28 December 2008

A Face Jug Apologia

I am proud of the influence that my training at Winchcombe has on my work, but I've never been interested in reproduction. I want to make work that is rooted in the past but speaks 'of and to' the present. I really think that is what tradition is...slow evolution. Another way to say it would be that I don't mean to appropriate but rather assimilate.
So, years ago, when my good friend Jerry Brent asked me if I would make him a face jug, my knee jerk reaction was an emphatic 'No!' It is somewhat puzzling to be born a Yankee and yet spend one's entire career making pots in the south. I admire southern pots, but I have avoided the temptation to reproduce them. Years ago, the Blue Spiral Gallery invited me to be part of an exhibition of 'Southern Potters' ! That really kind of twisted my mind. Can a (recovered) Catholic boy from Buffalo, New York really be a 'southern' potter?
I'm still not sure...
Anyway, I got to thinking about Jerry's request later on. I almost always do my best thinking later on. Now, Jerry is a native Virginian and has a great affection for the Old Dominion, its history and artifacts. I began to reason that it would do no harm and would make him happy if I set aside my rule and made him something that would bring him some small pleasure. So, later that year I made my first face jug and surprised him with it for Christmas. It was a big hit and from time to time I've made others and now it has come to the point that it is fair to call it a collection. The deal I made with myself was that I would make them for no one else. There are two random exceptions to this new rule that allowed me to break the old rule. Maybe I'll write about that another day.
The photo above depicts most, but not all, of the "Brent Face Jug Collection".
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19 December 2008

Open House

Tomorrow is our Open House at LibertyTown and I have started a new tradition of saving a bunch of my favorite pots through the year for this event. We are open from 10AM until 5PM. I don't have a lot this time around as my autumn firing was a bit grim, but I really like some of the new/old pots I'm making lately.

15 December 2008

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus...

...and his name is Mr. Kline! A box arrived today and inside was this wonderful mug made by himself. I filled it with some root soup to make sure it didn't leak (that's a joke) and I'm happy to report that it works just fine! This makes us even, which is no fun at all. I may have to cook something up....... Thanks, Michael!

Photographic Endeavors

Photography has always been a week link in my pottery career. I've never been interested in learning...nor have I ever found a local photographer that could really do the job. So, with the inspiration of fellow bloggers John Tilton and John Glick I am beginning to teach this old dog a new trick. See the benefits of blogging?! It's given me courage!
The shots below are done with my inexpensive point and shoot. I still need to replace my stolen camera, but I am encouraged by these first efforts. The pots are from my last firing...ol'#5. Feedback welcome.

14 December 2008


We had a sold out crowd (that means 70) for our concert Saturday night. Gaye Adegbalola is a founding member of 'Saffire - The Uppity Blueswomen', as well as a solo artist of note. The blues is her speciality and her latest album, "No Shame", is a journey through a variety of blues styles, from New Orleans to Chicago to the Piedmont. Her original and very personal music has a lot of support here in Fredericksburg and she was joined this night by Roddy Barnes on keyboard and Resa Gibbs doing backing vocals. It was a magic night. Gaye led everyone in a beautiful version of "Silent Night" to end the evening.

13 December 2008

Winter Fish

I was inspired by Michael's blog yesterday when he was writing about being reminded that he was a potter. Even when I was making pots full time I was always amazed at how little time we really spend actually making. There are so many things to be done. Now that I run an art center, I spend even less time in the studio. I haven't made a pot since September. I don't like it. Even with the holidays approaching I'm hoping to make a start next week on work for the next firing. I don't have a date yet, but we get some mild winter weather so hopefully I'll be ready in a couple of months.
All that is by way of an explanation for the 'parrot fish' pictured above. I was working on a table for my new photography studio. But stole a few minutes to make a little slab and try an idea I've had for a while. That idea didn't work, but it turned into this fish. I might make more, on purpose.
I'm going back to LibertyTown tonight for one of the last in our concert series. Gaye Adegbalola is performing in the gallery. She's a local (and international!) treasure.

10 December 2008

(Don't) Steal This Book

Don't buy it either...
I was very excited to spot this new book that claimed to tell the story of 'Dave the Slave'. Seldom do I pay full price for a book, but this promised to be fascinating, because, to the best of my knowledge, very little was known about this unique and wonderful pot maker.
Sadly, I find the book unreadable. The author's family once owned Dave (or so he says) and, perhaps to assuage his guilt, he moved back to the south to research and write this book. There is so little known about Dave, that this guy decided he would make it up. I've never seen a book that uses the words " might have; perhaps; maybe; if: may have; I suspect;" in almost every sentence. He even produces several pages of a family tree that is based entirely on the author's imagination. Maybe I wouldn't be so bothered if this was sold as fiction, but the title clearly says "The Life and Legend..." A legend is a story passed down from the past, not the fantasies of 21st century author.
I'll happily send it out to one of my readers...perhaps I should ask for a pot in return...a second would be appropriate!
(Tip o' the hat to Abbie Hoffman for the title)

09 December 2008

Emporium Report

I'm just now feeling like my old self again after a grueling week and a half spent transforming our gallery into our new 'Emporium'. I filled my trailer twice with furniture from Ikea and then spent days assembling...with the help of Beth and Elliot. Once we had the display in place Susan Wyatt then came and worked her magic, combining the beautiful work of more than 30 different artists into a cohesive and stunning display. Then it was time to open to the public. For the few loyal supporters who make up the 'Friends of LibertyTown' (we need more friends! who doesn't?) we had a preview last Thursday night. A small but enthusiastic group attended and everyone seemed happy with the changes. That was followed by our monthly First Friday opening AND our annual 'Student Pottery Sale'. We were mobbed and sales were fantastic. Saturday we were visited by a couple of dozen enthusiastic middle school art students who belong to an after school program. They ate, had a visit in the weaver's studio, took our scavenger hunt and then I did a demo for them on the wheel. Great kids with interesting questions and lots of curiosity. Days like that are a good reminder of why I continue the struggle to keep our doors open.
By the time the kids left I was fried and I haven't been very productive since. Lots of tea drinking by the fireplace and general clearing up of the various and sundry piles that always seem to accumulate on each and every horizontal surface I own.
Brisk sales continued all weekend and we are very pleased at the initial reaction to this new idea. If you're in the neighborhood, please stop in!

02 December 2008

From Outhouse to Emporium...

I spent a few hours on a beautiful Thanksgiving day finishing off my outhouse 'folly'. I reckon I'll be making additions to it for quite some time, but for now it is christened with a few pots down the hole. In a couple of hundred years it might be interesting to a privy digger. I've got a goofy collection of books for this very important library. Here are a few images.

It's been a week since I've been to my studio.The last few days have been jam packed with LibertyTown activity as we are embarking on an exciting new venture in our gallery. I've been thinking of this change for a long time, as is my way, and now that it is coming together I think it will be an excellent addition to the art center. We're remaking the main gallery into what we're calling a "Craft Emporium". We've assembled 20 different pieces of IKEA furniture, built a new sales counter and patched and painted walls. With Susan Wyatt in charge of installation, we are filling the gallery with all kinds of handmade goodness. Mostly drawing from our own group of artists, we are combining our forces to create a very different kind of marketplace. After day one of the installation, Elizabeth said it reminded her of a museum store, which sounds just right. Here are a few photos of the gallery as it has been. Stay tuned for new and improved LibertyTown.

Just as a footnote of sorts...most of my best projects have a long 'gestation' period where I roll things around in my head, visiting and revisiting an idea from different angles, sometimes drawing and redrawing, picturing in my mind's eye the new thing. And still, when it comes to the execution of the idea, there is always a need to be open to a change that makes better sense.

24 November 2008

Wieliczka, Poland Salt Mines (100th blog)

One day I would like to see this place...just about everything here is carved from salt. It goes on for miles.


For those of you who are not salt glaze potters, you might not recognize the pattern that develops on the bottom of silicon carbide shelves during the firing (see below). It reminds me of the pattern on the black and white composition notebooks that I've been filling for close to 40 years. It's probably a good case study for the chaos theory. Seemingly random and patterned at the same time.
One of the best books I've read in a long time is "Salt - A World History" by Mark Kurlansky. It is a fascinating look at world history through the procurement and control of salt all around the globe.
Salt is the only rock essential to human (and animal) existence.
Many of today's roads follow paths once worn by animals seeking a source of salt.
Controlling the salt trade led to great power...the Roman Empire did it...the British did it in India (think of Ghandi's great act of civil disobedience...going to the sea and 'making salt').
Until refrigeration and canning food, one of the only ways to preserve food was salt.
The Wielicka Salt mines in Poland date back to the 13th c. Miners have been carving in the salt for a long time and it is now a tourist attraction that contains a cathedral and a lagoon with boats and statues and chandeliers entirely of...you guessed it, salt. Toff Milway brought some for me and I used it in the first firing of my kiln. I think we might have sprinkled a little in the kiln at Penland as well.
I could go on, but I won't. If your still reading this, you ought to get the book.

21 November 2008

Caroline County Meander

I drove to the outer reaches of the county this morning to deliver some pots to the gift shop at the new Visitor's Center in Carmel Church. They have a big fossil of a whale hanging in the lobby. It was dug somewhere nearby. As I headed back to my studio I took some back roads and discovered Boone Antiques, the biggest, baddest antique store I've ever seen. Really, it's a warehouse and maybe as big as 30,000 square feet. Mostly full of old furniture, beautifully cared for and lined up as far as the eye can see (almost). Literally thousands of pieces. Nothing I could afford, but a real treat to see so much beautiful old wood. I have a thing for chairs and a couple of the photos below show the entire floor full of amazing ones. Probably 100 genuine Windsor chairs, each being sold for more than $1,000.00. Almost no pots, sad to say, but I did buy a nice salt glazed crock that I'll show you later. This first photo is a three-drawer chest with the best fake books you'll see.

Eventually I made my way to Bowling Green and had lunch at a little 14 seat restaurant that serves burgers and fries and Thai food! How can I resist? Tofu with cashews...mmmmm.

19 November 2008

Solar Power

My studio is only 10 miles from town but it is very remote just the same. You could call it 'primitive' since there is no electricity or running water. It is certainly basic and one of the results of that is that I pay extra attention to managing my 'utilities'.
Dave Twinberrow is an ancient friend of mine who still resides in the Vale of Evesham (England). He has a beautiful plot of land that is rich with fruit trees, flower and vegetable beds as well as various sheep, goats and fowl. There are also sheds both large and small all over the place and I had to ask him about it one day. Even in rainy old England, he explained that every inch of roof could collect water. I've always admired that. I think of his place as I've been developing mine.
Dave would approve of the little solar electric system I moved today. I bought this kit a few years ago for less than $200 and I think it is cool that even on this cold day it will produce enough light for me to work well into the night. I hope one day to put together a system that would drive my wheel for a couple of hours a day. That'll take a bit of cash.

Of course, my outhouse project is part of my 'green' studio. This is the rear view (pun intended) 12' high to the top. It's coming together nicely. I love that curve.

17 November 2008

Weekend Update

Next up for my 'comfort station' project is roofing and a door. I was trying to puzzle out why I'm feeling compelled to build this (aside from the obvious reasons...) at this time. Today's theory has to do with results. After a rough firing, when pots that I had high hopes for have not met expectations, it is satisfying to make something that I don't have to subject to the vagaries of kilns and firing. "plant a radish, get a radish, never any doubt." (lyrics from The Fantastics). I plan to build a ladder up the back so that I can access the roof. All kinds of wildlife passes by when your up off the ground.

We have been putting together an 'Empty Bowls' fundraiser for a number of years and last night we had dinner with some of the other potters and coordinators as we plan for this winter's event. It has become a wildly popular social event in town and a lot of cash is raised for a very good cause. Dinner was at Poppy Hill, a very good downtown restaurant. (pumpkin ravioli)

15 November 2008

Privy News

I think that every potter has a bit of architect in them...and I know a couple of architects that have pottery envy. Kurt Vonnegut's father was an architect who struggled all his career, finding satisfaction in his retirement as a pot maker. Making pots...making buildings...they both share ideas about interior and exterior space..line and form. I often describe potmaking as architecture on a personal scale.
All this is a way to explain my lifelong interest in building things. The outhouse is shaping up. It was a tricky thing to get the arch forms up that high by myself...today if the rain isn't too thick I'm hoping to put most of the siding up. I need to get back in the studio, but this sure is fun!

13 November 2008

SOFA Review

The sensory overload of a show like this is amazing. 100 galleries were there representing thousands of artist and craftspeople. The quality of the work boggles the mind. There are so many great makers in our world and it is easy to be humbled by such a display of talent. The show was dominated by glass and wood. My other response was that strong color and figurative work dominates this show. There wasn't as much clay as I would have hoped to see. One artist I spoke with said that the 'real estate' cost too much to show pots. I saw a vase sold for $20,000! It was a nice vase, but I am always a bit bemused by the distance between a vase like that and one that I might make.
It was great to get up close to the work of Voulkos and Chilhuly, Notkin and Bennett Bean. I always look forward to getting back to my studio when I leave a good show.
Chicago is a great city and I walked so much I hurt myself. As I was slowly walking to my gate at the airport to head home I looked up to see one of my oldest friends in the world, Gerry Hersh!
I've been negligent in keeping some old connections alive and this amazing meeting has been a big reminder to me of the value of friends. I learned a lot from Gerry a long time ago and that continues to have value to me today.
Sorry about all the photos. Of course, you don't have to look if you don't want to......


larger than life size - Ceramic

folded paper