Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Close Look at Handling

I spent most of the day handling more than 30 mugs, and taking a few close-ups of different stages of the process. It's interesting how a close-up photo gives one a different perspective on one's work.

The bottom of a mug needs to be
cleaned up and smoothed over.

I use my thumb to do this.

The top of a mug, scored and slipped,
ready to receive a handle.

Fresh clay for a handle
attached to the top of the mug.

Finished handle
at the top of the mug.

I'm heading over to David Stuempfle's kiln at 6 p.m. to take over stoking for six hours or so.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Transferring Pots for Wood Firing

I've loaded and unloaded a lot of kilns during my career as a potter, and every once in a while I'll put some pots in someone else's kiln, requiring me to transport them in their fragile state. My most recent transfer consisted of a lot of green pots. That is, pots that haven't been fired at all.

So, I had to take extra care in packing them into my wife's Prius this past Saturday for a trip to Seagrove Potter David Stuempfle's workshop. David's firing his large wood-fired kiln this week, and he always saves some space for those who help him fire his kiln. David fires his kiln for five to six days, so he relies on other potters to help him stoke the kiln.

I'm scheduled to take a shift Thursday night until midnight or so, and then again toward the end of the firing this weekend.

The photo at left shows the pots at the front of the kiln and a gas burner he uses to preheat the kiln before he begins stoking with wood. He began preheating yesterday evening and plans to switch to wood at midnight tonight.

I helped fire David's kiln when he first built it many years ago, and I have a couple of his early pieces, as well as a couple of pieces that I kept of my own that were fired in the kiln. I haven't participated in a firing of David's since then, and I'm excited about having some work in the kiln.


David and his two dogs with the kiln in the background, wood
stacked and ready for stoking.

Pulling Handles this Morning

Film Clip Below

I dirtied up my spic and span splash pan and surrounding area yesterday with residue from 30-some small mugs I threw for a special order. Today, I'm attaching handles, and I thought I'd include a short clip showing the way I work with handles. (I decided to narrate this clip, and I hope you'll bear with me as I get used to it.)

I have a large mug from when I was learning to make pottery and the handle is UHGleee. It takes a lot of practice.

I'll finish up the handles and throw another 30-some mugs to finish the order. Thank God for orders.

I like to stack my mugs (upside down) like this to protect the handles during drying.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Workspace Clutter

Every now and then, I clean up:

Only clay on my wedging table

Spic and span splash pan

Friday, April 24, 2009

Apple Store Saves me Money

I'd been experiencing some difficulty with the battery in my Macbook Pro laptop for the past several months. Recently, my computer started powering down suddenly, so I finally broke down and ordered a new battery. Three days later, I got my battery, followed directions and calibrated it, but then it would not charge.

I called Apple, and after being transferred to someone else who understood batteries better than the girl I was talking to, we figured out that the plug that connects to my computer from the transformer (power pack) was defective. The "battery guy" said he could order me one. I said I'd probably drive to the nearest store and get one.

He asked me for my zip code and looked up a couple of places in Southern Pines that sold Mac products and actually called them to see if they had the part I needed. No go. So, Mary and I went into Greensboro for dinner and my first visit to an Apple Store.

At the Apple Store, it was just a matter of minutes when I stood at the checkout counter with a brand new transformer. Mary was quite impressed when I told her I got it for free. The guy who helped us took one look at the pins on the plug that were defective and said, "That shouldn't have happened. We'll do what we call a swap."

He took my old transformer and plug and I got the new one. No charge. That simple.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Donation to Peace Alliance Sent; Film on Jug Making

Movie below

Happy 21st Levi! It's my youngest son's birthday (yesterday really). He asked me to upload a clip of me making a jug. So the clip below is of me collaring in a large jug. For some reason, iMovie is not cooperating, so I had to upload the original file from my camera which took all night long. I'll figure that out later.

On another note, I'm sending off a check for $64.00 to the Peace Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to creating a department of Peace within the U.S. government. The $64.00 check is 10 percent of my profits this past weekend from the sales of my soul pots. I'm planning on doing this again.

From the Peace Alliance website:

Domestically, the Department of Peace will develop policies and allocate resources to effectively reduce the levels of domestic and gang violence, child abuse, and various other forms of societal discord. Internationally, the Department will advise the President and Congress on the most sophisticated ideas and techniques regarding peace-creation among nations.

Thanks to everyone who came out to the kiln openings in Seagrove this past weekend. We had a great time. Sorry about this italics, but it seems I've gotten myself into some kind of state of confusion here, what with the iMovie trouble, internet interruptions and inability to switch to regular typeface.

I'll sign off now, and perhaps things will fix themselves.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Scones and soul pots

I will donate 10 percent of my profits this weekend from the sale of my soul pots (like this tree soul pot) to the Peace Alliance, a movement to form a Department of Peace in the United States government.

Mary made some Grandma's Sweet White Scones for this weekend's Celebration of Spring Kiln Opening. The recipe is from Ballymaloe House, County Cork, Ireland. We'll have some fresh organic coffee to go with that as well, and there's a batch of apple, cinnamon, walnut muffins in the oven as I write this.

We also invited some Irish musicians to come by at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Hope to see you this weekend.

Michael and Mary

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back Home: Wood-firing a Success

I flew back from Ireland Sunday. Mary's brother, Liam, and his two boys, drove us to Shannon Airport, and I left Mary behind for another two days to help out with arrangements after the funeral.

When I boarded my plane, I noticed the guy ahead of me walking to his seat was wearing a t-shirt with writing on the back: or something like that.

"Ah, a musician," I said to myself, thinking he looked a bit like Tim Smith from the Chapel Hill area back in North Carolina. I caught up to him and said, "Tim" and sure enough it was Tim and his wife Eileen. They were sitting right next to me one seat ahead in the next aisle of seats.

It's a small world.

Back to my world in Seagrove now:

Collaborative piece made from Starworks clay

We opened up and unloaded the kiln yesterday morning at the NC Pottery Center. There were some nice pieces in the kiln, and some pieces that we'd hoped for more from. The collaborative piece (above) that Phil Pollett and I did fired nicely.

We unloaded the kiln and cleaned shelves in record time, as there were quite a few potters there to retrieve their work. The collaborative piece has been donated to the April 18th fund-raising auction at the NC Pottery Center. The event is from 2:30 until 6 with the live auction beginning at 5 p.m.

Donations to the NC Pottery Center auction

Some nice pieces that Seagrove Potters donated from the community firing


I spent the afternoon helping some customers in between cleaning my pots from the wood kiln firing. Here's a few of a pieces from the kiln:

Small soul pots

Closeup of large tree pitcher

Medium-sized tree soul pot with terra sigilatta, salt glaze

Closeup of tall bottle with mangrove tree

Closeup of soul pot top with copper glaze

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Laying to Rest of Willy Holmes

Just one of the thousands of handshakes shared

It started out as a beautiful day Tuesday morning, but by the time Dennis Moore, the local gravedigger had pulled up to the cemetery on his bicycle and arranged everything for digging, the clouds had thickened and wind blew the cold air through my clothing. So, I was happy to pick up the pick axe and lend a hand at loosening up the earth in the 7-foot long 2 1/2-foot trench.

It's a tradition that's done less and less these days in Ireland. The family and friends, dig the grave, carry and lower the coffin, fill in the grave site. I was honored to be there, in spite of feeling a bit like I was intruding on a private affair.

But the two days I spent here with my wife's family were anything but a private affair. There were, of course, moments of privacy, but for the most part, the community members showed up in large numbers to participate celebrating and honoring the passing away of Willy Holmes, who would have been 80 this Saturday, Mary's father.

At the local mortuary in Cappamore, thousands stopped in - one friend drove more than two hours from Dublin, gave his condolences, then stepped back into his car and drove back. The family stood and sat around Willy as people filed in and shook hands.

"Sorry for your trouble..." or something along that line. Sometimes I didn't understand the words that were whispered. But I understood.

I felt I understood the effect that Willy Holmes had on the people of this community as I sat for more than two hours and shook hands, and looked into the eyes of people I did not know, as I stood and watched members of the community pick up shovels and fill in the hole that I helped dig in which Mary's brothers had just lowered the casket in which their father was laid to rest.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Bit of Trimming

Thought I would share a bit of trimming with the world.


Childhood Portrayed on this One

These are front and back shots of my latest decoration on one of the jugs that I posted about recently. The trees are mangroves. The design toward the bottom can be seen if you click on the picture for a larger image. Or you can just take my word for it.

Please click if you will, before I tell you what it is. I'm just curious if you'll see what I drew. I'm hoping the drawing will be subtle enough and strong enough at the same time to work, if that makes any sense.

I was going to finish the whole jug with mangroves, but I decided to listen to that small voice in my head saying to keep the space there, and then the idea for the drawing came to mind.

It draws upon my experience growing up as a child and young adult at my father's boy's camp in Tavernier, Florida: Fish Camp, a fishing, diving, skiing, sailing camp for boys 9-16 years of age.

I actually started a blog on Fish Camp, although I haven't added anything. I plan to share stories from the experience and hope to attract others in the world who experienced a most incredible time in my life.

The new blog:

Please let me know what you think of the jug. It's actually a scene from Tavernier Key, a small island one mile from the coast of the Florida Keys, where my father managed to establish living quarters for campers to live on the island while learning to fish, dive, sail and water ski among other things.

The stories are endless.

P.S. It's good to get back to my work after spending the past weeks working on stuff for the wood-fired kiln at the NC Pottery Center.


Evening Out the Wood Kiln.... a Brief Glimpse at the Process....

Bruce holds up a stick of wood that didn't fit into the stoke hole. It didn't take long for it to become charred.

When I arrived at the kiln, the temperature of the first chamber was over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. I took over stoaking from Bruce Gholson of Bulldog Pottery. Three sticks of wood every few minutes, maybe two sticks if one was unusually thick.

Chad Brown took over as shift leader and with the help of Ben Owen III decided to begin alternating stoking into stoke holes at the front of the firebox and at the rear of the firebox. After some discussion, it was decided that stoking on one side of the kiln should be limited to one stick while stoking on the other side should continue to consist of three sticks.

We were dealing with a kiln that was firing unevenly. I believe cone 12 was tipping at one side's bottom, while cone 9 was tipping on the other side's top (the bottom of that side being much cooler). We began to stoke with shorter sticks on the cooler side to try to keep the heat from reaching the other side.

The firing seemed to be ahead of schedule so someone called Takuro Shibata, director of nearby STARworks Ceramics, who was slated to finish off the firing. I've never fired a wood kiln, so I watched and learned. I've participated in several firings, and each kiln has its own characteristics.

The following pictures show Takuro settling in to his role, getting to know the kiln and this particular firing.

Here he is standing at one side between the two chambers. The flame here is spewing out of two holes. It allows one to read to atmosphere of the first chamber.

The fiber blanket in the foreground was used to cover the hole when stoking was complete in the first chamber.

Takuro spends a moment at the front of the kiln, getting a sense of the firing.

Then he moves to the rear, watching the flame in the chimney.

Back at the front, he's watching as potters stoke.

Stoking the firebox

Close up of embers in firebox

A shot between the chambers after stoking.

Back at the rear of kiln.

The kiln was started at 4:30 a.m. and finished shortly after 9 p.m. It is slated to be unloaded April 13. Some of the pots will be donated to the annual fund-raising auction at the NC Pottery Center April 18.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Film on Loading Kiln in Seagrove

Film below

Well, they're firing the kiln this morning. They were scheduled to start at 4:30 a.m. I was going to post something about the loading last night, but our internet was interrupted and I went to bed instead.

I mowed some of my grass yesterday, but before doing so, I took some pictures of some of the tiny flowers and such that spring up and attract the bugs of spring. Perhaps I'll make a slideshow later. But I thought I'd share one picture. Maybe someone can identify this. It's about the size of the nail on my pinky finger.

I'll be helping to fire the wood kiln at the NC Pottery Center this afternoon starting at 4:30 I think. I'm scheduled to play a few Irish tunes with Will McCanless at the NC Pottery Center at 3 p.m.

You can check out more on the wood firing on the other Seagrove blogs listed on my blog.

See ya.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Collaboration Pots Bust my Bubble

Just when I needed a boost in morale, I opened my bisque kiln to find that two of the collaborative pieces that Phillip Pollet and I created busted. The largest was the first boom I heard, the loudest, as its bottom was totally in pieces. Another one blew out a small chunk on the bottom and developed a crack. At least one survived. Let's hope it survives the wood firing.

I'm thinking that the two pieces that blew up didn't dry out completely on the bottom. I wasn't able to turn them upside down and they just didn't get a chance to dry out. I should have soaked them overnight, but I was pressed for time.


Computer Glitch Kept me Away but Here's some of my Latest Work

It's been a week since I last blogged. I think I just needed a break from the cyber world. I was working on a film about handling mugs last weekend, when iMovie quit, and I lost everything. So, here's a few things I've been working on since. I'll be decorating the slipped pots with trees, I think.

I'm not sure about the handle on this bottle. I don't usually mess with adding that extra bit of clay to the bottom of the handle, but I was inspired to do so after looking at a handle on Michael Kline's blog (I tried to find the picture on his blog, but he must have taken it off or something.) The slip is a copper/cobalt porcelain slip. The clay in this and the next three pieces is my local clay, a very iron-rich clay.

This is a large soul pot. I'll be posting something soon on my soul pots. This pot is slipped with white porcelain slip with that copper/cobalt slip on top. I took a thin metal rib and lightly smoothed the white slip after brushing it on.

A largish jug with white porcelain slip brushed on the body. I like the handle on this jug, again adding a bit of clay to the bottom.

I bisque-fired these collaborative pieces last night that Phillip Pollet and I created. I also had some other pieces I made for the collaborative firing at the NC Pottery Center this weekend, including a giant pitcher that blew up. I think I fired the kiln too fast. Luckily, I had put a shelf above the large pitcher instead of stacking something else on top of it, so I slowed the firing down, soaked the kiln for a while (keeping it at a constant temperature) and continued firing.