Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tool Shed Coming Together

I finished up the floor joists on my new tool shed today, and met Mary at Taste of Asia in Asheboro for some great curry after a trip to Lowes for six sheets of 3/4" plywood. She was coming home from her one-day-a-week project manager job in Greensboro.

Here's a few pictures of the work I did on the tool shed yesterday and today:

Using a foot adz, I chopped off chunks of wood from the four 6x6s I cemented into the ground. I made cuts with a circular saw the thickness of a 2x10. Notice my wide stance, just in case I glance off the wood. Can't be too careful with a foot adz.

Nor a broad axe. I stay clear of the blade as I finish the job.

Here I'm adding joist hangers on every joint after nailing the joists in place.
I never knew they made joist hanger nails, but I bought some at Lowes
and they worked great. Popped right in the designated holes in the hangers.

This handsome rabbit stood still long enough at the edge of our driveway
for me to get a picture on my way back from dinner and plywood gathering.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rakuing for China

Phil Pollet, of Old Gap Pottery, stood amid his piles of paperwork and knick-knacks, pots and other artistic articles in his modest home near his shop right beside Pottery Highway (NC 705), and cursed loudly. He'd had about enough from his lap top.

Now, it was refusing to open up a movie about the past potters of Seagrove, produced in the mid 1980s by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. One o'clock in the afternoon and he was still organizing for a trip to China to lecture at the Jilin College of Arts in Changchun on July 8th.

Phil planned to leave at one o'clock this afternoon, spend the night in Raleigh with friends so he could get up early to drive to the airport. He was a bit tense - distracted might be a better word.

Me and my wife, Mary, were helping Phil get some pictures and movies organized on his computer. I spent the afternoon yesterday filming Phil firing his raku kiln, and this morning I put together a 2 1/2 minute film to show as part of his presentation.

Here's one of the clips I used:

I like Phil's raku kiln. He's got it rigged so you grab a control and an electrical hoist will lift the cube of iron-encased softbrick up to load and unload with tongs. He fired five pieces yesterday, altered shapes, undulating, flattened here and there, tweaked, twisted and shoved around on the wheel. He used a simple crackle glaze and brushed red iron and copper on top the glaze.

He placed the hot pieces into a bed of sawdust, sprinkling them with some extra sawdust before covering them with a galvanized tub, cooling them and then immersing them in water.

"You know, I just love these glaze effects," he said yesterday, scrubbing the black crud off a pot above a garbage can filled with water. The scrubbing revealed subtle red and green opalescent colors and black carbon trapped in the glaze.

"There's a moodiness in them - in the subtleness of them," he said, continuing to scrub. "Some people either feel it or they don't."

I did a couple of collaborative pieces with Phil earlier in the year. I enjoyed watching him work his magic on the shapes that I gave him to work on. We've still got two pieces in our shop that were fired in David Steumpfle's wood-fired kiln. One we plan to make into a lamp.

I hope Phil has a good time in China and I hope he can manage the pictures and movies on his computer during his presentation. I'll be interested in hearing how it went when he gets back.

Finished pieces from Sunday's firing


Lifting kiln to load

Pot in sawdust flaming up

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Project Happiness

I'm a happy guy today. I've finally started working on a new project.

I'm miserable up until I "break ground," trying to decide how to proceed, but once I get going, I'm happy.

I'm starting with a tool shed. I need a central location for all my tools. I spent Friday marking off an area for the shed and also for a kiln/wood shed for a wood-fired kiln I plan to build. Then I dug four two-foot holes for posts for the shed. Mary came out and asked me, "Should you be out here doing that in this heat?"

'Don't bother me, I'm happy,' I thought to myself.

Today, I took two trips to Lowe's, one for 14 treated 2x10s, two treated 6x6s and a bunch of joist hangers and nails; and the other for nearly 1,300 pounds of concrete - sixteen 80-pound bags.

Here I am at the end of today, exhausted, sweaty and happy,
two posts cemented into the ground.

I love my Makita

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tree Jars and a Jig

For your listening pleasure (if you're so inclined), I put together a slide show of some jars that I decorated with my latest tree designs, plus a couple of sticks of bamboo and an osprey nest (including osprey).

Set to the tune, Phil's Jig, written by me and played by me on flute and Will McCanless on banjo during a 2008 gig. The tune was named in honor of a friend of mine who battled his way back from heart surgery by incessantly playing the bodhran, an Irish frame drum.

The shapes of the pots are based on preserve jars made in Seagrove long ago. I first started making this shape for Jerry and Charlotte Fenburg at Humble Mill Pottery back in the late 1980s.

To download original, click here

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Levi's Pinch Pot Makes Nice Stamp

While working on some tree-stamped bowls today, I spotted a little pinch pot that my son, Levi, had made a while back. He had carved a design into it that was inspired by his trip to Costa Rica a couple of summers ago. I thought, 'Let's use that as a stamp.'

'Nah,' I thought. 'Better stick to trees.'

I did another tree bowl (actually a bell, so the design was upside down).

'Yeah, Let's do it,' I thought after another pot.

Here it is fresh off the wheel and I've superimposed the pinch pot in the lower right corner:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Catenary Arch Built into a Hill?

A mock-up of my latest idea for a wood-fired kiln (above) is an extended catenary arch chamber built into a hill in which I dig steps so that the...

...front of the chamber (above) where the firebox would be is about 4 feet wide and four feet tall, and the...

...rear of the chamber (above) where the chimney would be is a shorter and narrower because of the step up. This mock design would be about three feet wide and three feet high at the back of the kiln.

I built this mock-up with three forms, each one shorter than the first by the thickness of a refractory block that I will use to construct the kiln. I suppose I could design the arch to be a little higher and wider. My shelves are 24 x 24.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Found these fungi in our flower garden this morning.
Reminded me of the people of Iran I've seen in the news
protesting on the streets of Tehran.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Feedback wanted on Possible Kiln

I woke up this morning with a plan in my head for a simple wood-fired kiln, but I need to bounce the idea off of some potters more experienced with building kilns. I constructed the prototype above this morning. The idea is that the kiln climb up a slight hill and consist of chambers, each one able to hold 24 x 24 inch shelves with a space between the shelf and the next chamber for possible side-stoking. Each chamber rises six inches above the previous chamber. The hole in the wall in the above picture would be filled with a half block. Four 27-inch refractory block would serve as the roof of the kiln.

Here's a picture showing the ceiling, one shelf, and the floor of the next chamber. The picture is taken from what would be the chimney side of the kiln.

Here's a shot from the other side (firebox side) showing the two floor levels of two chambers.

So the idea is to lift and remove the 27-inch block in order to load and unload the kiln. They're quite heavy, so I'm kind of wondering if I'll get tired of that.

Two questions:

Will the walls buckle in or out after repeated firings?
Will the 27-inch block warp, or worse yet, crack from the stress? (I could always flip them every firing. I'm not sure if block like this are designed for what I want to use them for.)

The inside width would be about 25 inches, leaving just an inch for the 27-inch block to catch. The height of the prototype inside is about 25 inches.

I also have quite a few soft brick, and I could design "lids" for the kiln out of these. I know wood deteriorates soft brick, but there are protective coatings I could use.

What do you think?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Redbud Planted to Honor Willy

We planted a Forest Pansy Redbud yesterday that my children bought Mary in honor of her father, Willy Holmes, who passed away earlier this year. I wrote about the funeral in an earlier post, here. Last night, a dragonfly was buzzing around the area when I went out to check on some pots in my workshop, and this morning's fog felt like a gift from the heavens shall we say.

We chose a spot in between our showroom and our workspaces, which we think will develop into a courtyard when I build a kiln shed and tool shed. The tree can grow to 30 feet tall and 25 feet wide.

This morning's view - Redbud can be seen in lower right corner

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Signs - they are a-changin' ?

Seagrove.... Westmoore, to be more exact, boasts its first TOD or TODS or TODS signs. I'm not sure how to say that. TODS stands for Tourist Oriented Directional Sign. According to a brochure I downloaded from the website of the NC Department of Transportation, the signs are part of a program "intended to help tourists find businesses of substantial interest and thereby promote tourism in North Carolina," available since 2001 to those who qualify.

I saw one of the signs for the first time last night. It's blue in background with white letters, which lit up nicely when my car's headlights hit them, not that tourists need to know where pottery shops are at night.

It looks to be a couple hundred feet from the intersection where it directs you to turn left, or right if you're coming from the other direction.

Anyone can apply for a TODS, but there are regulations, like you have to have a restroom open to the public and you have to keep regular business hours. The business is responsible for the cost of the sign and a $200 annual fee. If you want to find out more, click here.

Used to be you could put up a sign for your pottery shop just about anywhere you wanted as long as you got permission from the landowner, but when the state designated NC 705 - that runs through the heart of pottery country - a scenic byway, that was no longer the case.

You could put a sign on the business property and that's it.
Existing off-location signs were grandfathered in and allowed to stay.

Some people like the quaintness of the handmade signs that adorn intersection corners and trees and such throughout the rural landscape of the Seagrove area. Some may disagree.

I'd like to hear from anyone who has experience with TODS in other areas. I Googled TODS and the program is all over the U.S. Do you like the signs? Are they helpful? I'd love to hear from artists and tourists alike.

Any suggestions on directing pottery customers in the Seagrove area? What do you think about all the handmade signs around Seagrove?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Poncho for some Plates

Tabitha Fisher, who lives in Chatham County, picked up a "first installment" of her wedding dishes Monday. She ordered a set based on a decoration for the awards I made for the Uwharrie Mountain Run, a 8, 20 and 40-mile race across the Uwharrie Trail in Montgomery County in February. The picture at right shows some of the pieces after I decorated them.

Tabitha, a fiber artist, helped pay for the order by making a poncho like the one below and selling it. She was taught by her mother.

"When we moved from Texas to New Hampshire, mom had always wanted a farm, so we got one," she explained to me in an email. "And other than dogs and cats and chickens, our first big animals were sheep. Mom met a few spinners in the area, and decided to learn to spin. So she bought a spinning wheel, and once she learned, she taught me. Once I had yarn, I needed something to do with it, so after trying knitting, and deciding it was too slow, I learned to crochet."

"I'm not real fond of following patterns, so pretty much everything I make is out of my head," she said. "I try to use one base color, and then alternate with the hand painted yarn. In all, I think it probably takes about 3-4 months when you're finally done."

Tabitha's getting married in July.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Latest Firing

Here's some of the pieces out of my latest firing:

Six-pound bowls impressed with trees

Glazed with a Chun red from Laguna Clay

Copper glaze, local clay glaze and red iron wash

Sgraffito on white slip. The first three are my local clay.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Can we Coexist Peacefully?

This morning a Cardinal enjoyed a new perch on our Channel Master 4228HD I mounted on top of our roof to better receive television signals. We are ready for digital signals with our new antenna and our digital converter. Last night, though, we lost channel 2 completely. Must have been all the rain.

Cardinals are very territorial. I wonder if this one is the bird that used to dive bomb our windows, thinking it saw another Cardinal, when we had a tree growing right outside the window.

When you think about it, most animals in the world are territorial, including humans. When I used to scuba dive, I loved to watch the tiny Damsel fish around coral heads come darting out of their cover and bite my finger as I pointed at them. This little fish was the size of a minnow and had the gumption to attack something the size of a shark.

Pretty strong stuff, that sense of territory.

I reported the other day that the NC Department of Cultural Resources decided to nix the idea of creating a heritage trail in Seagrove and surrounding communities that would have promoted the pottery industry. Too much dissension in the area, they said.

I didn't realize it then, but the original idea didn't include Lee County, Sanford in particular, until some members of that community lobbied the staff of the cultural department and got them included in the idea, this according to an article in the Sanford Herald.

There's been some ongoing efforts for several years now by some in Sanford to upgrade their status as a pottery community, and someone saw an opportunity to promote Sanford by bonding with Seagrove.

Sanford and Seagrove both have a history of pottery making. But this idea of promoting Sanford and Seagrove got off on a bad foot from the beginning.

This has to do with territory. Territory, Damsel fish and sharks. There's a natural order in the way the creatures of the world coexist. Sharks don't go around the ocean eating Damsel fish, or Cardinals for that matter.

Sanford is Sanford. Seagrove is Seagrove.

Can we please coexist peacefully?

Have you ever heard of a Remora? It's a sucker fish that coexists with the shark. Wikipedia: The relationship between remoras and their hosts is most often taken to be one of commensalism. The host they attach to for transport gains nothing significant from the relationship, but also loses little.

In order for the two fish to coexist, the shark does not attack the Remora.

If you're wondering who the shark is, you're missing the point. Remora also attach themselves to Dolphin.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Goblet Work Leads to New Shape

Two weeks ago, I threw the pieces and put together 14 goblets of varying size and shape. A lovely couple with roots in Ireland ordered 12 goblets, six being one shape and six, another. I fired them and the couple chose two designs.

Today, I finished putting 14 goblets together, seven of one shape and seven of another, shapes that are close enough to the design that the couple chose, I hope.


I made one new shape - the goblet above - flanked in the picture by two small bowls, one on the left made from clay from the banks of Cabin Creek, and one on the right - from clay I scooped up on a walk through our land. The Cabin Creek clay is from a trip up the creek I took the other day with Chelsea, Wil and Mary.

'North Carolina Pottery Highway' Idea Scrapped ... for now

Signs like this along NC 705 in Randolph and
Moore County help promote the pottery industry

The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources decided to scrap the idea of spending about $100,000 to help Seagrove and surrounding communities promote their pottery heritage, citing dissension as the reason.

The idea was to create "a variety of education and marketing components such as informational kiosks, outdoor interpretive panels, maps, guides, photos, and website support...to stimulate cultural travelers and residents to discover North Carolina’s unique and authentic culture. " A proposed North Carolina Pottery Highway trail was to include Randolph, Moore, Montgomery, Chatham, and Lee counties.

A public meeting in Raleigh was held this past week. The cultural department received comment from that meeting (including telephone conference calls) and from online comment forms.

Three other trails - African American Music Trails, Historic Happy Valley Byway and Blue Ridge Music Trails - received the go ahead for funding.

"While there is strong support for three trails, there is dissent about the North Carolina Pottery Highway," the department said in a release. "There are some enthusiastic supporters of the North Carolina Pottery Highway who see it as a means to boost tourism and help market pottery. However there is not basic agreement on fundamental project components, such as appropriate name and whether or not there should be kiosks, informational panels, or maps."

"We look forward to the opportunity to work with the five-county area whenever the community is ready," the release stated.

Monday, June 1, 2009

This Year's Celebration will have a New Look

Mary and I went to the old Luck's Cannery in Seagrove this morning and met some members of the steering committee of Celebration of Seagrove Potters and cannery manager Darius Luck so we could all see first hand the construction that has taken place inside. Workers built a wall inside the space where we had the festival last year. The picture at the right shows the new space. The door in the back leads to the old warehouse space. A grocery store was supposed to fill this space, but apparently funds ran out, and now it stands empty.

Celebration of Seagrove Potters put on a fantastic first festival in Seagrove last year inside the old cannery, which was perhaps best known for its Luck's Pinto Beans (Luck's made everything from chicken 'n dumplings to popcorn). Tickets ($35) to this year's festival gala Friday night are on sale at the website (link above).

This evening, Mary and I drove to Westmoore Elementary School to attend a meeting called by the steering committee of Celebration of Seagrove Potters. Committee members updated a group of about 40 potters with information about the upcoming festival this Fall. Applications were handed out, and suggestions were heard, questions answered.

A lot of work goes on behind the scenes, and I'd like to say thanks to everyone who has been working on the festival. With the new addition and its fresh paint, the festival will have a new look when you step inside this year.

While looking for a picture from last year's festival to end this post with, I came across this one at the right. It's a piece that Ben Owen threw during a demonstration at the festival.

I stamped it with one of my tree stamps and then Ben worked his magic on it reshaping it. It has three trees stamped on the outside.

See you this Fall!