Saturday, February 28, 2009

Recycling Sgraffito Tools; New Trees

Working outside on large tree platter

I still can't escape the trees. I decided to use my latest design for the Uwharrie Mountain Run on several pieces for my shop, eight dinner plates, a large platter and a large bowl. I spent at least six hours on the above platter, so don't be suprised at the price when it's hung in the show room.

The design in the middle is an ancient Celtic design representing the upper, middle and lower worlds, corresponding with the trees that surround it. I'm carving through the white procelain slip revealing the darker clay beneath it, a technique called sgraffito.

I'm using sgraffito tools purchased at ceramics stores.
The tools I use are simply "pencils" with wire loops to write with instead of lead.
I use them to sign the bottom of my pots as well. I've worn out many of the wire loops on these tools, and I decided a while back to replace the wire loops myself.

There's a copper sleeve on the tip that holds the wire loop in place. I've learned heating it up helps pull the sleeve off. The wire loop rests in two grooves on either side of the "pencil." Just pull the old wire out, bend a new one with some kind of wire, cut to size and replace. The photo above shows a tool with the sleeve taken off and the old broken wire.

I've made a couple of loops for the small limbs of my trees. The middle tool in the picture above with three tools is great to pick up a wide mark made by the tool on the left (applying greater pressure) and ending up with a thinner mark (applying less pressure). The tool on the right in the same picture is used for the very thin branches at the end of the limbs.

The longest tool in the picture on right, I use for carving the landscape around the perimeter of the platter.

The following pictures are the completed platter and a completed large bowl.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Giffin Grip Substitute?

Trimming a 'Soul Pot'

One of the things I like about being a potter is being able to practice ingenuity. I love figuring out a way to do something. My large platter flipper is one such invention.

Today, I was trimming a few soul pots on a chuck, and I used an invention of mine that I thought I'd share. It's purpose is to hold the pot in place while trimming. I know some potters swear by the Giffin Grip, but I've never used one.

The photo at right shows me grasping the tool. There's a small plastic lid set on the bottom of the pot, so the tool doesn't mark the bottom of the pot. I'm pressing down to steady the pot, while trimming with the other hand.

I used to use a finger to steady the pot, but back when I was trimming and burnishing a lot of pots on chucks, I began to develop a lump in the joint of my finger.

"This can't be good," I told myself, and thus began the process of finding a way to perform the same task without stressing the finger joint.

I tried a couple of things, then an idea struck me and on one of my next trips to the DIY store, I bought a small caster with a wheel, the kind of thing you'd screw (along with three others) to the bottom of a piece of furniture or crate or something in order to be able to roll it around the room. I got one with ball bearings in it to allow your wheels to move in any direction.

The ball bearings would allow smooth movement when I used it to help my steady my pots, I figured. I took the wheel off when I got home and crammed the "fork" that held the wheel into a large cork. I may have added some grease to the bearings.

So, no more lumps in my finger joint. I'm a happy trimmer.

The Tool (Upside down)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This Week's Work

Pieces in the Works

Here's a picture of what I've accomplished since coming back from Ireland last Wednesday night. Top shelf holds some tree work: vases, soul pot, bowls. Next shelf down, a big bowl and platter slipped in preparation for some trees; and some smaller soul pots, some slipped with a red clay (I-40 Red). Next shelf, some plates, slipped for tree work, mugs slipped for trees and some bowls for an order.

I've also got two large platters in the works. I think I'll be drawing trees today, and trimming pots tomorrow.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Three Films on Seagrove's Past Potters

C.C. Cole Vase

I don't have a big collection of old pottery, but this is one that I acquired years ago, and when I showed it to Dorothy Auman of Seagrove Pottery many years ago, she recognized it as one that her father, C.C. Cole, had made.

I was googling "Seagrove Pottery" this morning, and I came across a site ( which has three great films, glimpsing into the processes and histories of a few of the older Seagrove pottery shops. The films were produced in the mid 1980s by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, funded by the Randolph Arts Guild, and feature interviews with Dorothy and Walter Auman, Waymon Cole and Nell Cole Graves, M.L. Owen and Joe Owen, all of whom have left their mark in our community of potters in Seagrove.

Narrated by our own Dwight Holland, each film is about 15 minutes in length. I love the music as well as the footage. Many thanks to those involved in recording this slice of Seagrove's history.

If you go to the link above, click on the link in index at the top of the page for "Seagrove Pottery."

There's some footage of a young boy at the wheel toward the end of the first film (12:39), and I made a guess as to who it was, but I'm not sure. Someone else know for sure who this youngster is?

You may need RealPlayer or an equivalent to play the films.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Can't Escape the Trees

Pairc Naisiunta Chill Airne
Ireland's first national park,
created in 1932

Mary and I drove through Kilarney National Park last Thursday night. We spent the night in a hotel, and got up early the next morning to take some pictures in the daytime. The trees above reminded me of the trees that my son, Levi, created on some of the awards for the Uwharrie Mountain Run (right picture).

Mary and I got back home late Wednesday night, and I got back to pot-making Thursday and today, focusing on making some bowls and vases with my tree motif stamped on them. I've got an order for several pieces, and the bills didn't take a vacation while we did. So, it was back to work.

It felt good to get back to work. My body needed a break after working for two months on the Uwharrie Mountain Run awards. My shoulder is feeling strong.

So, I made six bowls and six vases in the past two days. Impressing the trees into the clay is quite time consuming, as is shaping the pot after stamping. The stamping distorts the pot and I've got to work slowly at getting it back into shape.

Below are some pictures of a vase that I stamped today. You can see how the shape changes as I work on it. After the stamping, I use a rubber rib to even out the distortions while the wheel is off, then I begin shaping with a wooden rib from the inside, using my left hand, while keeping the pot steady with my right pinky, I think.

I could have taken more shots of me working on the vase, but I decided at the time to just get pictures of the pot. When I'm working on shaping with the wheel on, the trees disappear when I take a picture because of the movement of the pot.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cast Iron Kettles and other Images from Ireland

When my wife Mary first moved in with me, one of the first things she set up was her kettle, an electric model: fill it with water, press the button and minutes later, you've got boiling water for your tea. The Irish love their tea.

Mary and I stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast in Ballyvaughan a couple of nights ago, and I found these three old cast iron kettles on display there, so I had to take a picture of them. The bed and breakfast owner said they're hard to come by these days. These three show their age beautifully.

Ballyvaughan is a four-pub village right on the western coast of Ireland, nestled at the edge of Galway Bay. Most of the activity is on land this time of year as the weather is quite cold, but there are a few boats here and there. These three dinghies rested in a harbor by the village. I believe the oars were handmade from fiberglass.

The craic was good as we stopped in at several pubs and heard some beautiful songs, hilarious limericks and good tunes. I sat down in Greene's Pub and played a few tunes with a small group of players while Mary connected with a couple who happened to live in Mary's hometown of Murroe.

On our way home, I quickly took shots from inside the car:

Lough Derg, Shannon River, County Clare

Kinvara, County Galway

Tractor with three bales of silage

Local Man hosing down his part of the village

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Moving beside the great mountains feeling small and feeling large at once, with energies urging us onward, gently informing us of our connection with the earth, the wind, the water and the sun. A stone statue of virgin Mary. And Mary.

Thanks be to God, they say around here.

An old timer dancing at a session, at Cooley's House, Ennistimon:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ireland update

I made this plate in 2004 for PJ Holmes, Mary's youngest brother, who opened up a convenience store in Murroe, County Limerick. He placed it on a column in the center of his store. The lettering and the knotwork was added using extruded clay. It was glazed and the glaze was sponged off of the lettering and knotwork.

PJ has done well with his store, although, he's had to let a couple of workers go recently because of the recent economic downturn in Ireland. If PJ's store can survive 2009 he figures it will be around forever. He told me the other day that customers' buying patterns are changing.

People used to eat out a lot and now they're cooking more at home, he said, and growing their own food as well.

I told him it's the same in the states.


Mary and I are headed to Ballinskelligs, a small village in the Ring of Kerry, a gorgeous penninsula sticking out into the Atlantic in southwestern Ireland, and then heading north to Ballyvaghaun, south of Galway, to find some music.

I succeeded in making a plaster form with my new master mould, although it's a bit beat up from tapping it with a hammer. More soap is needed, I think.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Crazy Kayaker on the Shannon

Kayaker on the Shannon River with old ruins in the background

Mary and I visited the University of Limerick the other day to try and find a wireless connection to the internet. While there, we went for a walk on campus, and I took a few pictures. At one point, we crossed "The Living Bridge" over the River Shannon and spotted someone kayaking the river in the freezing weather. I took a few shots and shouted to the kayaker that I'd send them to her by email if she gave me her address.

I sent the pictures and asked her why she was out in the freezing weather on the river.

She wrote back: "Well twas a nice evening and as long as you have a couple of fleeces and you keep moving, then you're fine!"

Yesteday, I attempted to make a mould with the mastermould I had someone make me last year. The mastermould is a monster of a thing. It must weigh at least 200 pounds. I soaped the thing up several times, sprinkled some "fine casting plaster" into a bucket of water, but when I began mixing, the plaster had already begun to set.

Totally disppointed, I worked like crazy to empty the setting plaster from the bucket.

I cursed, standing outside PJ's townhouse in Ros Fearna, wondering how to solve the problem.

Today, I'll call some folks and try to figure this out.

We're making some plans to travel to Ballyvaughan this week in search of some music.


Michael and Mary

Friday, February 6, 2009

Up and About in Ireland

Guiness Ad

Mary's dad is in the hospital now. He's got some trouble breathing and some low blood pressure, so the last couple of days have been spent getting her mother to and from the hospital and communicating with extended family and such. We're hoping the doctors sort it out and he's back at home soon.

I saw the advertisement for Guiness (above) at an intersection in Limerick City. I've seen it on television here before. It's all about roots, and the game of rugby. The Irish are into their roots, and they have always been into trees; speaking of which, there's a nice tree out back of Mary's home in Rathwood, Murroe, County Limerick, where the cattle were standing when we pulled into Mary's home where her parents live. I think some of them recognized us, although we were in too much of a hurry to get in and stand next to the woodstove to exchange pleasantries with the cattle.

I haven't located any Herculite (plaster recommended by a mould maker here) to make moulds for the large tree platters that I want to make here. I did go look at the master mould that is sitting in Mary's brother Mike's outbuilding. I hope to make some large plaster forms to hold the slabs of clay to make the platters, using the master mould.

Right now, I'm writing this from some hallway at the University of Limerick where I found a plug. We purchased a mobile broadband gizmo that plugs into the USB port on my laptop and topped up for a week's worth of broadband. However, Murroe - where we are staying - is too far from any 3G towers. Murroe is considered an "Out-and-about" area. Reminds me of a jig I play on flute - Out and About in the Morning.

Hope all is well in NC. Please keep Mary's father in a positive light.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Greetings from Ireland!

Subzero temperatures (Centigrade) and a lovely inch-and-a-half of snow this morning greeted Mary and I as we lumbered down the stairs to turn the heat on and start a fire in the fireplace: 'cippins', coal and peat briquettes. A look out the window revealed birds digging in the whiteness for their morning grub, birds perched in a small tree and birds fluttering about, as a pair of dogs - a Jack Russell and a Golden Lab - fought playfully over some item picked up around the rather newly constructed village of homes where we are staying while in Ireland.

I'm at a loss. I'm not able to get my 'Step Up and Down Transformer' to convert Ireland's 220 volts to the necessary 110 volts to charge up my computer. We weren't able to tap into any nearby neighbor's wireless, nor could we get dial up to work in our house, either. And the television that Mary's brother Dan gave us isn't picking up any stations.

We have been left to our own devices.

Right now, I am writing on the computer (dial-up modem) at Mary's brother's place of business - Murroe Service Station. Mary's helping her sister, Noreen, take inventory: Wisker's Pooch Pedigree, Chunky Medium Veg, Don Mio's Garlic Veg....

We flew from Charlotte, NC to London Friday night. We left Sunday as the snow began pelting down. Sunday night after eating my Irish steak, peas and potatoes (spuds), the news on the telly stated that airports in London were closing and/or flights delayed.

I'd like to get this settling in over with and get on to working on my moulds for my large tree platters. I had a master mould made last year and it's waiting in an outbuilding over at Mike's (Mary's other brother). We might make it over there tonight.

I haven't had a Guinness yet.

Mary's Aunt, Sister Laboure, is in hospital. After bypass surgery a year ago or so, she got in a car wreck, broke her leg and hasn't done well since. Mary's father (80 years old)has trouble with his memory, and is a bit slow getting around, but he still likes to organize the silver (spoons, knives and forks) and Liam (Mary's other brother) said his father recently spent the afternoon cleaning the stalls for the cattle and did a job better than Liam, himself, could ever do. I think Mary's Da' forgot he has trouble getting around.

Enough for now.

Back to my own devices. Maybe I'll play the flute.