29 September 2008

Award Winning Baked Goods

Kathy Harrigan is an enabler. Perhaps my biggest gustatory weakness is any kind of homemade pie, cookie, sweet bread or cake. Kathy has won numerous prizes at the Virginia State Fair for her baking and I am proud to say that have been an official taste tester and 'critic' of hers for many years! She took one first place this year (an off year for her) for her gluten-free peanut butter cookies. Yesterday she came to LibertyTown with a cornucopia of baked goods. In preparation for the Fair she bakes lots of different variations, submits her best and shares the rest! So here is Kathy with a chiffon cake followed by a 'hot milk' cake with raspberries and then a carrot cake. Next are this year's prize winners followed by little jelly buttery gems (I've forgotten their proper name) and then her famous lemon bars. That's Neal Reed in the background, enjoying some cake. Happy Birthday, Neal!
When I closed my old pottery on Hanover Street, Kathy made cookies in the shape of several of my 'classic' forms. What an honor!

27 September 2008

Yet Another Quiz

What well known blogger made this mug, purchased the first time we met?

the everybodyfields

I have been obsessed with this band for several years now...Jill and Sam hail from Johnson City, Tenn. and they have performed at LibertyTown for 3 years running. They are delightful folks with a beautiful talent for writing, harmonizing and playing. Give 'em a listen!

Vote For Eric Olsen

Last night we hosted a reception at LibertyTown to formally introduce my friend Eric as a candidate for Commonwealth's Attorney in the City of Fredericksburg. Eric and I have been good friends for more than 25 years. He is a stellar human being and a passionate advocate for justice. His 19 years as an assistant D.A. in Stafford County has prepared him well for the job. I don't know if any Fredericksburgers read this, but if you want to learn more please feel free to contact me.

24 September 2008

A Crate of Babies (or rather, baby)

Emily and Ellie came for a visit to the pottery today, which is always a good thing. I think of Ellie Bird as my 'therapy baby'...if I'm feeling blue I make my way to wherever she is. We stuck her in this old milk crate and carried her around for a bit...I think she might have liked it.

After a haircut and fun conversation about food with Jan Coble, I got a lot accomplished in the studio today. I made lids for the storage jars I made yesterday, slipped and glazed planters, trimmed lids and threw some more simple crocks. The jars in the foreground aren't my typical form, but Emily requested pots that didn't take up as much space on the counter, so these are my version of a pot I first came across at Nick Mosse's pottery in Ireland. I can't bring myself to make a pot with a straight line, but these gentle curves suit me just fine. It is rare that I make this 'ginger jar' lid, but it is pretty simple. Being able to span the lid with one hand means a knob isn't required.
The weather continues to be glorious...everything is starting to change...the harvest has begun and hundreds of acres of corn are being gobbled up by combine tractors and poured into trucks and hauled away. I need to find out where the 'corn depot' is, but I believe that most of the corn and soybeans that are grown around here end up as feed for Frank Perdue's chickens. Not too far away on Maryland's eastern shore is an empire of chicken farms. They require lots of grain.

23 September 2008


I often fill the bottom of the kiln with planters...it's not been a very exciting part of the kiln so far, but these work just fine. Finished preparing wood with Beth and then I threw a bunch of 5lb. lidded jars. I'll try to take photos tomorrow. I'm on a roll and it feels good.

22 September 2008

Carbonated Glazes

I find myself spending a crazy amount of time testing both glazes and slips. It's always been so and with a new kiln (4 firings) and two different chambers, I have lots to discover. I tried an idea today that has been a long time coming. Too many ideas roll around in my head, sometimes for years, before something clicks and all of a sudden I feel I have to get down to it.
Today's fun was adding raw carbon directly into a shino glaze before dipping pots in it. I measured out about 30 ozs. of wet glaze and then added carbon granules in 1/4 teaspoon increments. I like carbon trapping in glazes, but I'm really not interested in firing a complete kiln on a schedule that encourages it. I was teaching a workshop at Penland while Malcolm Davis and Kent McLaughlin taught a carbon trap class. Their positive results were less than 30% ! I couldn't cope with that. But what if carbon mixed right into a glaze gives a very localized reduction? Do I dare expect little black halos in a field of orange shino? I'm no chemist, but I do love sticking things in a 2400 degree fire to see what happens.
I have a 100lb. sack that I salvaged years ago from a defunct factory that heated carbon and mixed it with oxygen to create a major component of high tech carbon plastics (think Stealth Bomber). If it's a genius idea, I have a lifetime supply. Otherwise....maybe I can sell it on Ebay!

21 September 2008


If I had a list of favorite words, 'Autumnal' would certainly be in the top 10. I do have a list of favorite seasons (it's a whole lot easier) and autumn has always been at the top. Now I know why...I looked it up in my American Heritage Dictionary and the second explanation is too close for comfort..."2. A period of maturity verging on decline". I fear that I've become autumnal myself!
After spending a few weeks making some bigger, fussier pots I've taken a break by throwing lots of smaller pots. That's where I'm most comfortable and I think it's a good thing that I can still find a lot of pleasure exploring the little nuances that each piece allows. I also like making pots that I'm pretty certain people will use. Michael Kline raises a great point in his blog today about making 'useful' pots and I know exactly what he's talking about. How many people are really going to use the teapot I made that they might have paid several hundred dollars for?
Mugs, on the other hand, continue to be accessible and here in the 'Burg there is something like a cult regarding them. I reckon I've made close to 10,000 of them since I began!

This little candlestick is new for me...they will fit everywhere in the kiln and will be useful for testing glazes. Anyone else out there sell their glaze tests?

17 September 2008

Long Trousers

Not to be confused with "The Wrong Trousers", one of my favorite Wallace and Gromit movie. Today was our first proper autumn-like day...bright sun, not too hot and by this evening I was enjoying a delightful chill. This is my time of year!
Here's a photo of the road heading into my studio. This is close to the end of a mile long and very rough dirt road. It makes for a nice, quiet spot.

Beth and I got some more wood organized today and we did some clean up around the property. After she headed home I started putting handles on these mugs. Over the years my standard mugs have evolved into what we would have called a 20 ounce beer mug at Winchcombe. These are a more reasonable size and are inspired by Nicky Cymrot's request...I also made a few for Pam Gallant...she likes an older (squat, I'd call it) version of the stein I make.

I'll finish handles tomorrow and start slipping and glazing...it'll be an abbreviated work day as it is poker night!

16 September 2008


A few months ago there was a bunch of blogs about pots and birds. It inspired me to make a press mold of these lead birds; one of the many ideas that sit around waiting for the right nudge to be brought to fruition. I intend to use them as a knob on some bigger lidded jars but for now I'm putting them on little tile pedestals to do more glaze and slip tests.
The lead birds have a great history. There used to be an amusement park on an island just below the route 3 bridge here on the Rappahanock River. It's hard to believe it to see the island now, it is rough and overgrown. But it was once a lively social spot that included a shooting range. A couple of years ago someone found a trunk full of the targets from that range in a basement downtown.

Setting the Date

I spent the day hauling wood with Beth Jordan, who's worked with me for the last year or more. She is good company and we got a lot done today. The next firing will be #5 and I'm still figuring out new 'rules' such as...get the wood cut and under cover one month before firing. I've been avoiding setting a date, but as she and I talked today, it seemed clear that the weekend of October 17,18,19 was the right one. So now to buckle down and get some serious pot making done. Nothing like a deadline for incentive.
For years I fired a small gas kiln a couple of times a month and I was forever setting a firing date and then putting it off at the last minute...for a day or three. But like most wood kilns, there is a lot of coordination involved now as I prevail upon friends to help out. So I can't be quite so cavalier about timing.

Here are some finished pots that I showed in an earlier stage. I raw glaze so they are ready to go now. I really like that. I do biscuit fire some pots to use with a crackle slip...I'd like to figure out how to get the same surface on greenware, but until then, it works.

14 September 2008

Toff Milway

I've been slacking off on my blogging duties, mostly because I can't find my camera (I think it might have been lifted from my car, but I'd still like to think that I just left it somewhere). I have been busy in my studio, but I'll use today's musings to introduce you to my best friend and the best salt glaze potter I know, Toff Milway. We met at Winchcombe in 1978 and no one has had more influence on me and my work. Toff and Ray Finch had a unique working relationship... I think Ray really admired Toff's technical mind and they would talk for hours, offering questions and possible answers about a variety of technical problems. This was particularly true with the new salt kiln ("Peardrop") that the three of us spent many of our free hours working on. I will tell many more stories about 'Milway' as time goes by. Below is part of the beautiful Cotswold stone cottage and pottery that the Milway family has maintained for many years. The rest is a sampling of work.

10 September 2008

Rye Arts Center

This is a group of teapots I'll be packing up today to ship for an upcoming exhibition called "Southern Exposure: Atmospheric Pots and the Penland Connection". This show is part of a county wide celebration of clay arts organized by Westchester Arts Council.
Years ago I was invited to be part of an exhibition of 'southern' potters. It really gave me pause...I was born and raised in Buffalao N.Y., and while it is true that my entire professional career has been spent in the south, I still identify myself as a 'yankee', so it was interesting to be given a new label...one I have since embraced.
Here's The Rye Arts Center link.

08 September 2008

Bedrock Pots

This is a body of work that goes back to my earliest introduction to clay. My college experience emphasized sculpture over function (this is TOO common) and I divided my time between both. My functional pots are finely made and maybe a bit too tight, sometimes...these pieces are the opposite in every way. In fact, a lot of the surfaces start with the scraps from the pottery process. I press all kinds of slips and junk into the surface of a wet slab and then stretch and distort it before shaping. later I spray more slips, glaze and ash mixtures. These were all gas fired to cone 10.
I've never made a lot of this work because I've never been quite sure where the market might be. But lately I've been back at it again and I've got some new things in the works.

From Here To There

I'm a little behind in posting this blog. We welcomed a terrific exhibition to our gallery last Friday night. The Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va. is celebrating their 35th anniversary this year with a traveling exhibition and invited us to host the first show! It is a real honor for us to be included and is a nice acknowledgement of what we've accomplished at LibertyTown in a few short years.
The show arrived last week in two nice crates and we repainted and spiffed up the gallery before hanging the show. Just as we were opening the doors Friday evening 4 fire trucks roared up the street and parked out front while they investigated a curious odor in a house across the way. They spent about an hour blocking the way before they felt that they could leave safely. It worried some of our guests arriving as we've already had one fire in the building a couple of years ago...I just told everyone it was part of a parade to celebrate the opening!

04 September 2008

Hatchville Pottery

I'm happy to direct you to my long-time pottery friend Hollis Engley's new blog. Hollis was a good writer long before he made pots...blogging was made for him! We used to wood fire together and he helped me build my kiln. He makes pots on Cape Cod which is too far away but
a nice place to visit.

03 September 2008

This Week's Pots

I needed to throw some simple things the other day, so I revisited these crock/spoon pots. I've made thousands of them over the years. The second photo shows some more challenging pots I'm working on and a 'cider jar' that I'm very pleased with. We have a big show opening this Friday at Libertytown, so I'm fighting to get out to the studio this week. It's usually pretty buggy by the time I get out there and close to pitch dark before I head home.

02 September 2008

Another Cool Book

This is my other new favorite book...the Chinese version of the previous post. There are 34 plates reprinted from beautiful, rich watercolors depicting the entire process of producing 18th century export ware from mining clay to selling the finished pots. The photos here depict mining by hand, oxen stomping the clay in pits, packaging prepared clay into 'bricks' for transport, making pots, cutting wood for the firing, loading pots into saggers, and an enameling kiln. Just like the Olympics that just passed, the sheer amount of human exertion is impressive.