Saturday, October 27, 2012

Way Cool...

I was just nosing around Slate when I ran across this post about the photography of Catherine Nelson...really, really amazing.  Take a look here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Week...5, Post From a Slacker!

 Long time, no post.  Slacker!  Anyway, here's a rundown on what's happened since the last post...

First firing of the session, salt in beautiful Julia...on top is a selection of pots from the whole class, on the bottom is a rather crappy shot some of my cups from the first firing.

We had Bruce Dehnert, a potter in charge of the clay program at Peter's Valley, come in to demo for us for a couple days... he demoed a few different cups, a ewer, and an extremely flamboyant butter dish.

Oh yeah.

We also had a visit from the Rural Academy Theatre /Harrel Brother's Circus, who arrived with a very colorful wagon in tow, and presented a theatrical show about the upsides and downsides of invention through puppetry, manipulation of shadows, song and acting.  They then they finished by showing two very old silent films- one was a magnificent Russian stop motion film made using real dead insects (really, really neat), and a Buster Keaton short.

Despite the fact that it's getting so late in the year, it's still a rainforest up here, and the mushrooms are still popping out everywhere.  This batch appeared in front of Bill's Place.

I love the autumn blooming anemones that have been coming out the last few weeks- lovely beds of "September Charm" were going full blast behind Lily Loom, and in front of Faraway Cottage down by the Resident Barns.  These have inspired a set of teacups, which are currently cooling in the kiln...these will be on display in the Post Halloween post.

These cute Corgi cone packs I made for our second firing...after a post lunch game of chase-the-soccer-ball with Cricket the Edwina Corgi.

This chowder dinner set was not made during this session, but is the previously seen one that I've been working on all Summer, fired by Gay Smith, all cleaned up, and ready to photo shoot when I get home!

Some local excitement...The Ledger Volunteer Fire Department used the old H.P. Copley rental as a practice burn the night of the Resident Artist's opening.  Definitely a festive atmosphere, all the Penland old-timers turned out to see an old party haunt go down...the firefighters were having a good time too- squirting each other with the fire hose!  Speaking of which...they were hooked up to the Pines Dining Hall for their water supply, and when they turned the water to the hoses on, the fire alarms in the Pines went on too, right in the middle of dinner.  Several times.  EEEYYYOOOWCH!!!!!!

For the rest of the session we are working on self-given assignments- mine are working large, and improving my decoration skills with my new carving techniques.  This 20 incher is my first shot at large, thrown in sections.

And here's Matt working on his demo pot for coil-and-throw.  He finished throwing it and its lid it tonight, using 74 lbs of clay total.

Here's my second try, after the second coil.  A little wonky, but despite the aversion of near disaster this evening, it's going well.  I'm on the fourth coil now, and have passed the 21 inch mark...only another 6 or so inches to go until finish (our bisque kilns max out at 26 inches, so if I make it a bit taller, it will shrink to fit!)

I haven't managed to get in as much hiking as I had hoped for so far this session, but I did scratch one off the list that I've wanted to do for a while.  This last weekend my friends Joe and Char from Glass and I went out to Linville Gorge and hiked the two most strenuous trails out to Linville Falls.  Linville Gorge is special in that, unlike almost all of the surrounding area, it was not clear-cut at the turn of the century due to it's steep terrain. It was a beautiful day at peak fall color, and the trails were just on the nice side of exhausting.

This is a shot of Joe, one of our lovely studio assistants, modelling a Sarah Sigilatte 'Stache.  I particularly enjoy modifying the available dining hall beverages for improved tastiness...and the Sarah Sigilatte is my newest concoction, so good that the entire table wanted one.  What is the recipe, pray tell?  One part Coffee, in which you steep 2 Black Chai tea bags, one packet of Swiss Miss, one and half parts hot water, half a part of Half and Half...topped with a generous gloop of Whipped Cream.  MMMMmmmmm.

Last up is a door-down shot of the soda firing we unloaded this morning.  A nice firing for both slips and glazes...Observe the nice big bowl of mine on the third shelf down, if you please.

The next post will have some close-ups from this all the insanity from the Penland Halloween Party!!!

Just a side note- for those of y'all who have never made it out to Penland, and for whom my pictures and gushing are not enough to get a picture of the place, the School now has a page where you can view 360 panoramas of different places on can Penland-stalk here

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fall Concentration, Week 1

Well, back on the mountain for the Fall again, again, again…  It’s great as always to be back, in part because it means I’m done packing and getting ready to come here!  (At least that’s my excuse for not having put up a post since July…)  The last month or two back home were a mess of packing, working and lots of cleaning- studio and house- I did get some pots made though.  They were something of a test of forms and decoration that I want to explore over the next while, however long that may be.  The root of all these pots are in an experimental vase I did back in Fall 2010- very bulbous with some carved grasses, into the texture of which I rubbed some temmoku, followed by glazing the whole thing in an amber celadon.  This casserole from this August is the same glaze combo and carving pattern as that first vase (different clay!)- but with more polish…and lugs!

During this session I’m particularly interested in carving through slip into the dark earthenware clay that we’re using- I’ve been throwing in porcelain and porcelaneous stoneware for so long now, seduced by the carving smoothness and lack of snaggy grog, that I’ve kind of lost contact with the beautiful color contrasts that can be achieved with a dark clay body and lighter now I can have my cake and eat it too!  This first week we’ve been focusing exclusively on drinking vessels- mugs, tumblers, cups, chalices (which we, after intense discussion as a class, decided sounds far more refined than “goblet”).  

So far I’m really happy with the mugs I’ve come up with- what’s interesting, but not entirely unexpected, is that some of the patterns that I’ve come to rely on with porcelain and glaze look just plain clunky when done through slip.  The culprits (my rose bramble pattern, especially) are ones that rely on change in contour as opposed to silhouette.  The fern pattern still looks just plain exquisite no matter what I do to it!

These were from a bit of bowl therapy…nice how the pattern continues from bowl to bowl!

Besides lots of cups leading up to our first firing early next week, we (or more accurately, our assistants Nick and Joe, with a teeny tiny bit of help from the rest of us) have been making lots of glaze tests, trying to come up with a palette of glazes for us to use.  We got the first batch out last night- very candy store, 95 percent of them are way too bright/opaque/showy for the pots I’m making!  There is one very slightly opaque warm cream/clear that shows a lot of promise for me, and also several transparent copper blue/greens and some ambers and slate blues that show promise as well.

Also this week we went on our first field trip of the session just down the road to Cynthia Bringle’s studio for a mug demo.  I always find it amazing to watch Cynthia work- she’s been making pots for probably over 50 years, and she has the most incredible economy of motion I have ever seen.

This class is much smaller than any clay class that I‘ve ever taken here –only 11 students- and I know almost everyone from previous sessions here.  Perhaps because we have so many old-timers here, we’ve gelled really well as a class in just the first week.  What is also really nice is that we have a number of musicians in our class -and on campus- this session, so we’ve been having jam sessions on the porch nearly every night (including some rather entertaining “bass” played on cello!)

 Cute of the week

Edwina Bringle(Cynthia’s twin sister) has been bringing her five month old corgi puppy up to the school the last few days. Cricket is an adorable fuzzy little fireball…who at the moment regards the world as her own personal chew toy.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Penland Session 1, Week 2...and Beyond

Well, I’m back home now- it’s way less humid up here than in the mountains, but the weather’s compensating for that by having the temperature top 100 for the last two weeks!  What say we reminisce about the rest of the Penland session, and forget about that for now.   

 Penland Week 2, & Bakersville

Our one field trip for session 1 was to head down the hill to Elizabeth Brim’s studio- a place I have wanted to see for quite some time. 

First a brief introduction: Elizabeth is a local blacksmith who’s also a former Penland Iron Coordinator (and still retains the title of Iron Studio Entertainment Coordinator!)  who manages to be a wonderful collection of contradictions.  She’s a proper southern lady with her pearls and hair bows who makes beautifully delicate cloth-like tutus, hats, high heel shoes, camisoles and such; bedecked with frills, bows, fringe and flowers...all forged and/or fabricated out of iron!  ...And she also has a Tupac poster hanging on the wall of her studio!

Sidenote- One of the Penland t-shirts that I love was from the Concentration she taught in Spring 2011- the caption (from the title of the class) was “Miss Betty’s Red Hot Variety Show”, and the graphic was of the black silhouette of an anvil, with a strand of her signature pearls, in white, draped over it...and, as I recall, a martini glass? (Correct me if I’m wrong on the martini glass!)

Other projects from the second week of class:

For dessert after a Mexican dinner one night we had Sopapillas- a kind of very light deep-fried Mexican doughnut that is traditionally served dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with honey.  Anyway, after pfutzing around with a small ladle as a honey server, one of the kitchen crew, knowing my penchant for making stuff for them, suggested that I make them a honey dipper for future use...and this was the result!  It took about half an hour to make the piece, and about 2.5 hours to file, sand and polish it enough so as not to make the health inspector cringe.  After I gave it to them, they suggested that I make another that they could donate to the session’s scholarship auction with a small jar of Ryan the Gardener’s honey from his bees, which I did- slightly simpler, but with a forged Rhododendron leaf instead of a loop for the handle.

I had come into this class with rather grandiose plans of trying to forge a small sculpture of a rhododendron twig with leaves flowers; this belt buckle is as close as I got...but I’m okay with that- I’ve wanted a nice unique belt buckle for a while.  The leaves are hot forged, and all the components are welded together.  I first tried to torch weld it, as the MIG welder scared the living daylights out of me, but eventually was forced to face facts and use the scary stuff- much easier for me after Natasha demonstrated to me that it was virtually impossible to hurt yourself with the MIG welder...and it worked perfectly!


One of the joys of this session for me was that my dear friend Jocelyn Howard (way back from Spring ’09 Concentration, when we were both Penland newbies together) was in the area, taking a break from Grad School, and doing an extended bit of house-sitting for Gay Smith, so we had a chance to catch up and gossip!  Jocelyn used to be a functional potter back in the day, but now that she’s in grad school she’s made the leap to figurative sculpture, and has learned to cut loose and follow her bliss...she also has recently joined the blogosphere- you can find her over at Dusty Hair.  (The handsome boy in the hammock with her is Gay’s dog, Bodhi.)

After the end of Session 1 I lingered in the Penland area for another 2 weeks as Jocelyn’s replacement in house sitting for Gay- and I got to make pots!  Every year Penland School has a gala Benefit Auction to raise money for the school, with two live auctions, plus silent auctions and other events.  One of the other events is a breakfast for auction patrons down at the resident artist’s studios- complete with coffee served in handmade commemorative mugs...500 of them...every year.  The job of organizing mug production falls to the lovely Susan Feagin, the coordinator of the clay studio...and she is ever on the lookout for volunteer mug makers.  I volunteered to get started on the 2013 mugs while I was at Gay’s (the upside of this is that you get free clay for making them!) and cranked out 100- four different shapes, 25 of each.  Also, while working in the Kitchen this last session I had noticed that they were getting low on certain bowl sizes for the salad bar (where they only use hand made bowls), so I made them four large plain bowls for tomatoes and cucumbers, the above shown six squat little medium veggie dishes with lug handles, plus a few salad dressing crocks.

One of the other perks of staying on in the area was being there for the peak rhododendron bloom.  Heather Spontak, Gay’s studio assistant for the summer, and I (plus Bodhi the Dog) went hiking up on Roan Mountain the weekend of the Bakersville Rhododendron Festival.  There is an area up a side road from Carver’s Gap (where NC 216 cuts over the mountain) called the Rhododendron Gardens.  It’s not strictly speaking a garden, but a natural area with a high density of rhododendrons, which have been maintained as, and are presented in, a garden-like manner.  They do charge a small admission for this area if you drive up, however if you hike the two miles up there (and yes, it’s all uphill) they waive the fee- you’ve paid in sweat! 

After hiking back down to Carver’s Gap, Heather and I followed the Appalachian Trail half a mile up the other side of the gap to the top of Round Bald, the first of three summits in the grassy bald area of the Roan.  By the time we got back to the car we had done six miles, and our feet hurt!

I went down to Penland for Session 2 clay slides (Kevin Snipes and Kyle and Kelly Phelps, plus assistants) and went for a pre- dinner and slides hike with Bodhi and my camera- and noticed that there’s a different kind of rhododendron growing around Penland...must be the elevation- Penland is at 3000 feet, the Roan is over 6000 feet.

A week later Heather and I were back on the Roan- we had had time constraints the previous week, not to mention having already hiked 5 miles, which had prevented us from hiking to the end of the Roan balds...but not this time!  The hike up to Grassy Ridge Bald, the last of three, was just as hard and steep as it had looked to us the previous week, but the views from the top were worth it.  The craggy mountain in the distance made us think of Scotland (Jo, Gay- you've been there, is it?)- it was so tempting, but we really needed to head back at this point as it was getting late...Next Fall!!!!

There were other plants besides Rhododendrons blooming on the Roan- Flame Azaleas, and the endangered Grey’s Lily were blooming in several places along the trail.

I took this picture of the Knoll my last day on the Hill...very pretty...I’ll be back soon!

Post Session...Back to the weary grind!

For the Fourth of July we didn’t do any fireworks...but we did share half a watermelon with the Corgi Cleanup Crew.

Yesterday  we had our first cherry tomatoes of the year, and our Thai basil was bolting due to the heat, so for dinner I made a lovely Thai-style dinner of Chicken Soup and Cucumber Salad with the tomatoes and basil trimmings, plus shallots from the garden!

Thai Chicken Basil Soup

1 Tbs  Butter

2 large Shallots, thinly sliced

1 Jalapeño Pepper, finely diced

1 Serrano Pepper, minced

1 Cup whole Thai Basil Leaves

1  15oz  can Straw Mushrooms, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 Tbs Cilantro, minced

½ Cup Cooked Chicken Breast, cut in small pieces

½ Cup Cherry Tomatoes, quartered or halved

¾  Cup Coconut Milk

2 Cups Water, or to taste

Sauté the shallots and peppers until the shallots are transparent, then add the basil and allow it to wilt.  Once the basil has wilted, add the mushrooms, cilantro, chicken and tomatoes, and continue to sauté for another minute or two to allow the flavors to meld.  Add the Coconut milk and water, then lower the heat, barely allowing it to simmer- if it overheats, the coconut milk will separate.  After 5 minutes, remove from heat and serve.

Traditional Thai cucumber salads have both sugar and vinegar added to them- a foil for the heat of the other dishes!  This is my vinegar-less version.

Thai Cucumber Salad

1 Tbs Coconut Milk

Juice of ½ a Lime

1 Tsp Sugar

½ Tbs Mint, finely chopped

½ Cucumber, peeled, quartered, and sliced 1/8th inch thick

Stir all ingredients except the cucumber together in a bowl, then toss with the cucumber.  Serve cold.

At the pottery it’s been hotter than hell the last two weekends -the metal and concrete building doesn’t help matters when it’s 104°F outside- despite the heat, I’ve spent my studio time mixing glazes and processing reclaim (sweaty!) as well as making some bisque molds so I can do a little handbuilding ahead of Fall Concentration with Matt Kelleher.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Session 1, Week 1

Penland in the Springtime...Ahhhh...  There are smatterings of Mountain Laurel in the woods...

...And the remnants of the Spring Azalea bloom in the gardens- it's too early for the Rhododendrons, I've only seen one little tassel of flowers open so far.   But on to the real reason I'm here: steel jewelry.

Our first session was on making chain, and cold forging- this bracelet was my project, with flattened and curved S-hooks and flattened jumprings...and little peridot and pearl danglies!

This necklace involved flattening and making scrolled S-hooks, and then linking them together with labradorite bead links.

This hairpin was my first experiment with hot forging- round and squared tapers, two different kinds of twists, and a scroll.  The MIG welding equipment scares the living daylights out of me, (I don't respond well to sudden loud noises, even when I'm expecting them!) so I think I will be sticking to torch welding, soldering, and cold joins for sticking things together!

This hairpin with a double twist has a blue topaz set in silver on the end, and is my contribution to this session's scholarship auction

One of the nice things about taking this class is that it gives me the opportunity to make equipment that I'm too cheap to buy: this little toy is a favorite book conservation tool.  Good for scraping, lifting, applying little daubs of glue in hard to reach places- indispensable.

I've had this faceted tourmaline floating around my gem box for over six years waiting for just the right ring idea- it's my favorite color, a dark peridot, but far more durable than actual peridot, and thus suitable for a ring stone.  One reason that I was interested in taking this class is that I've always liked seeing the juxtaposition of the "coarseness" of steel against the "preciousness" of silver, gold, and faceted stones-this ring gave me the chance to try it out!  The ring shank is made of a re-used cotter pin, lined with silver which I made slightly wider than the steel, and hammered up and around the edges for a decorative bead edge.

More tools!  These are draw ring pullers for atmosphere firing- one was a trial by fire on just how much I like doing twists (a lot, as it turns out), and the other is very simple, with a little forged leaf decoration on the loop for hanging it up for storage.

Other fun stuff:  I spent yesterday at the fabulous new MICA Gallery in Bakersville- it's a new cooperative gallery run by a group of local artists (mostly potters).  They did an amazing job putting it together- it has enough polish to make it classy and uncluttered, but without giving it the frigid traditional gallery atmosphere...and they have a truly inspired display layout; zig-zag islands of shelves that are divided into segments that allow viewing from either one side or both sides, so you can never see everything from one angle.  It pulls you through and makes you wonder what is on the other side...there are also pedestals and shelves along the walls, and a long table running through the center as a domestic touch.