Originally from Miami, FL, I developed an interest in pottery after writing a couple of stories on potters for The Enquirer Journal in Monroe, NC. I settled in the area in the 1980s, covering Seagrove for the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro. I stepped behind the potter's wheel full time in 1986, when I opened up WILD ROSE POTTERY in Whynot, just south of Seagrove. I now own and operate FROM THE GROUND UP, just south of Seagrove. I also play Irish flute.
Beer bottle - local clay and Highwater Orangestone
I forgot to share some pictures of my latest firing in my wood-fired (Manabigama) kiln. I posted 31 pictures of some of the better pots on my Facebook Page, From The Ground Up - Pottery by Michael Mahan. Click here to view the album. Thanks to Jared Zehmer of Seagrove for the use of his photo booth.
Wood-fired, salt-glazed jug unearthed away from kiln site this past Sunday, showing where handle was attached
This past Sunday Hal and Eleanor Pugh of New Salem Pottery just north of Seagrove came by for a visit to take a look at what we believe is a kiln site belonging to 19th century potter W.J. Stewart, who crafted pots and made whiskey on our land back in the 1890s.
After spending a couple of hours wandering the site and locating evidence, we headed back to the house and stopped along the way to chat. I spotted what looked like the top of a jug on top of a pile of leaves. I ignored it while I listened to the conversation, then later stepped over and got a closer look. There appeared to be quite a bit of open space beneath the shard as I peared into the mouth of the jug. I tapped the shoulder and heard the distinct hollow ring of a large vessel.
I got excited, and broke off a twig to fashion a crude digging tool and spent the next few minutes carefully digging around the jug. Soon I was able to wiggle the jug free. Its handle was missing, but the rest of the jug was intact. No cracks. Hal, who graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in Anthropology and has participated in some archeological digs, was as excited as I was when I handed him the jug.
I'm not yet positive it's a W.J. Stewart jug, but it's a salt-glazed, wood-fired jug, and to think that it may have sat there for more than a hundred years poking up above the earth filling with rainwater, insulated by the ground from the freezing weather, and it never cracked....
Overall, I think it was a good firing. I glazed a few pieces with an alberta slip glaze that showed the effects of ash well, and I think I'll use the same glaze next firing on some larger pieces. I like simple glazes. I also mixed up a new batch of a glaze I made last time I fired: equal parts apple ash, rock dust and local clay. I glazed a tree bowl with this and it looked beautiful - until I looked inside. The tip of my thermocouple broke off and fell inside. The two large tree platters - one a white clay and one a darker clay - turned out nice, but the darker one had a crack in the rim. There wasn't as much ash buildup as I wanted, though.
I'm not sure about the use of my iron-rich local clay. Firing it to cone 12 or 13 causes bloating. At lower temperatures, it turns deep purple/black and has a dry surface which absorbs oil from my fingers. I didn't get all of Levi's clay tests in, but when using the local clay in combination with Loafer's Glory or Star White gives some interesting results.
I'll be taking some individual shots later in the week, and will share them then.
I feel like this firing took too long to reach temperature. Next time, I'll be trying to reach temperature quicker and soaking for a longer time. The designer of this kiln suggests stoking heavy every 10 minutes. I think we spent too much time finessing the fire this time. We lost a 200 degrees after reaching 2,200 degrees F. (around the time we pulled a pot out) and spent a couple of hours getting it back up to 2,200 again, tweaking the passive dampers and air intakes. After we reached 2,200 again, we stoked with just pine, leaner stokes more often and the kiln took off again. We reached cone 12 in the front and decided to keep stoking until we reached 10 toward the back. After we unloaded, we actually found we reached cone 11 on the back of the middle stack of shelves. We had to rake coals out several times during the last hour or more.
I'm new at firing with wood, so if there are any potters reading who would like to make suggestions or comments, please do.
I took out a couple more brick from the door and stuck the camera inside for this shot. I'm afraid the soul pot on the left side of the shelf may be stuck to the large jar behind it. You can see the different finishes on the pots, the effect of ash deposits and flashing from the flame and embers. These pots were closest to the firebox.
This is the top two shelves in the front of the kiln with a few of Levi's small vases of different clay combinations, a soul pot on its side and a few of Chelsea's squarish cups. The cones show that it was a bit hot, but I chose to fire a little longer to get the rear of the kiln up to cone 10. There's a bit of bloating on a couple of the vases due, I'm guessing, to the high content of my iron-rich local clay.
Here's a quick peak into the kiln. The temperature reading on my pyrometer was about 600 F. Peaking in here and there, I saw some nice effects, some bloating, one long flat piece cracked, my two large platters intact and some nice ash buildup. Cone 13 is flat in the front and cone 11 is haflway down towards the back. I'll be unloading tomorrow morning.
It was nearly 8 p.m. when Levi, Chelsea and I finished loading the kiln and bricking up the door. My children drove to their mother's for dinner and I turned to make my way upstairs for my dinner. Then the thought occurred to me that I had not removed something from the kiln.
I reached through the stoke hole and felt below it. Sure enough, the slap of wood that I place on the grate bars to climb in and out was still there. I'd have to unbrick the door to get it out.
I ate my dinner and Mary helped me unbrick a large enough portion to be able to push the wood up high enough to grab it and snake it out.
I've got a kiln full of unfired pots, so I decided to place a propane burner in one of the air intakes and leave it on low overnight. I pushed a couple of large platters so they would dry in time to load today, and I don't want to take a chance of them cracking or, worse, blowing up.
In this load, I have a lot of pieces that Levi made for me, I have some pieces that Chelsea is doing for her Senior Show at UNCA, and a few pieces by Phillip Pollett (Old Gap Pottery). I put a few pieces of Phil's in the front of the kiln that we'll be pulling out of the kiln and quenching in water, a technique called hiki Dashi in Japan.
I managed to add feet on two of my large tree platters, throw the base and lid for seven casseroles and pull a few handles today before my shoulder started feeling tired, so I stopped working. Three weeks off in Ireland, and I'm hoping my ailments had enough time to heal some, so I'm trying to be aware of when certain body parts are saying, "I've had enough."
Yoga in the morning is helping.
My son Levi has pleasantly surprised me with his abilities on the potters wheel. I threw a bottle shape the other day and he sat down and threw one that was just as good if not better. I helped him out with handling some of his mugs today, not his strong point.
"I hate handles," he told me.
He was faceting some shapes the other day with a wire, and I remembered I had some old guitar strings in my shop, so I pulled the coiled outside wire off a bass string and handed it to him. He had some fun with that.