29 December 2009

More Handmade Goodness

This has been quite the season for generous friends and Xmas continued that trend. I've never had a 'secret santa' before so I was excited to be invited by a certain red-headed blogger to join in her reindeer games this year.

This wonderful pot arrived Xmas eve and there's no need to tell you who made it, do I?! In fact, I'm certain that I recognize it from one of Michael's previous posts! From my seat here in front of the computer I think of Michael as the king of pottery bloggers...fearless in the face of technology, he is blazing a trail across international boundries with his charming words and images.

More importantly, he makes fabulous pots...Michael's ability to unite form, decoration and surface in his work is masterly and I really think he's one of the best. I'm so happy to add this pot to my collection and it was my favorite gift this year...until...

...Susan Wyatt gave me this beautiful 'charger' made by my main man, Ray Finch! I was flabbergasted and I'm still not sure how she obtained it, but it is a classic and unlike other pots of Ray's that I own. I'll try to take some photos of the others I have and show you. (Ray was glazing some of these back in 1978 when I asked him for a job).
I've been saying 'thanks' a lot these days...and I mean it!
3 days until I plan to return to my studio...

26 December 2009

Legless and Fingerless

For more than 30 years the Christmas season has been a frantic time of making, firing and selling for me so it has been odd to spend this season so sedately. Several of the wonderful gifts I received yesterday seemed to have a theme that I will call "Yes You Had Surgery, Now Get Back In The Studio and Fire That Kiln". And gifts came in unique pairs this year.
Below are the two pairs of hand knitted fingerless gloves I was given. Both are intended for loading wood-fired kilns in the winter. I was hoping to wait until the spring, but how can I delay when I now have the perfect equipment?
I also received two different night shirts! Having been a patient for the first time in my life I took to wearing an ancient one I owned. My friends are making some sort of statement that I'd rather not interpret! My legs dangling at the bottom of a nightshirt is not a pretty sight!

I also got two amazing pots and I'll give you a gander at them tomorrow.

These are Susan Wyatt's very first effort to make gloves and they are tres' cool. All cotton (I can't bear scratchy wool) and illustrated with flickering flames of fire and the words 'WOOD FIRE' written across the knuckles like a prison tattoo. I do have pinkey fingers, by the way. We've agreed that I have to grow them longer or Susan has to make them shorter...

Anna Branner's have a new wrinkle that I've never seen before...no fingers at all. The yarn is hand spun but I haven't had the chance to ask her if it was spun by herself. My guess is yes...she, like Susan, does many things well. Including her new blog which we have yet to discuss, but I encourage you to take a look. I'm not always easy to give gifts to as I'm a bit particular, but this was a stellar year. Yet another reason to be thankful!

21 December 2009

Winter Wallop

Usually I'm irritated by the instantaneous title awarded by the TV media to every storm that comes our way...it makes each event seem like a chapter in a rather lurid romance novel after a while. But the Weather Channel has called the lovely snowfall that we just got a 'Wallop' and I like that word plenty. It has a great sound...wallop. I even looked it up...it has to do with great force.
I've been taking it easy for 6 weeks now, but with 12"-18" in our part of the world this weekend, everyone else has had to slow down , too. It has hurt our business in a big way, but Nature has spoken and I've been enjoying this taste of serious winter just the same.
I miss writing here but my days have been pretty event free. I'm feeling much improved, though, and even did a little shoveling which was fine.
I have been doing some serious baking and liked this funny pattern of cookies over a teatowel.

The cutouts in the foreground have anise and sesame...subtle and perfect with tea.
The round ones in the background are peanut butter with chocolate kisses.

My sweet home in the snow...the fireplace has been cranking thanks to Tom and Shannon and Michael!

Miss Moneypenny.

Great drifts of snow.

Herself in silhouette, trying to figure it out.

02 December 2009

Our December Extravaganza!

Everyone at LibertyTown has been busy preparing for the last of our First Friday openings of the year (everyone, that is, but me!). Susan Wyatt spent days rearranging the Emporium with a new (for us) idea and it looks great. Elizabeth, Beth and Aline are putting up the "Small Works" exhibition by our very own artists and our 5th?/6th? annual student pottery sale commences on Friday evening as well. I was 'under the knife' last month and this will be my first public appearance since then.
I have a lot of pots from last May's firing which I'm showing for the first time. Some have been to England and back, some were made in England this summer, and some spent a couple of months in West Virginia. Oh, and a whole bunch went to NY and back as well. Think of the stories they have to tell!!!

Nicky Cymrot

Stephanie Tomkins

Fredericksburg Spinners and Weavers

Jonathan's Spoons

Chris Light - woodturning

30 November 2009

Another Random Book Review

As I continue to mend I've begun rummaging through my collection of books on clay, starting with the oldest and wandering from there. I enjoy the sometimes archaic language and the strong opinions that seem to have disappeared as we've gotten more 'civilized'. The stronger the opinion the better, I say, whether I agree or not.

Birch's Ancient Pottery by Samuel Birch is a 2 volume set printed in 1858. There are no photos, but it is illustrated with 100's of fine lithographs and in some ways they make it easier to see the form of a piece.

Mr. Birch's intro begins: "A work has long been required which should embody the general history of the FICTILE art of the ancients"...I had to look up 'fictile' ( It's from the Latin word meaning to mold). I should have known that...now we all do!
He also writes: "In the application of form in art, the Greeks have excelled all nations, either past or present."
In another of my favorites, The Book of Pottery and Porcelain by Warren Cox (also 2 volumes, copyright 1944) the author disagrees: "We, therefore, find at times a certain coldness in the art of the Greeks. It is though they prefer a straight line to a curve." I believe the later to be true, but mostly I enjoy the differing views of the experts.

I've been playing around with some bead making and pendants for Nicky to turn into necklaces.
I do enjoy working on wee little things. Most of these are from stamps I've carved from fine white clay and biscuit-fired.

For those keeping score, I visited my surgeon today and he won't be needing my company again for 6 months! Another positive milestone.

26 November 2009

Thanksgiving w/ an Extra Helping of Thanks!

I'm having a quiet day reading and half watching football with a good fire in the fireplace. Of course, I'm drinking tea with biscuits, too. I'm getting stronger and eating better everyday; I'm just very sore and they tell me that it is normal.
I really just want to write to say thanks again to the countless people that rallied behind me these past 6 weeks...it gives emphasis to today's celebration in a very real way.

15 November 2009

Survivor : Fredericksburg

Hello again, friends! It has been a whirlwind of a month, from diagnosis to cure, but I am now a part of that growing population that calls themselves a cancer survivor. 10 days ago the wonderful surgeon, Dr. Earnhardt, removed 8" of my colon and 3 days ago the lab report came back with the wonderful news that no bad cells were found in the lymph nodes that were also removed! The surgery was more extensive than the Dr. had hoped, but with results like that one can only be grateful.

I am eating most anything I choose, walking around the block, and you would be hard pressed to know what I'd been through if you could see me now. I'm still very sore and trying to 'manage the pain' without depending too much on the serious drugs they've given me.

I can't begin to tell you how important all of the good wishes mean to me and if the power of positive thinking truly exists, I have countless people to thank for my recovery. I'll be laying low for a while yet, but it won't be too long before I'll be heading out to the studio. Happily I enjoy making little pots.
One of the most extraordinary people to help me along the way is Steven, one of the 7 nurses who attended to me. That's him below. He was upbeat and kind while at the same time pushing me to walk and move when it was the last thing I wanted to do. He was as therapeutic as any medicine they gave me! If there are angels on this earth, he is one of them. More soon about all the support I've gotten.

Update on Dan Finnegan

(Guest bloggers Anna and John are sitting in for Dan today and want to give you an update...)

Without going into too much detail, Dan had surgery about ten days ago to remove the cancer discovered during his routine colonoscopy. All the fixing, patching and sewing that followed the procedure have gone exceedingly well. Dan is progressing as the doctors had hoped and Dan is up and around as expected.

For those of you keeping score at home, Dan was released on Tuesday afternoon and has been recuperating in a secure, undisclosed location (and under adult supervision!) His keepers continue to report nothing but good news on the Dan Finnegan progress report!

So far Dan's pain has been manageable, and all his parts that should be working are working. He is being closely monitored around the clock. Rumor has it that he may be back home before too long.

The gang at LibertyTown is coordinating a revolving 'Dinners for Dan'. Call LibertyTown for details if you wish to contribute calories to the cause.

We (collectively, all of his friends, neighbors, well-wishers and loved ones) have been successful in allowing him to focus on his recovery and that is thanks to everyone who is sending all that good Kharma his way. It continues to have a profound impact on his health, so keep bombarding him with your thoughts and prayers.

05 November 2009

Just a Few Words of Thanks

Tomorrow is the big day and I just wanted to thank all of the well wishers who've been sending me their love, affection and positive thoughts. I have been overwhelmed by the support of friends near and far. Despite the impending surgery, I sit here today feeling a fortunate man to be so rich in good people. I'll talk to you on the other side! Dan

02 November 2009


When I began writing this blog it was in part an effort to refocus my mind on my life as a potter. Running an art center and trying to be a potter at the same time often leaves me feeling discombobulated. It was never my intention to get too personal here, but rather to share some of my passion for clay and connect to more of my fellow travelers.

So, now I'm breaking my own rules here...It's not easy to share this with you all, but this Friday I'm to be operated on for colon cancer...while it is a serious surgery the outlook is very positive and my expectation is to be back in the studio by the new year. If you know anything about cancer, mine has been identified as T1-0. That indicates that I have the lowest level (T1) and that no lymph nodes are involved. This is all good. I have a great surgeon on my side and he intends to try to do this laproscopically, which means a much less invasive procedure. I also have an extraordinary community of friends who are rallying to watch out for me and help me get through this.
I may be off line here for a bit, but rest assured I will find something to go on about before long.
One bit of preaching...if you are approaching a certain age (I'm 54) call your physician and make an appointment for a colonoscopy. That's the only reason I found out and I count myself lucky to have learned this early on.
As an amusement I've included a photo from 1969...8th grade graduation. I've been a geek for a l-o-n-g time!

31 October 2009

Culpepper Purple Stone

Putting down a good bed of gravel in the kiln shed has been one of many items stuck on my list for years...thanks to Mr. Michael Littlefield I can finally cross it off (NEVER use pea gravel underfoot, friends...it forever shifts beneath your feet). Purple stone is an extravagance, but I'm a sucker for pretty things.

This has been a big week for projects including this lightweight cover for our tile making operation. The mortuary table, full of wet clay, is underneath.

Every Halloween for years Laura Shepherd creates a paper mache sculpture at the entrance to Downtown Greens, the community garden that she founded There have been giant pumpkins and witches and bats and spiders and plenty of other scary icons. A couple of years ago I rear ended a fellow with my car because I had turned to see what she was making that year. Art can be dangerous!

Many years ago a consortium of friends rented this warehouse together. God help us if we ever have to move!

Tomorrow's blog promises to break new ground...

25 October 2009

Summer Arrives in a Crate

It seems a long time ago, but while I was in England this summer I had the great pleasure of sharing some excellent time with a few fellow bloggers. Hannah McAndrew and Doug Fitch arrived at Toff's bearing these fantastic gifts for me! I was bowled over!
I have a wooden crate full of treasure that was shipped back to me recently by Toff and Georgie.
It was full of pots I had made or collected there, a whole bunch of Tiggy's soap for the Emporium at LibertyTown, books, damson and cherry plum jam, and box upon box of lovely tea. But these two fabulous and robust jugs are surely the prizes of the lot. They look perfect amidst the fall foliage.
I spent this beautiful autumn day helping Anna move and then clearing up some fallen trees in the woods beside my studio. Perfect weather...'nuff said.

22 October 2009

Leaning Tower of...

...Things Stacked On Top of Each Other. I took it down today before somebody got hurt.

A bunch of pots on the window ledge.

You remember Ellie Bird, I'm sure. Here she is with her dad, Paul Cymrot, proprietor of Riverby Books (along with his dad, Steve Cymrot.)

Ellie and her 1,000 watt smile!

19 October 2009

New York Review

I am back from the show in New York, unloaded and ready to figure out what's next. The Westchester Craft Show was a moderate success for me... it is a very high quality show and deserves its reputation for sophisticated buyers. It is a real pleasure to be included among such accomplished makers.
There were lots of great jewelry, fiber and a very eclectic and diverse group of ceramics as well as wood and glass.... I was the only one there with mugs. There are so many things about being near NY City that are so cool...ethnic diversity being one and I love to hear all the different NY accents! My biggest sale was to a couple of women from Croatia. I asked them if there was much of a pottery tradition back home and they said ' No, everything comes from China' !
I'm reasonably pleased with my new booth and will do just a little tweaking before the next one, although I don't know when that'll be. You can never have too much lighting is one of the lessons I've learned.
In addition to doing business I got to spend Friday with my adorable niece, Courtney Parks. Courtney is the only daughter of my only sister and she is a delightful person. She lives in Chelsea in NY City after finishing her degree last spring.
And Andrew Coombs came from nearby Port Chester to join us for a delicious Indian meal. Andrew was my assistant for 3 years before going on to grad school. He's now one of the artist-in-residences at The Clay Center there, teaching and making very nice pots. He's a good guy, illustrated by the fact that he showed up to help me both set up and break down. What a gift! It is hard work and the help and company were both excellent

These photos are pretty awful, but they're the best I've got.

I tried to convince Toff this summer to put fewer pots in his display and yet I can't resist myself. What do you do when you make so many different things and you only have a 10'x10' world to display them?!

14 October 2009

On the Road...Again

I've traveled more than 20,000 miles this year.
It's been ten years or more since I've done a craft show. No doubt I said I'd never do another... and now, I'm all packed up and ready to leave for New York early tomorrow morning. If you find yourself in White Plains this weekend stop by the art deco civic center for the Westchester Craft Show.

12 October 2009

West (by God) Virginia

I took a drive yesterday to visit Gary Roper at his Washington Street Gallery in Lewisburg, WV. I needed to pick up leftover pots in advance of my trip later this week to New York for the Westchester Craft Show. It is 201 miles each way and takes me from just about sea level here in the Rappahanock River Valley over the Blue Ridge Mountains (4,000+ft.), down into the Shenandoah Valley and up over the Allegheny Mountains. The weather was perfect and the mountains are newly kissed with a rusty red color. I do like to drive, it gives me the space to let my mind wander and there seems to be a lot to wander through these days. Among other things, I'm giving a talk at the show this week on my 'Green' pottery practices and I'm still working out my message.

What a simple and profound sign!

West Virginia is easy to poke fun at...$100.00 is big bucks!

08 October 2009

Mortuary Sink

I've always made tile of one sort or another...sculptural ones, backsplashes, fireplace hearths and lots of individual tiles. For a while my assistants were making hundreds of square feet of stamped 2" squares. But I've always wanted to make more massive floor tile and today Beth and I put together our first effort. Using clay re-constituted in an old funeral parlor sink/table, we mushed gooey clay into wooden frames. The clay is a rough mix of several stoneware clays, grog, sawdust and bonding clay and has a lot of texture to it.

I made frames for 4", 6" and 8" squares...the newsprint is to keep the clay from sticking when removing the frame. They sit on a slate-like table sprinkled with dry clay and we are pretty pleased with the process. I've always thought that my bagwall should be tile...I'm not quite sure how to pull that off, but I do want them to get strong flashing.

I also slipped and trimmed all the breadplates I made earlier this week and I wish I had a hundred to play with. It is such a satisfying technique...the wet slip flowing from the teeth of my plastic comb, thickening on the borders of the simple pattern. I slip them before I trim them.

After trimming I use a blue/black glaze...both as dots or pouring.

05 October 2009


I've been making lists like the one from my last post for a long time. Many of them are between the pages of these composition notebooks...I've been filling them for more than 35 years.

A list of pots is more of a guideline and it's usually a little ambitious...I always yearn to have way too many pots to fill the kiln's two chambers.
My old nemesis was back the other day, guarding the same tree where I hide the key. It had a very symmetrical wiggle and didn't want to back down.

There are always bugs on my pots...

Brandon Newton is opening up a gallery in the new hotel downtown and he's invited me to include some pots. He's a terrific young painter and I think our work will be a good fit.