Sunday, 30 December 2012

Messages in a Bottle

Decided to make a big bottle; it takes three days. Two days making, one day refining the shape with beating and scraping to bring up the texture. That's not three days solid, more like bursts of activity between waiting for the clay to stiffen, otherwise the bottle turns into a pancake. Anyway I need a block of time with no interruptions as I hate wrapping in plastic and leaving the bottle to return some time later.

You lose the groove and the muse is gone.

That came from Neil Young, I've been reading his book Waging Heavy Peace. Making music involves lots of people; engineers, technicians, producers and the collaboration of other musicians to get to the stage of even making an album.
Waging Heavy Peace is a sort of auto biography written on the hoof in no sort of chronological order. A bit like this blog. Thoughts and memories of a musical life spanning over forty years. The list of names mentioned is like going through the yellow pages of music making, the songs we all know are the products of input from many, many people, sources and locations.

Making pots is the complete opposite. It's a solitary path we tread, the thoughts go no further than our heads and nearly all my pots have been made in the same workshop working alone.

I was starting to imagine as I was alternating between making and reading, that in the process of building my big bottle, that my thoughts and ideas were getting trapped in each coil as they are placed one on top of another. Then sealed in as the coils are blended together. Like a three dimensional vinyl album; only made of clay. Firing finally seals in the whole complete thought process and the pot becomes a unique and permanent recording of the whole process. A physical and cerebral manifestation.

What happens in my head is my own and very personal experience, but it it would be fun to see when people pick up my bottle and stroke their hand over the surface, if they pick up some of those trapped thoughts and ideas and enjoy a deeper understanding, not just of the beauty of the form and glazes, but something else.

Sorry no photographs, the batteries are flat in the trusty camera and Laura's mobile is a museum piece. Make calls, receive calls, send texts, sometimes there is no signal here either, so... 

If I sell this pot maybe I can buy an iPhone (or new batteries).

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

It's a hard rain's a falling

I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a fallin'. The words are Bob Dylan's, but it has been hard this summer, and autumn and now winter is upon us and the rains still a-fallin'. Finally the saturated land has said no more and this week the garden where most of my work is done has flooded twice. The kiln was a little island and we had to evacuate the chickens before their little home became an Ark.
There is a brook that runs through our garden, this time last year it was dry and it was possible to walk along its whole length with no problem, not even a damp puddle. Further along from the garden, the brook goes under ground and comes out the other side of the village. If the grating to the culvert blocks up, then the whole village gets it and some of the houses flood.
Such was the intensity and duration of the rain this week, along with the amount of leaves, branches and debris suddenly unleashed, that the culvert gave up and within a couple of hours we had a rise of two metres of water. Thrussington Pottery was out of bounds until a handful of villagers, armed with rakes and hooks managed to clear some of the debris and the level subsided.
The kiln stands on concrete blocks, and the glazing shed was only millimetres from being submerged and I'm sure it will all dry out eventually, but for now it's impossible to do anything other than stare from the windows of our house. The only casualties were some small bottles left lying on the ground by the kiln, waiting to have their wadding removed. The waters must have swept them away and by now they will be on their way to the North sea. No messages inside, but if anyone out there finds them, please enjoy them and I'm sorry I didn't get round to cleaning them up.

While we were away this weekend selling pots at Harley Christmas Market, there was a second deluge and flooding. The waters rose during the night, so there was no one around to wield hooks and rakes and the kiln and garden got it's second swim in a week, whilst a house was flooded further downstream most of the village escaped.

And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard life a-potting.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Stirring up the Beast

The first time I went to Marks Pottery he was building the Beast;  up to the chamber arch and it looked big.
"What cubic capacity is it"?
" I don't know, but it's big"

He fired it sometime later, and the results had not been good. Hot at the top, but only near the front, cold from the middle down. Barely cone 7 and none of the glazes had fluxed.
Lots of remedies were discussed and finally it was decided the solid bag wall was too high.
I went to stay for a few days to make pots and help with modifications. We lowered the bag wall and opened it up, chequer board style so that flame and heat would hopefully get to the bottom of the chamber. We took a couple of courses off the chimney to slow down the flame a little and keep it in the chamber longer.
Over a year went by, Mark had not made any new work and I couldn't possibly fill a kiln that size with hand built work.
Finally we decided to fire the kiln at the end of September and as I made pots, I put them to one side whilst Mark spent four weeks intensive throwing. September turned into October when we finally set a firm date, with a plan to fire for up to thirty hours.

It took a whole day to pack the kiln, me glazing as we did so, as it was not possible to transport ready glazed pots from Leicester.
The kiln was heated with gas to drive out some of the moisture, finally the fire was lit at six o'clock the next morning and we were under way.
The kiln has a single chamber of approximately 80 cubic feet with a Bourry box. It's a scaled up version of Mark's previous kiln and the intention was to salt fire. It was decided that we would wood fire only this time, plenty of wood ready stacked, mostly Larch with some Cherry and Birch. Nice and dry as it had been there for well over a year.
Stoking progressed steadily all day and the temperature shown on the pyrometer climbed, the probe at the front showing about a hundred degrees more than the one at back, so we closed the dampers to try and even out the heat. It seemed to work, but progress was slow. By about midnight we were showing eleven hundred, but the bottom looked nowhere near that. But alarmingly the cones at the top near the front were beginning to fall.

By six o'clock in the morning the cones at the front were all flat, but still standing to attention at the bottom and cone 9  hardly bending in the middle. Over twenty five hours and a final push to get the temperature up, it was time to call it a day and clam up. It did not look promising.

One hates to admit ones failures, but there was little to come out that was any good. Some tea bowls placed on the bag wall were ok, the bottles at the top near the front were dark and had an oily appearance, every thing else was way under fired and dirty. I will re fire some of the pots in a gas kiln to see if that cleans then up, the rest will go into the next firing as they are little more than biscuit fired.
The shard pile will get the rest.

Mark tells me the Beast will be demolished and already plans are afoot to build something smaller.
Maybe a Phoenix rising from the ashes!

Mark Griffiths, Culmington Pottery.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A Whole Lotta Stuff Going On

When I started writing my blog, there was that nagging doubt about running out of things to say. As I've found though, there is plenty going on, it's finding gaps between them all to get it down on screen.

The Apres Keramisto Trip.

I didn't know much about the planning or the itinerary, but Ghent was where we finally ended up. On the way a stop in Zierikzee. Forty years ago I had been to Holland; a first adventure abroad. Two of us in an old Volkswagen Beetle, not much money, but a desire to see some of the world. Amsterdam had been the magnet that drew us, but after some time in cities the urge to go out into the wilds of the polder; reclaimed land, flat open spaces, wind rippling the tall grasses like waves on the sea had been too much. Somethings stay with you and Zierikzee was one of those places that have a slot on the memory stick in my head. We had wandered the little town on foot and made drawings and sketches of the impressive gate into the town. Forty years on it was all still there and much as remembered. The roads were bigger and wider and everything around was built upon, but the place still felt much the same.

On to Ghent, not as chocolate box pretty as Bruges, more lived in and nowhere as touristy. We got plenty of value from our three day museum pass, the Museum of Art is packed full of Flemish masters and in the Cathedral there is the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by the Van Eyck brothers, something touched upon in History of Art lectures way back. We had two great days and a wonderful dinner to finally celebrate sixty five years. A bit of going back, a chance to relax without the need to rush back and catch a ferry, then it was back to make pots for two weeks, build a shed and pack for the trip to America.

Setting Course for Virginia.

Having a daughter recently departed and living near Washington DC, was the perfect excuse to go and visit Virginia. The Pilgrim Fathers were right, friendly natives, beautiful country, and an abundance of food. (As long as you cook it yourself that is!) Everything comes blathered in sauce, relish or whatever. If you ask for it plain then a whole directory of side orders are offered. A salad comes glistening with oil and balsamic something and a bewildering choice of dressings.
"Blue cheese dressing with that sir, some slaw and fries, sauce for the fries?"
Anyway dig deeper and there are Farmer's markets with piles of fresh produce and a wealth of good beers also. Ignore the ubiquitous Bud, there is Copper Hook and Flying Dog - Raging Bitch for starters.
However, on the tea front: best not to go there, it's a concept largely suppressed by America's love of watery coffee. After all, it was the Brits that whacked a huge tax on tea so that most of it ended up in Boston Harbour and it's never been the same since. At best you get a glass full of not hot enough water and a little bag on a string to dangle in it. Most times a box is proffered with an array of 'teas', fruity mixtures, Cinnamon and Rhubarb, Russian Caravan... what happened to Assam or dare we say it, English Breakfast?
For a whole week we crammed as much in as possible, Eleanor acting as Chauffeuse while she waits for her work permit to happen.

 Daily excursions included:-

Annapolis, shame it was the boat show, the town was crowded, Ferraris, Bentleys and Aston Martins jammed the streets, huge, white plastic boats jammed the waterways. Out by the Maritime Museum was a man quietly catching crabs on a line with chicken wings from a party pack as bait
'There's Maryland Blue Crabs" he explained. The Atlantic Blue crab to be precise, I guess as you go south they become Virginia Blue Crabs and then Carolina Blue Crabs. "Maryland Blue Crabs taste the best though" he was quick to reply.

To Alexandria, much nicer, wander the streets off the main drag and everything is much as it was in the late 1700's. It's easy for us to forget how recent most of America's history is, I sit editing this blog in a room in our home built about the same time. We in England have developed, modernised and got rid of most of our buildings so it was refreshing to see how much has been preserved and cared for in Virginia. Worth also was a visit to the Torpedo Factory, lots of painters, print makers, weavers and potters, working and showing their work.

Then Manassas, to the site of the first major battle in the American Civil War, the Bull Run, laid out with guns and cannon. Markers around the site explained how the battle swung one way then the other, the Confederate army winners on the day. The whole site is preserved and is much as it was before the carnage. It is also a nature reserve and a truly beautiful landscape, which gives some gravitas to the scene of a horrific battle, where artillery sent exploding shells and canister into men and horses at close range.  This only a hundred and fifty years ago and man's ability to create ever more horrify weapons has not abated.

On a brighter note we went to the Freer and Sackler Museums in Washington to see the collection of Korean Sanggam ware and Japanese Art,  a nice display and a beautiful museum.

Then of course this wouldn't be a potter's blog without some element of ceramic indulgence.
In the summer we met Dan Finnegan over dinner at Potfest in the Park, we promised to drop by when we visited Eleanor and Graham. Dan runs Liberty Arts in Fredericksburg. You will be hard pressed to find anything on the tourist website, so if you are down that way here's a link - get on down there, it's well worth a visit. Dan trained at Winchcombe in England, under Ray Finch. You can't get a better pedigree than that and you can see that Winchcombe trademark in Dan's wood fired, salt glazed work.

We got the full tour and spent an enjoyable day with Dan, ending up at his workshop and kiln site. Out of town, down a track, an idyllic spot. I liked the whacky outhouse ( toilet in English ) and the two fig trees planted flanking the wood kiln. If by chance curiosity has been pricked about tea making by the contents of this blog, then I can recommend a trip to Liberty Arts, where you can buy one of Dan's teapots, a mug and a milk jug suitable to make proper tea. You will have to import leaf tea though, but talk to Dan, he's such a nice guy that he will probably explain how to make a good pot of tea as well.

Thanks Dan.

Oh! and those beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. Thanks El.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Going Dutch

It used to mean going halves or sharing costs when you took your lady out. These days, selling pots gets harder and it seems that Laura pays the bills mostly. This year was the 25th year for Keramisto, held in the Mookerplas near Milsbeek in Holland and I was fortunate to be selected, part of a ten strong contingent of British Potters. It was also my birthday, so we decided to stay over a few more days and make a holiday of it. That part was a secret and a surprise, I didn't know where we were going after the show, but it seems everyone else did. I just drove the van where directed and enjoyed the moment.  Going Dutch? It was all pre planned and paid for.

We took the overnight ferry from Harwich and arrived at the Hook of Holland early, breakfast was orange juice, croissant and a cheese roll in the forecourt of a petrol station next to the E31. Lorries thundered by and the van swayed in the slipstream. We Potters really live the high life and having taken our time to get to Milsbeek, we still found ourselves killing time, sitting in the van as we had arrived way too early.

Spaces are not allocated, and there was a queue already at three o'clock, it seems there is a rush to get the best pitch. Not knowing a good pitch from a bad one, we bagged our space, sort of in the middle on the main aisle and set to fixing the canvas awning and staking down the feet of the market stall. Evidently it gets very breezy and the wind can whip in off the lake. Oh, a bad pitch means facing the lake, OK, never mind, we will take our chance.

As if by magic it rained as we set up, much like every other show this year and we stood like Emperor Penguins, huddled under the awning until the rain stopped and then tentatively set out our stall. That evening there was a barbecue with salads, fresh bread, courtesy of the baking school and free beer in a large Marquee. Potters renewed acquaintances and swapped news until late, but by ten we were out for the count, been on the road too long and swinging on the awning to get the poles to locate had taken it's toll.

Next morning was bright and sunny, with a cool breeze. The grass was still wet from the rain during the night and the few pots we had put out were dripping with condensation, but by ten o'clock when the show was due to start, everything was looking good and hangovers were nursed with black coffee, brewed up on little stoves at the back of most Potters stalls.

Slowly visitors started to drift in and by mid day there was a steady stream, with plenty of things to entertain them, musicians, demonstrations and a competition for the Potters to try their hand and throw a pot on the wheel of a Trabant, that miracle of East German engineering. The car was set up on a jack so the front driving wheel could spin, so throwing was side ways on and in the driving seat in a glorious red ball gown the driver operated the throttle. A breakdown in Language, or maybe the din from the two stroke engine meant the driver couldn't hear and there was little control and the first few attempts were amusing to say the least. The aim being to throw a pot (or something similar) twenty five centimetres high. There were plenty of people prepared to have a go and the competition went on over the whole weekend, finally a two person throwing team, comprising of the two Richards, or the two Dicks as they announced themselves, managed to get within a millimetre of the target.

There was good food and drink to buy, and plenty of Potters equipment and supplies stalls. Books and magazines and piles of clay to purchase meant that bags with the logos of the suppliers were well evident but not much in the way of pot sales and by six o'clock as the last few visitors drifted away, there were quite a few who had sold nothing at all. Solace came via aperitifs and nibbles, brought by Potters who have done this show before and knew the ropes and then on to the Potters banquet, and more drinks, a drum band, a few more drinks and then a live band and many of us who never get up on the dance floor, found ourselves Dad dancing. An interlude with the launching of lanterns into the night sky and more dancing.

After the award of the main prize, the Pot d'or, decided by the Potters votes, there was an unforgettable skit by Richard Godfrey, Richard Dewar and Steve, based on a Derek and Clive sketch of a performer diving 500 feet into a blazing bucket. Then back to dancing and a few more drinks, well into the early hours.

Amazingly everyone was at their stall next morning, ten o'clock sharp, ready to ply their wares. There were plenty of visitors, but much as the day before, few sales. Many visitors were pottery enthusiasts and wanted to ask technical questions, clutching bags of tools and magazines or they just took photographs for inspiration, and by the time I had given my short demonstration, the show was as good as over and as quickly as the show had sprung up, it all disappeared into cars and vans and all that was left was a field scorched by the tread of thousands of feet.

We sold very little, some sold nothing at all, maybe a sign of the financial squeeze gripping Europe. The streets of Keramisto are not paved with Euros after all but it was a helluva party and so off to celebrate on my surprise birthday trip.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Are these Raku?

Well, another day, up at the crack of dawn, drive to another venue and set out my stall.  No promised electricity, so lugging the lights and power cables up the stairs was a waste of time and they all have to be lugged back because there is so little space to store them.

Satisfied that the display looks good, flowers plucked from the garden, still with the morning dew, are artfully arranged and it's time to check out the neighbours and get to know some new faces.
It's around this point that the doubts about doing this job start to become a reality. Am I really going to have to stand amongst people selling bought in mugs, tea towels and aprons all day, and so cheap? I would imagine that the creative hand touches them for the first time to get them out of the box from the manufacturer. And assembled jewellery with bought in beads by the boat load. Ah well, the show must go on but by lunch time having received only a few "Love your work" and "We might be back" things don't look too promising.
The pile of mugs is going down and so is the pile of tea towels. The girl with the dichroic glass pendants has not stopped wrapping either. It's about this point that the first ceramic student appears and wants all your glaze recipes, firing methods and as they haven't got a kiln yet, could you fire their work for them.
When someone asks if the pots are Raku, you finally know that this was a big mistake and staying at home and mowing the grass or cleaning out the chicken run might have been the better option.

When someone else asks "Are they Raku" The brain freezes momentarily, and just before you clasp them by the throat, it thaws and very politely one gives the best reasons why they could not possibly be any form of Raku.

And what do you mean by Raku?  Is that true Raku? Taking a white hot pot from the kiln after a couple of days of firing with wood and plunging it into water to get those beautiful black glazes beloved by the Tea masters or is it the garden party stuff where you buy a ready made bisque fired vessel, lather it with some noxious glaze slop, whilst someone else heats it up quickly with a gas torch and plunges the whole thing into a bin full of sawdust.
When the foul black fog disappears, it's plunged into water and you scrub it to reveal the final article in all it's bling and you go home clutching your prize, smelling like a smoked Herring.

I'm not a big fan of Raku, I admire the work of Tim Andrews, but do I want something I can't use, that fades and re oxidises and would poison me if I ate from it?

So for the record, no madam, they are all fired in a wood fuelled kiln to around 1300, cooled slowly and will stay that way or until the cat knocks them over at which time they become grog.

Kiln dashboard!
In anticipation of a half way decent show at Wirksworth, I fired the kiln earlier this week so that there was some new work to put out. Firing number 14 proved uneventful, apart from not having enough pots and having to load a few re -fires, it all went along as previous firings. It did not rain for a change, and it was hot and tiring. Cone ten took forever to fall at the bottom of the kiln, but the worry was needless and the results were pleasing, with a couple of big bottles that are the best for some time.

I still have to check them all over, clean off the wadding, but they are sitting on the table in the dining room, whilst I do a sort of post mortem, looking at how the glazes run and mingle. Was the glaze thick enough, which combinations worked the best and so it goes.
Tomorrow is another day and it's back to the Town Hall at Wirksworth for another day explaining what it is we do that does not involve sawdust  and smoking fish or drinking my tea from a mass produced mug with a scribbly drawing of hearts on it.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Penrith to Oldenburg 750 miles

A wet and cold Potfest in the Park, a continuation of the miserable summer that has been 2012. Held in the grounds of Hutton in the Forest, a truly beautiful house and gardens near Penrith. This must be the most enjoyable event in the potting calendar, compact and well laid out in open sided marquees, not many events can boast that they have visitors arriving by helicopter.

There is a really friendly atmosphere at Potfest, with a potters competition, where everyone's art piece is set out on the lawns so that the public can wander around the amazing entries and cast their vote. In the evening there is a meal with prizes for the best entries, a mug swap ensures a very liquid finale, bottles of beer and wine standing like little forests on every table. Given better weather there is a camp fire and a few more beers before the revellers crash out in their tents and vans, to nurse sore heads the next morning.
This years competition theme was 'Journeys and Pilgrimages' and most potters entered work. It takes me ages to think of something, but I have to plan well ahead to get it made, dried, glazed and fitted into my woodfiring schedule, so I only get one shot at it and opening the kiln is always a bit traumatic should things not quite work out. Additionally I had to find a big chunk of wood, carve and oil it to complete the piece, which could only be done after the work had been successfully fired. I finally settled upon making a 'Ditty Box'.

CPO Albert Lawton's Ditty Box
 When sailors enlisted in the Royal Navy, they were issued with a wooden lockable box, roughly 6"x 12"x 8".  It was to be their only private lockable space on board ship, and contained writing materials, letters from home and valuables. Called the ditty box, it travelled with them wherever they sailed. We still have Laura's grandfather's box circa 1912.

My Potters Ditty Box was similar in size and held my favourite tools so that I could make my pots wherever I may journey.

After Potfest it was home, dry the tent, refuel, pack more pots and set out a couple of days later for Oldenburg in Germany. Internationale Keramiktage Oldenburg 2012 is in it's 30th year and draws potters from all over Europe, I sent my application off more in hope than expectation and was delighted to be accepted.
The event is held in the town centre on the Schlossplatz right alongside the very impressive Schloss and Landesmuseum, the tents and market stalls resembling more of a festival than a traditional English market.

This presented us with a problem, at all the events we have undertaken, market stalls, tables etc are all provided. In Oldenburg you get a space marked out with chalk, 3 metres square on the granite cobbles.
Our friend Tina offered us her 3 metre square gazebo that she uses to stand Farmers Market, where she sells her wonderful cakes and biscuits. Only problem is it is bright orange and after much debate and no other real options we took it with us.

Big mistake, a distinctive landmark for sure, but the orange glowed in bright sunlight and cast a strong orange glow over everything underneath it. We looked like we had an Essex tan, and the pots took on an unhealthy pallor which put possible buyers off, especially during the middle of the day when the sun was at it's highest. Where is the rain when you need it? We did sell some pots, enough to pay for the trip, so I guess you could say we swapped some pots for a holiday in Germany.

Errr! Ours is the orange one.....
Like Potfest there was a competition with a meal and prize giving, all very formal, long speeches and polite applause.

The theme for the competition was "iPot", my attempt was a bottle on a plinth, with a docking port and iPod connected to two headphone speakers sat in little cups. It actually worked and we ripped some BB King onto the iPod just to go the extra yard. On the reverse of the bottle was an image of BB King under painted in black slip. It was titled "iPot with iPod and icon".  It took way too long to make and assemble and most people just entered a standard piece of their work, some having no relationship to the theme at all. Translation is everything and the winning entry was a broken pot and a pile of shards on the floor. Evidently in German "IE!" is the utterance one would make if one dropped a pot. "Ohhh shit" suffices here, but there you go, it's taking part that matters.
The weather was glorious and we baked under our orange shelter. Summer at last and a stop over in Gouda on the way back to Blighty and it's back to work.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The wrong kind of mud

As summers go, this one has been a stinker, it has rained and it has rained and all three recent events have been very windy, wet and windy or in the case of Art in Clay at Hatfield House, torrential rain with showers in-between. We set up with the imminent threat of rain, tried to sell pots in the rain, so heavy it streamed under the marquees and finally we travelled back in the rain. Trying to sleep in a tent has never been such fun and jokes about having Trench Foot occupied most peoples conversations. Festival spirit engulfed Hatfield, wellies and rain gear were the required form of dress and the mud at the entrance to the campsite and marquees had to be negotiated with due care. Stirling work by the organisers and crew meant that the show would go on, with tons of wood chips and plastic weather matting placed at strategic points. A modern addition to the estate of the four hundred year old Jacobean house still owned by the Cecil family.

Andy McInnes suitably dressed.

The present house was built by Robert Cecil in 1611 in the grounds of the deer park and old house owned by King Henry VIII and in 1558 it was here that Elizabeth I learned of her accession to the throne. Camping amongst the old oaks where Henry and his court gave chase to stags held none of the former majesty. A motley collection of tents, yurts, tee pees and camper vans perched upon a grassy knoll, with the itinerant company of potters sheltering under makeshift awnings, preparing for the coming battle.
A temporary respite from rain allowed a short sortie and an opportunity to capture the gnarled oaks and enjoy the beautiful parkland before returning to the sea of mud that was Hatfield 2012.

There was one ray of sunshine when Pinny Lady presented Richard Ballantyne with his special apron that he had commissioned. He wore it all day much to the amusement of everyone, the appliquéd cup cakes on the back giving it that special touch, and with his furled umbrella he was last seen disappearing into the visitors car park.

And that was Art in Clay, so now dry out the tent, make some wooden lids and my competition piece ready for Potfest in the Park held in Cumbria, the wettest part of England... Can't wait.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Firing No. 13

Demonstrating at Earth and Fire
Fitting in a firing of the wood kiln has been difficult of late, a residency and a couple of shows have meant there was no window of opportunity to glaze, pack and fire the kiln. The last event at Earth and Fire proved very successful and all the boxes with wooden lids were sold and there is not a single tea bowl left, so with Art in Clay at Hatfield House looming fast, a request for tea bowls and a Gallery order there was no option but to go for it. Luckily we have a pile of wood and enough pots made and bisque fired, so a few long days glazing and packing and a break in the wet and windy summer, there was a chance that if I fired on Friday the kiln would be cool by Sunday and pots could be ready for Hatfield four days later.
I didn't think about unlucky No. 13, it was not until I ran a printed log sheet and up popped firing thirteen. I am not superstitious and only gave a moments thought about impending doom or potential  disasters, but as I packed the kiln on Thursday afternoon, with storm clouds swirling and an angry mauve and yellow cast about the black clouds above me, and as the thunder rolled and lightning cracked, I thought about the sanity of standing under a tin roof with wet hands standing in a puddle of rain. The rain became heavier and the wind reached frightening force, I was trapped and would have to sit this one out and tried to carry on packing. The rain got heavier and hail started to ping off the tin roof   it became a torrent and as more hail lashed down, pieces the size of golf balls were bouncing up and hitting me. The gutters on the house could not cope and the water ran off the roof like a water fall, as a river ran down the side of the house sweeping debris before it and piles of hail stones formed drifts, the wheel barrow, once empty was over flowing with water and frozen balls of ice like a strange cocktail.
The wind and hail stripped leaves off the trees, it cut down the peas and beans like a scythe as I stood in front of the wicket protecting my precious pots, peppered by stinging, frozen golf balls.

And then it was gone, the steady fall of rain became nothing. The car alarm was sounding, and the chickens emerged wet and bedraggled from their hiding place deep under the hedge and pecked at tit bits amongst the wreckage strewn about the garden as stoically I carried on placing pots surrounded by water and bits of garden.

Firing thirteen was uneventful and followed almost exactly the same pattern as the previous firing, cone ten was again reluctant to fall in the lower spy hole, but the colour was good and I carried on, deciding to close up after twelve hours with the cones looking almost like the previous firing.

A day to cool and still over a hundred degrees showing on Sunday, we took out the bungs from the spy holes and eased out a few bricks at the top of the wicket. It still seemed hot so having survived the tempest on Thursday, we had a coffee break and waited a while until impatience got the better of me and just had to have a peak inside. It all looked pretty good no visible disasters and so down came the wicket bricks.

It looks like we were hotter than expected and the wadding is rock hard and fused to all the pots at the top, oh how I hate grinding off wadding, and wooden lids to make as well. Oh well, so much for the good life and quiet retirement.

Monday, 18 June 2012

A Week at Bevere

When the possibility of a group exhibition for CPA Associate members at the well known Bevere Gallery was mooted, I naturally threw my hat in the ring as it were. The group show morphed into a series of smaller exhibitions featuring two or three potters at a time with the possibility of a residency. I was rewarded with a display of work for the month of June and a weeks residency in the grandly titled Stable block.
I had dropped off my six pots in May and duly toured my potential home for a week. The Stable block is in fact a well appointed shed with a sink, hot water, worktops, spotlighting and big glazed doors opening out onto a courtyard.
"Do what you like with the space, make pots, engage with the visitors and explain the black arts of coiling"

The Stable Block
Day One.
I arrived early... way too early and sat outside wondering what I had let myself in for.
I pinned photographs on the walls, arranged a selection of pots in the pigeon hole display and put a few flowers plucked from the hedgerow into a group of vases on a shelf in an attempt to make it my space. I set up my workbench and set to work. The good thing about coiling is you don't require much equipment and pots were already started when the first visitors arrived. They were more interested in the photographs and left.
It was a dismal, dull day, very cold and the few visitors ventured no further than the cafe and gallery, so I worked on alone, plied with tea and coffee by Kim and Ruby and the row of little pots grew.

Jason and the Juggernaut.
Towards the middle of the afternoon a shipment from Cornwall arrived in a big white truck. It was to provide the evenings entertainment.The tail lift jammed halfway, part way through the unloading. A faulty battery was diagnosed but when Jason the driver tried to remove it, the battery exploded. Eventually a man in a van arrived to fit a new one, but to no avail, the lift stayed put, neither up nor down and the last huge sculptural piece had to be man handled off by lifting onto rollers and gently lowering onto the lift and letting gravity lower it to the ground. The lift was now truly stuck and the truck was going nowhere. 
So now I had a unexpected dinner guest and a trip to the Chippy, juice from the cafe and a brew up or two and Jason retired to sleep in his wounded truck and me to sleep in my van.

Day Two.
Woke at 5am to the sound of Wood pigeons cooing and flapping and looking for Lurve.
I lay planning the day ahead, that is, transition from warm sleeping bag to cold outside toilet and thoughts of pigeon casserole.
We made tea and decided to give the reluctant lift one more try.  Jason took the cover off the hydraulic ram, started up the truck engine and whilst he pressed the start button to the lift, I whacked the motor with a piece of wood and hey presto, the lift majestically rose and Jason was on his way.
It was brighter today and folk sat outside drinking coffee and eating lemon drizzle cake. A few ventured inside 'The shed' and I sold a small cup to a painter and that was it...the row of pots grew.

That evening I visited Mark Griffiths, drank Ludlow beer and we made plans to fire his kiln end of September. We looked at his latest shino work,  bemoaned the lack of sales and eventually retired much mellowed by the beer.

Day Three.
A beautiful dawn and after toast with jam and tea from a Mark Griffiths tea pot it was back to Bevere.

Today I finally confirmed the correct pronunciation of Bevere ... Bev-er-ee. What is it about the English language and names? Try googling Bev-er-ee and see how far you get.
The weather got worse, few visitors ventured into my little domain. A couple of pottery enthusiasts arrived. One gave me a lecture on the chemical make up of clay and the inherent problems of including grog. Life's too short to to worry about that. It's only mud.
The other was convinced that my work was Raku. It was his only ceramic experience and the only true way to make pots. Ah well, I've wasted thirty years.
The heavens opened and I sat in the shed surrounded by pots refusing to dry... where is summer when you want it? I guess it's hotel Caddy van again tonight.

Hotel Caddy Van
Day Four.
Day three and four were one, or so it seemed. Torrential rain hammered like machine gun fire on the metal roof, the van swayed in the wind and bits of tree clanged of the bodywork. Dawn couldn't come fast enough. I thought of moving the van but I could imagine the scenario of driving in my underpants and bare feet in a storm... "Been drinking have we sir?" "No just scared witless"

Only a couple of visitors today. "Are these Raku?" I worked on watching the ladies in the cafe eating lemon drizzle cake or should it be lemon deluge cake?
Alastair and Kim invited me back to their home, watch the England game with their boys and have supper. The joy of a hot shower and a real bed. We handled and discussed their impressive ceramics collection and talked pottery stuff. I guess it's interesting to meet makers and artists and talk in depth. The opportunity is never there when we drop off work and rush off again. Anyway I was saved from the storm  and next morning we drove back through huge puddles and sodden Landscape.

Day Five.
Wet and windy again, a couple of potters stopped by, I felt they were bemused by the fact that I build with coils and don't throw and then it was time to pack up say goodbye and muse on the weeks events.

So that's a residency, I often wondered what it was like on the other side. Kim and Alastair work incredibly hard and are as vulnerable to the whims of weather as me in my little shed. It's a beautiful gallery in a wonderful garden setting, well lit, plenty of natural light and my pots were well displayed. In fact I had to take a second look to see if they were really the ones that I had dropped of a few weeks before as I hardly recognised them on the white plinths and sparkling under the spotlights.