Monday, April 28, 2008

one week to go?

Hey Y'all,
Again, I'm sorry not to be posting as often as blogging etiquette commands, but damn - pottery camp is making me crazy busy. This past weekend has been amazing though, we loaded a whole bunch of big pots into a big kiln and lit it on fire. It is still burning as I write this. I had a stoking shift last night from 10pm to 4am after which I had to do some more work in the studio so that I had some pots ready to load into a different wood kiln. I crashed around 6:30 am for about two hours just in time to be late for my dishes work-study shift at 8:30. As we're turning the corner into the home stretch of this two-month class, all of us are working flat out to finished projects and fire kilns and clean the studio. It's a bit hectic and disheveled, but so much fun.
Here's some other stuff that's happening:
-Yesterday I traded a mug for a sweet belt buckle made by a student in the iron forging class.
-Saturday night a bunch of us went drinking at the Moose Lodge Club, you know like an Elks club or a VFW. It was karaoke night. All the locals there, which is to say everyone except our group, could sing some serious Hank Williams, Jr. I was impressed. I walked away with a buzz and an application for membership.
-Before the Moose Lodge, our class had an art exhibition opening at a really nice gallery in Bakersville called The Crimson Laurel. It was a fancy event and a lot of fun. Our teachers gave a slide show/lecture on what our class was doing and why, etc. I'm going to try and get the slide show images up on here if possible. A huge thanks goes to the gallery owners, who agreed to put a bunch of student pots into their first rate ceramics gallery.

Well that's all for now, more pictures to come.

Monday, April 14, 2008

a new approach

Except for the first three weeks of the very first ceramics class I took, I've always been a wheel throwing potter, but this week I tried my hand at some slab work. My teachers, Michael Hunt and Naomi Dalglish, do lot's of slab work and this week demonstrated some of their techniques. Now, where I work (Laura Zindel Ceramics) I roll slabs for platters and dishes, but this week I learned a new way to make slabs by slicing up a big chunk of clay creating five or six slabs at a time.
This tall bottle is about ten or eleven inches tall and it's pretty wonky. The right angles from my sketch turned into odd angles in the actual piece, but overall I was pleased with this one.

Next, I tried a flat but round form seen here.

Once the piece was leather-hard I brushed on an iron-bearing slip that will fire dark under the lighter white slip then carved through it to make the design.

Magnetitus of the Mountain Mine

Last Tuesday, April 7th, Josh, Maya and I went on a trip to find an old abandoned iron mine rumored to be in the area near Penland. Following Jeff Supplee's (he's a geologist potter who has done a lot of work with making glazes with locally sourced materials, i.e. rocks) directions we drove north on route 19 and stopped at the gas station in Cranberry to inquire about this iron mine. We saw this sign which we took as a good omen of the mine's proximity. We followed the simple directions and within the hour we found ourselves looking into a hole in the earth.

Thanks be to Josh Copus for providing these photos of our prospecting.

A word about why we undertook this trek: the focus of this class as well as the mentality of the teachers and assistants is that going out in your back yard to find your materials is A) pretty awesome and B) old school. A lot of potters can go their whole lives using commercially/industrially procured materials, which is fine if that's what they're into. I don't mean to be preachy or holier than thou, I'm just getting excited about the prospects of using materials that are locally specific. It is an aesthetic choice as much as it is decision to make everything harder, ie dig clay, find the right rocks, process wood ash, etc.
Now, about this mine: iron is a very common metal oxide in the potter's pallet. We use iron in glazes to get certain colors, or in clay bodies to give them a certain color for contrast. This mine is known to have a certain iron oxide called magnetite or ferrous ferric oxide or Fe3O4; it is not a common iron oxide for potters and it's kinda hard to find, but we hope to use it as a pigment for decoration on the surface of the pots. The coolest thing about this trip and the coolest thing about magnetite is that as the name would suggest it is magnetic. To figure out which piece of rock in the mine was truly magnetite we brought with us a couple of magnets to hunt for the right rocks. Whatever stuck to the magnet we threw in a sack to haul back to Penland (that stuff is heavy). We found places in the mine were whole sections of wall would hold the magnet, just like a refrigerator.

The mine itself was pretty awesome, apparently it goes a couple of miles into the earth although we only explored the very mouth having forgot flashlights.

These are some of the larger rocks we brought back. It's hard to make out, but you can see the magnet we used stuck to the hunk of magnetite.

Here's Maya and myself holding up a chunk of the day's find.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Off the Mountain

This past weekend I finally left the pottery camp and back to the real world for 24 hours. It was awesome. I stayed with friends, Will and Katy, in West Asheville and on Sunday stopped by my pal Josh Lynch's diggs. He runs a carnivorous plant nursery and raises up some pretty rad plants. I took some photos, but they seem to be pretty washed out. Pictured are pitcher plants and their flowers as well as a sundew plant. Check out his website for more and accurate info.

Later on Sunday I stopped by the Matt Jones Pottery. Matt's studio and home is in the beautiful Sandy Mush Valley in Leicester, NC just west of Asheville. He was kind enough to show me around his studio, kiln, glass crusher, ball mill and goats on his one relaxed day of the week.

As I drove back to Penland in time for dinner, I felt rested and ready to get back to work. The next month is gonna be pretty full. Michael and Naomi are coming back to teach the class for the last month and our schedule is pretty full with demonstrations, glaze testing and making, and kiln loading and firing. David Stuempfle returned home this past weekend but will be back for the last week of the session. He'll be missed during his absence, but we're gonna be busy pottery bees these next few weeks.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Our First Wood Firing!

Wow. I'm way behind on my updates - my apologies.
So a week and a half ago we loaded up and fired Penland's two-chambered wood kiln.

Pictured here are glazed wares ready to get loaded into the chambers. Maya Machin, our awesome teaching assistant is in the green vest.

Pots get categorized by size and stacked onto shelves with other like-sized pieces.

Here you can see the first chamber of pots almost full. Before the pieces get placed into the kiln they get "wadded." We put little wads of alumina and clay onto the feet of each pieces so that it doesn't get stuck to the kiln shelf during the firing. That is something that is unique in a wood kiln. Because the flame from the wood is laden with flying wood ashes which at high temperature will land every where in the kiln and melt we need a way to easily separate the vessels from the shelves afterwards. That's also the reason that the shelves look white, we paint the shelves with a similar wash of alumina and silica.

Here's a video of my class mates, Zvi and Kim applying wadding. Maya makes a cameo as well.

The firing itself lasted about 36 hours; we started on a Thursday around 10 am and finished around 10 pm on Friday. Pictured here is Josh Copus, our other awesome teaching assistant pulling pots out of the fire box.

Crap!, this video is sideways. Well, it's a video of Josh stoking the kiln with wood. We do this A LOT during the firing.

Unloading happened on the following Monday. Pictured is the first chamber just after the door was unbricked.

Below are some of the results. Left to right: a tall bottle vase by Maya Machin, a curvaceous vase by James Ward, an aeroplane bottle of mine, and a snail jar of mine as well.

Local potter, Michael Kline, stopped by to see some of our pots and posted some pictures on his blog here.