Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dear John

I sent your saddle home. My friend John Chalke passed away this week. John was a ex-pat Brit turned Alberta cowboy. John was very proud of his home on the range and triumphed the pots of his new country Canada. I remember I was invited to do a panel discussion in Calgary and John was to meet me at the airport. Never having met him I saw this cowboy wearing a red denim jacket which was my clue that this was an artist cowboy. It was John and the love of his life Barbara Tipton that encouraged me to put pen to paper. John was the real deal and said things of pots and potters that all else thought but never dared to say.
Here are a couple of pots of Johns. The Red Bridge and the Blue  Pan and nice examples of his glaze exploration.

We were so lucky to have you cowboy!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A perfectly good box of clay

Ok I stole the title from John Hiatt's "Perfectly good guitar" were he laments these rock stars burning a perfectly good guitar. I just wonder how many perfectly good boxes of clay have been burned into making something horrible.
I pay tribute today to clay legend Don Reitz. I used to see Don at NCECA. He was a very handsome figure of a man. I always admired his turquoise belt buckle. To me it said a lot about the man and where he was from. His enthusiasm for clay was infectious.
I have often quoted this line that I heard was accredited to him when he was teaching on the 2nd floor of a building at the University of Wisconsin. He said " They carry a ton of clay upstairs and a ton of shit downstairs." I guess that is why he quit and spent his life making great work in the mud pits. We have a large 100lb plus salt glazed planter of Don's at Sheridan. Because he didn't like to fly he drove to Sheridan. Because he was late he phoned to tell them to load the salt kiln and get it started but to leave some room for a few pots. He arrived, made some pots, picked them up with raku gloves and put in the red hot kiln soaking wet. I'm not suggesting you trey this!!!!

Everyone in the room was terrified they would explode. Nope- the old master had done it before and voila!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Roland the headless Thompson gunner

Thompson gunner for hire. I am now hearing from all those that think they have the answers to "Where have all the potters gone!" They all have their fingers on the trigger and want to blow off your head. Our panel didn't provide answers???? Ya it did! Go work for a potter, clean their toilets,
mow the lawn, do what ever it takes to hang out with potters.  Lisa is raising money thru Adopt a Potter to give to students that want to do just that.  I told everyone to move to Detroit and make pots where it is cheap. Did they think I was joking?
 I must say the older I get the less I know. Maybe I see the grande picture from all different sides now. In my youth I was more dogmatic and felt there was one path to follow and I preached it. I now think there are many paths to follow. Here is something my former student and wood fire hot shot Emma Smith wrote on FB yesterday "Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize" - Robert Hughes. The very best students I have taught "git it".

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Keep on truckin"

It seems there is better dialogue happening on my blog than the questions we received at the NCECA panel discussion. I have several essays in my new book "Stuck in the Mud" that address studio pottery past, present and future. I spoke to the fact that potters have always gone to cheap areas, gentrified that area and then it is too expensive so they find somewhere else. I moved to the country and grew weird. Started a house and studio with $7500. I suggested to the youth of today to keep on truckin' and move to Motown. Yes you can buy a house for $7500 in Uptown, Motown. Artists from the world over are moving there. Yes, it is probably a scarey place  but so are areas of my beloved Toronto. Hey there is comfort in numbers and as more move to Uptown it too will become gentrified, trendy and the place to be. I happen to believe in the word "Energy". Energy in people and the stuff you put in your car. The later is going to become more expensive and will create energy in areas that have been neglected like the Rust Belt. You can take that advice to the bank.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Da Blues

Well fellow mudslingers I know you have been waiting for my reflections on NCECA. I also know ya can't fly on a plane to Whereever America,  afford to stay in a luxury hotel, drink $8 whiskies and eat at overpriced restaurants. I get it! Most of the educators present are being paid to be there, as well as having expenses covered and the pots they sell are money to top up the wine cellar. I did pay tribute to y'all in my talk and will write about you in my next book entitled "The Unknown Potters". But then you won't be unknown will ya?
If ya want a precis of my talk at NCECA I included two essays in my book "Stuck in the Mud". I kept changing my mind as to what to address. I started with plastics and technology in one essay and moved over to a weak foundation in ceramic education and instant gratification in another. Dunno!
After the talk I heard that I should have addressed Health Care as that is keeping potters poor or searching out jobs bennies. I also heard it was the shrinking middle class that was created by union jobs. To address this I might have been shot by a t party member and there could have been a brawl out there with Republicans and Democrates. I may be handsome but I'm not stupid.
One thing about my return from Whereever America is I am always a bit blue about my work. I come home thinking I should make better work. I get in a slump for awhile but that is not a bad thing. I think it good to be placed on the  pedestal that Robin "Grass" Hopper occupies and then come home to the reality of paying for the butter, the phone, the insurance and life in general. I repeat this time and time again in Stuck in the Mud- if it were easy, everyone would be doing it!!!
Here is a blue drawing for y'all. t
PS: Hey I'm still pimping my new book "Stuck in the Mud". Gotta pay for those $8 whiskies somehow! 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Stuck in the Mud

I didn’t want to pimp my new book before I went to NCECA  I wanted to be home where I could field your questions and attend to business. I self published a book of irreverent tales, BS and nonsense dedicated to the wonderful clay community that I have been a part of my entire lifetime. Got a very special forward from “Grass” Hopper. I did include two essays I wrote for the “Where have all the potter’s gone” panel. I could have written a couple more. My thoughts change daily as those of you that read my blog know. These essays are about 5 years effort.
If ya want some food for thought, some horseshit and some good practical advice on making a living as a potter/educator give it a read. There are over 40 essays like I used to write for Clay Times and Contact magazine.
Send me an email  giving me your email and your snail addy. The book is $20 plus $4 shipping and handling. I’ll bill ya on Pay Pal. Never had a potter stiff me yet. I've had gallery owners that have been unscrupulous but potter's integrity you can take to the bank.
It has been a gift to be part of this community.

I am the walrus!

I am he as you are he as you are me
and we are all together.
Well I'm back from herding the 30 cats from Sheridan College to NCECA in Milwaukee where I impersonated Robin "Grass" Hopper on a panel along with Mark Hewitt of NC and Lisa Hammond of the UK titled" Where have all the potter's gone?" I got elevated to Big Dog status due to Grass not being able to travel.
I was asked after how the panel went? I answered how would I know you tell me! I know when I finished there was that inevitable self questioning of the woulda, shoulda, coulda's. I must say I was disappointed in the questions from the audience. One in particular took the opportunity to tell the entire room about herself.
So in a nutshell the feedback I got was that there wasn't a genuine American on the panel and if there was health care and the disappearing middle class would have been addressed. To be honest it is not that I don't think of health care when traveling to the US. I always get travel insurance because of the horror stories I have heard about getting sick or hurt over the border. Here at home in C eh N eh D eh I'm safe and sound.
My take on the panel was there is a crumbling of the foundation of the craft by the lack of teaching a skill based program. Pots are being made from the shoulders up. But that said the best pots in my 62 year old history are being made today. Why is that? Because if you tell us that we can't do something we find a way to do it. Craft and making a living at craft has always been hard. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. I ended on a note of optimism - Move to Motown! Go where it is cheap and make pots, Make lots of pots.
Tomorrow what I came away with in my head from NCECA.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Got one!

It has been over 30 years since I spent the summer in Ross on Wye, Upton Bishop, Herefordshire at Wobage Farm in Wales the home and workshop of Mick and Sheila Casson. This was no doubt the most important early period of study for me. I was elated this morning to receive an invitation to be a presenter at the Ceramics Festival at Aberystwyth in Wales on July of 2015.
I have always wanted to attend this festival and the honour of being a presenter is beyond amazing for me. This is the premier potters festival in the UK. This is one of those apples at the top of the tree I have been on about. I won't eat the entire apple. I'll carve it up and make a pie for all of you.
I will share the festival with all potters past and present whose broad shoulders I have stood on to reach that apple. I will depend on the future potters( my students) to steady me and hold me up.
Now I have to learn another language. The Welsh are pretty dang adamant that they are not British and they have their own language. Try as I might I could never get the hang of the ll. Ya gotta do something weird with your tongue and it comes out more like a "th". I'm more comfortable saying y'all (yawl) and even then the southerners know I'm an imposter.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Veggies versus meat

I promised I would post a pic of a jar by my favourite potter Richard Batterham. He makes what I call a celery handle. It looks like a piece of celery bent over backwards. I am from the Cardew school of handle making. Cardew maintained that a good handle “ought to have a backbone”. Meat versus veggies. I am a meat man.   I have broken two Batterham pots in my life and both almost brought a tear to my eye. One was my favourite dinner plate that was used daily. The other was a faceted bowl. The bowl I would lay on the couch with usually at this time of year. I would feel the foot, the rim , stare at the glaze and wonder if I would ever be able to make such a fine bowl. That bowl always inspired me to keep making pots even when it didn’t look like I could hold on much longer.  
Getting his jar down off the cupboard today made me feel like making pots. That is the magic of a great pot!  It makes you want to be a better potter.

Low Hanging Fruit

It is easy money to pick the low hanging fruit. You don’t have to stretch. You don’t have to make the effort to climb the tree or fetch a ladder. You just walk around and pick fruit. Heck , if you are lazy enough just wait and it will fall off and land on the ground before you.  This is often wormy fruit while the best is at the top of the tree. Many are afraid of the hard work to climb to the top of the tree to get the best fruit. I told Stoner this weekend at the t-pot course I imagine there is lots of room at the top since few venture to climb there. I’m afraid of heights so I climb half way up and then jump down again. I don’t know how many times in this life time I’m going to try to climb that dang tree.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Da man!

Yesterday Bill Van Gilder posted some sexy looking jars with nice strap handles. I can tell he was British trained. When I look at potters work that I like from the UK - Phil Rogers, Mike Dodd, and Jim Malone I can't help but think that all including Bill have been looking at the work of Richard Batterham. For my money he is "da man" in UK Ceramics. Tomorrow I will show one of his jars with a nice strap handle.
But today here is one of his butter dishes. Chattering for Dan, ash glaze for Dick and inspiration for me. If Richard Batterham the potter's potter so can make butter dishes then so can I. I showed my double handle this weekend at the teapot workshop I did at Pinecroft. I turned my back for two seconds and Stoner my mentee did a triple. It was really, really nice. It is now his! I did a half double with a twist. In figure skating if ya can't do a quad you ain't nobody!

I am working up to that!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Be narrow!

I was intrigued by the story of the Hiut Denim Company in Wales. Here is a quote from their website:
"The things that define you are not just the things that you do, but the things you say no to. Saying no is focus. We only make jeans. We say no to anything else. Be narrow. Be good.
The company has married being a Luddite(making things by hand) and being a geek. You can record the history of your jeans for posterity thru a registered # and their website.
They only make jeans but they are the very best jeans they can. Is this not the role model that we as potters should follow? Be narrow!!!!!!! I remember when I went to Wales to study with Mick Casson and he asked me what I made. I rhymed off a list of things numbering in the dozens. He just about peed himself with laughter. Mick made jugs!!! I remember filling his two chambered wood kiln with over 150 jugs. No bowls, no plates, no teapots- JUGS! Is it any wonder that Mick was known the world over for his jugs???????
Go on their webpage and read the story htttp://
They also give a plug for other makers that think narrow. A knife maker in Manhattan- loved his story too!
So the next time a customer asks you to make a cup for a friend with a big nose- just say NO!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Pots not pieces!

I am thrilled to be the juror for an International Show of Tableware. Ya that means pots not pieces. I actually gag at the reference to pieces versus pots. It sounds so pretentious! A bit like studio versus workshop.  In his wisdom Blair Meerfield has opened this show up to an international audience. I sure hope that the wide reach of Facebook shakes the bushes for some of the world's best pot makers to enter. I can't wait to see the pots. Hey Canada- do me proud and send some of your best. Ya got very stiff competition south of the 49th parallel.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Show me your best, America!

It is my great pleasure to be jarred between John Neely and Linda Christianson on the table of Allison and Blair's home. I see Allison and Blair peering over my shoulder.  Thanks to Blair for inviting me to jury this National Tableware Show at get this "The Torpedo Factory". Now that's a bomb and that makes me the T-bomb.
I'm going to love looking at all the great pots and then spending some time with these two awesome makers. I maintain the best work ever being made is being made right now. Show me your very best, America. I can hardly wait!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Preparing for class

Next weekend begins the first of the courses at Pinecroft Centre for the Arts and I'm in the drivers seat with a course entitled "The Artful Teapot".
Here is what I plan to cover over the two days.

I hope everyone will go home with 4 or 5 teapots.
Drop in lip
Hang over lid
Capped lid
thrown spout
pulled spout
hand built spout.
Thrown teapot- roundie and straightie
Partly hand built/thrown teapot
Coffee pot
Coffee pot spout
So I had to go through the process of the partly hand built/thrown teapot as I haven't made them for several years. They are a great way to get a lot of texture in that middle section. Getting the proportions of the side walls and then the spout had me chopping a few up. The first spout was waaaaaaaay to long so I did some surgery to the template. If ya can throw some little bowls and a lid ya got a teapot with this method.
The following weekend is the "Size Matters" course. It was full but a few dropped out so I have room for a couple. I think size intimidates many. It shouldn't as many of the bigware potters I know are small.