Hit the Floor Running, Let’s Go to Peters Valley!!!

Miss me?  We were in Cape Cod for 2 glorious weeks of sleeping, eating, biking, horse back riding, and lazying about in slouchy clothes.  Naturally I set off for the trip bags loaded with all sorts of electronics so that I could WRITE, PHOTOGRAPH AND BLOG every day while away.  HAH!  Except for one torrentially rainy cold day, I didn’t even peck at a keyboard.

One thing I did decide to do on a whim just before we left was decide to enroll in the Peters Valley Workshop, “Battle of the Burn” given by Bruce Dehnert and Steve Cook.  It cost a fortune and was immediately after not one but 2 trips and who in their right mind would go to a place filled with mosquitos and ticks with marginal accommodations to fire pottery outside 24/7 with a bunch of like minded fools?  ME!

So before I left I e mailed Bruce to inquire if there was still room for one more student, and how much work I need to take with me.  I figured the class would be full and I’d just go off to the Cape but NOOOOOO he replied immediately to say he’s delighted I’d take it could I please whip up about 40 pieces to bring.  FORTY?  FORTY!

So I became a one person pottery factory, banging things out as fast as possible, side stepping embellishments or anything creative or complicated and easy to break, i.e. blank canvas type bowls and plates.  Bruce said to use raku clay or stoneware, ticking off how many pieces in which clay.

Typically my go-to clays are high fire stonewares from Standard Supply:  S182 a nice smooth bright white, easy to throw and durable for gentle raku, smoke and luster processes, but also good for wood firing and salt fires; S239 a raku clay that’s very dependable but for my tiny achy hands hard to throw and a buff color that isn’t really my thing, and S108 a medium grog red stoneware that I recently discovered does wonderful things in raku especially when coated in clear raku glaze and spritzed with ferric chloride while piping hot fresh from the kiln.  I hadn’t used the 239 or 108 in awhile but knew my 182 was just the way I like it in the way of soft and wet.

I had one bag of 239, hard as a rock, a tiny amount harder than desired but workable and several hard as rock bags of 108 but a bucket of reclaimed that I could make passable.  And so, before leaving for the Cape I was able to bang out 6 plates, 9 chawan, assorted little tiny dishes and a few big bowls in 182 and 7 bowls in 239.  I left them to dry for the 2 weeks and would fire them when I got back.  I also left the hard as rock bags sprayed then wrapped in wet towels and crossed my fingers.

Once home the bags were still hard as rocks but I managed to get 16 one pound balls out of the reclaimed 108 so I banged out a bunch of chawan, 5 plates and assorted tiny things.

Typically I open flame fire very slow and steady which allows me to get away with minimal breakage, but when you’re in a workshop firings are hot and fast and all bets are off.  If  you don’t build your pieces durably or bisque low enough you wind up with a very sorry pile of broken shards or worse, everyone is pissed off at you because your pieces exploded and took out the rest in the kiln with them.  I like to bisque fire my ware high, to Cone 1 (2028 degrees F) or 2 (2034 degrees F.)  I just don’t like the open pore feel of high fire stoneware fired at low temperature and I find that those temperatures close the pores enough to keep me happy but still survive the fire and accept the smoke.  Bruce warned me not to bisque too high so I decided on cone 03, 1987 degrees F.  The 182 clay load came out fine but in the case of the red 108 clay bisque the kiln agreed with Bruce, and even though I didn’t change the programming from the 182 firing it fired to between Cone 06 (1830) and 05 (1870).

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Add to the mayhem going on in the studio, my videos, Horsehair BBQ and Strike Firing Lusterware are finished!  They are not yet ready for distribution on the internet, but Bill and Lin managed to make wonderful packaging, and my next door neighbor Andrew, a lawyer, drew up an ominous disclaimer (you can’t throw a rock in my neighborhood without hitting a lawyer, but don’t do it they’ll sue you) and Jerry added it to the videos.  So voila!  10 of each are ready to distribute.  In between rounds of pottery I tested each and every one on my laptop, desktop and DVD player (which btw I didn’t even know how to turn on until this adventure.)  I am so sick of the sound of my voice, but I must admit they look pretty good, I just hope they are instructional and not boring as all hell.  Bruce said to bring them and I’m really thrilled about that, THANKS BRUCE!!!

PACKING:

So armed with the materials list for the workshop and the suggested packing list from the facility I basically took my extra big go-to-workshops bin and tool box and threw everything that would fit in them.  Clay tools, glazing tools and chemicals, fire safety gear, feathers, shells, horsehair, combustibles, spray bottles, turntables,  even kiln saints, you name it, it’s crammed in the box.  I’m a neat freak and hyper organized so things went into marked containers by category for intimidating fellow students.  I also create a notebook, 3 ring binder, waterproof sleeves (a fellow student once borrowed my notes and spilled an entire jar of glaze on them the bastard) and all sorts of printouts, firing charts and schedules.  This ritual, even if it’s overkill, somehow calms me down.  God forbid I’d get stranded in a foreign ceramics studio without my blank firing schedule templates!

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Forget about the templates, then there are personal things I suddenly will die if I don’t have while there like wine, chocolate, coffee and iced tea.  You may say, “what, you can’t get them at Peters Valley?” to which I respond, “NO!”  It’s literally in the middle of nowhere, and although the food is excellent and you get plenty of it 3 times a day, it’s the little things that suddenly become extra valuable like alcohol (for drinking discreetly by my lonesome outside the studio, or for trading for other more valuable rare items- not that I can think of any) chocolate and ice cubes.

There are essentials to remember like a pillow, fly netting, bug repellent, poison ivy medication, anti itch creams and flip flops to wear in the shower.  I hear things are looking up at Peters Valley and that now one emerges cleaner from their showers than before they entered, but it is communal living at its most basic.  I managed to snag a SINGLE ROOM WITH AIR CONDITIONING!!  From the tone of the voice making my reservation, it may be in the next county so I am going to throw my bike in the car too.  If I had a canoe I’d probably strap it to the roof, but for now one suitcase, a bag full of survival gear, a bike, helmet and bike shoes/clothes and a cooler full of wine, chocolate and caffeinated drinks, I think I’m set.

See you in July!!!!

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