Community Ware / Community Connecting

Sometimes the making comes from the urge to get a new and personal idea down, to advance a form in a new direction, to bring a surface to life in a specific and inspired way.  Other times, the making comes from the intention to be an engaged community member, and to do it in the way that I can contribute best…by making good pots.

This intention does not always come easy, but by not compromising on my skills and interests, I find that there can be a wonderful balance of true community utility (mugs and vases and race medallions that get the job done), and artistic expression and satisfaction, (taking the time to fit the form to the situation, and making sure that I love what I am agreeing to make).

This year’s Community Wares have taken me in a few new directions….one is the 25th Anniversary commemorative mug for Shepherdstown Farmers Market.  The form was an intentional choice, as it is not only an historic form, but also one of the earliest forms found in pottery, across cultures.  There is always something that has the ‘arms up’ form, as I call it: a slightly bulbous vessel towards the base that ends at the top in the shape that we make if we raise our arms over our heads in pure joy.  There was no other form to even consider.  (smile)

The images and writings on the surface of Community Ware bring a different kind of focus and pleasure…one of slowly writing and drawing, noticing and encouraging the slight variations of the hand.  From Middleway Days written in my own script, to the Mellow Moods or Sustainable Solutions logos, the process of interpreting the design, writing in liquid wax with a bamboo brush, rubbing away the surrounding clay with water and sponge (wax erosion), and glazing with a glaze that I formulated to break on the newly exposed edges continually amazes me when the kiln lid is lifted and the design is there, both recognizable and my hand’s interpretation.

Medallions are becoming more important in the studio (thank you, race organizers, for working with local makers!), and the process that I am working to hone, little by little, is also ancient.  It involves making a ‘positive’ of the medallion, just a little larger, carved by hand.  The second step is to fire the positive, make a set of press molds (clay pressed around the piece, then released), and fire them to a low temperature.  Thirdly, I make the actual medallions hand-pressing small balls of clay into the molds, over and over again, pop them out, let them dry a bit, hand finish and poke a hole, add my studio stamp…..you get the idea.  Many steps, each and every one of them done in the same way since the beginning of humans making things with clay.

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So, I owe my community a heartfelt Thank You, for the opportunities to make things that matter to you, for the gift of being part of our community in the way that I know best.  For being greeted with a smile, and introduced as ‘the potter’ or ‘the one who made that mug that you love.’  For the children who tell me that they wear their medallion to school.  You make it worth the effort, each and every little ball of clay.

Controlled Burn: spring freshening

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As luck had it, after a brisk walk at Antietam with friends, there was the most exquisite comntrolled burn being conducted along a field and valley. Sure sign of spring.  The breeze was just right, rolling the fire quickly along dead grass, skipping right around trees, bringing rejuvenation to the prairie grass and wildflowers of summer.

Something about spring, from late winter through to early leaves, sets my mind to pruning, clearing, burning….getting rid of old stagnant growth to make room for the new year’s growth.  Many a conversation has followed the elaborate analogies of the cherry tree, pruned a bit harsh, but not too harsh, brings on the most perfect blooms, followed by a full swell of summer fruit.  Prune too hard, and the suckers grow too hard, reducing the yield, as the tree has to work harder to gather what it needs to sustain. Prune too light, and the fruit yield breaks the limbs, bending them down to the ground, snapping where there is just too much to hold.

Burns as rejuvenation are a strong pull, as a wood firing potter and wood stove enthusiast.  The controlled burn, with many hands each with their eyes and focus on their specific task, is a group pruning, a team with the focus of rejuvenation together.  Cousin to the wood firing by their relationship to controlling fire, I draw analogies of burning the old scrap wood from the property (albeit in a contained brick vessel), setting intention as a group, and coming out the other end with something lovely to sustain us into the future.  The successful containment of fire will always be a thrill.  But the controlled burn….the containment is accomplished with people and water on the edges, a keen eye and understanding of fire and fuel, and serious coordination.

A friendly chap among a large crew, none of whom minded an enthusiastic observer with a camera, described the various jobs among the workers, marked by the colors of their helmets.  (White helmets make the calls and know the whole picture.) He also said that the grass will grow quick, the trees will not be damaged, and the cycle continues.

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So here’s to rejuvenation by fire. May your version of spring pruning and controlled burning be refreshing, and may the prairie grasses sprout soon and strong…

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Returning to the roots….

Time passes, pots spin off the wheel, water ebbs and flows…the Potomac River is spring-low again, and daily walks remind me how the subtle shifts, things we hardly notice, add up slowly to make the big changes. We age, islands erode, friendships deepen, and interests change. Yet we revisit certain places, friendships, habits….again and again, over time.  So, the erosion of time brings me back to the computer, to decide how it is we continually make the tiny choices of how we present to the rest of the world.

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The down-time…an important ingredient in being in touch with who we are, what we believe, and the directions we are looking.  The pots I make are decidedly different from the ones I made three years ago, at the time of my last blog post.  The way I approach clay has shifted.  My take on the wood, the kiln, the studio process has slowed way down, with more eyes and hands, and less automatic actions.  The Potomac River, Appalachian Trail, C&O Canal, and this little piece of home-land have been part of that shift. The pooch and the partner, other parts.

 

So stick with me.  There is more to come.  The exploration continues….

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Water Wednesday

The great lakes have been part of my life as long as I can remember, particularly visiting the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  Last week, I took my parents, Daniell, and the dog to my favorite shoreline, complete with stick-throwing, bare tootsies in sand, and a hike through the dunes and woodlands.  Water centers us, reminds us what we are.

So, an old-style snapshot to remember the day…complete with camera strap in the corner, and that dunes windblown look.  These are the same trails that I ran as a youth, hot summer days, straight into the water below.  The same trails that I hiked as fast as I could, to see if that high school date could keep up.  And now, the trails that I savor, leading to and from the water’s edge, lingering just one more moment, as it all seems so familiar.

Arrowmont Utilitarian Clay Symposium VI

Arrowmont Utilitarian Clay Symposium VI

Finding peace and calm at the Arrowmont Utilitiarian Clay Symposium in Gatlinburg, TN, these little shrubs offered the perfect calm, complete with a bench nestled against the outside of the room where Gwendolyn Yoppollo was presenting. I found the Symposium to be incredibly stimulating, in a very good way, and meandered back up the Appalachians with many thoughts bouncing about in my head.

One of the thoughts is captured right here in the only photograph that I took all week. There are so many layers to what we do, as people who work with clay, people who make functional objects. What strikes me is how simple it is to see the layers on either side from where we are personally, and how we don’t often even notice the other layers. They’re outside of our view.

The gift of a gathering of makers of functional objects is that glimpse into the richness, the diversity, the spectrum of our clan. Thank you, Arrowmont, for creating a space for so many layers, so many viewpoints.

(And, yes, I’ll be posting weekly again, after a rich summer hiatus…)

Spring into yourself

Thanks for the Willy Wonka, Style Rookie...

“We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams.”  Say it out loud.  Say it again.  Go about your day reminding yourself regularly, and do it again tomorrow.  Be who you are, fully, magnificently, even mildly at first.  It gets easier with practice, and like Willy, plenty of time alone to develop just exactly who you are.   Say it one more time.  Good.