Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reclaiming Land from the Beasts

One of the greatest benefits of tending the showroom at From the Ground Up is meeting people. I can be quite the recluse given half a chance, but all it takes to draw me out of my cave is an interesting couple like Stephen and Lisa Lindsay Young of Martin, Tennessee.

I was upstairs in our home above the showroom when I noticed a big pickup truck parked downstairs. I rushed to get my shoes on and scoot down the steps. Stephen, quite a big fellow who stood taller than my six-foot frame, asked about all the trees I had on my pots.

I explained the origin of my trees, telling him they were inspired by the Uwharrie Mountain Run and the awards that I do every year for hundreds of participants in the 8, 20 and 40-mile runs.

"I've always loved trees, and I drew a lot of trees as a child," I said. I shared the story of finding a new source of clay behind our land where someone dug a road to get to 30 acres of trees that they clear cut.

Now, I'm making pots out of that clay and "planting" trees again, I explained.

While checking out one of my wind bells out front, Stephen told me of a 100-year-old pecan tree that a previous landowner had cut down. The tree used to live on the 24 acres of land Stephen and his wife bought, but the previous owner felled the tree to make room for a double-wide mobile home.

"If they'd o' moved the house ten feet, they wouldn't have needed to cut that tree down," he said.

After the Youngs moved onto the land, neighbors told them that an old man used to come to that pecan tree every year during his late sister's birthday to pick up pecans and water the tree.

"His sister planted the tree there on her birthday," Lisa said, adding that the old man died within months of the tree being cut down.

Stephen and Lisa, who planted 7,000 trees in Texas before they moved to Tennessee, said they recently planted an orchard of 60 fruit trees on their land, as well as an acre of Timothy hay. Apple trees, cherry trees, pecan trees, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries....

Seems they don't have many rabbits, or a lot of wildlife in general on their land. So, they're making a haven for the wildlife. When they planted all the fruit trees and shrubs, neighbors told them the animals would end up eating it all.

Well, yeah.

"As far as we're concerned," said Stephen, "we're reclaiming the land from the beasts.
The animals aren't the beasts."

Lisa posted signs on the property, said Stephen, that say "Poachers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again."

Did I mention rabbits?

Lisa found a tiny baby rabbit in front of their house, and in spite of everyone telling her she couldn't do it, she raised the rabbit until it grew into an adult rabbit. The rabbit - Bubba - eventually chewed a hole through the screen porch, and one day Lisa went out and lead Bubba to the front of the house.

Bubba found the spot where Lisa had found him, sniffed around a bit as rabbits do, and bounded off into the woods.

Lisa reckons Bubba got the scent of some of her siblings and felt that inner pull from nature to go be a real rabbit.

She stills keeps some food out for him just in case.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Two Potters, Three Pots

One pot

My friend and fellow Seagrove Potter Phillip Pollet and I spent the day Wednesday in my workshop altering, adding on, carving, cutting and signing three collaborative pieces that we've been creating.

I'll let the slideshow/movie tell the rest of the story:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Unloading Kiln, Advertisers

Slideshow below

We unloaded a glaze kiln yesterday. Everything was great except a large platter that I spent about 8 hours drawing trees on through porcelain slip. The glaze crawled right in the middle of the platter. I'll refire it and hope to fix it.

On a separate note, I got another call from someone (probably living in India) representing or something like that. I've gotten a call before from them. I explained this to the guy on the phone. I said I didn't want to buy anything. He assured me he didn't want to sell me anything. (It was the next guy who wanted to talk to me who wanted to sell me something.)

So, I listened to him and when it came time to pass me along to someone else, I sighed heavily, and told this new guy I didn't want to buy anything. At one point in the conversation, I told him to hang on a minute. I set the phone in front of my cd player and let him hear some Irish tunes.

I came back on, and after a while, set the phone down again, picked it up and said "Absolutely."
Put it down again in front of the radio after saying I'd have to put him on hold.
Several minutes later, I picked the reciever up.
He was still there.
I told him he was persistent.

Finally, he admitted he was selling advertising.

He asked me if I was interested in buying some.

I said no.

We hung up.

Here's a slideshow. I'm just wondering if one works better than the other.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Video: Throwing a Pitcher

Video below

I decided to throw some three-pound pitchers today for the April 4th collaborative firing at the NC Pottery Center in Seagrove. A bunch of us Seagrove potters are making pots to load into the double-chamber wood-fired kiln outside the education building there.

It's been too long since I last filled a ware board with these pitchers. I've spent the past week working on some special pots for the collaborative firing, and I enjoyed making some simple pitchers.

Here's a video my wife, Mary, shot of pitcher number nine, I think:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

First Pot after Potters Conference

Six-pound pitcher impressed, altered and influenced by potters conference

I came away from this past weekend's potters conference in Asheboro with inspiration to follow some inner dialogue that I had been ignoring lately. I've been forming pieces like the one above for a couple of years. I form a cylinder first, impress the design, then work to reduce the distortions caused by impressing the tree designs before swelling the piece from the inside to a relatively "clean" form. I've often thought about maintaining the distortions somehow, but never pursued the idea.

I threw this piece Monday, impressed the design and used a small plastic rib to swell the lower portion of the piece rather freely without turning the wheel back on. I had quite a bit of distortion, so I dried the piece a bit with a heat gun before forming the neck and above. I decided to stamp the inside of the neck with a smaller tree stamp,which distorted the piece even further, giving the rim a fluted look. I gathered in the neck a bit and then gave it a spout.

I think I'll try to get this one into the collaborative kiln firing at the NC Pottery Center April 4.

Atlered neck

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Day Two of Potters Conference

There were times, when neither Mark, Phil or Alleghany spoke, just a few moments of intense focus on their task at hand, when their concentration eclipsed their connection with the audience. This was one of those moments.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Three Potters Share Their Pots and Stories at NC Potters Conference

Three potters at work

It's been 12 or so years since I last attended the North Carolina Potters Conference held every March in Asheboro for the past 22 years. Today (Friday) was day one of the three-day conference and featured demonstrations from three different potters, Phil Rogers from Wales, Alleghany Meadows from Colorado and Mark Pharis from Wisconsin.

They all three demonstrated their craft at the same time as Mike Durham of the Randolph Arts Guild manipulated three video cameras that tracked their every move on three widescreens, one behind each potter.

I'm glad I went. It was a great venue. I sat in front of Pharis as he explained his process of making a hand-built teapot. Just to his right sat Rogers who threw several different shapes in some specially made stoneware clay from Highwater Clays in Asheville. And to the right of Rogers stood Meadows working in pure white porcelain. Three very different potters working at the same time.

Meadows, to me, seemed to throw more delicately and purposefully, adding subtle lines with different tools as worked on the wheel, altering his shapes by pressing from within and from outside the pot, cutting out and re-attaching the rim of a bowl.

Rogers threw with as much purpose, but with more looseness, adding raised undulating horizontal lines here and there, altering the shape of his cups ever-so-slightly with a rib as the wheel turned at medium speed.

Pharis was very methodical in his processing of the clay slabs, creating templates out of thick paper, cutting out shapes, folding, bending, cutting, re-attaching. He worked on one piece the entire time, careful to show the audience how he creates his work.

After getting used to their microphones and who was going to speak first, they all settled into their work and conversation ebbed and flowed as they explained their work and answered questions.

At one point in the afternoon, Meadows told a story about when he was in college and his class went for doughnuts one late night during an all-night class. They happened to find the worker at Dunkin' Donuts decorating some doughnuts. Well, wouldn't you know it? It wasn't long before that worker was asked to demonstrate his decorating techniques for the class.

This led Pharis to recall taking some college art students to a hog-judging contest at the state fair. He recalled that the art students were paying attention to details that weren't necessarily important to the judges. The students, he said, were paying attention to the outside of the pig, while judges were able to see inside the pig, paying attention to the fat content, cuts of meat, etc.

Then Rogers chimed in with a story about doughnuts. According to Rogers, there was a famous cooking show in Britain featuring television cook Fanny Craddock and her husband Johnny. Seems Johnny liked to drink a bit of wine during the show.

One particular show had Fanny making doughnuts, Rogers explained, and at the end of the show, her husband ended the show by saying "I hope all your doughnuts end up looking like Fanny's."

That got some good laughs.

Anyway, today's day two. I'll be back with more tomorrow.

Phil Rogers

Mark Pharis

Alleghany Meadows

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Slideshow of Ireland Trip

Use the arrows at lower right to manually look at pictures. Click lower left "play" button to hear music and see slideshow.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Staining with Red Iron and Bare Feet

Today was a beautiful day, and I took advantage of it by setting up a little station outside the back of my workshop, in a bit of shade. I've got to be careful of the head on days like this. Don't want to burn the noggin.

I kicked off my shoes and began painting red iron oxide on the outside of several bowls that were impressed with trees. My glaze room has no windows in it, so I enjoyed the light of day.

I stained six bowls, wiping each one off with a wet sponge to bring the detail of the trees to the surface of the clay.

The next step in the process of decorating these is brushing on a layer of wax to protect the tree design when glazing the piece.
This is quite tedious work, but I like the effect of a clean line, and I haven't figured out a better way.

I have to be sure to fill any crevices with wax or I'll get glaze where I don't want it, and if I try to wipe extra glaze off, it will affect the red iron wash.

Tomorrow, I'll be finishing up the waxing and move on to glazing these bowls, and a few vases with the tree design as well. As I understand it, tomorrow's going to be a bit cooler.

I may have to try to work in the sun instead of the shade if I get the opportunity. I hope I can kick off my shoes again.

But I better wear a hat.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Chelsea Makes me Smile

When my daughter was just a little girl, she drew this picture of our dog. It was a simple drawing, and in the drawing the dog sat, sort of all-to-one side like dogs do, on the lower right hand corner of a large sheet of construction paper. The rest of the paper was blank.
Somehow she had captured the essence of a sitting dog just perfectly, I thought. So, I made sure I kept that drawing.

Chelsea's a senior at UNCA now, majoring in Spanish and Art. She's applying to get her BFA this year. On Thursday, my oldest son, Wil, and I drove a couch and dining room set up to her boyfriend, Adam, who's majoring in Political Science at UNCA. While I was there I got a chance to peak into Chelsea's pottery studio space and take a few pictures of a couple of her latest pieces. She's been working on bowls and plates.

A pair of small plates that belong together

A small plate and bowl from the anagama firing

Chelsea's lobster apron

I'm very proud of my daughter.

I went to the bank the other day and the teller asked me if I didn't have a daughter in school at UNC Asheville. I said yes, and she said she saw in the local newspaper (The Courier Tribune) that she had made the Dean's List. I believe she's made the Dean's List every semester except one.

When I was setting up a new studio space at Wild Rose Pottery back in the early 1990s, I had Chelsea decorate some bats I was making to throw plates and bowls. I still enjoy those bats. There's probably 12 or so with her decorations: a whale, what looks like a flag, "her" lyrics to a song from Lion King, sun and moon, etc.

I've probably got nearly a hundred bats, so Chelsea's decorations slip in every now and then as I'm working. I'll slam another bat down and turn the wheel on, and when I give it a wipe with my wet sponge, they always make me smile.

She signed this one, Chelsea, '95.

Thanks, Chelsea.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Loading, Unloading Kilns in Seagrove

Checking the height of a pot at the top of an electric kiln
(slideshow below)

Loading kilns can be a challenge. I used to pride myself in how many pots I could fit into my electric kiln, especially when I was firing a bisque load - the first firing we potters do before we glaze the pots and fire them to their peak temperature.

With a bisque kiln, pots can be stacked on top of each other, inside each other, and even on their side sometimes. Sounds crazy now, but I used to stack dinner plates from the bottom of the kiln to the top. That was a lot of weight on top of that bottom plate.

Nowadays, I'm not nearly as productive as I used to be, so I'm often loading a kiln thinking that I should have some smaller pots to fit in all the nooks and crannies left by the larger ones.

Speaking of loading kilns, 21 potters from Seagrove are loading and firing the wood-fired kiln at the NC Pottery Center in early April. The firing is scheduled for April 4. Loading will begin April 3.
On April 18, the N.C. Pottery Center will be holding a fund-raising auction called Faces for the Center, and some of the pieces from the collaborative wood-firing will be auctioned.

Also on April 18 and 19, potters in Seagrove will be holding their own kiln openings as they participate in Celebration of Spring in Seagrove.

The slideshow below shows me loading unfired pots into my electric kiln. Click the arrows on the far right to view slides manually. Click "captions" for some explanation of the pictures. If you click "Play" on the left, you'll hear me playing a tune on the flute as the slideshow plays.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Fill in the Blank: Snow____

The driver of this car pulled into an Asheboro parking lot today and I snapped these pictures. I wish I had stopped and asked him the story behind the snow____. Is it a bear? A duck?