31 January 2012

Messrs. Kline and Philbeck in the House!

On what can only be described as a whirlwind visit, LibertyTown is most pleased to announce, for one night and one night only, the highwire deco(*) troupe of Michael Kline and Ron Philbeck, lately of the northernmost of the two Carolinas. These two seasoned professionals will amaze and astound you with their feats of magic....see Michael's brushes leave marks you never thought possible....watch as Ron pulls the image of a rabbit out of his pot!!! 
Join us on the evening of March 14th as we talk about making pots, surface decoration, selling and promotion and blogging about pots. We three have yet to share the same airspace so I'm really looking forward to this visit! And there will be pots for sale...more details below. Don't miss out!
Michael K.
Ron P.
M. Kline
R. Philbeck
Michael K.
Where: LibertyTown Arts Workshop
When: March 14, 2012 - from 6:30-9pm
Fee: $12.00 includes pizza and beer! 
Phone: 540-371-7255 or contact me via email...danfinneganpottery@cox.net
Space is limited (not really...)

* I really hate the abbreviation for decoration...deco just sounds inelegant...sorry guys.

28 January 2012

How We Move On

Maple, myself and Ellie
Thanks to everyone who has reached out since Ray's passing...he was laid to rest on Thursday amidst a multitude of family and friends. Ray's granddaughter Clare (that's Joe and Trudi's girl) is compiling a number of people's thoughts and writing on a website and she invites you to visit. www.rayfinch.co.uk
Jason practicing his 'limbo' moves...he's got a ways to go.
Or was he showing me his 'Ministry of Silly Walks' moves?
I forget....
But, of course, life moves on and we've been making slow and steady progress on the new kiln. We're set to put the arch up, but now I need a welder to assemble the frame. That might slow us down. The arch form needs to be made before long and Jason and I worked on that some today.
I like to wrap the interior wall with ceramic fiber. It acts like the Tyvec fabric that builders wrap houses with. It keeps the kiln from sucking air through the joints in the brick. I don't use mortar so this really makes the kiln tight. I'm particularly pleased with my new and improved spyhole. Shortly after I finished my wood kiln I saw this idea and I was envious...By cutting the bricks on an angle along each side it provides a significantly bigger 'picture' of the interior and gives you much more latitude in where you can place the cones. It took me a while to figure out how to cut it with the wet saw/grinder method but the came out great. It's difficult to show it in a photograph.
looking from the inside out
looking from the outside in
Tomorrow is our Empty Bowls event. I think almost 400 bowls were made and fired at LibertyTown this month. After many years it is a well oiled machine with many people doing their part. Last year we raised more than $40,000.00! And, as always, it has been sold out for days. Thanks everybody!

22 January 2012

Laborare est Orare

    "To Work is to Pray"
    Long before I met the man, Ray Finch's pots changed my life. On a snowy night in January, 1978, I arrived at The Guildhouse, the craft school in the Cotswolds where I had come to teach. At this point, I had been working with clay for several years while attending several universities, mostly exploring the sculptural side of ceramics. As I entered the great hall of the Guildhouse, there was a spectacular fire place in the center and above the fireplace was a large charger (that's a platter for you Americans!) with the latin phrase above inscribed around the rim. The phrase is the motto of the Benedictine order (and the city of Cincinnati as it turns out) and it was also adopted by the founder of the Guildhouse. Mary Osborne had commissioned Ray to make this for her and it continues to be a much treasured piece. Everywhere you looked in that place were fabulous pots made by Ray, by Cardew and many of the fine potters who were part of the Winchcombe team.
    I had never before entered a world that so wholeheartedly embraced and celebrated hand made objects. I am sorry to admit that at this point I had almost no knowledge of the history of pottery in Britain. How lucky then to end up just 7 miles down the road from this extraordinary pottery and it's wonderful people.
   When I tell the story of my own pottery life, this is the point where I mention that I had a 2-part epiphany that led to my life as a potter. The first part being my entrance into the Guildhouse and the second, when a week or two later I first visited Winchcombe. I can still recall the sound of the sliding door that opens into the workshop and the earthy smell of a place where clay is king. Of course, in those days, you first met Eddie Hopkins as you entered and Ed always had lots of to say. Meeting Ray was a bit terrifying for me, really...Quiet people often leave me unnerved and if you ever met the man, you know that quiet is his middle name. 
    Ray was an island of serenity in a vibrant workshop full of characters behind their wheels and plenty of interesting visitors that always kept it lively. Ray took it all in, but remained on the edges, rather than in the middle of things. He had a strong internal life and was content to go through his days quietly, smoking a pipe while making pots or digging potatoes. 
I have too many stories to tell about this man who shaped so much of my life...to begin with, I'm guessing that if it weren't for Ray I wouldn't have known any of you folks out there reading this. 
    Here are just a few little pieces of memory that make my smile and cry at the same time:
Just as I arrived Ray was exploring salt glazing for the first time. The best education I ever got was standing with Toff and him while they were figuring it all out...2 great minds solving a big puzzle. When I last saw Ray in the summer of 2010 he was still making tests and firing the salt kiln! At close to 96 years old! It is only too appropriate that I and my 2 assistants began building my new salt kiln on the very day he passed.
    I usually spent the evenings finishing off the firing of the wood kiln with Ray. The work day at the pottery would end at 4:30 when everyone went home. I would tend the kiln while Ray went into the house for his evening 'tea' and when he returned he would often bring with him a couple of Newcastle Brown Ales and we would then finish off the firing together into the night. I would try to be a bit quiet myself, but I'm sure that I drove him a little crazy with my questions and babbling, not that he'd have let me know that. 
    I asked him once what he thought his legacy might be....not a question that he wanted to entertain, but he answered just the same. He felt that he had spent his life refining the somewhat raw ideas that Michael Cardew brought to our consciousness...those ideas included creating a working environment for his team that had purpose and meaning as well as refining the classic forms and decoration that Cardew used.                         When the red clay at Winchcombe finally played out (it was full of lime) he adapted the Bourry firebox to stoneware temperatures. There are kilns all over the world that use this idea. I'm not sure that Ray gets the credit he deserves for that. He also found a way to bring some classic slipware decoration ideas to stoneware.
   In his later years when I'd visit we would walk over the hill just across from the pottery and talk about the landscape of the Cotswolds and the rural life that, even there in that special place has been disappearing. He wasn't a man to express regret, he was a pragmatist about the changes that life wrought while at the same time he pursued his seemingly idyllic life as a country craftsman. He was a man firmly rooted...in that place and in his deeply felt beliefs. Ray was devout Catholic and a man of strong conviction...he was a pacifist during WWII and refused to fight. (He served with the fire brigade during the war). I've often thought that it takes a lot of conviction to remain a pacifist when your own homeland is under attack.
   I could go on and on here, but I won't. Most of you have probably given up reading to this point anyway. I appreciate the kind words that have been sent my way and if you haven't read Hollis' or Doug's recent writings about Ray you should. 
    Ray was a great potter and an even better man and I am so grateful to have counted him as my friend.
It always seemed to me that he lived his own life by the words 'to work is to pray'. His life helped me to understand what that means. Peace. 

Here are just a few of his pots in my collection. I've been greedy and I'm proud of it!

Stoneware jug/ earthenware creamer

look at the lids on the 2 large teapots...I switched them to show that, while made years apart and fired in different kilns, they fit each other exactly.

18 January 2012

Ray Finch - Rest in Peace

I am so sorry to be telling you about the passing of one of the true giants of the pottery world. Ray passed away at the age of 97. I'll write more about this wonderful man later. If you ever had the chance to know him you should count yourself fortunate. He changed my life...and many others.

13 January 2012

Old Friends...New Look

I'm still messin' with all these templates. The photos are an excuse to post.
Ray Finch. Building the first salt kiln. 1978.
Johnny Leach and Nick Rees salting the last firing in his old kiln. '1990's?
Young people have no respect
My youngest brother, Pat and his family.
Jennifer Dyson firing Johnny's new kiln.

10 January 2012


Uh-oh, I just discovered a way to change all kinds of things on blogger, so look out while I amuse myself. Today's trick is picture in picture cleverness.

Filling a Void

I always try to hunker down during the holidays and I'm just now staring to feel the energy for another year. This is always a good time for sorting out the piles of stuff that accumulate during a year and I like to think that I can see some shape to the upcoming year as I get back to the studio.

So far, this is what I've got in mind.
Jason and I will make a serious effort to build the new salt kiln this winter.
I believe a couple of blogging gentlemen from NC will be visiting LibertyTown in early March for some sort of festivities.
I plan to spend the summer with my ever growing group of friends in Great Britain.
I'm also planning an event to be held in Washington DC (our nation's capital!) next autumn. It's still top secret, but watch these pages for further information.
And, of course, there are pots to make, kilns to fill and miles to go before I sleep.
I hope that you are all well and that you are ready for another big year. Thanks for staying tuned! Dan