31 January 2010

Contest Results-Snow, (again!)-and a Cool Coiled Pot

Having a contest is a rather shameless way to generate comments, but I've been known to be shameless more often than is fair to tell.  Thanks to everyone who took the time to enter! Even if you didn't mean to. I've learned a couple of things about holding a contest :
*Two weeks is w-a-a-a-y too long to wait in the blogosphere. 
*Lots of folks will enter a contest even if they don't know the rules (all that you needed to do was make a comment! = 53 'entries').
*If you make up the contest, you get to add addenda to your rules (don't you?). In which case, I propose and accept the following tweak to my original thesis: I will pull two names, not one, from a hand made bowl (Ray Finch) and send a mug to each. This doubles your chances of winning... or dashes your hopes twice.

So, if Fetishghost from Stockton, California and Jeff Martin Ceramics from Boone, North Carolina will send along their addresses, I'll put a mug in the post suitable for Napa Valley wine or moonshine from the hills! Stay tuned for a new and exciting contest in February...

I have lots to tell about my week on the farm and yet another winter wonderland of snow. Hiking through a foot or more of new fallen snow from the studio to Paul and Emily's house and back again was serious work and absolute joy. I'm sure it's pushing all the buttons that were played when I was a child, but it doesn't matter what the cause, I find it thrilling.
I also brought to an end a month of handbuilding by making this coiled pot. I've been meaning to make  another big pot with these bands for some time and I'm really pleased with this one.

I was tempted to put a series of glass beads in the bands, but decided to leave this one be and try to throw a few more to play with. It's such a good, classic, robust form I don't want to mess with it.

28 January 2010

Contest Update

    Sunday is the big prize drawing for my January contest. A number of you have figured out the unpublished rules (it ain't rocket science!) and you are welcome to vote early and often.
    I'm farm sitting this week as I finish off the last of my 'Bedrock' sculptures. Hoping to get snowed in there?
    I plan to climb back on that Shimpo Whisper Wheel next week and begin throwing. Once that begins, it's hard to keep the rest of life in order as obsession returns.

23 January 2010


I've been thinking of making LibertyTown money for some time and I roughed out a prototype the other day. I carved into a blank I made out of my fine white stoneware. I let the clay get entirely dry before I begin. I want to make different denominations in different sizes and use them as currency...in place of gift certificates and as prizes for kids who complete our scavenger hunt. Maybe we can sell 'em as good luck charms. Geoge Ohr, the Mad Potter of Biloxi,  used to make rude and suggestive coins for Mardi Gras.  This one is about 1 1/2" wide. I'll throw some blanks on the wheel this week and carve some more ornate ones.

I've continued to develop these sculptures over the last week in the midst of finishing 150 slip/glaze tiles. These newest ones are getting bigger, which means up to 10"-12". They combine so much of what I love about clay...texture from rolling, pinching stretching and tearing. The juxtaposition of classic geometric forms. Spirals. Containment and volume and balance.

This face also comes from a stamp I carved. I sandwiched two together with glass beads for eyes. Back in college I used to use impressions from a cupie doll mold I made. Another oldie but goodie.

I'm trying to figure out how to get more height. This is the tallest so far. The base makes me think of Dali's melting clocks.

The disc shapes are made by draping slabs over plywood cutouts, letting them firm up and then sticking them together to create a shallow but 3-D form. Everything else is a pinch pot or little ball of clay.

20 January 2010

Tests and Tiles

I'm using two slips these days, one with 6-tile(a N.C. kaolin) as it's base and one with a French kaolin. I like them both, one being thicker and paler, the other a thinner, orangier skin. But I need to use a different clay for each because of problems with fit. I hate wasting tests on tiles that I can't make use of, so for years I've been making these 2' - 3" tiles. I have hundreds (if not thousands) of them and there are several 'installations' scattered around LibertyTown. I also showed you the hearth extension in front of my fireplace which is tiled with them a couple of months ago. They also are installed in Paul and Emily's shower. Jason and Lisa's, too. One day I'll figure out a more serious project. It's the great joy and the great dilemma of being a maker...w-a-a--y too many ideas and projects...not nearly enough time. And sometimes it just takes years to find the right place for an idea to blossom.

Lots of entries in the  Birthday Contest! Keep 'em coming in. The judges are impressed with those of you who have cracked the code.

17 January 2010

Birthday Contest!

Born in '55, today I turn 55 myself! I don't need any presents, believe me, as just being healthy and back in the studio is all a man could wish for. And, of course, the whole world has been taking care of me and bringing me treats for months now. I'm not sure I can handle much more kindness...!

In honor of J.R.R. Tolkein and the hobbits he wrote about(*), I am announcing a new contest/giveaway. The mugs here are the prize. The one on the left with the 'googly eyes' was fired in my kiln and the heavily salted one on the right was made in England last summer at Toff and Georgie's. I'll send it to you anywhere in the world if you win. The winner's name will be drawn on the 31st of January. The only catch is: I'm not telling you the rules until then! Good Luck!

(*) Hobbits give presents on their birthday rather than receive them. I've always liked that idea.

13 January 2010

The Wm. Kelly Young Collection

Check out this amazing online catalog/collection of American Redware and Stoneware.
Click on 'Featured Lots' and feast your eyes. Thanks to Jerry Brent for the heads up!

Detail of stamp

19th c. Harvest Jug (not to be confused with the Harvest Jugs that inspire Doug Fitch!)

Thought to be a pot by 'Dave the Slave'

I like flasks (for their obvious use...)

Customer Queries

Dr. Mike Costa got a mug of mine last week...here's the e-mail I received yesterday:

Mug questions
microwave safe?
how about gamma rays? If nuclear attack is impending should I encase it in lead or can I just leave it exposed on the shelf.
How about temperature ranges - if as expected my kitchen approaches absolute zero tonight will the mug shatter into its component atoms?
Please reply - the responsibility of being an owner of a genuine Dan Finnegan mug is weighing heavily on my me.
M costa

Now this is a man who takes his pottery seriously!
I am always amazed at how much importance a simple mug can have to it's owner. Here in the 'Burg my mugs sometime seem to have a cult-like following. I've witnessed a woman take her DF mug from her purse in a restaurant and hand it to the waitress, telling her that she ONLY drinks from this mug! I also hear the stories of work mugs being stolen, of spouses who fight over a certain one, or worse yet, a spouse who has broken their mate's mug and wants to get a replacement just like the broken one! (good luck with that...it's been more than 20 years since I made 'standard ware'). I always wish I had kept track of how many mugs I've made. A very low guess-timate goes like this:
200 mugs/year x 30 years = 6000.
Back in the early production days I probably made closer to 400 or 500 a year. I wonder where they all went? Now that would be a cool satellite map... dots atop every household that has a piece of mine!

09 January 2010

Bonus Weather

A bonus snowfall that totally fooled the weather prognosticators fell yesterday morning and gave us a few inches of beautiful powdery snow, much like the snow I grew up with in Buffalo, NY (average yearly snowfall - 96"!). Usually we have an icy, wet mix here in the Rappahanock River Valley but the frigid air we're experiencing right now makes a big difference.

I drove out to the studio after helping to sweep the parking lot at Libertytown for our First Friday reception later in the evening. It was fun to try out the four wheel drive coming through the woods. Snow was a foot high in places.
Once the studio warmed up I got back to my little sculptures. They (or I) are slow going, but I'm having a blast and as these little landscapes have been developing I continue to be entirely amused by them. Lots of Dr. Suess there, I suppose.

This one has some 6-tile slip on it. I have a tendency to want to fuss too much with the decoration. Note to self...cut it out.

And all of a sudden my little birdies are coming back with a vengeance. Each requires 6 parts:
-tail feather
-2 wings
They are maybe an inch long. I have always liked to make little things. I couldn't do it all day , but once in a while I'll find that particular groove and moving slow as I am, it's a perfect one. The guy at the top fell and his beak got a good bash...of course, he's my favorite. (and please don't ask me how I know his sex...!?)

The afternoon turned blue sky and brilliant sun. Emily, Ellie and I blew thousands bubbles that sped across the pure white landscape. The snow, like the bubbles, won't last long here, but is exquisite just the same. I know that our friends in England might be a bit overwhelmed by their wintry weather and I hope everyone is keeping warm and drinking plenty of tea and whiskey. I will soon be doing one or the other in front of a fire, myself. Cheers!

05 January 2010

Amusing Myself

The first pottery book I ever owned was "Finding One's Way with Clay" by Paulus Behrenson and it turned me into a pinch pot junkie for years. I used to use his various exercises when I taught and it was a real pleasure to meet Paulus himself at Penland a number of years ago.
These figures are made of pinch pots assembled and 'rolled' and I often go back to them when a new cycle needs starting.

My early years in clay (when I was in college) were split between making raku sculpture and throwing useful pots on the wheel. 35 years later I still wander back and forth between the two although 'professionally' I've never done much with the sculpture...I'd like to find a venue one day. The problem is that I don't do enough to promote my functional work let alone start another campaign.
It's amazing to me that I can continue to find new directions within such a small idea...stacking little rocks that can conjure up images of people or prehistoric sites...part of the trick is a feeling of balance. They are fragile until fired because the joints are minimal. I ought to stack them over metal rods, but where's the challenge in that?
First I make a bunch of parts. Then I arrange and rearrange before sticking them together.

When things go awry I try to attempt something new so it's not as much a waste. I threw these ovals just before I came to terms with surgery and they were too dry to put bottoms in when I got back so I goofed around with slip. I made a huge comb from a scrap from a door sweep...perhaps a bit too wide.

The weather continues to be frigid and it's comforting to know that Doug and Hannah and Hollis and Michael and Toff are all enduring the same. As they say in England , the weather is 'bracing' and I like it!

02 January 2010

As Promised...

The promise was to myself and I'm happy to report that I delivered on it! I spent most of the afternoon of the first day of the year in my studio on Claremont Farm. Mostly I cleaned up and rearranged and dreamed of pots to come.
I just returned from another afternoon there spent dipping my fingers in...making bits and pieces for some little sculptural ideas...pinch pots and handbuilding and next I'll try throwing some small parts. Even with such a significant new beginning I don't have any drastic new direction to head in...I'm hoping to put together some familiar ideas in some different ways...that's plenty for me.

Loafer's Glory and Phoenix clays ready to go.

A new calendar is essential. This one is wildlife. Last year was outhouses!

This little ventless gas heater runs off of a propane tank and together with a dirt floor and 6" of insulation it is very efficient (and cheap!). I took it apart and cleaned it out and it still runs nicely. I only run the little pilot at night but I'm not sure if it has much effect...

The temperature in the studio starts out around 40 degrees and slowly creeps up to 60 in an hour or two once I turn the heat on. I'm fine with the cool, as long as the clay doesn't freeze it's all good. I grew up in the Great White North, you know.

I found this in the ceramic tile section of Lowes the other day. It has a different grit on either side and seems to be a real beast of a tool.

This is made by Chris Light, a master with all things wooden. It is pretty big (10") and I'm still not sure how I'll use it, but I'll figure out something.

I'm happy to be turning from a patient back to a regular old human being. I have lots of pots to make and the touch of cool clay in the quiet of my rural studio feels just right.