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







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.




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).


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!!!


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!


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!!!!