February 26, 2011

All Strepped Out

Where have I been? Where am I?

The infirmary, is where!

Luckily there's wifi and a Mac. I've been cooped up with strep throat. My advice, don't get it. Anti-biotics don't do a whole lot, there's only so much jello you can eat, throat coat tea isn't really up to the task, but here I am, somewhat coherent after a very groggy day and a half.

I wanted to wrap up the process of making the big jar that I actually finished the other day. Here are a few pictures of the process. One of the most important parts of this coil and throw technique is rolling out the big coil evenly and consistently the right thickness. And of course there aren't any pictures for you. I'll have to make a pinky promise that I'll record that for you when I work on my next one (hopefully Monday). Of course there's a few details that aren't recorded here, it's impossible to get everything in here. It's just a blog, after all!

I guess we could get the you-tube bunch over here and powder my nose for some HD instructional video. But we'll have to wait and see.

smoothing the coil onto the section below.

smoothing the inside connection

i should've stopped here!

but i didn't.

now it's on to the next one.

February 24, 2011


For those keeping score at home. Currently 25" tall and I will add a collar/lip coil, some handles later today. The shape isn't my favorite, but after a few more of these I should be a little more sure with the "silhouette". It'll be a lot of fun to paint these!

I work up this morning full of achy joints and a very sore throat. Stacey woke me up to stop me from snoring (several times, apparently!) Snoring is something I never do, right? Snoring would explain the sore throat, if it weren't coupled with the achy body.

I'm going to finish this guy and I'll try to post some pics later. But if you don't hear from me, I could be napping...

February 23, 2011

Trimming porcelain plates before adding that coil. Big jar not quite ready plates getting too dry.

time for another coil

Follow me on Twitter If You Must Know

Seems it's much easier to communicate my thoughts via Twitter these days. It could be that there is little time (all of a sudden) to sit down to compose even the most impulsive snippet via the blog!

So here is an attempt to reconnect via the circuitous route of cell phone camera to iPod touch via MMS, and now blogging with Blogpress to you via wifi on the 'pod.

Here is a big jar I'm working on this morning. I'll add three more coils and then another for the lip. I'm excited to eventually make a very large pot to use as a landmark by the roadside by the shop. Most likely to be a easy target for some late night hooligans! Maybe I should make it out of plywood...

I hope everybody's have a productive day doing what you love!
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

February 17, 2011

Karen Karnes: A Chosen Path

Ellen Denker is a consulting curator and independent scholar of material culture, specializing in American ceramic history. She has many publications, some of which have won awards from obscure organizations. For “Sawdust & Dirt,” Ellen contributes historical insights into contemporary issues in studio ceramics and review books and exhibitions that feature ceramics. Ellen can be reached at ellen@sawdustanddirt.com

The following is an excerpt from the upcoming review of A Chosen Path: The Ceramic Art of Karen Karnes. Mark Shapiro, ed., foreword by Garth Clark. University of North Carolina Press, 2010, that will appear in the Journal of Design History.

Recently Mark Shapiro sent notification that the book/exhibit catalog he edited on Karen Karnes has been published. For those of us who have known about Karnes for many years, this was good news, and we didn't need any more prodding to seek out the exhibition and catalog. But other blog readers may have wondered what all the fuss was about. What follows then is a little review of the life and work of Karnes in the hope that everyone will get on board to learn more.

Renowned ceramic artist Karen Karnes (b. 1925) has created a consistently significant body of work during more than sixty years of practice. Over her long career she studied and worked in the avant-garde institutions and places of the time, including Brooklyn College, Alfred University, Black Mountain College, and Gate Hill Cooperative in Stony Point NY. Her choices in life and art touched many aspects of the tumultuous social and artistic worlds of the late twentieth century, yet she remained committed to exploring her own impulses.

Karnes was born and raised in a cooperative apartment house in the Bronx, the child of Russian immigrant garment workers who considered themselves socialists. She attended Brooklyn College when the art and design department was headed by Serge Chermayeff, a British architect who brought Bauhaus instruction to the school. “I loved the Bauhaus approach,” she writes in the catalog, “I had suddenly found a kind of art instruction compatible to me.” (p. 80) After graduation she met David Weinrib; after their marriage they spent a summer in Pennsylvania and then went to Italy for a year, working in and around ceramic factories. She learned to use techniques for mass production.

jar, 1952

On their return to the U.S., Karnes attended Alfred University, where she studied independently with Charles Harder. In 1952, David and Karen went to Black Mountain College, where they taught the pottery program that had been started by Robert Turner. They happened to be there during the famous visit of Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach, Soetsu Yanagi, and Marguerite Wildenhain, who were traveling together and giving workshops across the country: “Watching Hamada work was the most important ceramic instruction I, as a young potter, could have. He had a quiet presence—he didn’t say anything as he worked. (In contrast, Leach talked a lot and worked a little.)” (p. 84) At Black Mountain she also came into contact with composer John Cage and dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham. Robert Rauschenberg was a student. Franz Kline and Esteban Vicente taught painting.

In 1954, David and Karen joined M.C. Richards, John Cage, David Tudor and Paul and Vera Williams in a community of artists in Stony Point, New York, called “The Land.” She stayed twenty-five years, giving birth to a son, separating from her husband, and setting up a regular business of supplying casseroles, jars, and bird feeders to Bonniers at 59th and Madison, NYC, and making special commissions. The seasonal work and occasional commissions gave her time to explore her relationship to clay.

salt glazed vessel
Stony Point 1969 15 "h

In 1967, she participated in salt firing while teaching a workshop at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina because the school had a salt kiln. She submitted to the kiln “…just an ordinary pot with some slips poured over it. But when it came out of the kiln, I was very excited to discover a whole new surface.” (p. 88) In 1968 she met British potter Ann Stannard, whom Richards brought to the U.S. to teach a workshop in kiln building: “We just went mad building things—an oil drip kiln, a salt kiln, a small wood-fired kiln, a peat kiln, a sawdust kiln. It was so exciting because there wasn’t much kiln building going on in the late 1960s.” (p. 91) A few years later, Stannard came to the U.S. to stay on with Karnes.

Gate Hill 1974

Eventually, Karen and Ann retreated to northern Vermont, where Karnes could work out the creative problems she set for herself and be free to teach workshops across the country. In 1998, they lost everything when their wood kiln burned the kiln shed and their house. It was a year before Karnes found a new direction for her work.

split-footed bowl
Morgan VT 1990 13'" h

Karnes describes herself as “fortunate to be in on the beginning of the ceramics movement” (p. 94) and to have had the freedom “to work from my own impulse. … Today there are so many people working in clay that it must be hard for younger potters to know what to make. … So many people try to work from other people’s impulses—one person will make something, and suddenly you will see clones everywhere.” (p. 95) The title of the book is A Chosen Path, but it just as easily could have been called "Be True to Yourself." Judging from the illustrations and essays in this catalog, seeing the exhibition will be an important experience. I urge you to get a copy of the catalog and prepare yourself for the visual journey.

The original installation closed recently at Arizona State University, but the following venues will feature the exhibit on this schedule:

For those readers who live nearby, the Penland Gallery opens an exhibit on March 22 titled Many Paths: A Legacy of Karen Karnes. It will feature work by Karnes and fourteen artists whose lives and work have been touched by her (through May 8).

[ed:More information about the events at Penland, Black Mountian, and Asheville will follow.]

February 15, 2011

Today and Tomorrow

After a couple of days of stoneware I hopped back on treadle wheel for my 12x12, this morning. The juggling act may be more than I am able to handle. The clays are so different. But it makes everything in the studio a little edgier, a little more challenging. But isn't making pots in the 21st century challenging enough? Couldn't I be content with the edginess that already exists in my studio? Turner claims that David Shaner only made porcelain in the winter when the snow was on the ground. I can totally relate to that instinct, but I am going to try to stretch it out into spring, maybe summer. I was talking to Kyle today and had the thought that another power wheel may just be the ticket, freeing up the treadle for trimming. Not in the budget (for now). Meanwhile I worked on Ellen Denker's newest post which I hope to upload for your reading pleasure very soon. Tomorrow is a wood cutting day with John followed by a mini road trip to the big city of Asheville for cornmeal and coffee. Actually, John and I are heading over to see Tom's new pots, then to Asheville to pick up some pots from American Folk Art, followed by a trip to Kyle carpenter's pottery empire to see the progress of his kiln rebuild. Then it's off to Alex Matisse's for the monthly gathering of the NC Clay Club!

Got all that? Maybe we'll see you somewhere along the line.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

February 14, 2011

ثلاث صور

these teapots are going to the NC Pottery Center,
for the upcoming show, Teatime: Series 1: Teapots and Teacups
oops, no teacups...

while packing teapots, I had kitty-kat "man" the wheel.

my first stoneware pots were these dessert/sandwich plates.
after all that white-porcelain-stuff I decided to paint'em black. ;-)

February 12, 2011

More Pot Talk

I failed twice at uploading the original HD video, so here is the lo definition version! I'll keep trying.

Check out John's recent pottery at his blog, Brown and Round.

Further Examination: Mishaps

Here are a few problems to be worked out. In general, I think it was a successful test load in the textbook sense, but in the creativeartisticbestquality [untranslatable German, don't bother even trying Google Translate] sense, there is a lot of work to be done.

What is going on in my potter's eye hasn't quite been realized in these pots. I guess that is to be expected. But while the deficit of what this material can do and what I really want it to do will be resolved after many many firings, I'm fairly pleased with results, thus far.

The first pot has the Double D clear glaze inside and out, with a motif painted on top with the LUG1 underglaze. (oh, it's underglaze? breaking the rules, ooops) See the bubbling on surface? Maybe it could be thinner in the future. The movement of the design is mildly interesting, mildly.

Here are two pots that were treated as I would have treated my home clay for the wood kiln and the salt glaze, except in this case we have an electric kiln and no salt! I was curious, and just wanted to see what would happen with these variables. They both were painted with my black wax resist, then dipped in the RJB crackle slip. The black wax has, [in it's propriety recipe ;-) ], a small amount of flux in addition to its other secret ingredients. ;-) What I take from these pieces is that the oxide content is not rich enough on it's own. In the salt kiln the salt "smooths out" the oxide and helps "glaze" it in place. The first cup had problems from the beginning. It is very thin and was fired to ^04 bisque, making it a bit less porous than my home clay fired to ^07 bisque. After drying it near my wood stove I brushed on the Double D/copper glaze. While, almost a complete technical disaster, I still think there's hope that this may work with some adjustments to the sequence, the fit of the slip, the richness of the oxides, and % flux in the wax.

In conclusion, I apologize for all the coded and not quite clear "tech talk". These posts are sometimes a way for me to verbalize some of my thoughts and public air my theories. Let me know what you think. Although I can't get around to responding to all of your comments, I certainly consider and appreciate them. Thanks for reading.

February 11, 2011

I Would If I Could

I would high tail it on over to TRAX gallery to see this really big shoe if I could! But the feets are failing me and my wings ain't funded! These potters are truly inspiring. Have been, will be...Now you know where my crackle slip, the RJB, originated!

For all my Bay Area peeps,
don't miss it!
git over there!
tomorrow night, Saturday Feb.12th,
5-7 p.m.

and say howdy to all the fine folks over there,
tell'em Sawdust and Dirt Sent ye!

Pictures of Porcelain

These pictures aren't the best. I hesitated to post these, but what the hell, it's been par for the course. It's no surprise that this segment of the process would be another steep learning curve. In this case the camera was having trouble focusing on the white, I think. Has anyone had trouble with auto-focus on white? I tried years ago to photograph an Alleghany Meadows bowl that had a subtle white semi matte glaze. I had to get another camera! My Nikon would NOT focus!
Looking at these pictures, though, is very revealing, showing black slip details as well as glaze details. Let me know what you think. Let's crowd source!

I'll take some more pictures after the next firing. More porcelain painting Friday as well as more plates in the home clay!

Good night to all of the night owls still up reading this and good morning to my friends in the British Isles!

February 10, 2011

unloading The eKiln

Here is a video John and I made yesterday while we unloaded the eKiln. [eKiln=electric kiln] I do enough mumbling in the video so I'll reserve further comment here. But I'm happy to decode if you have questions!

February 9, 2011

About Time

Don Pilcher lives in Champaign Illinois where he taught for many years at the University of Illinois. A gifted potter, thinker,and provocateur, Don shares his unique views on the field of contemporary ceramics. Visit Don's web site where you can read more of Don's stories. He can be also reached at don@sawdustanddirt.com

n page 86 of A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway suggests that we all carry the seeds of our own demise – but that the best of us cover them with finer soil and higher yield manure.

Demise has been on my mind. I just got word that my classmate from art school, Elsa Rady, died last week. In that way she joins the list of vital southern California ceramic artists, recently departed – Paul Soldner, Otto Heino, Ralph Bacerra. I don’t know the details of their estates. But I do know that many potters my age and beyond have made some highly detailed provisions for their heirs. I also know that nobody offers workshops on how to orchestrate the very last phase of a studio life or how to ensure that one’s body of work finds a deserving and appreciative home beyond one’s lifetime. But if you keep working and don’t die, you must eventually confront these matters…or roll the dice with your heirs.

In my own case, I’m driven by this story from a few years ago. A story about a friend of mine. The potter died leaving thousands of finished pieces; he made in the thousands and sold in the hundreds. I can relate to that. None of his five children wanted any of his work. (That’s a story of its own.) His wife was able to gift about a dozen pieces to a local museum…who, in truth, cherry-picked the collection. Friends and distant relatives took another hundred. But she still had a very full basement and a guest bedroom absolutely bursting with pots of every description.

Now, in my imagination, the potter is given a four-hour pass from heaven. He’s back on earth, standing next to his wife at the door to the impassable guest bedroom and she says to him, “What do I do with all this pottery?” Long silence. And the pottery is not all. What about the poisons in the studio; the barium and lead? And the exotics; that five pound bag of rutile, smelted with spar and re-ground into colored grog; the only compound like it in the whole hemisphere? Who gets that? In this scenario, where is the fine soil and high-yield manure?

Before I answer that, I’m also considering an e-mail I haven’t yet deleted. I received it as a forwarded copy. It was written by one of America’s premier dealers and concerns the retail potential of a large body of work by a prominent potter who was most active in the 70’s and 80’s. He’s still living. The dealer was kind but very clear. He wrote that there is a ready market for the work of about eight ceramic artists and he named them. After that, there is virtually no reliable interest. (That’s probably a true statement when discussing established brick and glass galleries. But through the Internet places like Rago Arts and E-bay move plenty of work.)

Now, about the fine soil: the finest we can provide comes from extremely careful and realistic planning. Again, online, there is a planning document about end-of-life decisions entitled “Good to Go” – clear enough. It contains general medical directives, information on revocable trusts, various financial provisions and so forth. For my directives, especially related to my ceramic life, I’m expanding those items to include a detailed list of potters, schools, art centers and institutions who might want (and know how to handle) not just my work but raw materials and equipment. And I’m having short conversations with most of them to gauge their interest. It’s not that I know of any particular urgency, but these are the kinds of jobs that can remain undone until it’s too late.

It’s neither fair nor realistic to expect that my heirs will know how to manage toxic chemicals or delicate pyrometer couplings. To this end, I’m establishing a fund of several thousand dollars to hire a knowledgeable individual to distribute my studio assets and rehab the space for some other use. This step has the added advantage of bypassing that famous scene from “Zorba the Greek,” a re-distribution of assets that unfolded like vultures on a carcass.

As to my work, I’ve set aside a number of boxes bearing the recipient’s name, containing certain pots and a letter from me. Since my name is not on the list of eight, I’ve left the rest of the pieces to my executor to dispose of in any way and at any time he or she sees fit. One of the saddest conversations I’ve ever had was with a husband and a dealer concerning the recently deceased wife’s work. The three of us met at the dealer’s gallery. The husband was sure he had been left a fortune. Time has shown that the work was nothing special. The conversation began obliquely. I said, “I don’t know who might show this work.” It ended thirty minutes later with the dealer saying, “I doubt they’re worth anywhere near that.” Long silence.

Almost every year a few of my pieces go into museum collections. They are gifted by collectors of my early work who are getting to that age. They are NOT purchased by the museums. But the collectors or their heirs get a nice tax deduction. The curators contact me to authenticate the work and, in the process, I’m occasionally able to enhance the gift in some way; a tax deduction for me and some personal pleasure. This is one of those times where deep sentiment and self-interest meet social good. And it may be the only way some of us get into the Met.

Finally to the high-yield manure – best for last and an alternative ending to the stories above. In this narrative we skip two generations; we think conservation, not conversion. Arrange to keep the body of work intact. The custodial heirs or other interested parties can spend fifty years developing a compelling history of the artist. Include notebooks, photos, press clippings, articles, monographs, catalogues and an infamous appearance on YouTube. Once all the contemporaries are dead, the next generation ushers that work onto the collectibles market. Even splitting the assets, the great-grandchildren could do alright. Really good to go.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I just wanted to sneak this in before Don's post!

What is going on here, you might say? Well, I pulled out the home clay last night after taking the Turner Spic 'n Span Special for a spin around the shop and started my cycle for the wood kiln. Yes, on the heals of the very recent session with porcelain, (won't be the last), I'm going to try to simultaneously make stoneware and porcelain. What a crazy idea, right? Well here goes!

one for the losers (subtle), any guesses why?

February 8, 2011

Check 1 2

The eKiln firing is just about finished. I reached temperature, (cone 7 down, cone 8 at a half) about 1:30. I let the kiln soak for a bit and now it's firing down. It's very windy and cold out there and I'd like the kiln to cool slower than it wants to, which is super fast! The only reason being that I'm inexperienced and want to err on the side of caution!

The kiln has about 25 pots in it and I could have put a lot more work in there but, again, wanted to minimize the risk and take a wait and see before committing more of my pots.

The following are a couple of examples of my visual "note taking". It's a real easy way to keep track of some of the deco-rotation strategies for future reference (I'm much better at visual information). I'll take pictures of the finished pots too, and keep them in a folder on the computer.

I'll unload in the morning, I guess. I have no idea how long it will take to cool. Maybe I'll do a video-unloading! But in the meantime, I'm getting out the home clay and starting a wood kiln cycle for some upcoming spring shows.

Coming soon: a new guest-blogger post by Don Pilcher!

February 7, 2011

Lunch Read

I just read the latest over at Fahrenheit 2300. Thought this was worth sharing.
All too often, objects are handed down to us, stripped of any memory of the men and women who handled them on a daily basis, who kept them on shelves in their homes. Pieces like Persons’ Yale mug remind us that real people with real lives actually owned these vessels, and they were capable of holding more than just water or beer, but also great significance to those who chose to keep them.
Check out the whole post here.

I'm glazing and loading the eKiln today. Firing tomorrow! It will be a light load, read: totally-experimental-glaze-test-slip-test kind of firing with real pots.

Call me crazy or call me over-confident! [See fingers crossed behind my back.]

But this is how I'm rolling into the fifth year of pottery bloggery.

February 6, 2011


I just realized that today is Sawdust & Dirt's 4th birthday! I started this blog on Feb. 6th, 2007. Check out the first post. Wow, Four years and 1282 posts!

Here's some other numbers,
  • 620 of you have subscribed via RSS feed
  • 354,306 pages views since day 1
  • 267,245 unique visitors since day 1
Thank you so much for your support!

and thanks go to graveyard gypsy for the cake!

New Slips

Tea time with my Dan Finnegan Tea Stein! I'm also testing some different black slips that may work at cone 7. The Lug-1 black underglaze was recommended by Kyle. It seems a little thin and it may a watercolor look. Also mixed up a new base slip and added the mason stain 6666. Instead of EPK I am using redart and am looking to use a little less of the pricey stain. Loading the eKiln this afternoon!

February 5, 2011

Must Reads and Muses

I just read some great pottery blog posts and wanted to encourage you to check them out. It's difficult to keep up with all of the good stuff out there these days! I know I certainly have some catching up to do!

So here are the must reads for this week.

Scott Cooper's January 30st post on This Week @ St. Earth Pottery

John Bauman's Feb 5th post, The Kiln Muse

and Carter Gillies' post, The Long View

Maybe this will be a weekly column. If you have a post that you really liked leave a link! An easy way to do this would be to copy and paste the blog post's URL into your message!


Friday Excitement

February 4, 2011

Crimson Laurel Gallery - Exhibits

My wife, Stacey, and I had a great meeting with David Trophia, of Crimson Laurel Gallery, this morning discussing all the exciting things we will be doing for our upcoming exhibit in May. Stacey will be making some new jewelry especially for the show and I'm thinking of making a limited edition series exclusively for the show! We will be collaborating on some clay pieces and maybe even some jewelry pieces, although my fingers are a little clumsy at that scale! ;-)

Don't forget to subscribe either to the RSS feed, or the email delivery of posts by Feedburner, to keep up with all of the exciting creative developments to come! You can follow me on Twitter too!

I will be painting one or two of the walls with some of my vine patterns and, as always the show will beautifully presented as David and John are impeccable gallerists.

Very exciting possibilities! Lots of great ideas. I just wanted to share this with you!

Back to work!

February 3, 2011


Noon zipped on by as I stared at my sparklingly white porcelain bisque ware. I have set up my painting area and taken my new Ebony pencil to sketch patterns on the surfaces of some of the cups. Like a dog circling 'round it's pallet on the floor, and then scratching it, and arranging it, before lying down, I put things together at my table and in my mind to make my painting bed.

Painting pots with patterns is sometimes dreamlike and it is an activity that I definitely get lost in. My imagination drifts and travels around the pot with my brush and slip as my vehicle.

Like any 'journey, there's a lot of prep and planning, and then it's time for the rubber to hit the road.

After a while the pedal hits the metal and I'm off!

Every winter I have the habit of turning everything upside done (sort of). For the last month I have been working on developing a skill with an unfamiliar material, porcelain. This stuff couldn't be more opposite in character than the home clay. In almost every way it is different.

So now it will take some faith to glaze and fire it in the electric kiln opposed to my usual wood kiln. Actually it will take a big leap! I heard an actor being interviewed on a radio show today describe taking a role that was totally contrary to the roles he had played before. He described it as "jumping off the cliff".

Great metaphor. It's a good way of putting that decisive moment of risk taking!

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