Sunday, December 20, 2009

If You Build It

“If you build it, he will come.”
Remember Field of Dreams?
The main character, on a dream quest, realizes along his travels that he has to go home, plow under his cornfield and turn it into a ball field. One night after he is done, he turns on the floodlights over his bases and bleachers, and suddenly a long stream of headlights appear in the distance as people are drawn to it like an epicenter of meaning. It answers something elemental they long for.

I’ve got the pots.
Got the space to display it in a homespun physical gallery. The web site… you may be growing tired of hearing it is almost here. Once it is, though, then ads supporting it go up, and it can become my virtual gallery. It is something I dream. Making and then having a way to sell my stoneware vessels. If I build it, will they come?

I am paying attention as always to the lips of mugs, the curves of handles, the weight of lids, the lift of feet. I am fretting over the interplay of elusive colors, the sheen and texture of surfaces. Someone must find some satisfying thing in a pot that connects with them somehow. Otherwise there is no point in paying good money for it. The user completes the effort of the maker. The maker is incomplete without the user.

Friday someone told me she was thinking of my hobby. Of the kiln in my basement, how wonderful to have that. She didn't say, but she meant: the means to follow a dream. She is a cashier at a grocery store where I often shop. When she was in high school she came with her class for several sessions of clay work with me. Now she is a young married woman with a baby, and brings a bright spirit to an unsatisfying job. I see her, conscientious and capable, as the months go by. I cannot take offense that she thinks my work is a hobby. To her it is a fantasy. I cannot make her see how hard I try to make my work possess that something that- if I build it- will bring the people to it.
She is building her family.
We all want something. If we build it, it might happen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

And the Seasons They Go Round and Round

Last week I noted this:
Studio shelves beginning to fill up. Do I need to buy more shelves?
Too many new stoneware trays for the available plate stands- where to buy?
Is it time to take more photos of pots for the web site?

After a week of being down with bronchitis I was ready to get back to work.
Made a list in preparation:
What is missing from inventory? (Components of havadalah sets. Seder plates. Plates in general.)
What can I make with my new slab roller? (Seder plates!)

Lists. We who make the list work by the list.
We who are highly distractible swear by the list.

So I glazed some more pots, fired another load in the kiln, cleaned up my gallery area of dust and detritus, put on carefully-thought-out price stickers. Shopped for shelves (Lowe's stopped carrying the ones I want) and plate stands (no luck at B, B & B). No photos; I put away my photo setup to make room for more pots. Looked longingly at the new slab roller, but one thing at a time. Next week, I assured myself, I will start making my seder plates from neatly rolled slabs.

Chanukah approaches. Christmas approaches. Where could I advertise quickly for the last minute gift-giving locals? I put a notice in the weekly synagogue e-mail bulletin. Does anyone read that thing but me? Will it bring anyone to the studio gallery? I put a mention on Facebook, but most of those people are family (-can anybody say discount? -love you anyway, guys) or aren’t local (can’t drop in and shop) and my new, improved retail web site is still almost up. My estimate of “within a week” a few weeks ago was the silly fantasy of a wishful potter.

Another missed sales season?
My salesperson hat is not fitting my head and it is giving me a headache.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Metaphorical Hats

Many metaphorical hats are rotated on this potter's non-metaphorical head.

The John Deere-type cap: That's good for the heavy lifting and mixing parts. That's where I bring home the raw materials, mix the glazes from recipes acquired over time, plan the ware, make it from lumps of clay.

How quickly that last sentence was typed. How slowly the process occurs to get me there. "How long does it take you to make that?" "24 years so far, and 40 minutes."

A bandanna: Load the kiln. Bisque fire, unload, apply glaze, reload and glaze-fire the pottery. Time to glaze and load: over the course of a couple of days. Gradual heat up, slow cool down: about one day.

Factory hairnet: Sort good pots from seconds. Mostly they are decent pots, for which I am grateful.

Just a headband to keep my curls off my face: Photograph the pots for the web site. I have a pro photo setup now as I gradually learn the ropes with my digital camera settings, backdrop and lights.

Pith helmet: Edit photos in iPhoto or Photoshop to compensate for inexact lighting, crooked framing of the shot, dust on the backdrop, etc. Very cool. This is for allowing the pots to look as they really do, not for faking perfection. It's a jungle among the photo options.

Thinking cap: Selling a 3-D thing in a 2-D medium is a challenge. I have to compensate with words for the lack of touchability. So I write out descriptions & sizes for the web site visitors.

Old-time accountant's eyeshade: Price the pots- not too low to justify the time and cost of making them, not too high so as to discourage purchasers. Trial and error applies here wherever experience doesn't cover.

Mailman's hat (they really used to wear those): Send the photos to my web builder to upload to the web site, which is still developing.

Everything takes so long. People are asking to see the pottery and the site is not ready. Web-a-Deb and I are working on it. Hope the people will come back when it is ready.

Businesslike chic hat, think Audrey Hepburn, 1950's: Send photos to people requesting pottery. Thankfully, there are some of these people around.

Just a pen behind my ear, like an adman, which isn't really a hat, but an accoutrement nonetheless: Think how to promote the web site.

Creative, colorful kerchief with funky colors: Meanwhile, put pots on, under the categories of pottery, stoneware, ceramics (largely redundant), handmade, and Judaica, in the hope of cultivating a market.

How many hats can I wear? Plenty!

Can I wear 'em all well? Not always. Juggling a little slowly the last few years, and it ain't because of middle age. It's that the constant changing of many hats wears me down. Now it's back to the glazing board and back on the wheel for the next making-cycle Monday. On with the John Deere tractor cap!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tapping Into Another Plane of Consciousness

Released (Distracted)

Slipping under my hands
Away from me, failing-
I couldn't throw pots in the morning
With the same clay I've used for years.
After I came back from a break
Sat again at the wheel
An old drawing of my childhood bedroom
Catching my eye, held my speculation.
Gazing, and musing, other thoughts,
I made piece after piece without thinking.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Good Enough

Opened another glaze kiln this week, and it was good. No uglies except two previous blistered pots I was refiring in the hope of improving their surfaces.
Pot drop time for those. (Concrete floor.)
The rest worked. This may sound like nothing momentous.
It is, though.
After two dozen years of figuring it out, my work is at a good place.
There will always be new challenges, but for now...
Web site is in restructure phase and will be up and retail within a week.
Purchase buttons and Paypal are moving into place.
All to no avail if the pottery isn’t good enough.
Oh, my. It’s good enough. There is no perfect, but if there were I would be insane.

Good enough is so good.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Early Wind in Bar Harbor

Writing! If you have never been to Shore Path Cottage, a B&B on the coast of Maine in Bar Harbor, you may be missing one of the best places in the world to write.

I went up from New Jersey for a few days with my friend Nancy, at the invitation of our friend Roberta Chester, who owns and operates this kosher B&B. Roberta is a published poet and essayist. When not baking muffins and cakes, cookies and popovers, between phone calls and chores for the B&B, she writes.

We wrote on and off all day Thursday and half the day Friday, and met long after dark on Saturday to share what we were working on. Critiques ensued, then, as a result, more writing. Nicola, from England, had been renting the on-grounds tiny house and had just finished her mystery novel. She joined us and we shared readings and more critiques. The air in Roberta's kitchen was crackling with insights and discussion.

Now I am back home, continuing to work on Home on the Turnpike, which is going into its third revision at least. It is a memoir. It needs changing, from a literal travelogue through the house we grew up in, to a livelier personal memoir. This project is a slow and steady building, now given a boost and cranked up a notch.

The ocean beside the house; the chickadees hanging upside down in a spruce, foraging in pine cones outside my window; the incredible breakfast cake made with lemons and butter; wi fi all over the B&B; the reading, writing and critiquing; all served to calm and focus me as I wrote and wrote. Here is an old-timey sort of poem, extremely traditional in construction in honor of this old-time place, that I wrote for Roberta:

Early Wind In Bar Harbor

The wind in cahoots in the waking of me
With the windowframe loose in my room by the sea
Lets me sleep just enough, my last night here
To almost rest before it re-rattles my ear.
It is not I alone it strives to waken,
My window and all the old others are shaken-  
The wind has to try and pry off the leaves
In preparing the shore for its first hard freeze;

No one is spared whose windows are loose.

One hundred and thirty winters of wind
Have rocked at the panes and wood shingle trim
Of this strong-hearted lady the great fire did not eat.
Her windows, in summer, breeze her through heat.
Her blue and white frame, like an August cornflower’s
Persists summercolored November’s rough hours,
Welcomes guests, in season, to stop in her beds,
Who hike the great Park before resting their heads.

Her ladylike pillows are trimmed in white lace.

She reminds me that I am friend, not guest,
Shakes her windows to wake me at the wind’s behest.
I am friend who came here with words to spin,
Invited to write by chatelaine of this inn.
A last few couplets of rhyme for me,
Formal bow to the inn’s propriety,
Mindful of going home this morning-
And now the light over the sea is dawning.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

So This Potter Walks into a Simon Leach Workshop...

It's 10 degrees cooler than NJ in Barryville, NY where the potter Simon Leach (yes, I've mentioned him previously) is set up temporarily, and where I spent yesterday and the day before.

(Here is Simon showing us the basics of throwing a cylinder:)

This is an autumn in the Catskills experience. Water in the pail got cold in mid-October in the not-especially-heated studio. The clay was cold to start with, though it warmed up as I worked it. The seat of the kickwheel I used has a rug on it so was thankfully not cold. And the artist giving the workshop was Simon Leach, who, with the help of coffee, pottery demonstrations, advice, camaraderie and the occasional cigarette, was warm.

When is a workshop more than a workshop? When participants were limited to three and quality time was just that. When Michal from California and Bob from Narrowsburg, NY were working as I was, doing the same task at the same time, finding our ways with clay in a new place for a brief period. When the potter giving the workshop was a pottery daddy of clay today, teaching the pottery children who arrive in little groups, like hippies to Haight-Ashbury, to watch and learn from a potter they know through his videos. (See sleachpots channel on YouTube, people- Simon is about to reach the 500-video mark while regular viewers wait impatiently for him to get down to it. Oh, the pressures of clay celebrityhood.)

I gained.

Did I already know that anything to be done well is a challenge? Yes. Mom used to say that anything worth doing is worth doing well.
-That potters enjoy the company of other potters? Yes.
-That an unfamiliar wheel takes adapting to, that unfamiliar clay may have more scratchy bits in it than the hand is accustomed to, that not every pot is going to be a winner? Knew that.
Did I know I would struggle with forms I believed I knew, which now needed to become suddenly and significantly better? Had an inkling.

What did I learn, then, that I didn't know before? Quantified, these things will seem small. Taken together, they are more than the sum of their parts. There's this: While wedging (kneading) the clay to unify firmish and softish bits, and remove air bubbles, don't push the whole wad of clay around as I have done for the last 24 years, as it will tire you unnecessarily. Push it by its little tail end, and all will come around again bit by bit, nicely kneaded. (Both ways will warm a cold potter considerably.)

This: Pushing in outside the foot of the pot, while throwing,  creates a ridge inside the pot that is a nice bit by which to pull the pot upward, reduce its visual and physical weight, and slim the foot. Simon showed me.

This: Throwing the same form, over and over to the same shape and size, is a powerful exercise towards becoming a good potter. I have been missing this practical approach in my day-to-day, making one-of-a-kinds. It is one thing to know this, and quite another to really 'repeat throw'.

This: A chopstick set into place in a wad of clay on the wheel table will mark the spot where I want to bring the width and height of a pot- a gauge to repeat throw to specifications. Knew this before, but ignored it. Mistake.

This: The continuous curve in the interior of a bowl makes or breaks the piece; subjectively, a line where wall meets floor creates a catch-spot for your spoon; objectively, a bowl with a curved interior makes my spirit roll with joy like a happy mutt in the grass. Explain this? Can't.  Only know that care with small details makes big changes in the soul of a piece. Or does the following explain it-?  Function that is well-considered in the making is also beautiful. Or this- There are no small details-?

In any case, I have some bisqued bowls that are now going to become flower pots, where spoons don't matter and you can't see the broken curve inside.

This: "Titivate" does not mean "potchke," it means make the small corrections that will finish a process nicely.

Or this: I really can put in 8-hour days, and should.

Getting to it, then, the richer for yesterday and the day before. Thanks, Simon Leach and my fellow workshoppers. (-Sorry no photos of us working, but we recycled all the pots we made into nice large reusable lumps.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Once Upon a Time There Was a Sculpture

Once upon a time in the life of a potter there came an opportunity knocking.

“We are new head counselors in a special summer place for kids,” said two nice people whom the potter knew,“ and there is an empty room in this special place where it looks like pottery was made a long time ago. Would you come and do your thing there with the special children?”
The potter had an inkling that this really was an opportunity, but she was not sure. Many of the special children were sick. She thought their being sick might make her too sad. “I will come look at it,” she said.

The room was small but the potter liked it. She decided to try to teach the special children pottery there.

But the potter had never taught children before, whether well or sick. ‘I will take this job for this one year,’ she thought, ‘and I will see if I can really do it right.' The potter discovered that the special kids were children like her own children. They danced and sang, they got silly or tired or cranky or creative like her own children. Some of them were not feeling too well and sat down a lot. Some were very sick indeed. This is what made them “special” at the camp. But the potter discovered something.

The children had fun with the clay! They had fun with the potter, and she with them! They made skulls and plaques and hearts. They made pencil jars and ceramic fruit, and something that two of them called “devil chickens.” They made things from their hearts and imaginations. The potter loved it all. She learned to work fast and teach clearly. She discovered that the hard job was a pleasure because she loved working with the kids.

Her second summer, she made a tag out of clay to sew onto her baseball cap. It read “Mrs. Pottery Head.”

The children knew her as “Mrs. Pots” or “Mrs. Pot Lady," or by the name on the tag on her hat. The potter considered it a badge of honor to be known this way. Some knew her as Mimi since, coincidentally, she had the same name as the author of this story.

Each year certain of the children came back to the special summer place. The potter got to know these children pretty well and became especially fond of them. After the summer, the special summer place lived all year in the potter’s heart.

After eight summers, for reasons which were not her fault and which are too silly to put into this story, the potter could no longer work in the special summer place.

What could she do about her sense of loss that she could no longer work with the children? The potter decided to go to school. There in a room with a very fine sculpture teacher, the potter began moving clay around in a new way. After months of practice, and time spent looking at the many photographs she had taken of the children and events over the years at the special summer place, the potter began a sculpture that would make her feel better.

One day in the special summer place, she had taken a picture of two boys sitting on chairs in the grass, playing a djembe (which is a fancy name for an African drum) between them. One boy was a counselor, age 21, the other boy a camper, age 20, who had lost his leg to a bad sickness. The boy with one leg was well now. He was the owner of the drum. He tended to have an outstanding joy in life, which at that moment propelled his hands over the instrument. He was teaching his counselor to drum.

Now the potter worked and worked to sculpt the moment captured in the photo. She tried very hard to show the healing that comes about from making music for the world around us. She realized right away that it was the same joy that comes from teaching pottery to children. She knew it was the same joy all people can find inside themselves when they reach down inside and try.

The potter worked for 50 hours over the course of many weeks until the sculpture was finished. Carving and adding and subtracting the clay became a dance of motion for her. She was completely absorbed in the moment of drum play, for all those many hours. When she was done at last, she had a permanent reminder of the strength and healing power of creative effort- the injured boy's, and her own. She felt much, much better.

She named the sculpture Expressive Healing.

(...and the view from the other side:)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Inspiration is Like Marble Cake Batter

Childhood vision is a three-foot high perspective. Grass and ants and sidewalk cracks, bark and leaves and sand grains, mud and water and soap bubbles- that’s where inspiration springs. Minnows and clouds. Salamanders and dragons, ladders and cats. All fresh, all absorbing.
Later on, trees and bridges, trucks and towers, letters and numbers.
Chalk and poems.
Cocoa and cookies.
Fire and charcoal.
Sticks and rocks.
The temperatures and colors of sound.
Channels made in hillsides by rain flowing down.
Mica flecks in a stream.
The shape and movement of the human body.
Roll them into a tiny coil of sensory experience all living in a single wrinkle in the brain.
Around it are other little wrinkles all full of other experiences.
There they are, fully packed, highly personal little wrinkles in the brain, ready to be tapped into like ore.
All stemming from one’s particular Nature and Nurture, swirled like marble cake batter, different parts that will somehow bake together.

Inspiration depends upon the artist and is what makes art subjective.

As for execution of inspiration: It’s like getting to Carnegie Hall. First, study hard. Then practice, practice practice.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"And What Shall I Charge for my Mayim Achronim?" asked Mrs. Potteryhead

I confess- I’m finding the new mayim achronim pieces kind of nice. OK, I didn’t come up with a creative variation on the traditional well-and-pitcher design. I seemed to keep coming back to this practical form. Somehow these feel true to my style, though.

Here are four of the nine sets I made this week.

When a set is put together, it measures about 8” tall from bottom of base to top of pitcher. This photo is of drying work, which will be dull in finish until glaze fired. But use your imagination to turn the clay from gray to an ivory color, deepen the underglaze colors to the strong hues they will assume when heated to maturity, and picture the shine of glossy, clear glaze over them.

Now, what should I charge for my nice, glossy little set? Competition is charging $30 for a machine-made mayim achronim.

Here is the process, from raw clay to gallery shelf: (skip 1-6 if you don't care about process!)
1) Both parts are thrown separately on the wheel, and a pouring lip formed on each pitcher. Each well is made with a little shelf inside the lip for the pitcher to sit on neatly. The mouth of the well and the bottom of the pitcher are sized to fit each other.
2) After they firm up enough, I go back on the wheel, where each piece is trimmed of any extra clay at the bottom. Once trimmed, handles are put on the pitchers.
3) Underglaze color is put on and designs cut through it, as whimsy dictates. This is fun and relaxing.
4) Kiln is loaded with the pots and fired to bisque, taking 8 hours or so to reach temperature, and unloaded when cool a day later. It is an electric kiln and doesn’t need a lot of tending.
5) Glaze is dipped over each piece, and the bottom cleaned off. Kiln is reloaded with glazed pots, fired again to a still higher temperature for about 10 hours to glaze maturity, and unloaded when cool late tomorrow.
6) Any sharp bits on bottoms are ground off with a special stone. I check pots for other flaws.

What do 1-6 mean? They say that it may take me as much as an hour and a half to make each set from start to finish.
(I will just mention some overhead costs that should go into the accounting: cost of clay and glaze materials, cost of electricity for firing the kiln twice, time spent wedging and weighing out appropriate size pieces of clay, time spent in cleanup.)

If I charge the same $30 as the machine-made competition commands, by my calculation, I would be paying myself about $20 per hour. (The overhead would subtract another couple of bucks from that.) Should I have chosen from the get-go to spend my time instead making something that is perceived to have greater inherent value, like a nice easy-to-make bowl? -I do like the challenge of making different sorts of things. Or should I have bought a different wardrobe than my mud clothes, and gotten a regular job like other people?

I would love some of your thoughts on this, my dear people with opinions.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Pottery Tradition? Tevye Didn't Have One!

I have had a teacher the last few months. I haven’t met him in person, but in this day of video proliferation, I found him on YouTube. He has nearly 500 videos up there, on all different aspects of making pottery. He’s a good teacher, too. I’ve gleaned some fresh understanding that invigorates and improves some of my old practices. As a result, the work has made a small leap forward lately.
That’s Simon Leach.

Simon’s grandfather Bernard Leach (1887-1979) was sometimes called the “father of British studio pottery.” An artist by inclination, he studied in Japan and then opened a pottery in Cornwall, England in 1920 with a great Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada. Bernard's teaching history was long and influential. It tapped into a most fundamental idea of Japanese pottery, beautiful function. His sons David and Michael were potters in similar style. Bernard’s grandson, David’s son, is my newfound pottery video teacher, Simon. He finds his own way in the aesthetic of his grandfather. He works within the tradition, although his voice is his own.

Why do I tell you all this? Because it blows me away. What can it be like to have a tradition of pottery-making to tap into? To have the skills and aesthetics laid out for you to learn and absorb from an early age? To understand that beauty in a functional object can be a given? I wonder because I have no such tradition, and must find my way as if everything is a new discovery.

What is it that make Judaism and clay a difficult team to yoke together?

From archaeological digs in Israel, you find clay objects of old Judea: olive oil jars and other storage jars, and oil lamps. Matter from the earth was used to make the most basic utilitarian ware. Since idols were out for us monotheists, you don’t really find figures.

On my trips to modern Israel, I see jewelry and pottery, sculpture in all media, all around. Even a flower arrangement is so much more creative there than here in the U.S. There is a bright, inventive spirit among the people, who came from all over the world to settle there and brought a spirit of adventure and freedom of expression. More creative thinking didn’t just arise from the kibbutz movement that originally tried to jettison religion in favor of a new social order. It’s way more than that. Autonomy has led somehow to great creativity. Color, texture and free form are everywhere. Maybe it’s the neutral colors of pale stone and blue sky that encourage art to sprout- the same effect as the white walls of a museum, where art is shown to its best advantage. Playgrounds can be found made of altered and brightly painted old farm equipment. Playground slides are turned into fanciful creatures. What freshness! Why? These are Jews, too. Why do they have a more creative art outlook than the wonderful people among whom I grew up?

Originally a kid from the sticks with many siblings and little money, my strongest early influences are extremely utilitarian. Necessity dictates. Even now, as a person who is not counting pennies every day to get by as my parents had to, my frugal sensibility remains. What is more, it is common to many: at a recent local show, in typical fashion, I sold none of the covered jars with curly-whirly handles and lid knobs (they have no obvious purpose, being too silly-looking to hold flour), but sold a lot of the trays that read “Challah” and other items of Judaic use. Function. It justifies expenditures.

Maybe I'm lucky to have no family or cultural tradition for what I do. Maybe it frees me to surf around and choose the most appealing bits from world art and use them, like spice in cuisine, to flavor my work. I even take and channel these bits into items of Judaica.

That’s my challenge. Make it utilitarian- and have it satisfy on some level as art.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Longish Meanderings on "Afterwaters"

This week someone asked me to make a mayim achronim set for her. I said I would, and estimated the price at around $30.

She said she wanted a nice one as opposed to the cup and bowl they tend to rustle up from the kitchen for the job.

At my Shabbos and holiday table nowadays we do not have the custom of mayim achronim, which literally means “after waters.” My husband’s family did not have this handwashing ritual at their table and we follow their way. But when I was growing up in my childhood home, we did have this custom (in our home, a man’s custom) and passed around a cup and bowl, also random items from the kitchen, for mayim achronim after Shabbos or holiday meals. My father and brothers rinsed their fingertips with this system before bentshing (saying grace after meals). We would take the mayim achronim bowl off the table after use, as it was not fitting to leave the used rinse water uncovered there while speaking to G-d. However, it was OK to leave the used water bowl on the table if it was covered.

I wondered on occasion where this custom came from. Some people we know nowadays do it, particularly Sefardic Jews, but many people we know do not. (I found information I liked at OHR Online and if you want to know more.)

I went online to see what is out there, and how much sellers are charging.

There are very limited design concepts for mayim achronim. A set tends to be a tiny pitcher that sits atop a little well with a flared rim. The idea is to pour the water from the pitcher over one’s fingertips into the little well. Then the pitcher is replaced on top of the well, covering the hole and the used water inside it. I’ve seen it a million times.

There is also very limited profit in it. Competitive pricing really is around $30 per set; it was a good guess.

My challenge: Make a mayim achronim set that pours and contains well, looks interesting, and is not too labor intensive. ($30, after all, should not involve spending hours per piece.) It has to fit to the curve of the hand and have a gracefully handy shape, so that a child can pass it without spilling; must be stable when standing, (the pitcher has to stay upright); and satisfy my sense of aesthetics, which are somewhat nature oriented with simple lines.

Six tries later, I still don’t have the well portion of the mayim achronim, let alone the itty bitty pitcher. It’s not that the item is so complicated. It’s just not very interesting. Since the basic forms of the two parts are determined by their function, we’ve got a pitcher or cup, and a well. Ba dum bum.Whoopee. Can I just make them look like MY pitcher and well? That would make me happy.

Clean and contemporary…that’s what I want. Contemporary Organic. The ones I found scrolling around through Judaica web sites are aluminum, silver or wood. One- get this!- is silver plated resin. The surfaces tend to be silly, ornate, what my kids call plastered with grapes. Nyet.

Renee Vishinsky has a couple of nice stoneware pieces to see online. They are bowls with a raised well in the center and a classic little pitcher that sits on top of the well. (Check her work out online and in shops, it’s nice. She is a pro & has been for years.) I remember meeting Renee at the former Anshe Chesed Judaica craft fair in NYC in the late 80s, early 90s.. She is a wonderful Judaica potter. I saw a mayim achronim set at her booth. We had a conversation about the design, which in my still fairly novice yet freely offered opinion would have been improved by changing what was then a simple open bowl into a bowl with a well that could be covered. She hadn’t thought about having to take the thing off the table after using it and before benshing if the used water was uncovered. Renee was interested, though whether that helped facilitate the design change to her current one, I don’t know.

It’s nice to think about the potter I was then, in the late 80s, and the one I am now. A lot of water under that bridge! Renee said to me then, “I can throw any form I want.” She could, too. I was struck by her confidence. I’m almost there, maybe, after all this time.

More design thoughts to work through first, though.


You may have read this before on my first blog that I could not re-access for posting! I copied and pasted it here for continuity. Thanks for indulging me.

Down to the cellar, where the studio is, where newly made stoneware pots are firming, and already firm pots are ready to trim; where dry scraps of trimmed-away clay are slaking their thirst in water and turning back into slurry; where trimmed pots are parching into bisqueware in the heat of the kiln; where bisqued pots are awaiting their coat of glaze; that's where I am going.

Just the thought of all that glorious ware in all the forms of its cycle pulls my feet downstairs at all sorts of hours. I check the pots: cover with plastic? Uncover? Are the handles put on well? Will the pitcher lip pour? Has the kiln finished firing? Is it cool enough to unload? Will I love all these pots, or dislike one enough to give it a smash on the concrete floor, hard?

Lately I am having a fertile phase in the pottery studio. But it hasn't always been this way, and there will without question be times again when it won't. Even in a good time, it is not unmitigated joy. In last week's glaze fire, for example, my reliable blue glaze spat on the kiln shelves and crawled in a most ugly way on a few of the nice pots in the kiln. Will thinning the raw glaze fix that? My trimming techniques need refining some more- some of these bowls need to lift from graceful feet instead of squatting like tired puppies. Minor adjustments could make these pots sing, or croak. I keep adjusting and developing even after 24 years.

This is a most humbling occupation. One kick(wheel) forward, two steps back, some days. But if it were easy, if it were rote, my pottery would be made as if by machine. It is the individual subtleties that create individual pots. Of twenty all similar, no two are really just the same. Of twenty all similar, it is altogether possible that one will need a good smackdown on the concrete when it comes out of the kiln. Smash! And its companion might have that certain je ne sais qua that makes you want to pick it up, own it.

This blog is about my life as a potter. My solo, cellarbound life as a person whose art is found in the combination of minerals, water, heat, effort, experience and the ridiculously strong human need to create.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mimi Stadler is a Woman With a Kick Wheel

As a woman with a kick wheel, I celebrate the simple level of the technology in my studio. Unlike my electric-wheel peers, I could use my wheel, powered only by my right leg, by candlelight in a electricity outage. So you can imagine my frustration with technology when my first blog post got eaten by the ether due to some unknown error on my part while trying to log in the very next day after I created the blog. Frustration mounted while I attempted over several days to find my way back in. Can't I just kick it back into place? But no. Somewhere on Blogger my first post still exists, but alas, access to add to it is not for me.

So this is the first post of my second blog.

First, I am going to say some words I will not put down here. (There, done.) Then I am going to be philosophical about this and say that the first blog needed improving anyway. Notice my name in the title? Now you can probably find my blog by trying my name if you should forget Mimi-Among the Pots. You couldn't do that before.

The plan is to update this every week or two. As I spend part of at least four days a week breathing some clay dust down in the dungeon, and a good bit of my off time reading about pottery, watching pottery-making videos and making little sketches of potential pot designs, clay is on my mind a whole lot. Musings are going to come up.

Meanwhile, if you haven't gone to my web site, it is . It is being put together by web woman Deborah Berman. We are almost done getting it together. It is going to be my retail shop very shortly.

For the new year- honey jars!