May Day May Day!!!! Peters Valley Open House and Studio Tours

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May Day can either mean May 1st,  a day to celebrate or  May Day May Day a distress signal.    Thankfully in my case it was a celebration, as in my line of work it could have gone either way.  Yesterday was the Open House and Studio Tours event at Peters Valley Craft Center and I was asked to fire the raku kiln as part of the festivities.

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Sharon Pflug-Moench (left) and I (right) doing the heavy lifting at the Peters Valley Raku kiln

 

Knowing my schedule would only permit me to make enough ware for 1 or 2 loads I reached out to teacher, potter, and good friend Sharon Pflug-Moench to make ware and join me in the effort.  She did not disappoint.  We had enough work between us for 6 loads, a full day of firing fun!

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Sharon aka Lucy and me, aka Ethel with the ware waiting to be fired

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Caught Instagramming- red handed!

Sharon and I are the clay version of Lucy and Ethel.  We’re soft-hearted tough cookies.  We work well together.  We get into scrapes.  We generate alot of laughs. To temper us and provide support were my husband Bill and her husband Paul- Ricky and Fred, although none of us could decide who was who of that pair.

True to form, like every other time I have raku fired at Peters Valley, it poured rain all day long.  You can set your watch to it.  You want rain?  Call me, I’ll either schedule an outdoor picnic or a raku fire at Peters Valley.  I’m so used to it I don’t think I’d know what to do if the sun was shining.

Joining us in the ceramic studio were director Bruce Dehnert, his wonderful wife Kulvinder Dhew, and fellow potters throwing on wheels, including Linda Garrabrandt of MudSlingers Pottery Works.

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Kulvinder Dhew arranging Bruce Denhert’s work for sale, while Linda Garrabrandt of MudSlingers Pottery Works throws clay in the background

Visitors came and went and pots went in and out of the kiln.

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Vases fresh from the kiln “steaming” until cool to the touch

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I was nervous about firing hot and fast in a kiln set up differently than my own, but it’s alittle like riding someone else’s horse:  the basics are the same I just had to learn its nuances and how to get along with it.  Everything worked out fine and the kiln saints and devils smiled upon us.  The pieces survived the firings, the glazes came out great and the humans came out of the experience unscathed, just filthy, tired and wet, but very very happy.

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In terms of kiln saints, I brought the heavy artillery: St Michael the Archangel, Pinocchio and the little devil who, if the sun were shining as he is solar powered, would be dancing a little jig

I had the good fortune to meet many people touring through the studios, show my work, eat a great meal from a food truck (fish tacos with the most divine fries!) and even get interviewed by a reporter at the NJ Herald.  Look at me, I wound up the lead article in their on line edition the following day!

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For my next Peters Valley trick I will be teaching the 3-day raku workshop Raku Rodeo the first weekend in June.  Get out your umbrellas and galoshes and come fire with me!

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Dealing with Mutts, Duds and Clunkers, Our Wayward Pottery Children

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Mutts.  Duds.  Clunkers.  Everyone has them coming out of the kiln.   What to do with them?  Ceramic pieces are durable goods made from ingredients mined, mostly in third world countries.  As a potter I never forget that and don’t take my choice of medium lightly.  I try to make every piece count.  Not every piece comes out of the kiln the way I want it, in fact, quite the opposite.  Given that they are the product of my hand, heart and energy, AND durable goods, I try to give them the best shot at a long and useful life.  Thus, I am famous for re-fires.  My motto being, “fire it til you like it or it breaks!”

Here are the befores and afters:

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Check out the bright blue bowl, the small vessel to it’s left, and the small bowl on the far right. These were my “almost but not quite” keepers.[/caption]

“Almost but not quite” keepers are definitely annoying.  I scrub at them them, hoping against hope that what I’m seeing is something that is some sort of water soluble layer hiding something truly amazing underneath.   But no, I rub furiously at it like an Alladin’s lamp, wishing, just wishing that my tired, filthy and sore body didn’t go through all that work for nothing.   But, with a heavy sigh and heart I realize it just wasn’t meant to be and that glass of wine I reach for is for consolation not congratulations.

That blue bowl- yes, it’s an amazing color blue, for bowling balls, not for bowls.  And those yellow patches where the glaze ran thin, can we just not mention them please?  The little green vessel to its left- that one falls into the “close but no cigar” category.  It’s a pretty glossy green but it was supposed to be satin turquoise blue damn it!  What’s up with that, huh?!  And that poor green bowl to the far right.  Can we talk?  The glaze was so thin the grog showed through.  And can I confess:  I’m sick of green raku glazes.  (or at least I have so many of them at home that I don’t need another new one from a workshop, not to be ungrateful or nothing.)

There were also, not pictured because they are heart breaking, 2 large white stoneware bowls that were complete and utter failures.  One just got a layer of flashing slip, but because it was raining so hard the humidity would not let the poor thing dry.  I tried everything:  I put it in the drying closet, hit it with a heat gun, blotted it with paper towels.  I finally gave up and just stuck it in the shino kiln thinking that maybe it would get visited by the kiln faeries who would wave their wands and turn it into something amazing.  Let’s just say they passed me by or were off that night or grounded by the rain because it came out a matte gray color what I imagine dolphin poop looks like.

The other was a tragedy.  I carefully glazed it for the soda kiln and had what I thought was a real winner on my hands.  Bruce looked at me sheepishly as I stared down at the matte brown and yellow mess in my hands as we unloaded the shino kiln, and confessed that it didn’t fit in the soda so he stuck it in there instead.  What a pal.  So I needed to see if I could work a little magic on those and learn a new trick or 2 while I was at it.

So I reached into my bag of tricks. For the raku pieces, I slapped on some Egyptian Turquoise blue that I got from a Myra Toth workshop at Beatrice Wood in 2008 and got busy.

E voila! As they say in France:

This one is now a winner!  Added a coat of “bowling ball no more” on top!

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Still green, but now interesting copper red flashing and turquoise blue and a nice glow.  Toned down the grog feel a bit too:

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And my little vessel has more intrigue, depth and texture, especially on the bottom (that you hardly every see, this is my luck again)

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So 3 are salvaged, phew!  Big sigh of relief and high fives all around.

WANT TO BUY THESE BOWLS?  GO TO MY ETSY SHOP BY CLICKING ON THE ETSY BADGE TO THE RIGHT OR GOING TO: LisaGWCeramicsnGlass.Etsy.com

Those 2 other bowls?  Why no pictures of before or after?  They fall into the “you win some you lose some” and “once a mess always a mess” categories.  I added my most dependable clear satin cone 6 glaze, “Pauline,” from my days as a student at MSU and fired them in my electric kiln.  All I can say is, the yellow one is less unappealing as the grey one and they are both now pressed into service in my kitchen, where all my problem studio delinquents wind up.  My kitchen cabinets are like a pottery home for wayward children, but they are getting used.

What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been!

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.

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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

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and instructor Steve Cook,

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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.

 

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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!!!!