Friday, December 28, 2012

Hypothetical Havdalah Sets

How do you meet commitments when you get really sick for 10 days, and you run a one-person operation? You have to notify your buyers that their order will be late, while everything grinds to a complete halt. In deference to the season, it occurs to me that you probably need studio elves to keep things going.

I was fresh out of elves the last 9 or 10 days, while I've been down with bronchitis. This stupidly debilitating illness has become a recurring issue over several years, and turns out to be more like asthma now. Finally diagnosed, I have a new medicine regimen that should keep it at bay. I look forward to being in the studio and taking care of business on all levels on a regular basis again by the middle of next week, having healed sufficiently and passed through seasonal and family events.

As a side note, I have ordered a quadruple-filter air cleaner unit for my studio, which should help me stay healthy despite the dust-producing materials of my job.

While I was down and out for the count, all I could muster energy for was sketching. Thinking about Judaica, I sketched variations of a havdalah set design. This would be comprised of a stemless goblet, candleholder and spice box with stopper, on a curvy tray made just to fit them together, an item used in a series of blessings that usher out the Sabbath. The design is coming together. Why was I thinking of this item? Because I get into the challenge of designing and making several components that interact beautifully as a group composition.

Design and execution of the objects are only the first important things to consider. Other questions must be considered fully and a plan put together before I do anything to even create a prototype set.   To consider these questions, I have to generalize and stereotype a little based on my life experience. (If you disagree with my assessments, let's discuss in Comments below!)

Who makes the havdalah ceremony? Usually, Orthodox Jews, who have kept the Sabbath since the evening before, are mindful of making a formal closure on Saturday evening before entering the rest of the week. There is a conundrum to ponder, though. Orthodox Jews already have a special cup, a kiddush cup, for the blessing over the wine on Sabbath, and do not need another separate one to conclude the Sabbath.
One of my carved kiddush cups (found on

They already have a spice box in silver or a base metal like aluminum that they were given for a typical engagement or wedding gift, or maybe they just open a jar of cloves from the spice rack to make a blessing over the heavenly aroma. And a tall braided candle is easily held in the hand (to make the blessing to the Creator), without a special holder. I just don't see the motivation to buy a handmade havdalah set here.

Who buys handmade stoneware Judaica in general? I'm going to suggest that it might be Reform rather than Orthodox or possibly Conservative Jews. Feel free to disagree,  but I'll take the liberty of saying that a broader secular education (with some art thrown in) tends to create a greater aesthetic appreciation for handmade objects. But even with enhanced appreciation for handmade things, (I could certainly be wrong, but let me risk a guess) since there may be less inclination per se to make the havdalah ceremony at all, there would still be little or no inclination to purchase or give a gift of a havdalah set, handmade or not.

Here is what I have noticed with another Judaica item, the washing cup.  Most Reform Jews whom I meet at Judaica craft shows ask me why that giant cup has two handles, indicating unfamiliarity with the ubiquitous Jewish ritual of washing for bread.  Orthodox Jews recognize it instantly, since washing for bread is a constant at meals. But, conversely, an Orthodox person may be quite happy using a plastic cup ($4.50, very light in weight) or a resin cup embedded with dried flowers ($20.00, trendy) which are really, metaphorically speaking, a dime a dozen. He or she might not even think about the option of using a handmade, carved stoneware one for $55.
I have to make that person think of that option.
A one of a  kind washing cup, or "Why does that big mug have two handles?" (Sold. Other carved washing cups at

Where then should havdalah sets be marketed? I conclude it must be Jewish museum gift shops and high end Judaica galleries. That would bring them to the people who connect with Jewish history and ritual and love unique, art-infused, handmade Judaic objects. If these are the markets, then these objects need to be top notch statement pieces, and I must work that into the design from the start. They need to be signed, numbered, limited edition, and of finest quality workmanship. Of course, havdalah sets are just one item of Judaica. The direction of all of my Judaica has to change entirely to higher end.

Well, thinking about this kept one hand in the business while I was otherwise totally out of commission. Whether you agree or disagree with my stereotypical purchaser profiles, what do you think is a good market for fine, handmade Judaica?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Imperfect, a Perfect Experience

I bought a mug at a workshop I went to a couple of weeks ago. I bought it right from the potter at the beginning of the workshop day. Then, in the company of other potters, I watched him work his magic at the potter's wheel through the course of the day.

I learned some things about working with porcelain I didn't know, because my experience is with earthenware and stoneware, and each clay has its own, different working properties. I decided right then to buy some porcelain clay for my studio, and "have a go."

Well, I've been using that mug since then. I'd probably drunk tea out of it over the course of a week and a half before I noticed the faint space between the top left edge of the handle and the body of the mug where it was attached. I happened to be gazing into the complex, micro-crystalline glaze surface, made to sparkle by a shaft of sun on my kitchen table. In the wonderful light, that space-not-quite-a-crack appeared just as if it hadn't been there before. It had been, of course. I just hadn't noticed. It is quite a fine little void of a line.

Tonight, holding the mug of tea warm in my hands, I looked for the not-quite-a-crack and examined it closely. I kind of fell for it. The hand-of-human aspect in the making had become so obvious. The truly handmade imperfectness. It was perfect.

I was in the supermarket this morning. I saw four different styles of mugs on a shelf, for $3.99 apiece. They were all okay. They had no not-quite-cracks on their smooth, unvariegated, glazed bodies. They were...soulless, and... okay. I would not have to experience anything particular holding one of them, except what was in it, soon ingested.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Creamers: Exploring Form & Negative Space

A "darted" creamer starts as a mug. These are large enough for 12 oz. of liquid.
Step 1: Cylinder made on the wheel.
If I kept this as a mug, it would look like this:
This one will go to the winner of the raffle at my last show.
But today I am making creamers, not mugs.
I make a pouring lip while it is still quite damp.
Step 2: A simple pouring lip.

I lighten and finish the bottom edge by smoothing off a little extra clay from around it with my thumb. Then I cut a leaf-shaped dart out of the side.
Step 3: The center of the dart is directly opposite the pouring lip. The angle of the bevel is different for the 2 cut sides of the dart. One side is angled inward, one side angled outward. They merge better this way.
 Slowly and carefully, I bring the cut sides of the dart together. The clay has to be fairly soft, or it will begin to crack above and below the join.
Step 4: A raised seam where the dart is joined. This one was a bit firm and did in fact begin to crack above the join, so I cut it, slipped and scored it, and blended the join all the way up to the rim.
I leave the raised seam made by the join, although I neaten it up some more as I go along.

It looks like this in profile. I'm going to play with this blank thing:
There is a scooped-out area across from the spout now.

The rim could use defining and embellishing, so I make a cut on each of its sides. Where I left the rim uncut across from the spout, I'm left now with an interesting rise, which I am not sure is good there and should possibly be cut off. But let's play with that...
(Note: The spout is now facing right in the photo:)
Step 5: Just cut- two long leaf shapes, one from each side of the rim.
The rim gets dampened, and smoothed gently between thumb and forefinger.
It's important to remove sharp angles on the edges of functional pots. I also smooth a slight flare into the rim at the same time.
Now it's time to figure out the handle design. There's this:
Handle starts inside rim and goes to bottom of darted part. Attitude is a bit tentative.
Or this:
This handle, attached to the outside below the dorsal fin thing, has better negative space inside the curve, but I think I'll decorate that odd fin  Otherwise it has no purpose. Maybe a spot of color...
Underglaze color applied at a drier stage. But I am not inspired.
These not entirely successful forms have me thinking harder about that darted indentation. It should be framed by a handle that's better integrated into the form of the creamer and also makes interesting negative space.
I cut down the fin-like edge above the handle for a good swooping line. My favorite so far. Will do this rim curve on the next batch I make, maybe even more exaggerated.

This just underscores that the fin above the handle really is too self-important. In comparison to the creamer in the photo above this, I am not liking how the fin-shoulder widens the rim profile.
Difference here- I didn't dart this one, I indented the side of the creamer with a big dimple instead of cutting out the leaf shape. More like my un-darted old creamers, but with a forward thrust to the profile that's a bit livelier than of old. Fin still has to go...
While these dry, I will make some hand-pleasers, each one a little critter from one small lump of clay. Want to make a couple of dozen. More on that next time. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Microwave-Oatmeal Bowls

1/2 cup whole oats
1 cup water or milk or apple juice
a pinch of salt (optional)

Place in microwaveable bowl & cook on high for 2 1/2 minutes
Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes more
See if you want another 1/2 minute
Add other good things to eat: nuts, honey, maple syrup, raisins, cut up fruit, cinnamon- and warm up your tummy with breakfast.

OK. You say you've tried this, but the oatmeal climbs up the sides of the bowl and bubbles over while you're busy getting your coffee?

What you need is a bigger bowl. A taller bowl. A microwaveable one that has generous capacity and a yen to contain your oatmeal. (One that later in the day will hold enough tuna salad or a side dish of pasta or veggies for your family of three or four.)
Bowls for microwaving oatmeal...or warming soup...or reheating pasta...a great size for lots of things!

Finished size will be about 7" in diameter x 3.5" tall. No way will your oatmeal be climbing out.

The colors on these oatmeal bowls is still in the raw. After firing, assuming I put clear glaze over them, the back one will be muted orange, the middle row ones chartreuse green and dark peach, and the front pale pink and ice blue. The color will darken and deepen with firing. Or so I am guessing- these are new commercial underglazes that I am trying out under my own glazes.

A homey and extremely useful bowl for fall and winter!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What do You Mean by Show?

Two Sunday shows in a row made this a fairly busy month. Four boxes of pottery are back home, still packed, stacked in boxes in my garage beside the show shelves and stands. Two boxes are empty now.

These two shows are not very much alike.

Show 1: the Potters Guild of New Jersey's annual Fall holiday show, at the Community Presbyterian Church in Mountainside, in its social hall. About 40 of my colleagues showed and sold nothing else but pottery, of all flavors. The show ran two days. I was there only the second day, when it runs for 5 hours. Although our mailing list is 700 addresses long, the crowd was fairly sparse.  I sold 3 moderately priced pieces. You may think that sounds like a bust, but sales were not my main criterion for this show. I went to hang with the potters, which is fun, informative, and supportive. I did not expect much in sales with a roomful of clay competition, although I did expect to make back my table fee plus a little. In short, my expectations were real, and were more than met. A nice thing about this show is that the minimal table fee is the only fee charged, necessary to cover administrative costs. The Guild does not take a percentage. Because there was a table fee, I took home 78% of my sales.

Show 2: The Nanuet Hebrew Center Art Festival in New City, New York, also in the social hall. This is a fundraising show for the Center.
Still lovin' the new banner.

About 30 vendors showed and sold work. There was jewelry of all kinds (it was a very jewelry-heavy show), and handmade wearables and needlework. We had one sculptor, and three potters (including me) showing work both Judaic and non, I sold 9 pieces, not as moderately priced as the ones at Show 1 the Sunday before. My expectations, however, were higher for this show. On the fully enjoyable side, I networked with other vendors/artists and enjoyed shmoozing with browsers, show volunteers, and customers, and I did make sales. I took some emails for my mailing list, which is always good. But this show had twice the table fee of Show 1, and took 20% of my sales in addition. Although I sold a respectable amount considering that this crowd was also pretty sparse, and certainly earned more than at Show 1, I brought home only 51% of my sales.

So when I say "I'm in a show," that means something different every time. At Show 1, low expectations were met and exceeded. At Show 2, higher expectations were not met, but an analysis of the show afterward indicates that I did not factor in projected crowd size or potential spending money in the room. My sales indicate that I really did pretty well before the Hebrew Center took its fee and percentage (and that "pretty well" is a relative thing). My expectations were just too high to be met by these challenging costs. It was an appealing show that I've now done twice and must consider whether I will do again now that I have better perspective.

Another important aspect of shows not reflected in my take-home, is that these venues are good places to test out new products. Here are two tulipieres (many-spouted flower containers) I was showing for the first time. I engaged people in some conversation about these. They had price tags of $110 each and did not sell, but both item and price are experimental. We shall see...
Two different tulipieres, about 11" tall. I put flowers in them at the show to forestall the inevitable "What is that?"

Remember, shows are a small part of what I do. There are also my website sales, and word-of-mouth drop-in shoppers at my studio gallery (now emptied and ready to be painted and set up with new shelves; re-opening date TBA). The reasons to do shows are like journalism's rules; they lead me to some better understanding of who is buying what, when, where, and why, and so help me focus my creativity productively.

More on the business of pottery when the renovated gallery goes back up!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hot From the Kiln! Show Prep

First I took inventory of previously made show stock while the newest load cooled in the kiln. (Remember, as always, you can click on any photo for a bigger image):
14 washing cups & more (with a tulipiere hiding in back)
Then I opened the kiln and began to unload! Still at 250 F but I couldn't wait.
Assembling the kiln load on the floor of the kiln room to assess
Made by candlelight one day during the Superstorm Sandy power outage. Apropos!
Interesting! The Wee Willie Winkie candleholders above (see my post of 11/4) are way cute!

Good form, I think. Very reminiscent of the seashore.

And the freeform pieces (from the previous post) were mostly glazed like these above, kind of a salt-glaze effect. It's a browner color than I expected, due to my red glaze being over the darker clay I used in the week after Superstorm Sandy. For contrast, below is a similar piece, same glaze, on white clay. Quite a difference! I like the one below a lot.
Red glaze on white clay. Liking.

 Not sure about this one below. What do you think?
Too much?

But I'm sure about these below- they're very nice!

Liking the color combination...
Compare that tray with the wavy edge with one without, in a different color scheme. Both nice. The front one is a little fancier.
Similar forms, yet different

I'm playing with snakeskin texture on these (below) thrown-slab vessels. Black underglaze under red glaze. Hmm...jury is still out.
Snakeskin texture

Looking down into the bottom of the kiln after unloading the rest...Don't want to subject the tulipieres to thermal shock so they are not yet unloaded. They are sculptural pieces, thrown and assembled from various parts. I will let them cool in the kiln.
Tulipieres...and cups. Complex design next to simple.
Maybe I'll see you at the show on Sunday! Come visit and see the work in person!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Potters Guild Show Results, and Onward!

Sunday was a fun day. Noon to five p.m. I was with the Potters Guild of NJ ( at our annual holiday show and sale.

As shows go, this is lots of fun, although I don't make much money. Some shows are good money and some I do for other reasons; this one's in the second category. In a room with about 39 other potters, it's pretty hard to stand out! I just make what I like to make and set it up as nicely as I can, and assume I'll sell a few good pieces even with all the fine competition of my colleagues. So it went.

I have a new banner!

My colleagues range from fairly new with clay to very experienced. Aesthetics are all over the place, and this is part of the excitement of this show. "Putting on a show" for me is like it was when I was little- let's make up stuff and get people to see it!

Today I am throwing (turning) flat slabs with finger ridges, on my potter's wheel, and laying them out to firm up on sheet rock "boards." I trail a spiral of black underglaze on some of them. When they firm up a little (I am too impatient to wait enough), I toss them in a particular way (with a pulling motion) on the boards, stretching and thinning them by doing this a few times. (The spirals of underglaze stretch, too.) Then I drape them into oval bowls coated inside with canola oil or WD-40 (to prevent them sticking) for support, and do some edge smoothing.
Fast-drying the freeform bowls in their "cradles" on my space heater. Hoping to bisque fire them tomorrow!

It's fun and relatively fast. Kind of like piecrust without the rolling pin. I like the free forms of the resulting bowls. Here's the first one, without the black underglaze.
This one was made from a white clay bat pad I used under bats of brown clay, which caused the darker spiral serendipitously...a story for another day.

If you want some better explanation of this technique, with photos, let me know in Comments, and I'll write up a how-to blog post! Meanwhile, back to the studio. This afternoon I have pieces that are already bisqued, ready to glaze for next Sunday's show in New City, NY!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Glazed Pot Photos + Show Information

Just a quick update.
You saw these appetizer plates and this platter in the raw state in my post from October 12th. Here they are glazed!
Appetizer plates- perfect small serving size; stoneware fired to approx. 2200 F (^6)
Platter, approx. 12.5" x 11", stoneware, black underglaze, three glazes, ^6

You can click on the images to see them better.
Just a teaser: here is a washing cup from the first glaze fire in my new kiln. The glazes came out wonderful.
Washing cup, stoneware, 3 overlapping glazes, ^6

Three-footed Vase, about 10" tall, underglaze, latex resist, 3 overlapping glazes, ^6
Again (as in previous posts), feel free to visit me and see my work at the Potters Guild show this Sunday, November 11, 12-5, 1459 Deer Path, Mountainside, NJ., Community Presbyterian Church (social hall)---assuming the power is on and we can have the show! I will also be at the Nanuet Hebrew Center Arts Festival next Sunday, November 18 at 411 South Little Tor Road,  New City, NY 10956, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

From Hurricane Sandy to Wee Willie Winkie

On October 29th, Hurricane Sandy blew out the lights. She forcibly shut appliances and phones. The hum of household motors began a four-day rest. The friendly faint grind of the heat going on stopped cold. Except for the mild ticking of the battery powered wall clock in my studio, all the sounds of electricity underlying life at home became silent.

Even our cellphones did not have reception.

We played Scrabble by candlelight, bundled in layers of clothing.

Half a lifetime ago, when I bought my Lockerbie kickwheel (non-electric), I said, "I can even use it in a power outage!" But I never did. Blackouts rarely last more than a couple of hours.

But Hurricane Sandy left a swath of destruction in our state. The electric company gave an estimate of six days without power (mercifully, our house did not go this long).

The Luddite living inside of me rose weirdly happily to the occasion. Down to the studio with a handful of candles!

And what to make?
Had to bleach out the photo so you could see me in the low light!

Candleholders, of course! Wee Willie Winkie candleholders, in fact!

           "Wee Willie Winkie running through the town
             Up the stairs and down the stairs in his nightgown!
             Tapping at the windows, calling at the locks,
             'Are the babies in their beds? For now it's ten o'clock!'"

In my childhood book of nursery rhymes, this is the candleholder Willie carried:
My friend calls them Jack-Jumped-Over-the-Candlesticks.

 ...and mugs, too! Because when the power goes out and the temperature outside and inside drops, you need, at the very least, candlelight and tea.

I would have fired them in the kiln, too, if only it was not electric...

Look for these among other pottery I will be showing on Sunday, November 11, 12-5 p.m., (assuming the show will not be canceled due to power being out,) at the Potters Guild Show and Sale in the social hall of the Community Presbyterian Church, 1459 Deer Path, Mountainside, NJ.

Keep warm!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Julia Art of a Clay Handbuilding Demo

On Friday, I drove down to East Windsor, New Jersey, to Meadow Lakes Senior Living It was the closing day of the NJ Senior Art Show. showing best-in-state artwork by artists 60+. I was on the educational program, doing a clay working demonstration from 11-noon. (Marketing note to working potters and crafters: use those tags and labels! An organizer had thus found my website, and me, through a search using the phrase "NJ potter".)

I used to do mini clay demos for groups of campers at Camp Simcha (1994-2001), where I ran the Pot Shop (Bigger kids: "Do you sell pot here?" chuckle, chuckle,) and where I taught kids ages 6-18 the processes to make projects. But it was like no time had passed once I got going with the demo on Friday morning.

The audience this time was made up of nearly all artists, mostly painters and photographers. Some also had experience with clay. I was about to explain something fairly basic, which is taking slabs and putting them over hump molds and into slump molds to make plates and trays. But after 27 years of handling clay, I figured I could add some intellectual dimension even to the presentation of relatively uncomplicated techniques. In order to make the one short hour interesting and full, I’d practiced and followed certain pieces right through glaze firing for the last month or so, simplifying technique and number of tools used. I had taken the challenge as a reason to handbuild instead of my usual wheel-throwing. There would be no potter's wheel available and the demo needed to be completed in a very clean presentation room.

I planned it like Julia Child's cooking show! I demonstrated making the plate, platter and bowl  like Julia made recipes. The platter, for example, went much like the following.
French Chef, Julia Child (source

On her show, let's say Julia was making pie. First Julia would  have made the filling and set it aside. Following the step-by-step idea, I made the slabs of clay and set them aside at home on Thursday night, ready to bring to Meadow Lakes next day. (A covering of plastic kept the slabs moist and flexible.)   Julia demonstrated how she mixed up and rolled out the dough, and how to fold it into the pan. Demonstrating at Meadow Lakes, I showed how to texture the clay slabs with handmade tools, using a carved wooden coggle wheel and a flower-patterned stamp.  I showed how to drape the clay into my slump mold (in this case a plastic tray from IKEA), and then I cut away excess clay from around the edges. I added extra surface stamping to my soft, textured pieces. 
(Remember, you can always click on the photos for an enlarged view.)
Freshly made, soft slab platter, in slump mold

 Let’s say Julia had to bake the crust before filling it. She would put the pan into the oven, and at the same time take out from the oven a fully baked piecrust, and say something like, “In the interest of time, I made this earlier.” Following Julia's pattern, I showed the people the semi-finished, "leather-hard" piece I had made the evening before, looking quite like the one I had just made fresh from soft clay, but having lost most of its moist sheen, and no longer malleable(Note: Yes, you saw me practicing this form in a previous blog post.)
Leather-hard platter from previous evening, removed from slump mold

Julia might then fill the piecrust with the prepared filling, and when she put that filled pie into the oven, she would simultaneously take out a finished pie. Following the Julia pattern, I showed the people in my audience a glazed, fired, complete piece of pottery, very similar to what they had just seen me make. 
Platter; a finished pie, as it were

Role model, Julia Child! The methodology worked beautifully.
As a side note: I had put prices on the bottom of my pieces, just in case. You never know.* (*Marketing note to artist crafters: Don't miss a chance to sell, sell, sell!) I also distributed flyers for the Potters Guild show, where I will be with my work on November 11th- come see!

*Sunday Nov. 11th
Time:  12 am to 5 pm
Place: Community Presbyterian Church, at 1459 Deer Path in Mountainside (corner of Deer Path and Meeting House Lane, social hall entrance)
(Cash, check or credit cards accepted)

(*One more marketing note: Always get the word out!)

It's a most interesting potting life, people. No matter how long I've been at it, it is a learning opportunity every step of the way. 

Post script: Now that I have been reminded how much fun it is, if you have a clay demo opportunity for me, it is very likely I will be interested! Go to my website,, and Contact me. And as ever, thanks for reading about the art and business of pottery!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Thank You, Selma

Selma, 2010
       I had a friend, Selma. We met in 1985 in the Ceramics studio of our local college. I was in my late 20s, back in school after my second child started walking. Selma was then in her late 60s.
       I was looking for the ability and training in art that I had gradually lost as I grew up in a place not always sympathetic to art. My husband and I had bought four stacking mugs from a potter in a Greenwich Village street fair five years before, and I had been thinking ever since,I can do that!” (Little did I realize how much learning was involved!)
A doctor’s wife, Selma had raised her children full time, and when the youngest went to college, began her avocation as a craftsman. By the time I met her, Selma had been making her own sort of pots on and off for a couple of decades, developing her deceptively simple style.
Selma had a lot of confidence. She had done a lot of looking at art of all sorts, and continued to do so as long as I knew her. There were galleries and museum shows to see, art books to learn from, courses to take. There were trips to theater and opera. There was her beloved daily newspaper, which she read cover to cover. Selma absorbed intellectual and aesthetic lore with passionate abandon, though her demeanor was always collected and gracious so that perhaps “abandon” is a funny word to use. But there it is. Passionate abandon.
Selma was a beautiful woman in the best sense, tall and naturally very slim in late middle age, with a thick shock of white hair, a warm and gracious smile, and luminous dark eyes. She liked to wear a bit of eyeliner and some foundation to cover the sunspots from years of tennis. She was always conscious of elegance, even with clay on her arms, even wearing an old pair of pants and her old brown shoes while she worked. She had won athletic awards in high school, and an aura of erect grace always remained in her bearing even though a car accident years before had left her with a permanent limp. Despite her elegance, lest you think she might be, she was not a snob.
When I met her, she had a yen to talk about art, and I had a yen to hear it. We talked quite a lot in the college studio as we worked, about life and art, me a newbie with clay and she an old pro. I sometimes thought that if we were close in age, if I had met her when she was in high school, it is quite possible we would not have become friends. I was an introvert in my late 20s, and from the way she told it to me later, she was anything but. So I think we met at the right time to grow into friends.
She taught me something simple about pots that I had to practice and grow into for years afterward: “The inside has to agree with the outside.” She showed me what she meant as she made her own pots. It was a gentle but very persuasive conversation.
Handles on her mugs and pitchers were always as small as possible while still having enough room in them to be comfortable in the hand. Selma had perspective about things like this. I wanted to hear her perspective. Sometimes I disagreed, but still, I heard.
When she worked at the wheel, her pots had a softness of form that became harmonic counterpoint with the hardness of the piece once it was fired. When she worked with slabs, she liked to leave torn edges, quite different from the thrown work. But color and texture brought it all to one strong, quiet statement.
The colors Selma loved were usually oatmeal, golden brown, brilliant mazarine blue, deep semi-matt chocolate brown, rich cocoa-spotted bright rust, tenmoku black breaking to iron silver, and still more. The textures were often burlap rough or tree bark crackly, with bumps, indentations and lines made by pressing in found objects both organic and industrial. She really liked an irregular edge. She found her inspiration in things like seashells and rocks, pieces of bone, and oddments like terraced bits of tree fungus.
She rolled clay into a slab, tore pieces from it and slapped them back on, pressed some of her texture bits into the clay, and placed the whole crazy quilt into a fabric cradle or a giant wok to form them. This way she made plates and bowls of all sizes. She poured, splashed and trailed glazes with exuberant freedom, always with a particular objective and always with respect for serendipitous play.
One day after coffee at her house, she gave me this cream and sugar set, right off a kitchen shelf. It has lived in my studio ever since. It has a gentle delicacy that I like:
Cream and Sugar- notice the sweet little handle

Selma died a year or so ago, at age 94.
Today I met her daughter at Selma’s still-art-filled house, which is nearing sale. Her daughter greeted me at the door and immediately offered me my choice of Selma’s pots covering the dining room table. I chose a group of four vases. I remember this clay and these glazes from our time at the college. The rich browns and bottle forms give this group lovely solidarity. I hope I was not greedy to take all four, but they seem like a family:
Bottle Vase Family

 We went down to the basement where Selma had her small workshop. I helped her daughter take inventory, in the hope that homes can be found for glaze chemicals and the old kiln and tools. I came away with kiln shelves and posts, a makeshift wedging table, and two great big bisqued wall plates in a form I remember Selma making; I will glaze them and keep them. As I carried out a box of kiln posts, I passed Selma’s tan apron hanging on a peg and thought of her, in her usual turtleneck and silver earrings, wearing that apron, moving with a slight limp around the glaze table at the college, or sitting at her usual potter’s wheel, trimming a pot so that the inside agreed with the outside. I felt a great sense of gratitude to Selma and a powerful nostalgia for our friendship, unlike any other in my life. I so enjoyed knowing her.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Pretty Pots, Sassy Slab Work, and Show Information

Small Jars, from 5"-8" tall, with cut foot ring, first pots with a bit of glaze sprayed through my new little mouth atomizer for added color subtlety.

Bowls, from 8"-10" tall. They came out well, but I will re-fire at least one in the new kiln,  to see whether the interior rust color will deepen to a redder (less green-y) hue with slower cooling after peak temperature.

Textured Platter, approx. 15" x 11". The branch was drawn on the raw clay piece right after it was formed. Glazes went on over that after the bisque fire.
Above are a few pots from the last glaze kiln, which I fired approximately a month ago.

I may have been away from the studio a whole lot since then, but it's been anything but a dry phase. I've watched terrific technique DVDs from Erin Furimsky (surface decoration) and Lorna Meaden (throwing techniques and aesthetic considerations) in the last month, plus the usual online videos from the prolific Simon Leach and Hsin Chuen Lin, plus the usual video snippets and posts from many others I find on Ceramic Arts Daily. There were photos and articles in Ceramics Monthly and Pottery Making Illustrated, and information absorbed from using handmade pottery every day. 

I have two shows coming up in November, one with the Potters Guild of NJ on 11/11/12 (the guild will be there the 10th and 11th, but I'll just be there in person on Sunday) and the other in a terrific little craft show at the Nanuet Hebrew Center in New City, NY, on 11/18/12.

September and the first part of October were super-busy with holidays and family. (Did I mention grandtwins, now nearly 3 months old???) By the time the holidays ended Tuesday evening, I was pining to get back to my bright studio and make new work. Wednesday and Thursday were full steam ahead, productive and engrossing with work made from rolled-out slabs of clay. It was like getting back in touch with a very dear friend.

Stamped Tray, approx. 11" x 7.5"

Long Oval Platter, approx. 17" x 11", underglaze design based on a sketch

The first pieces I made on my return to the studio, a set of 8 appetizer plates, approx. 6" x 4". Glaze will pool nicely into the strong texture, made with a carved wooden roulette and my own, homemade flower stamp.

All this slab work (and more) was inspired by a request I received to demonstrate handbuilding techniques. I've been increasingly interested in non-wheel work, because of its textural possibilities, so I happily said Yes to the request. I will be doing an hour-long demo of handbuilding of items like the plates and trays above, at the 46th New Jersey Senior Citizens Annual Art Contest and Exhibition. The event will take place at Meadow Lakes (senior living community) in East Windsor, NJ on Friday, October 26th, mid-morning (11-approximately 12:15).  I call it "From Clay Slice to Delicious Dish." Visit, see the demo, and say hi!

While Thursday's handbuilding and underglazing was going on, the tech came to hook up the vent on the new, digital (programmable) kiln, which is due to fire its first glazed pots in a week or so. OK. I confess. I'm so excited about this kiln I could bust. I've now invested in a way to make my electric-fired glazes richer looking, with slower cooling in the kiln at the end of each firing. Can't wait to get the process going. But that's a story for another day!