Friday, October 7, 2016

Dear Diana Gabaldon

I've been listening to the Outlander book series while driving back and forth between North Carolina and Virginia for work. The content has been a pleasant way to pass the time and the historical inaccuracies or material culture flaws have been able to be brushed off. Until now.

I'm into book six of the series, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, and I started to have suspicions about what could come when Brianna was trying to figure out how to make pipes for a water system. Of course, when I first heard this I thought, "well, the Moravians in Pennsylvania had figured out how to do that in the 1750s" (the book series at this point being in the 1770s). And then, since the characters are living in North Carolina, they mentioned the Moravian potters in Salem, and I thought, "oh, no, I know where this is going."

When Brianna started digging a pit for her "groundhog kiln" I thought I was going to go crazy while driving down the highway! I understand the need to empower Brianna and give her the ability to use her engineering degree and her knowledge of things she knew and learned in the future, but building a kiln (and I assume making pottery) without any background or training is going a bit too far for me. She had a glassblower make the piece for her mother's surgery, why didn't she build a glass furnace and blow the piece herself? I'm not even to the point of whether or how she makes the pipes, but am worried she is just going to hop on a wheel and make them, which just flummoxes me.

Not to mention that she supposedly went to the Moravians and talked to them about their pottery and their "groundhog kiln". I have issue with this on several levels.

Let's start with the kiln. The Moravians didn't use a groundhog kiln as we think about one today. The kiln site excavated both in Bethabara and Salem showed a rectangular base, and was more than likely a tall, rectangular up or downdraft like one of the German kilns, only smaller. I personally think the one currently in use for demonstration at Salem is too short of a stack and should be much taller. They could have also been using what is sometimes called a "beehive" kiln, which a lot of early American earthenware potters employed. I don't have the reports or books on the kiln excavations from Salem and Bethabara at hand to double check the floor, but I am SURE it was NOT a "groundhog". The concept of the groundhog kiln as far as I understand stems mostly from the kilns used at Edgefield in the early 1800s. The term "groundhog kiln" wasn't even in use.The earliest reference I could find on Google books for the term "groundhog kiln" was 1944, and I suspect that it doesn't go much earlier than the late 19th-century.

Now let's go back to Brianna supposedly going to Salem and talking to the potters about their kiln. There isn't a chance one of those potters would have talked to her! The industrial quarters of the Moravian communities were off limits to many visitors, particularly women. Both the Pennsylvania and North Carolina Moravians used a system of having a "Fremden Diener" meet visitors to the town and guide them through the area based on their sex. In Bethlehem, as I understand, women went to see what the women's choirs were doing, and the men went to see the industrial things. I don't imagine this differed much in North Carolina. Much less that the Moravians were a closed community, meaning they did not allow visitors to freely wander through the town- some never made it past the tavern or inn, and may have only had the chance to attend a service at the church or listen to the music. The idea that Brianna went and learned trade secrets, much less enough to BUILD A KILN is flabbergasting. I didn't just go about building a kiln without years of research and the help and assistance of many potters and kiln builders.

We'll see if I make it through book six. I might lose my mind when Brianna magically fires up a successful kiln at first go. Sorry, Diana Gabaldon, you lost my ability to have any focus with these inaccuracies!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Among the Living

As silent as I have been here for so long, and as embarrassing as it is to see when my last post was, I thought I would let you all know that I am still among the living! There have been some big changes since February, and though I made a few posts about it on Facebook, I am sorry that I remiss in doing so here.

Where have I been? Well, I accepted a job as the Head of the Ceramics Department at Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates. It was an opportunity that I didn't feel I should pass up and an experience I thought would be worthwhile pursuing. You might notice that if you follow the link that it is in Virginia, which has given rise to a lot of traveling between two states, but fear not, we are keeping the farm for now, and I am not taking down my kiln!
A case loaded up with ceramics I cataloged.

What am I doing? I work at an auction house cataloging a majority of the ceramics that come in for consignment. We do about 15 auctions each year, and around half of those will have ceramics in them. The auction house specializes in glass, so the other part of those sales are for glass. In some respects, is very different from working in a museum, particularly the pace, which is one thing that still throws me off occasionally. In other respects, it is similar to museum work and researching objects.
A beautiful white salt-glazed stoneware plate I got to handle and catalog for a sale earlier this year. 

Handling so many things is probably one of the highlights of the job, and getting to learn about such a variety of material is kind of exciting.
Creamware coffeepot with floral hand-painted design.

New Hall English teapot with paneled, molded sides. 

Though my passion for stoneware still remains, I have found an interest in creamware and learning more about pearlware and delft or tin-glazed earthenware.

I've had some time to do a few workshops at Historic Eastfield for their "Dish Camp", the Historic Deerfield Summer Fellowship, and with the Winterthur Program incoming class. I was particularly honored to do the Winterthur program since that is where I graduated from with my Master's.

Trying some different shapes for baskets.

And I am still making pottery. It soothes my soul and gives me the opportunity to focus on some new forms, hone some older ones, and try some new avenues. So, stay tuned for the new adventures!
There are never enough mugs!

There has also been a lot of this:
Engineer in training.

And a lot of this, as my son has become enamored with tractors (go figure!):
A love of tractors!
It's really hard to believe that it has been over 1.5 years since he was born. Motherhood is the best project I have done yet in my life, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Mary Farrell with Westmoore Pottery has told me on numerous occasions that raising her children was the best thing she ever did, and I am fully in agreement. We haven't done the "baby in the clay" photo shoot yet, but I am sure it is coming!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Dreaming About Dishes

I used to dream in German when I was studying the language in college. Now I dream about pots on occasion, and sometimes the dreams are so vivid they stay with me and then I have to make them come true.
 I have been thinking about Helios clay from Highwater Clays and the fact that it salts well. So, I had a dream about a few tests with low, somewhat wide dishes with no glaze on it when it goes in the kiln to test how well the salt may sit on a flat surface of Helios.
I also wanted to see what the cobalt slip would look like in an abstract pattern, and to top it off, made a ruffly rim. If all goes well, I will fire the kiln up in a few weeks and see what happens!
Glazed too late and the wall separated

Glazed the interior and exterior too soon and the wall collapsed

It's nice to be dreaming about pots since my pots have been putting in my place in my studio. The battle of the heat vent has been going on for some time, and trying to keep things just right under the plastic has been somewhat disastrous. I posted the above photos on Facebook recently of what happens when you a.) let a pot sit too long and then glaze it and b.) rush things and glaze the interior and exterior too soon.
Nice, thin wall!

The plus side of that was getting to see the nice, thin walls! In closing, I dreamed about a pitcher/vase form the other night so stay tuned!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mother Potter

 Ya'll, I had a baby. It's perhaps the biggest and by far the best project I have ever done, and it seems to change constantly. Having a child has put me in my place and taught me that I am not really in charge of my life, but also to step back and realize that I don't HAVE to fire a kiln every month, or get torn up that I am not in the studio every day. These revelations, as much as they make sense, have taken me a long time to really accept.
My one year old!
Mattias, my son, turned one last weekend and I have been reflecting a lot on the last year. To be honest, this past year has been mentally challenging to me on several fronts. As a female potter, I had several, if not numerous, people ask me before my baby came whether I was going to give up pottery entirely. I've had people assume that when the baby came, I wouldn't be doing any shows, firing any kilns, or selling pots. Perhaps it's a bit of feminism embedded in me, but all of those things were things that I did NOT want to happen, and I would bristle a bit every time someone would assume a mother has to give everything up once baby comes.
Sleeping baby with arcs of wadding.

Making dishes! 

I was blessed at the beginning of my motherhood roller coaster that my son gave me the opportunity to make lots of pots. I got to fire with other potters in three kilns over the spring and summer.
Anne Partna of Blue Hen Pottery with Mattias at a firing of her kiln. 

Mattias in front of the freshly fired kiln at Joseph Sand Pottery
It was a good opportunity to introduce my son to new kiln designs, for him to meet new people, and for me to feel like I was kind of in the groove of things. When I couldn't get lids for jars finished for almost two weeks (having to keep said jars damp the entire time), it was nerve wracking. That case, especially, showed me patience. I did one show at the Old Salem Pottery Fair on the Square.
Mattias an I next to my kiln.

However, when I got to load up my own kiln, though, that was a totally different experience and feeling. It was exhilarating and cathartic, kind of like giving birth to a child.
New vases in 2016.

I've been back in the studio this year, but I may be stepping back from my schedule that I kept several years ago of firing every 4-6 weeks. Perhaps I will only fire 2-3 times each year, but I have decided that it will be better to concentrate on my new family member and use the time I have in the studio to make pots that I enjoy or want to try out. Stay tuned, there's more news to come. Here's to life's adventures!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Missing in Action

My own kiln, recently fired, November 2015
 It is sort of embarrassing to see the date of when I last made a post! Dear Readers, I thank you for bearing with me. I promise there are some great photos to come, and of course, perhaps a baby update (with photos)!
Freshly-thrown pieces of pottery.
I have been intermittently making pottery  and finally fired my own kiln this past month. Firing my own kiln was an amazing experience just from the standpoint of filling the kiln with all of my own pottery and doing an activity that I so thoroughly enjoy. 
Porcelain ornaments in the recent kiln firing.
I have a show coming up on Sunday, December 6th at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market. That is always a fun show with great crowds and vendors. Come by for a visit!

Below are some photos I made of pottery I hope to get listed on Etsy this week. Stay tuned.

One of my conclusions after taking the above photographs was that I like the Farmall tractor as a background. I like the color contrast and the linear features. 
Facebook photo from the MESDA Facebook page. Robert Leath installing the Edgefield ceramics section,
Facebook photo from the MESDA Facebook page. Cases not yet on the pots in part of the gallery. 
My work at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) continues, and I moved into a position in the research department. Installation of the William C. and Susan S. Mariner Southern Ceramics Gallery at MESDA was completed about one month ago. When MESDA's director, Robert Leath, said that this is the leading exhibition of historical southern ceramics, he wasn't kidding. 

Completed installation and photo of the opening for the new gallery. Facebook photo from the MESDA Facebook page. 
 People who attended the opening of the gallery were in tears to see the gallery, and stunned by the breathtaking display of the South through clay. It really is a sight to behold and I am fond of visiting the pots during my work day just to say "hi."

My son, Mattias, testing out the space in a cardboard box.
My son, who is getting SO BIG, has taken a liking to cardboard boxes, and I foresee him wanting to help with all of my packing for holiday pots! Thanks to all of my readers for sticking with me, and I hope to get back to writing about some more of my research and pottery adventures!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Little Kiln Christmas

A very kind person with a kindred interest in pottery history and kiln furniture sent me a wonderful package recently. It contained sherds and kiln furniture from several pottery sites in Missouri.This is like Christmas for a nerdy person like me.
 What's even better? Nearly every piece in the box was individually wrapped!
 There's an assortment of pieces from two creek banks on the eastern side of Boonville, Missouri. As I understand, there were a number of potters working along the creeks including Marcus Williams, George and Nicholas Valrath, Nicholas Lauer, H.W. Valrath, J.M Jegglin, and August A. Blanck. These potters worked at various times, but between the 1830s and the 1890s. The pieces from these various potters' operations tell so much about their kiln firings and their pottery production. Here are a few short highlights:
 Who wouldn't be excited about a brick?!
 It's not just any brick. It's likely a brick from a kiln as several surfaces on the brick show layers of wood ash and likely salt fumes.
 In the photo above, check out the cross section of a thick layer of salt and wood ash built up on one side of the brick.
 The above piece seems innocent enough, but it is so incredibly exciting to me.
 It was a piece of kiln furniture that was at the early stages of its life going to be cut up into smaller pieces of kiln furniture. The cut pieces of kiln furniture that I was sent tended to all be about the same thickness.

 Above is a rim showing the mark a small square piece of kiln furniture left on a piece when it was used in the kiln firing. In the roughly 35 different pre-1860 stoneware kiln sites I have looked at I have only seen small square pieces of kiln furniture used at 3 or 4 sites, and have observed it on some pieces of intact pottery. It's a tedious process making small squares (I know because I use them!), but they seem to serve a good purpose of covering a small area on the surface of the vessel, which makes it less likely that the pots would stick to one another along with the kiln furniture.
 I was almost giddy when I saw the piece above. Can you guess what it is?

 Hopefully the two views above may give you a better idea. It's two rims that got fused together with glaze. However, they were two rims from two bowls that were stacked, nested inside one another!

 These bowls were similarly glazed to the bowl above- the underside of the exterior rim was dry, allowing the bowls to be nested inside of one another during the firing. I suppose if the base did not come in enough though, or the dry section of the underside of the rim was not wide enough, the glaze would fuse the pieces together. I sure hope there was not a large stack of bowls that suddenly became one giant stack!

 The two photos above are great to see because it tells me something about the kiln firing. On the rivulets left by the wood ash and salt you can see tiny crystals. Crystals don't typically form on the surface unless the kiln has been cooled very slowly. When my kiln was first built and a little tighter, I recall having this occur just once on a few pieces after a heavily-salted firing. The kiln took a few more days than usual to cool and I got some crystals.
 Though most kiln furniture was likely made during the loading and rolled and shaped to fit each various piece going in the kiln, the plethora of rim shapes and various shapes of kiln furniture made up never ceases to amaze and amuse me.
 This particular piece just happened to nicely fit onto one of the rims in the box, so though it probably was not used together during a particular firing, it is possible that the two shapes came from the same pottery shop, so the kiln furniture would not have varied much from firing to firing.

Though not made ahead of time like the flat, cut pieces could have been, the little barbell-shaped pieces below are always great to handle because you often get to see a lot of fingerprints on them.
 Check out this post from a while back about making this shape of kiln furniture.
 Jug stackers are always fun to find because it definitely gives you an idea of what the jugs would have looked like as a result of using them.
 In other notes, we are avidly getting ready for our farm open house and pottery sale in a few weeks, so come visit if you are in the area!