26 February 2009

Secret Revealed!

One of the problems when writing a blog is that sometimes people read them....this makes planning a surprise a little difficult and that has been my dilemma the past couple of weeks. My best friend, Toff Milway, was turning 60 years old! last week and, just like his 50th, he was throwing himself a dance party. A 'bop' as he called it (he really is ancient). Now, he and I have managed to be around for many significant events in both our personal and professional lives over the years, so it wasn't easy to convince him that I wouldn't be able to be there this time. That meant I also couldn't write about it here on the off chance that he would finally take a look.
So, last Tuesday I headed to Dulles for my 26th visit to Great Britain since 1978. It was a whirlwind trip that included a very important visit with Ray Finch. Ray is 94 now and has only recently stopped making pots. He doesn't hear well, but his sense of humor still shines....and we had a great time talking about old times.

These are probably the last pots Ray will make. A bittersweet thought, especially since they are still nicer than most pots I make. Beautiful form, light as a feather. Still a Master...there aren't many. If you are out there calling yourself one...cut it out.

This is the first powered wheel that Winchcombe used. Ignore the barbed wire, but if you look toward the bottom you'll see two drums that were belt driven. Two holes were punched in the wall with the belt running through them to the gas driven motor that was placed outside. It was noisy and probably smelly. It was still in place when I arrived there in 1978. In many ways Winchcombe looked like something from the industrial revolution, or even earlier. These days it is very poorly looked after. Without Ray's steady hand, the entire place has gone into decline. We all hope that some new energy will pick it back up one day. It is as significant a spot as St. Ives in my opinion.

My friend, Ken Hussell, lives in a row of cottages in Conderton and this is carved over the door. I feel privileged to spend time with my friends in this place where so much history has passed.

The day after the party we drove to Durham to visit with my godson, Hugh, who is studying engineering there. It's another ancient place...the Cathedral was started in 1092, built to honor St. Cuthbert. There is also a Castle, all situated in a bend in the River Wear. It is a lively place and I always enjoy walking through college campuses. There is a palpable feeling; maybe it's the energy produced by all those brains expanding?
Just north of Durham is this sculpture..."The Angel of the North", the largest in Britain.

A modest street leaving the grand cathedral.

And everywhere, there is tea. My idea of heaven.

Now it's back to work. I have to decide if I can squeeze in a firing before I go to Cape Cod next month.

16 February 2009

Things I've Built Series: Studio #3

This is the kiln shed I built with Shannon Elder back in the '80's on Claradan Farm. I love stone and wood. We collected the stone from all over...mostly along the edges of farm fields, poking through the underbrush with sticks. We called it divining for rock.

Detail: This bit is made of granite cobblestones from the streets of Fredericksburg. They were probably ballast from English ships. I brought the red sandstone back from a trip out west.

15 February 2009

Photography Stew

I grew up in the land of snow, but here in Virginia it is a rare thing. It is even rarer in England , but this winter has been an exception. Georgie, here, often gives Toff his making list and on this day asked him to make a snow jug...that led to the teapot. They are handsome...just outside the showroom in Conderton.

Over the years I've been drawn and painted and photographed by lots of folks in lots a ways. It's the big beard factor, I suppose. Anyway, here's a new approach. Mathew Seaver using sponge and water on a canvas covered table (Matt is the son of Elizabeth, our Artist-in-Residence at LTown).

This is a sneak preview of my newest project...'The Alphabet Forest'! Where else did you think that words came from?

13 February 2009

Brick Icicles

I was searching for architecture blogs and came across these photos from a site called englishrussia.com. They are from a brick fortress in Russia that was used to test napalm. The heat produced melted the bricks and cooled into stalactites (or is that stalagmites?).

12 February 2009

The Winds of Change...

Sad to say that our little spring break is over and winter is returning with a bang, not a whimper. 24 hours of big wind that sometimes herald the collision of two fronts. Canadian frost versus the heat of the Gulf of Mexico. Michael Kline reports the same weather in the mountains of North Carolina. I kind of like it, tucked away in my cozy studio. It was a day of quiet work...handles and sprigs the whole time. These are the lidded jars I was fighting with the other day. I knew I'd like them better when I got handles on them.

Finishing up the bottles.

Here are the two sprigs/small stamps that I like at the moment. Beth's biscuit firing some new ones as we speak.

I've seen old Korean bowls with a fish stamped in the bottom...

Nice Article

I just got the Annual Report from Penland and it includes a 'Donor Profile' of myself...pretty cool. I've taught 4 different workshops at Penland and I happily donate a nice pot each year to the annual auction. It's a wonderful event and makes that amazing place a pile of money. One year I volunteered to help which was a lot of fun.

11 February 2009

Testing, 1,2,3

I threw a few dozen beakers/cups the other day to use for tests. I'm looking for a copper green that might work in both chambers and to improve on a a couple of shinos. Our brief but refreshing warm weather is being chased out by some strong cold and wind. Scary thunderstorms expected. That's just not right in February.

10 February 2009

An Off Day

I went to the studio today with a few specific ideas in mind...to make an even taller bottle (10lb) than the last few and some wide lidded jars. My ideas of form are classic and simple, but I have fun by exploring different variations of those themes. I want the bottles long and lean these days, and I had it in mind to make the jars broad based and 'husky', but, while they are all interesting, most didn't really meet the mental picture I started with. It got me to thinking about sports and accomplished athletes at the top of their game. In spite of peak conditioning and great experience, a player like Kobe Bryant can score 61 points one night and 28 the next. The skill is the same, but any number of other forces can alter his game. Today felt like a 28 pointer for me. Does every pot have to be inspired? I'll take a look again tomorrow, but I was off my game today. My theory is that I started with a giant pot without warming up with some smaller ones. But who knows, it could have been the wind.

Here are the first two pieces joined...3lb on top of 4lbs, firmed up with a torch between sections.

Capping with the 3rd section...another 3lbs.

The finished bottle.

07 February 2009

Young Fredericksburg Exhibition

Another First Friday means another exhibition opening at LibertyTown and last night's event was wonderful. This is the 4th year we've invited the young artists of Fredericksburg to show in our gallery and each year it gets better. (Bill Harris curates this one. There was a time I thought of him as a 'young artist"!) Originally it was intended to be a show for college students, but we've found more enthusiasm from high school and even middle school kids and now we welcome them all. It's great to see all the families who come and support the young artists. Lots of positive energy all evening long. We had more than 400 visitors!
I love the big handbuilt pots that come from Carter Corbin's students and there are some great fish from Mirinda Reynolds' class inspired by Neal Reed. (how's that for name dropping?)

I'm not sure if I've introduced Miss Moneypenny, but here she is in all her athletic glory. She somehow gets atop the door and sits perched for quite some time. It's a lot warmer there as the ceilings are low. I think of 'Snoopy' as the vulture...waiting for unsuspecting prey. Johnny Johnson's painting in the background.

04 February 2009


I finished slipping and glazing all of the wee bottles and then threw a dozen 4 pounders 'cause this is my newest obsession. I have to force myself to make other things, but this is what I'm most excited about lately. We would call these 'Cider Jars' at Winchcombe, especially if they had a spigot at the base. Turning fruit(pears, apples, grapes, rhubarb(rhubarbs?), parsnips et al) into alcohol is a noble and ancient craft and there was a time when we potters were essential to the preservation, distribution and serving of that elixer. I wish it were still true. Hopefully these will all find homes in spite of their archaic roots. I'm going to make one more batch of large ones soon. I've been carving more face sprigs at night. Good fun.

And, of course, miss Ellie Bird Cymrot, looking too cute.

02 February 2009

Details, Details.

I should have been cutting wood yesterday for the firing because it turned warm and sunny, but getting to finish pots when they are ready trumps almost everything. I spend w-a-a-y too much time on the littlest details, but I also truely enjoy this part of the process. I said it before here, but I could put a handle on anything.

The game was a classic last night, so was the food and company. Thanks Michael and Shanti!

01 February 2009

Super Bowls

Coincidence...or not?! The big game is tonight and I've been throwing lots of what I call 'drum bowls', they have a more upright demeanor than most bowls. I like the challenge that the change of curves offers and the vertical-ness presents a great surface for ash and salt to meet. These are 8-12lbs., somewhat larger than I usually make, but I'm determined to 'go big or go home' and I'm starting to worry about filling the kiln by early March. These will help.
I also threw a couple of boards of 'minis'. Toff and I used to discuss pots that would fit in all the odd spaces left in a kiln in an effort to increase a firing's value. I've been making things like this ever since. I like the challenge of making wee little pots that have the same detail and sophistication as bigger ones. 1/2 lb of clay. Some of the bottles will become mini bellermines.

A rare sighting of a purple Ellie Bird seen in her typical habitat!