Thursday, December 31, 2009

Runner cups and bobble heads

Levi and Chelsea spent the day yesterday throwing cups for the Uwharrie Mountain Run. We'll be making close to 500 pieces for the race, which takes place the first weekend in February.

Mary and I closed up the shop at 4:30 yesterday and headed to Chapel Hill to deliver 60 mugs to the TrailHeads, a running club, and then headed over to Tim Smith's for his annual New Year's Party. It was great to catch up with some people I hadn't seen for years. It was a great session with great tunes, a special presentation of the Scott Walker Bobble Head Award, great food, good stories and lots of liquid refreshment.

That's Art playing guitar and his wife Sarah behind him on hammered dulcimer. Art told me a story about when he got out of college and took a six-week trip by himself in the boundary waters of Canada. He told me that one evening he plopped into his canoe after a particularly difficult portage and fell asleep, waking up the next morning to mist rising from the lake and two backpackers appearing at the end of the same portage, one carrying a flute and the other a guitar. Art had his guitar, so the three naturally sat down and played tunes together. It was the best session he's ever experienced. "I thought we were going to levitate out of there," he said.

Me and Tim

You can't tell from the picture, but Scott's head is bobbling as he plays the fiddle.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My buddy Randall

My old buddy Randall Hill came by for a quick visit and we played a bit of music together.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Leading up to Christmas....

That's my Peter Pugger in the foreground. I'm standing in a space that had a window in it, until I broke it. This is my "future workshop." It's been my "future workshop" for quite some time now, filling up with "stuff." I'll be finishing in the near future.

Mary helped me out with some sanding recently. I've finished an order for 60 mugs for the "TrailHeads," a running club in the Chapel Hill area.

Norman Grey showed up with his annual bag of goodies, a dozen yummy cookies and some of his homemade bread. I smiled when I saw him bringing us our goodies Saturday.

Phillip Pollett came by and I helped him design a Christmas card.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Levi took this shot with his Droid.

Blizzturbogo: The state of confusion when driving through a blizzard created by two tractor-trailers in front of you on I-85 blowing snow in all directions, reminiscent of the feeling you get when walking along the shoreline of a beach with the water retreating back into the ocean.

Levi, my youngest son, drove most of the way home, from Swarthmore, PA, to Asheboro, NC, reaching speeds as low as 5 mph for long stretches as we slid past stuck cars, whirling blue lights, jack-knifed big rigs and an ocassional stranded motorist right in the middle of the highway. Like water seeking the path of least resistance, three lanes of cars traversed treachorous gulleys of slush creating three pairs of parallel lines, only sometimes two lines seemed to become one line and you had to keep your wits about you until the three lanes became apparent again. And then - a motorist wizzing past tossing slush against your vehicle, one of those motorists who thinks everyone else doesn't know how to drive in snow, but ends up endangering everyone else's life so they can bully their way ahead.

We made it home, and I was proud of my son's capacity to keep his cool and maintain our bearings. I don't recommend driving in these conditions.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Southwestern Glaze

A couple of special orders spurred me into making a load of my "southwestern" glazed pots. Here's a few from the kiln. I've been decorating pots with this pattern for 20-some years, same glazes (there are six glazes involved) and same technique. I've often said this is the last time.... But I like the results, and it's probably one of or the most popular decoration I do. One of the 14-inch-wide bowls is spoken for, and one of the soul pots is spoken for, but the rest will go out on my shelves today.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Plugged my old keyboard from my iMac into my Macbook Pro and everything seems to be working.


The pictures in the post below are of a small wad of clay the size of my fingertip that I threw against some weathered wood on the outside of one of my workshops. I first picture is illuminated by light filtering through a Killian's beer bottle.




Monday, December 7, 2009

New horse hair pots

I had two special orders for horse hair pots. For those who are unfamiliar with horse hair pots, they are pots that are fired to a low temperature and taken out of the heat, then adorned with horse hair. The hair is laid onto the surface of the hot pot and burns into the clay, leaving behind both subtle and striking surface decoration. These pots are decorative, as they are low-fired and fragile.

I'm not sure if this is true, but I've heard that native Americans used to honor their fallen war horses with horse hair pots. In the pictures, the shorter piece on the far left is a special order for Silva, a beloved horse who passed away in November at the age of 30 years. "She taught many children to ride and had the patience of a saint," said its owner who mailed me a bit of mane to use on the pot.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Getting a handle on refining my handles

Handles can be a real pain to learn to create. I drank some coffee from an early mug of mine at my father's farm in Waxhaw, NC, this Thanksgiving. While I enjoyed the experience, I wouldn't think of using such a mug if it weren't mine. The handle was skinny, ugly and had sharp edges. The picture above shows one of my latest handles on a small pitcher.

While scrutinizing some pots from my first two firings in my Manabigama wood-fired kiln, I began to think the way I handled pots might need some alterations. In firing in a atmosphere designed for natural ash and flashing, every nuance on the outside of a pot might be displayed once the pot is "decorated" by the flame.

With glazes, I learned to leave behind subtle traces of finger swipes and such which I felt were enhanced by glaze coverage. While perusing handled pots from my first wood-firings, I began to wonder if I needed to clean up or alter my handling.

Handle on left from wood-firing; on right, from glaze firing

I may be barking up the wrong tree on this, or I may change my mind, or it might be for other reasons that I find myself in this conundrum, but I am always looking at my work with a critical eye. Subtle changes to pots can have an acute effect on the way a pot looks, and new possibilities intrigue me.

Perhaps, it's got something to do with bringing my pots up to a newer level of craftsmanship out of respect for the newer method of firing, or out of respect for the fire.

My usual way of attaching a handle

A more 'refined' way of attaching a handle

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Throwing hands

My son, Levi, texted me the other day and asked if I could send him a picture of some hands throwing a pot, so after searching my computer and sending a few, I decided to throw a few pots and take some pictures myself and send them. He's a junior at Swarthmore College outside Philly, and he's taking a print-making course. I'll be interested in seeing what he comes up with.

I've been working on special orders this week, and eating lots of left over turkey.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Catching up with children, special orders

Smelling turkey baking in the oven as I relax on Thanksgiving Day 2009, waiting for my children to arrive so we can feast and catch up on the latest news. I'm working on some special orders this week, a couple of large tree platters, some horse hair jars and mugs for the "Trailheads," a nearby running club, but I won't be getting back to work until Monday.

Burnished jars still drying

Mugs for runners

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Celebration Setup

Setup at the Celebration of Seagrove Potters took place this afternoon. I set up my camera and used the "intervalometer" setting on my Canon S3 to shoot a picture every 10 minutes. I could only get one aisle in the camera viewfinder. Wish I had a fisheye lense.

Anyway, here it is:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Second firing

Flames billow out of kiln,
bursting with brilliance.

Firing number two went pretty well, as far as I can tell. My wife, Mary, and I stoked from 6 .m. until 9:20 p.m. We were exhausted, as we had spent the previous day loading (and last-minute glazing) until 10 p.m.

We attempted to fire the same as the first firing, stoking every 10 minutes or so, with a neutral environment, then heavy reduction the last two or three hours. We slowed the firing down for the first 1,000 degrees as we had a large raw pot inside. Cone 13 was tipping in the front and cone 10 was tipping in the back when we sealed up the kiln, which we did more efficiently than the first time. I was a bit worried when flames started forming as in the picture above, but they slowly subsided and they weren't near any wood.

Peaking inside tonight, I believe we had cooler pots toward the back than the first time. I saw one pot with a heavy coat of terra sigilatta that looked interesting. We'll unload Wednesday, clean up the pots and pack them up for taking them to Seagrove Thursday for the Celebration of Seagrove Potters.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Second firing in Manabigama underway

Sparks fly during early stoking.

I packed my pots a little tighter in the second kiln firing in my Manabigama, preheating overnight with one burner just because of all the rain we had recently. I'll have plenty of wood-fired pots for the second annual Celebration of Seagrove Potters this coming weekend.

I've participated in many wood firings, but this is the first kiln I've fired by myself that wasn't an electric kiln. So, I'm still learning. Thank you John Thies for answering all my questions and guiding me through the process of building the kiln. Following John's suggestions on firing the kiln that he and others designed, I fired my first load successfully and the results were excellent. Being color challenged in red, green, browns, I've had to rely on others to tell me about the beautiful subtle colors on the pots. I can see them, but I don't know what color they are.

I'm firing this load of pots in the same manner as the previous firing, hoping for similar results. We'll see soon. Like the first firing, most of the pots are only glazed on the inside, allowing the flame and ash to decorate the pots. I'm looking forward to many successful firings.

Hope to see some of you at the Celebration.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Inside the kiln

The weather was crap today for unloading my first firing, but I went ahead on schedule. I had to work in the rain and secure a big piece of black plastic and some tin around the kiln to keep the driving rain from soaking everything.

Everyone was pleased with the results. Two large platters came out beautiful, but the one extra thick one that I set on its side cracked, as well as a nice bottle in the front. We had some beautiful results, and I'll share some individual pictures, but for now, here's what we found when we opened up the kiln.

I had already taken out several small pots through the stoke hole.

Big platter that cracked on the left

Well done. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Unloading Wednesday

I'll be unloading the kiln tomorrow afternoon. Someone's filming the unloading as a high school project, so we'll wait until he can get here.

First Pot

I lifted this pot out with a long iron tooth pick of sorts
that the blacksmith fashioned for me, the first pot
out of the kiln, and the experience of pulling it out and
examining it hit me a few minutes later after taking
a picture of it and sitting down in front of my
laptop computer to view the picture.

"Moments are the sum of all the previous moments we've experienced."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Successful First Firing

Early stoking

A group of soul pots tumble-stacked on the left

Me and Morgan just after a stoke

Looking inside a grate pipe, filled with castable - center is hollow.

Can anyone guess who this stoker is (nearing the end of firing)?

Thank you Phillip Pollet, Jared Zehmer, Morgan Hatfield, David Steumpfle, Andres Allik, Wil Mahan, Mary Holmes and Susan McGehee for helping out with my first-ever wood firing. We bent cone 13 in the front and 10 in the back and sealed up the kiln at around 6:45 p.m. yesterday, about a 14-hour firing. Mary served some Irish stew and bean soup afterward, and our friends Jack and Donna from Aberdeen brought handmade ravioli which we ate for lunch.

Only a couple of incidents:

Morgan was stoking the kiln while I went for coffee in the morning and when I got back, he said there was a big "boom" that shook the ground. We found a stress crack in the concrete which seemed to have developed under the firebox. I believe it was caused by a wet spot that formed under the firebox when the grate pipes dripped condensation all night long during preheating, resulting from the curing of castable that was packed inside the pipes. Hopefully, the crack is nothing to worry about.

Phillip and I scrambled around relocating the chain that held our stoking door after swelling of the kiln door made it impossible to slide the chain to open the door.

We overstoked a couple of times and lost temperature while we waited for the wood to burn down.

We will let the kiln cool today and begin opening it up Tuesday.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Kiln Intimacy

Phil coats the floor of the kiln with 'kiln wash.'

Anticipation replaced apprehensiveness today as Phillip Pollet and I spent the day preparing pots and kiln shelves and posts, applying a coat of alumina hydroxide/kaolin to the shelves and posts and kiln floor to protect from glazes and the caustic ingredients of wood combustion. Tomorrow, I'll glaze the rest of my pots and start loading the kiln.

I stood at the mouth of my kiln, peering inside - as I've done many times in the past weeks - envisioning the flame swirling around pots. I felt something beyond a sense of accomplishment, something more akin to entitlement - permission from the kiln gods to proceed. It's hard to put into words, but there's something very personal about building a kiln brick by brick, preparing stacks of wood with which to fire it - a sense of intimacy with the materials.

I went over David Steumpfle's to borrow a propane burner today and saw the progress on his wood-fired kiln. It's a beauty. Curvaceous.

Andres Allik, potter and kiln builder from Estonia, was busy slicing through a large refractory block with a wet saw. He picked up the block to bring it to the chimney area of David's kiln, and I told him the kiln is beautiful. He smiled.

"I said to Nancy (David's wife) this morning, 'I think David has a new girlfriend,'" he said.

David stands inside his new kiln. The holes on the right are for 'side stoking.'

Adding more wood to the mix

I bought a new 10-inch blade for Susan's chop saw, which she is using in the picture above, to cut up some pine slabs to add to the mix of wood that I will be firing the new kiln with Sunday. I sliced through a few of the larger slabs with my electric chain saw.

I'll be glazing a few pots today and loading pots tomorrow, preheating starting late Saturday night with propane, as I've got to maintain a 300-degree temperature for about eight hours to cure the castable key in the arch and the castable in the grate pipe.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Two videos: goblettes and 'minding spots'

Video clip below

I hadn't posted anything on Youtube in a while, so I filmed myself throwing a few what I call "goblettes" yesterday and posted them on Youtube. Checking out the clip later, I clicked on one of those links to other videos they put at the end of your clips and discovered this young lady in Australia who does a great little commentary on a regular basis. She's got the top spot on Youtube for subscribers, 445,908, and more than 22 million people have viewed her clips since she started "vlogging" (video blogging). There's not a way to embed her videos (I did manage to get her snapshot at the right), so here's a link to one of her "vlogs" about friends that ask you to "mind my spot."

And here's my video on throwing "goblettes."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Preparations and pressure continue

There's no going back. I've committed myself. But I'm apprehensive about the transition from firing electrically to firing with wood.

Yesterday, I spent an hour or so stacking a pile of hardwood with my wife, Mary, thinking, "There's so much preparation with a wood kiln." I tried to get into the zen of stacking wood, but I just wanted to get it done so I could get back to my wheel and make some small pots for the first firing in my Manabigama. It's that time of year when I feel pushed to produce as much pottery in as little time as possible.

I've still got to cut shelves, figure out posts for shelves, complete the grates for the firebox....

Choosing the next pot for the bisque kiln. Pots above are bisque-fired, ready for a little glazing. Most will go in the kiln as is. Maybe some glaze inside, but I'm going to allow the kiln firing to do most of the decorating.

Loading a bisque kiln. I'm bisque firing all the pieces for this firing, but in the future I will be firing raw pieces. I just want to get a feel for the kiln first.

Stacking more wood

I need to add some pine to this and I'll be ready.