It’s been a week since my return from Peters Valley and I’m still processing the entire experience. Workshops, for me, are more than targeted educational intensives. They are a chance for me to launch out of my usual orbit and experience fission of ideas and cosmic collisions with like minded creative travelers. They also provide me with an outlet to bust loose from my usual persona and show a different side of me that people in my daily life rarely glimpse, and focus on one thing and one thing only 24/7- making and firing work. In addition it’s good for me to get out of the house and on my own in a strange setting to make me appreciate how good I have it at home, how I’m loved and cared for by my husband, and how comfortable I have it.
I was extremely pleased with my accommodations! I had a large room on the first floor of a cute house. All the other bedrooms were upstairs so I pretty much had the whole floor and its bathroom to myself. My bedroom was to the left of the front door and my windows overlooked a little porch with chairs. I even had an air conditioner, and the room had 2 twin beds and hand made soaps! To the rear was a comfy living room with nice morning light and off that a huge kitchen with a coffee maker and even coffee (a very nice welcoming touch) and off that the bathroom. All in all a very nice place to crash in between firings at the studio a very short distance down the road and the mess hall an even shorter gambol through the bushes.
To every sunny side there’s a dark one and this time it came in the form of rain clouds. It POURED the entire time. It TEEMED and was unseasonably chilly and though I threw in my foul weather gear at the last minute I didn’t think to add warm socks, leggings, sweaters. The fact that one of the windows in my room was stuck open didn’t help, and it rained so hard that the water dripped from the gutters onto an aluminum leader constantly in a torture tattoo. At one point I felt like I was in the American remake of the Japanese movie Rashomon where the opening scene takes place in the pouring rain. The screens were faulty and all sorts of legged and winged creatures danced, flitted and jumped around my room at night. At one point a cricket the size of a mouse jumped on my head prompting me to knock everything off the night stand as I flailed around for the lamp, and I was treated to a solo light show performance given by a lonely love starved fire fly perched on top of the closet molding.
The workshop was given by director Bruce Dehnert
and instructor Steve Cook,
both of whom I know from hanging around the Peters Valley table at NCECA events. Bruce I’ve known for years, having taken 3 other workshops at Peters Valley and being there for the 2012 residency. Once in the studio I commandeered a table and set up my stuff. I had pretty much everything I needed and then some. My solar powered dancing devil was quickly pressed into service to protect the wood fire kiln and Pinocchio, despite being abused and over-wound to breaking point one night by a nameless shameless brazen studio interloper after I had left, did his best to clap for us as we fired up the raku kiln.
Besides Bruce and Steve, there were 9 of us students and 2 assistants, Cindy and Max. A merry band one and all. After introductions, a brief outline and lecture we set about glazing for a soda and wood fires, where I was introduced to flashing slips, something I’ve never used, and a wide variety of glazes. It was hard to pick and choose ware for each firing and strategize, not really knowing what to expect from my clays and the glazes, but it was fun to experiment, and especially fun to learn about wadding and use it as a decorative tool (my attempts were rather lame and ineffectual but it was fun anyway) The spots on these pieces were where the wadding left its imprint. To me the 2 on the right look like startled faces and the one on the left an upside down face of a cartoon bear. If I was more creative I’d have done a better job of it but better luck next time.
Once we loaded the wood kiln the soda kiln was next and after that the reduction shuttle kiln for the shino firing. Shino is something I had never done before but always wanted to try, I had some good success with the glazes despite my poor glaze application skills which were pretty much a quick dunk leaving finger marks behind (everything’s a test!) By this time the rain was so relentless that many of my pieces had absorbed alot of humidity which made the glaze application uneven and in one case the flashing slip never dried and I couldn’t apply the glaze coat!
The wood kiln was lit on night 1 of the workshop, the soda kiln the afternoon of day 2. I don’t really enjoy wood firing. I’m not good at sitting around in 3 hour shifts alternating between staring compulsively at a pyrometer and into the maw of a roaring firebox, picking through a pile of logs and throwing them just right so as not to bust out the back of the kiln or create a log jam so the door won’t close, all the while in the piss pouring rain, at night. But once it gets going great guns it really is a sight to behold, especially in the dark. Oh and the results are pretty great too!
During my morning shift on the 3rd day the raku kiln was fired up and things really got going for me as I’m a raku junky and am drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Bruce picked up on this and asked if I wouldn’t mind being in charge of it until the reduction kiln was squared away. I was in hot-as-hell heaven! The kiln was a very simple efficient affair; once it got hot enough for the first pull the subsequent pulls happened every 20 minutes. Ware was placed in small metal cans with lids lined with small handfulls of straw like hay (damp of course) That morning was spent bouncing between the wood and raku kilns. It was physically very taxing and I was glad I had done alot of endurance work outs up to this point. Max was really great about checking up on us and making sure we were drinking enough water. Alot of sweating was going on. Here’s a picture of Jessie and Sharon doing their “Dante’s Inferno” re-enactment.
With all this going on it was time to think about pit firing. I brought videos with me to sell, and Bruce not only let me talk alittle about the Horsehair BBQ process, but he went out and bought items to make a smoke kiln out of a garbage can and let me run a firing!!! I was so happy and so grateful! I learned alot about pit firing, in particular the spray application of yellow ochre and copper carbonate and how to load it and use copper sulphate and aluminum foil to create colors and patterns. So the last night was spent literally sitting around the camp fires, fueled on jokes, camaraderie, music and tequila.
The final day was like Christmas. We all ran around discovering our pieces in the unloadings, jumping up and down, high fiving, scratching and shaking our heads, rolling our eyes, oohing and ahhing over each other’s work, grinding, taking notes, asking questions.
I was really really impressed by everyone else’s work, in particular, their forms. Mine were thrown together tiny things made in haste to serve as tests while everyone else’s were well executed, planned, large and took beautifully to the glazes and firing processes. Food for thought for next time! I hope to keep in touch with everyone now that we’re all home, and look forward to the next PV workshop, hopefully a 3 day raku/horsehair extravaganza with me as one of the instructors, but also another round of glaze formulation with wizard Bill Carty.