make a smooth clay slurry or slip.  Clay that we have ‘slaked’ down (dry clay is added to water breaks down into a slip or liquid clay) or turned into a slurry goes into the mixer first, then dry ingredients are added.  Just as when mixing bread dough, as the clay gets mixed and becomes dryer, it starts to pull together and away from the mixer walls, then its a matter of finding the right consistency you’re looking for. I like the clay to be plastic, yet still moderately soft when it comes out of the mixer.  A rough gauge to determine this is to take a small piece of clay out of the mixer,  roll it into a little coil, then twist it. If the coil breaks easily, the clay is what is considered ‘short’, and needs to mix longer. If the coil twists easily without cracking, its just the right consistency.  If mixed correctly, again, like dough, the more the clay is mixed, the better the consistency; it gives the particles more of a chance to align and become ‘plastic’ (or ‘elastic’ in consistency, in the case of bread dough).

Looking inside mixer hopper while its running

Looking inside mixer hopper while its running

Its loud and can be treacherous work, if you’re not careful. Its dusty (silica dust) too, so its important to wear a mask with a NOISH approved air filter. If you don’t have your wits about you and mess up and reach into the mixer for some reason while its going and the mixing paddle (for lack of a better word) is rotating,  before you know it, it can grab you and pull you right in. Really.  That puppy is strong and you can lose your arm or worse (!).  Sickening thought, isn’t it?  Kind of like using a pugmill. You never stick your hand in the hopper while the auger is moving, or you can say goodbye to your hand.  So much for that peaceful zenlike impression you had of making pottery!

Its a lot of work mixing your own clay, but the process doesn’t end there. After its mixed, we haul it inside where it ages some in a barrel, then it gets run through a pug mill, then I wedge it. I’ve found that despite being very careful to screen the clay, there is still a little junk left in the clay, so after it comes out of the pugmill, I wire cut the clay, pick foreign matter such as wee rocks or other undesireable bits out, and slam wedge it on my table.  Slice, pick bits out, slam the two pieces of clay down on the table.. slice, pick bits out, slam. And so it goes until the clay looks right.  Its a bit of a process, but I’d rather pick bits out now than when I’m throwing/finishing a pot, or worse yet, find popouts on pieces coming out of the kiln.  The slam wedging also helps to work air bubbles out, and helps to make the clay easier to work (easier on my wrists) when I do my final spiral wedging.  If I were just making brick or flowerpots I might not be so particular, but when the clay is going to be used for functional ware, I find its well worth the extra steps.

Oct 22 2011

Forgive me father..


Forgive me because I have not blogged in ….months.

Seems time folds when I’m busy or preoccupied.  Spring is always a flurry of activity getting ready for shows, the winding down the kiddos’ school year, and teaching obligations.  Last spring, I agreed to teach kids at a local art center and taught in an after school program at my daughters’ school, above and beyond my adult students and doing production work.

I haven’t really mentioned much about her before, but my eldest daughter, who will be 9 tomorrow, is developmentally delayed. While she can walk around, eats table food, and can belly laugh at her younger sister, she cannot talk or communicate in any typical manner, does not feed herself, and still wears diapers.  She more or less functions at the level of  a 1 yr old, in some respects, only she can walk around and hit things with the strength of a 9 year old.  Not terribly self-reliant, I’m afraid, and can’t really be left to entertain herself for any period, even when I need to work.  She goes for clinical therapy for speech/gross and fine motor skills once a week, and has been in a special ed class since the age of 3.   Its been pretty trying and I won’t say our life has been typical, by any means. When she is conscious, and home, I get little work done in the studio, as I am the principle caregiver and sometimes the only person who can snap her out of a fit or episode. Fun.

When school ended last year, and my girls were denied enrollment at the school’s summer program, I was resigned to the fact that my pottery production would have to slow down significantly in June and July. When August finally rolled around, I was relieved, but first, I had planned a trip to Canada to see my dad and situate (and hopefully ship down) some of the things I still had in storage there.

Before I left though, I learned that my dad, who is now 87, had, after struggling with his driver’s tests (in Ontario, you have to take a test to renew your license every year once you reach 80), decided to finally give up his license. He also sold his car  evenbefore my youngest daughter and I arrived

Its always shocking to see an aging parent after you haven’t seen them for a year.  My dad, who has been battling some health problems these last few years, was showing his age and slowing down quite visibly.  With the loss of his car, he wanted to sell his house and decided it was time to move into a retirement home.  (Talk about a lifestyle adjustment ..)  So the week we were there, that’s what we worked towards. Aside from packing/sorting/organizing, we listed his house and commenced showing it 2 days later, and we toured various retirement facilities about town, one of which he really liked, and the lease was signed so he could move in Sept 1. Great. My daughter and I fly out on the 10th or so, with a few days to spare before she had to go back to school.  I start gearing up mentally to work on pots…

I learned that after I left, he had had 2 falls (!). Days later, when his scheduled doctor’s appointment rolled around (he refused to go before that), the doctor, learning of of his falls, whisked him off to the hospital for xrays (thankfully no broken bones), a blood transfusion, and they admitted him for a few days to deal because of some other issues.  That was August.  Poor thing, he has been in and out of the hospital ever since.

We got word after three weeks of the house being listed that the it had sold and would be closing Sept 20.   I made plans to return to finish moving things to his room at the ‘home’, pack and ship my stuff south, take care of the rest of the house contents, etc., and do all the rest of the things in prep of the closing date.

I arrived on Sept 8, and my dad was back in the hospital. It was a difficult week to be sure, but thanks to a few very exceptional friends who came to my rescue, everything fell into place and somehow got done, and I was still able to spend some time with my dad in the hospital every day.  By some miracle, I handed the keys over to the lawyer on the 18th and was able to spend my final evening there with my dad. I had spent so much time and energy before I left for Canada the second time, making arrangements, and mentally preparing myself for the daunting task what needed to be accomplished that week, and then on actually getting it all done, that when I got back, the drive home from the airport in Pensacola seemed almost surreal.

So my dad and his situation, on top of everything else, has been, as one would expect, consuming, especially being so far away.  I’ve spent most of my studio time since I’ve been back working on orders and shows we have coming up in November.  I’m glad to say that there is talk now that my dad will be discharged back to the ‘home’ soon and will be receiving some extra care as he transitions back from the hospital.  Thank goodness there are resources and services available! Hoping we have a small reprieve until I fly back up, so I can get what I need to get done here and keep plodding forward, one day at a time.