Category Archives: pottery

rings of eternal strength

Friend, artist, and current Berkeley Springs neighbor* Michael Gotwald gave me two iron hoops he no longer needed for the wheels for his non-existent buggy.  I buried the bigger one in the meadow and mowed a fairy ring around it.

The smaller one is suspended at the end of the porch, creating a visual hook but not a barrier. Inside it is a small element of fired clay.

*His sweet place on Hageman Street is for sale.

the larder fills and empties, the to-do list grows

3 January 2015 (out of range for a few days)

Haiku for today:

The sky is leaden,
Rain falls liquid and solid.
Best stay warm in bed.

Well, William did, deservedly, until about 10. I favor inclement weather, so got up earlier at the sound of rain on a metal roof, to make coffee, build a fire, write some words, and enjoy this transforming place.

Those tasks planned for the first day of the new year are accomplished, and more. I also baked bread, turned dry beans into a soup, made a list of what’s needed and procured supplies for the “larder.” (Listening to Bill Bryson’s At Home as an audio book, we learned the origin of that term is not really lard, but rather the word for “bacon,” and thus referred to the room where meats and food were stored.) I have spent some time with poetry books and with pottery magazines, where I did not look at just the pictures, but also read the stories, learning about glazes and kilns, what I should know but do not.

The accomplishments of these first days lead to new ideas for more projects — domestic, artistic and linguistic.


The art of dying — part 1

The art of dying — part 1

What an upbeat and practical way to look at death in the future. (Click on the link above.)

After dying, we’ll still need to live somewhere, won’t we?  I have thought a few times about making a piece at the pottery wheel that would like nice on shelf in the kitchen as a nice tuna casserole cooking dish, and then on some other shelf as a receptacle for someone’s dusty remains.  (I thought about it a bit too late in the case of my late brother-in-law, the demise of whom is mentioned earlier. Other arrangements are made.)

This fellow shows such style in thinking with such deliberation and choosing to learn a new skill in the process. Bravo.


In honor of healthy winters

For winter

I made this bowl with my own hands. It bears a snowflake on the rim and is pictured on a bed of real snow. We need real winters.

On the wheel again: hands on clay in Oaxaca

I have been missing the pottery studio while on a break in DC, and  decided to get back to it.

ImageNo, that’s not me.  This is me.


A few Thursdays back, a door on Calle Cosijopi that had been closed as I passed dozens of times was open, revealing an art studio.  I went in, found out they did clay, and waaaaaaaaaaay in the back had a wheel.  A kickwheel.

I had to ponder trying that, but in fact went back the next afternoon to start a class.  The class started with my having to haul the wheel from the back to this sunnier place right in a doorway and then smearing my own wet clay on a plaster bat to dry in the sun for 15 minutes before I peeled it up and wedged it myself.

When I told some Eastern Market potter friends about the kickwheel, they said, “It’s more meditational,” and “I liked how quiet it was — I could listen to birds and throw.”  Those are both piles of crap, Holly, Sara and Jenny.  Using a kickwheel is not for the uncoordinated.  You want your upper body stable to center the clay and pull it up, and you can’t do that when one leg is flailing about erratically, can you?  By definition you are throwing yourself off balance at 100 RPMs.

All I could manage so far were four small bowls and 10 buckets of sweat.


Since then, while those little masterpieces were drying,  I visited Atzompa, just outside Oaxaca, a town known for its green-glazed pottery (all the industries are segregated that way).  There I walked around a couple of the work yards, behind the shops, and saw the gal at the top there, the mother of a potter who seemed to be doing a lot of work for him, schlepping his pots from the drying lot up to the kiln.  He has worked all his life kicking the wheel.

This is what Oliver Sacks says about Oaxacan pottery:  The clay needs three weeks to dry.  There is not glazing, but rather a sort of polishing, with what looks like a lump of quartz, then the pottery is fired at 800°F in a closed oven, which restricts the oxygen available.  This causes the metallic oxides within the clay to convert to their metallic form, and the pottery will take on a brilliant sheen with this. The ores in the area are especially rich in iron and uranium—I will be interested, when I return home, to see if these pots are magnetic, and to test them for radioactivity with a Geiger counter.

In fact, I did “glaze” my little pots, but in a primitive way.  The studio has no kiln, so they’re off being fired at someone else’s place now.

ImageYou’ll never see these again.