Monday, March 31, 2014

Help Raise Our Barn!

We have been working on building a barn for several months now. We've been hampered by the cold and wet winter we have had, but finally have the girders up on the concrete piers!  We are rolling forward in order to try and have the barn mostly finished before our Farm Opening and Pottery Sale in June. While farming and pottery is an enjoyable lifestyle, it can be a crunch on finances for major infrastructure building like a barn. We are starting a campaign to raise funds for completing the barn. For a $50 contribution toward the project we are making numbered, square-sided bottles made with a glaze from clay dug at the barn's foundation, decorated with white slip, and a bag of fresh-ground whole wheat flour grown on the farm.

With your help we can fulfill our goal of getting Brenda's pottery shop out of our house and all of our farm tools and machinery out to the farm. It will make a huge difference in our operations to have everything at the farm and near the kiln. The barn will include a space for a harvest room to store produce and prepare vegetables such as dried garlic.

Our flour is a hard red winter wheat for bread flour. It has a great consistency and a nutty flavor.
The variety, NuEast, is a part of the Carolina Bread Project to bring back hard red winter wheat to the South. Most wheat currently grown in the South is a white wheat used in pastry flour.
Only 100 bottles will be made for this project, so send an inquiry to soon so you don't miss out! We will start sending the bottles out after our May firing and will continue through the summer. Thanks in advance!

Kiln Firing Results and Show

 Last week was one of those nightmare weeks when everything seems to happen at once and it all becomes a big blur. We had some nasty weather again, and cleaning the pots took longer than I had hoped. Although delayed, here are some photos of pots from the recent kiln firing:

I am pleased with the results overall and very excited to see the newer forms I have been playing with coming to fruition.
All of these vessels went with me to the Catawba Valley Pottery and Antiques Festival this past weekend and some of them found new homes. Thanks to everyone who came out for the show! I am not going to fire in April so that we can work a lot on the new barn/studio at the farm.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Kiln Firing Video!

The second kiln firing of 2014 took place today! I thought you might enjoy this video I made at the beginning of the firing when color from the heat starts to brighten up the ware chamber. You can see ash already starting to sit on the surface of the pots.

Here is what those same pots looked like at the end of the firing:

They are really coated in ash and salt! We will see the results in a couple of days and then on to the Catawba Valley Pottery and Antiques Festival next weekend!

Friday, March 21, 2014

On the Farm and in the Kiln

Some exciting things at the farm include the fact that the sun is shining, it's trying to dry out, the weather is getting warmer, and there are GIRDERS going on the piers for the barn!
 The boards are getting laminated together and then screwed in and nailed.
Equal in excitement is the fact that the spinach direct seeded into our new greenhouse is coming up!

 After the ice set back on Tuesday, I got back in the kiln on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday and got it halfway loaded.
 It was pretty cold at the farm when these photos were taken on Wednesday. The hard brick in the kiln retain the cold temperature and it feels like loading pots in a frozen tomb!
Above is a photo of the kiln all loaded up. I've got it pretty stuffed, but hope it won't make for a difficult firing.
Then I bricked up the door, making one flat wall on the front.
Finally, I mudded up the door with a mix of refractory clay and sand. I once again forgot to leave a brick free to check the cones in the front. This seems to be my repeat "oops" moment

Mark your calendars, we have set a date for the farm open house and pottery sale at the farm in June! Sunday, June 15th from 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Curse and a Blessing

Yesterday I thought I was on top of things. I had a work meeting in the morning and then was just going to finish up a few planter dishes to tuck under the shelves in the kiln. Then it dawned on me that I had not made garlic dishes. It is a blessing that I single fire the ware in my kiln. This means that I do not bisque fire the pots before they go into the final firing. It makes for a little slower firing overall, but I enjoy the process. It also allows me to sometimes make these last minute items that have slipped my mind. It is a curse because I don't hold myself to extremely strict deadlines of when I can and cannot be working on wet work to put in the kiln. I seem to keep pushing it every so often, and though I have not regretted it yet (knock on wood), I'm waiting for the day I learn a lesson about when something is not quite dry enough for a single firing.
Ice on grass

Ice on the rose bush
Another instance of a blessing and a curse was today. I woke up to a sheet of ice on everything and obviously was not going to get out to the kiln in the morning to start loading. Luckily (my blessing) I gave myself three days to load knowing that things would come up.

I made it to the farm this afternoon and started loading the kiln. The Catawba Valley Pottery and Antiques Festival is the 28th and 29th!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

52 Form Project - Weeks 9 and 10

The 52 Form Project 

What is it?
My 52 Form Project is devised to help me stretch my creative muscles, explore new forms, or finally get to making forms I have been wanting to try for a long time. I am planning to make a new or modified form for every week of this year.
How can you help?
Your input on the forms, their shape, decoration, appeal, and function would be greatly appreciated. Some forms, if they seem like they may do well in the market, may become a part of my regular production.
Week 9 and 10
Sorry for the break in posting about the 52 Form Project. Broken wheels and power outages have a good way of throwing a wrench into the works, or making you more flexible!

As a part of the 52 Form Project, I wanted to revisit a form I made several years ago. The lidded dish I often called a "butter dish" until I was repeatedly asked if it were possible to use it for other purposes. They are made of two pieces, a low dish and a rounded lid.
I am excited to see what these dishes will look like in the kiln firing. I made sure to glaze the interior of the lid. The first time I made this form I found that the interior of the lid stayed very dry, which I think could be seen as disconcerting.

 I also made an attempt at a lidded dish with two flattened sides. I cut  the base much like the way in which I made the baskets, but rather than cutting one feather shape in the base, I cut two on either side of the dish base.

Courtesy, Arizona Daily Star
For my 10th week, I found some inspiration in a 100 year-old potter named  Rose Cabat. I read about an exhibition of her work opening in Arizona, and really wish I could see it in person. I particularly enjoy in the interview that she said, "I didn’t consider it a career...It was what I felt like doing. … If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t do it.”

Rose Cabat makes what she calls "feelies" which are seen in the photo above. I don't tend to be attracted to a form like this, but I think through my interest in her life and work as a potter I am fascinated by the form, the name, and the glazes.
When I went into making the form though, I found myself reverting to the familiar ovoid shape. I made a few pieces that admittedly look basically like ovoid bottles without handles, but then I went toward a different shape.

I have a terrible time leaving enough clay at the shoulder and neck for making a small bottle neck or opening.  Because of this, I found myself with an ovoid shape (which I love) and a simple, cupped rim. I think it might have some potential as a decorative vase, but I will reserve my final judgement for after the kiln firing. Here is how the other decorated pieces ended up:
White slipped surface with a scratched design

 I am going to work a little more on this venture. Making the ovoid shapes with the open rim (as opposed to the bottle shapes) felt really good and the design feels like something I want to return to. The bottle shapes felt just like that, bottles. If they had not dried out so quickly with the power outage, I think I would have just put handles on them, because they just look like bottles to me. Maybe I will also go back to attempting some "feelies!"

Friday, March 14, 2014


Improvised wheel set up

I was okay with using a substitute wheel until the other day. I weighed out my clay to make wine cups and pint cups, and when I turned to the wheel, I thought, "oh, no." Not one of those quick, surprised, "oh, no's," but rather a drawn out, deep-voiced, dramatic, "ohhhhhhhh.....nnnoooooooo!"
Why did I have this thought? It hadn't occurred to me just how accustomed I had become to my little Creative Industries wheel, until I realized that I based the heights of my cups on items sitting on the table that surrounds the wheel. So, basically, I put a long paint brush off the end of my water bucket to gauge my wine cups, and something similarly with the pint cups. It took some figuring and ransacking the broken pottery collection to find the right combination of things to get the correct heights. Above is what I came up with. Never a dull moment!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Earthenware Kiln Furniture

In taking down the exhibition at the North Carolina Pottery Center, I had a few moments to handle and ponder over the earthenware kiln furniture that was on display. As esoteric as kiln furniture may be, it is an incredible insight into pottery production. When I look at kiln furniture, I don't just get excited about the individual fingerprints that usually cover the surface, I see in my mind how the pots were stacked in the kiln using each piece. That may sound a little weird, but that is how my brain works- see a piece of kiln furniture, see a stack of pots. Or else you can watch my eyes shift around as I study the kiln furniture while I am trying to stack the pots in my brain.

These particular pieces come from the William Dennis site in Randolph County, North Carolina. This also happens to be the same site where Hal Pugh and Eleanor Minnock Pugh have their pottery shop, New Salem Pottery. Drawing from their text panel in the exhibition, here is a little background on the Dennis potters:

Located in North Central Randolph County, NC, the property was settled in 1766 by the Thomas Dennis Family who along with other Quakers had relocated from Chester County, Pennsylvania. The property sat astride the Trading Road (formerly the Indian Trading Path) which extended from Petersburg Virginia into South Carolina. The location and the existence of large beds of earthenware clay made it ideally suited for a pottery. William Dennis (b.1769) and his son Thomas (b.1791) were the earliest documented potters working at the property. William, a Quaker opposed to slavery, apprenticed George Newby, a 12- year old African-American youth, to learn the pottery trade in 1813 which lasted nine years until 1822.  Archaeological evidence and extant collections reveal that the Dennis potters not only made simple, utilitarian lead-glazed earthenware, but also a variety of decorative slipwares and thinly turned tablewares. William moved to Indiana in 1832, selling the land where the house and pottery stood to Peter Dicks, a Quaker businessman and potter who lived in the nearby community of New Salem.
The site was discovered in 1974 by Hal and Eleanor after plowing a garden spot. After several years of research the site was identified as belonging to the potter, William Dennis. In November of 1997 Tom Hargrove of Archaeological Research Consultants, Inc. conducted non-evasive geophysical surveys at the William Dennis site to determine its subsurface integrity. A very distinct classic kiln signature was shown to exist and a decision was made to focus on a test excavation at the kiln site. Fieldwork began in March 1998 and excavations were done by Dr. Linda Carnes-McNaughton and volunteers. Units confirmed the anomaly or feature at the Dennis kiln site was the foot print of a 10 by 10 foot square kiln constructed with two foot thick fieldstone walls and lined with brick.  This square design, which is the first excavated in North Carolina, appears to be of Quaker tradition.  Two later examples of this style of kiln have been found in NC at Quaker pottery sites.
Earthenware kiln sites, particularly early, have the closest thing to a contemporary kiln shelf used in the firing. Predominantly, large, flat pieces of clay do not show up in stoneware kiln sites, and show up in incredible numbers in earthenware sites. I think this has more to do with the fact that salt adheres better to large, flat surfaces, so having fewer contact points provided for a better firing. Some stoneware sites I have looked at do have a few of these slabs of clay, but nowhere in the numbers as they show up at earthenware sites. 

These pieces in earthenware kilns, though, are not as large as contemporary shelves. They tend to be made in much the same way that roof tiles are made (slabbed out, certain thickness, certain width, and texture on one side). They end up being longer than they are wide. They also sometimes have grooves on one side (like roof tiles), made either with fingers raked across the surface or a tool. This provided for less contact points too, because even though salt was not used, the glazes sometimes ran, and some pots were fully glazed (meaning the exterior of the foot was glazed). In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Moravians there were literally using roof tiles, with the cut out holes, or tabs for hanging the tiles, still on the piece, but clearly stuck in the kiln between a few pots. That example may also reveal how roof tiles were fired.

Rim on the kiln furniture
Rim on the kiln furniture (same piece as above)
 As in the photo above, you get a chance to see parts of a pot adhered to the kiln furniture because a glaze ran. 
Then you also have examples where two tiles are stuck together. It's moments like these when contemporary potters can be empathetic for historical potters. Think of when a glaze has totally run off on you, destroyed a shelf, or destroyed another pot.

In other notes, I am back in the shop this week, rampantly working to get pots finished for loading the kiln next week!

For more information on the Dennis site and the excavated material, see the 2010 Ceramics in America publication with an article entitled "The Quaker Ceramic Tradition in Piedmont North Carolina" by Hal and Eleanor. As an exciting note to end on, this year the William Dennis site was approved for the National Register of Historic Places.