Sunday, September 26, 2010


A few weeks ago I posted a poll on the Liberty Stoneware Facebook page asking, "what qualities make a good mixing bowl?" I received some good feedback including specifications on the lip, curvature, and the comfort of holding it while mixing. I thought I would share some photos of a set of bowls I made recently with some of the comments and recommendations in mind.
Graduated set of bowls
One of my biggest considerations in making these bowls is how I am going to fire them. I intend to put them in a wood-fired salt kiln, which can be a rough atmosphere. In order to have strong pieces for the kiln firing, I chose to make these bowls with rather heavy rims, and thicker sides. Each bowl also has a mate which will stack on top of it (rim to rim) in order to keep chunks of kiln debri, or other materials from sticking to the interior of the bowls.
Big Bowl
These bowls are graduated with the intention of stacking them into one another. One of the comments on the Facebook poll mentioned a handle on the side, as well as a pouring lip. I think this would be a good design element for a very large bowl, which would then be the base bowl for holding/stacking other bowls into it. However, I remember at Berea College when we made batter bowls now and again that the design never seemed to be fully functional. The handle didn't allow the bowl to be neatly stacked or stored, and the lip didn't allow the bowl to always be used for other functions unless the bowl was deep (whatever was being mixed in it would slosh out of the lip). I did go with a slightly curved exterior wall for holding it comfortably in one arm, and a fairly wide base. The interior has a smooth curve to it as well. After these bowls are fired I will post the end results!
Side and interior of bowl

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Remembering David Weaver

It is sad when we lose anyone, and especially sad when the world and community of artists lose one of our own. David Weaver, potter, forensic scientist, and proprietor of Midland Trail Gallery in West Virginia passed away suddenly on Sunday, September 19th. David is also the father of a dear friend, Rachel, who I worked with in the Ceramics Apprenticeship Program at Berea.

David Weaver gallery card, courtesy of Cherese Weaver's photos
I will be forever grateful to David and his family for opening their home and studio to me several years ago. I spent almost one week with them attending a nearby music festival, working in the studio, and helping to fire their wood kiln. It was an early interaction with firing wood kilns and began an interest in learning more about the techniques and strategies involved.

David Weaver's pottery, courtesy of Cherese Weaver's photos

That summer in West Virginia kindled my interests and fueled my future. Thank you David. Keep the Weaver family in your thoughts. 

David Weaver with pottery, courtesy of Cherese Weaver's photos

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reflections on Rims

I've been trying some new rim styles, and looking more closely at how my rims have evolved over the years. As an apprentice at Berea College in the Ceramics Apprenticeship Program I remember often taking a mug in the green state, and putting it to my lips to decide how it felt. I've continued to use this method, but have also been critiquing my past work and the rims of cups and mugs which have made their way into my cupboards. So I wanted to post some thoughts and photos to see what other people and potters thought!

The slightly flared rim:
This style of rim has been my usual go-to rim for a long while. However, I've found that the thinness that this rim tends to take lends it to chipping. Mugs with this rim  that I made several years ago now have chips on the rims. I am not satisfied with a thicker, slightly flared rim as I find that liquids tend to dribble more with a thicker, rounded rim.

Slightly flared and thinner on the left, thicker, slightly flared on the right.                                                                                Both of these mugs were made by me 2+ years ago.
The inverted rim:
I am not often attracted to an inverted rim. I think it feels and looks awkward, and unless it is accompanied by a straight outer edge, I do not personally find an inverted rim functional. A man once said to me at a show that he preferred a rim which dips in so it doesn't spill out all over him. I have an aversion to this type of rim usually because I (with my wild imagination) picture the liquid in the mug being held back only slightly behind this inverted rim, and then jumping over the edge and attacking my lips.
Mug made by Karin Solberg, current resident potter at Berea College.                                                                                    This is a rare case of an inverted rim in my cupboard!
The thicker rim with some transition at the top:
This has become my happy medium. A slightly heavier rim (also because I have been focusing on wood kiln firing) with a straight outer edge, and the interior transitioning to a rounded peak at the top of the piece. It feels good on the lips, doesn't seem to cause much dribbling on the side, and withstands a good knocking about and intense firing. 

Mug made by Jim Dugan

My new developing rim

Historical contemplations:
I've also been thinking about how rims on mugs, cups, and tankards developed historically. Did potters sit around in their factories judging other potter's forms, testing them out? I can hear them (in a good, thick English accent),"Gee, John, that rim just does not feel right nor speak to me in a proper manner, perhaps we should go back to the wheel and adjust it." I doubt it. It started with the design patterns created for the proprietors of the pottery factory (I'm speaking more in terms of English pottery as I am more familiar with the entirety of that process and have seen more design books, molds, etc. for this type).
This is a design page from Hartley Green & Co. and is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The image comes from a blog connected to the V&A (
So a separate individual from the potters drew the designs for the wares, often specifying the dimensions and the details. Where did the critique and assessment of the pieces take place? I cannot say I have read nor heard of wares being pulled off of the line after being thrown (for those that know this better than I, please correct me!). In a factory setting, no one was paid until the wares were out of the final glost (glaze) firing, and really only assessed for flaws, not function or aesthetics.
Rims from various stoneware vessels vary in style, shape, and size. The fragility of white salt-glazed stoneware accompanies the often narrow, sometimes overly-flared rims. It is no surprise to me that the hollow ware forms in white salt-glazed stoneware do no survive as well as other heavier stoneware vessels. I know that it was meant to be more refined, but I do wonder what the consumer/user thought of this rim as they used it for tea, etc.
White stoneware from the Pottery With a Past: Stoneware in Early America exhibit at Colonial Williamsburg, Fall 2009. 
English brown stoneware rims are all over the place. They vary from thick, rounded rims to very thin. I enjoy the thinner rims much more, but have seen many surviving pieces with severe chips and cracks on the rims, which is not a terrible surprise. One thing that I admire the most about English brown stoneware are the small linear patterns and lines which are usually found just below the rim.

Brown English stoneware from  from the Pottery With a Past: Stoneware in Early America exhibit                                         at Colonial Williamsburg, Fall 2009
German stoneware rims always seem a little more beefy and thick. This would definitely stand up to heavy use and transportation. I have yet to put my lips to the edge of a thick German ware or to test it out and see whether it dribbles. Maybe someday!
German stone from  from the Pottery With a Past: Stoneware in Early America                                                                    exhibit at Colonial Williamsburg, Fall 2009
So, in closing, should there really be consistency? Or is this the case of "to each his own?"

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Getting all Fired Up!

Several weeks ago (I've been a delinquent blogger) I had the honor of participating in the kiln firing of Sid Luck at Luck's Ware in Seagrove. Sid Luck is a fifth generation potter, firing with a traditional "groundhog" kiln and making more traditional forms and ware. Charles Zug in his publication, Turners and Burners, compares the "groundhog" kiln to the German-style Cassel kilns and kilns which were made in Newcastle England (chapter on Burning, page 224 for a diagram). The sides of the kiln are surrounded by soil, with the top arch, chimney, and front opening above ground.
Sid Luck's "groundhog" style kiln
Sid Luck's kiln has been modified on the interior distinguishing it from a more traditional "groundhog" kiln. Sid, like Vernon Owen at Jugtown Pottery, installed a series of levels on the interior of the kiln, making deep (about 4' back, 2-3' up) steps that rise toward the back of the kiln. Traditionally, "groundhog" kilns were basically an open rectangle, but as Sid told me, this design was uneven and not as efficient. Sid said, "you could fire earthenware in the back of the kiln and stoneware in the front." I suppose for potters historically, maybe that worked for them since some made both stoneware and earthenware, but I imagine that is also why so many archaeological kilns sites have wasters!
On Monday the bisque ware was prepared, wadding was made, last-minute glazing was done, and the kiln was cleaned out. One thing I noted was how little the kiln holds with the modification of the interior. Below is an image of the back of the kiln while Sid was cleaning the ceiling and as it was being loaded. I would estimate that there were less than 200 pieces in the kiln.

I had the opportunity to help salt the kiln when it came time. I think this largely had to do with the fact that I was one of the few people there who brought a long-sleeve shirt! Either way, it was great. Sid uses a leaf blower in order to distribute the salt through the front opening of the kiln. Potters are very inventive creatures, and Sid's design for the salting leaf blower was attaching an old metal drain pipe to the end, with a small opening on top into which we put a funnel. The leaf blower was turned on, salt loaded into the funnel, and with the door partially opened, the leaf blower made for a serious dousing of salt. Several cupfuls of salt were put into the top ports of the kiln as well.
Brenda helping Sid salt the kiln
Sid Luck and his son, Matt, salting the kiln on the left and another of Sid and Brenda salting the kiln
I have seen another potter administering salt with a leaf blower before. And while at Berea I tried several different methods including small "burritos" of salt in a brown bag tossed in, and a piece of angle-iron on a pole to dump the salt in. I have contemplated whether a leaf blower is actually administering the salt any better than just pouring the salt into the top ports of the kiln, or into the side ports.
The firing went well. Sid kindled a fire overnight, and began the bigger fire at about 5:00 Tuesday morning. The salting began around 6:00 p.m., and the firing was basically done by 7:00. I did not get to see it, but Sid told me that at the end of the firing, many potters (including him) do what is called "blasting off" where they take large chunks of wood (he uses roots of heart pine) and toss them in at the end for one final push of heat and ash.
Several shots of the interior of the kiln while the front door was open for loading wood
I arrived to the opening on the following Saturday a little late to see the door opened and the initial pieces drawn out. That was no matter, the pieces which I saw coming out looked good. I was more fascinated by the concept of the kiln opening, and the throng of people who waited to snatch up a piece they liked as it came out. I believe Sid sold everything out of the kiln before it ever made it into the shop! Some day, maybe I will have that much luck selling my ware!

Kiln opening at Luck's Ware
I am currently registered to participate in a wood-firing in October with a kiln similar to a "groundhog" kiln, without the interior modifications. I will keep you posted!
A lone little pig made by another potter who participated in the firing which became adhered to the floor of the kiln!