Monthly Archives: March 2013

No Picture Tonight…

I promised you a picture of the New York Bead Show, but there won’t be any picture tonight.  Here’s why…

Bodies still were on west coast time last night after Pam and I worked the first day of the show.  We’re here in the oh-so-convenient and mildly grimy Hotel Pennsylvania, where there is no highdef TV but plenty of hot water.  We watched two movies last night and finally went to sleep about 11:30 body time.

Somehow, the alarm didn’t get set and we woke up at 6:45 PST, exactly 15 minutes before the show opened here at 10:00 AM.  HOLY SHIT!  We were out of the hotel in 5 minutes, and in a cab headed downtown in two more minutes.  We arrived at the show with our first customers.

A digression….  the cabby was among the most exotic I have ridden with in the City.  He was slight, green-eyed, and had graying hair that was henna orange where it curled out of his linen cap.  The cap was pale gold, embroidered with silver thread. His English was accented but good; alas, there was no time to politely enquire about his country of origin, whether he had family in NY, etc.  Sigh….

I went at once to the tiny French deli up the street for lattes.  Sugar! I delivered a chocolate croissant and latte to Pam, and then zipped around the corner for water.  By the time I returned, Pam had removed the table covers and there were people waiting in line to purchase and people waiting for me to return to cut leather and chain to length for them. Of course, in NY people wait ON line, not IN line…..

That’s my job at the show, to cut materials and help people design bracelets for themselves.  It’s really fun, because I am only a bead-show roadie twice a year, and only in New York.    I also get to play with all of the bracelet materials… that’s the best part.  Usually if I make a new bracelet, one or two people will choose the same components, maybe with another color of leather, and purchase materials to make one like mine.  Nothing so spontaneous in a pottery booth…

We were slammed.  I first asked someone what time it was about 3:15….  I had 4 to 6 people at my table, waiting for cutting or help with bracelets all day.  I have to explain the sizes of the components – which ones are for which type of leather.  We have fat, flat, d-profile, which people have ignored, 5mm round, matte slim, thirty colors of Greek leather, and fat leather with bling-bling.  Today, a very agreeable black woman about my age patiently explained to me that it was not correct to use Bling in the singular, it was Bling-Bling or nothing.  Thank God!  I am so grateful that there are people here willing to serve as cultural interpreters…

I wanted to take a picture of this gleeful ephemeral commerce for y’all but never had a minute free to do so. I never even took my camera out of my handbag until we were ready to leave at 6:15.   No texts or missed calls all day, the myth of my irreplaceability was shattered once again.  But it was a great relief to learn that life in Cornelius was continuing as I know it…  Miguel didn’t text to ask about work assignments or what plants could be moved outdoors to make space.  My neighbor Richard, who keeps my dawglet Chi, didn’t even send me a text demanding joint custody, which he usually does when he keeps her while I am at away.

After the happy show accounting, we took a taxi to a ramen house in the Village that a friend recommended.  It was packed with people drinking and talking, and we were told that it would be a two to three hour wait.  What?

Around the corner, we had excellent miso soup, tempura, crab cakes, and sushi followed by a divine dessert where delicate crepes interlayered with green tea crème were stacked until the concoction took the form of cheesecake.  Schlag – whipped cream for those of you who haven’t read any detective stories set in Vienna – was mounded on top, delicious!

Off to Strands Book Store, where new and used and new reside together as at Powells, and thence home to Hotel PA.  Visitors or natives, dressed alike in black hoodies, Knicks caps, and tats; along with their voluptuous consorts in crazy high heels, skin tight jeans and lavish boobage, are reveling in the streets tonight several floors below our window……


Lights by night….

I have a little request…  I want a new kind of game to come into existence.  This would not a game for everyone, although there could be many potential players. Flying from Seattle to New York last evening, I was more interested in looking out the window than in playing a card game on my laptop. I realized that I want a game where you look at night aerial photographs of towns and cities, and answer questions about what you see.  For example, where the heck is it? Points could be awarded for recognition of geographic features, and for identifying built objects like stadiums, racetracks, and airports.

Or maybe there could be a game where you could build your own cityscapes by night.  Players could have a velvet black game board that filled their computer screen and a tool set of sparkling lights of various colors – linear, circular, bright and dim. Think of this…  the game could be to reconstruct your own city on the black screen with light components…  and the computer could score your depiction.  I am imagining the Willamette and the Columbia as first components, the island to the east that marks the edge of Portland airspace, Swan Island, etc, and the swing to the north the Columbia makes before it pours into the Pacific.

I have loved looking city lights for many years, and they are now more beautiful than ever to me.  I believe, and this will have to be confirmed, that some sort of new city lighting technology – possibly municipal LED lighting – has added a fabulous coppery gold color into the patterns of city lights.  I see them in marvelous curvilinear subdivision arrays – even from 30,000 feet – and they greatly enliven the complexity of light strewn across the nocturnal landscape.

My former father-in-law, F.G. Steele, was a great fan of author Oswald Spengler.  He used to quote from his book, Decline of the West, with some regularity; and was particularly fond of the Spengler’s observation that the only real art of the 20th century is the cityscape by night.

I remember him quoting this as we were at the top of the Fremont Bridge one beautiful summer evening twenty or more years ago, with the lights of Portland twinkling in the dusk as we crossed over the Willamette River.  Adolf Hitler was also fond of Spengler, which hasn’t helped his reputation among the literate.  I don’t know if the cityscape of lights is the ONLY real art of the 20th century, but it certainly ranks high for me, particularly when compared with some of the installation art I’ve seen recently.  Of course, this isn’t even the dang twentieth century any more, sigh.

Last night I was looking at the patterns of light – relentlessly original and unique, and incredibly beautiful in their randomness – and wishing that there was some way that I could capture this ephemeral glory and make it part of my own art in in some manner.  The design vocabulary of pottery surface imagery is so drab, so small, so chromatically insignificant at cone 10, and with the withering salt, that I think I will have to stay with words.

In the 90’s, I learned to fly and had a private VFR license, which authorized me to fly about in rented airplanes as long as I stayed away from clouds.  Flying at night was not approved by rental companies for low-time renter pilots, so the only time I could fly at night was in the company of my instructor, Andy.  He was a wild guy, and on approach he would shriek “Just put that center line right up the crack of your ass!”

But I had to be checked out on night landings to get my license, so one spring night we flew north following I-5.   Andy instructed me how to use the second microphone in the minimal stack of the tiny Tomahawk to turn on the pilot-activated lighting at the Woodland, Washington, airport, which lies right along the freeway to Seattle.

It’s pure magic.  You approach an unattended airport, which you know to be there even though you can’t see it. Then, you do this thing with your secondary radio – set the frequency to a number from a little book of essential information for Oregon airports that rests in your lap.  Then, you “key the mike” – tap it a specified number of times – and like a beautiful visual marimba beyond your experience  the glowing blue runway lights come on before you.  It’s incredible, and for a moment I could imagine myself to be a sailor of the ocean of air recognizing her home port, and felt a flood of assurance and comfort that safety had been won once more.

Who will play these games with me?  Other pilots, GIS geeklets, who knows?  I’ll let you all know when the games are ready….

Porcelain – the risks and rewards considered…..

I’ve been looking at those porcelain pots for a couple of days now.  The best of them were priced and packed off to my show yesterday.  During the process of sanding the traces of wadding from each foot, and checking for the “salt glitter” that sometimes pokes out of the glaze like a tiny nail, I had plenty of time to reflect on their qualities. I like them a lot, the good ones.  There are about six pots – two plates, two open bakers, and a couple of bowls,  that are warped to a degree that is pretty crazy.  They’re not just warped, the entire piece softened and slumped over the wads in a manner that I couldn’t have imagined.  They are not from the hottest part of the kiln, which produced perfect porcelain cups with the cone pack recording a top temperature somewhat north of Cone 11. Cup 1I’ll be keeping this particular cup…  it’s a form I like – unfussy – and I like the flicker of cobalt that fumed out of the top.  There wasn’t as much cobalt fuming as I anticipated, but I can definitely see tiny dots of pink that I has gotta be copper that was circulating through the kiln on several of the pots.  At worst, it looks like pink dirt because it wants to be orange peel as much as it wants to be copper, pretty interesting…. Dogwood Tea Thrown SmallThis little two-cup teapot show some of the copper contamination, but not enough to be icky.  There are a few pieces where I simply missed a glaze dribble; not a good thing when the glaze is dark blue and the pots is naked white. Geo Box (2)The hand built pots came through just fine.  There was a little bit of that “squeezed” effect at the top that sometimes happens in high fire hand building, but not enough to make the pot a second.  There were four big rectangular vases…  all are nice. Med Thrown Tea PThis teapot was one of the nicest pots in the load.  Somehow I feel like the white surface; the modest gloss; the dense, almost milk-glass like quality of the surface – there’s a property to the skin of this work I can’t quite describe – moves me closer to what whatever it is that I am really wanting to make.  You know, closer to those pots you see when your eyes are closed. warpedBut then there’s this….  wild warping.  On the other side of this ceramic frisbee is some of the most beautiful carving I have ever done.  BAH!  I didn’t even mentioned that the casserole lids slumped over their wads, autodestructing and spoiling three otherwise perfect pieces…. Enough snivelling!  There will probably be more white pots…. especially if those Exceptionally Special, Clever, Educated, and Generous people who buy my pottery want to pay money for it.  I will trial other porcelains, no doubt, and maybe I’ll find a perfect porcelain for my salt kiln.

Ginger, terrified, plays with fire again…..

It’s been twenty-four hours since I salted my kiln and shut it down last night, and the temperature is still about 900 degrees on top.  It was a good firing, with a steady climb to 2250 F, the temperature I like to reach for salting.  Last evening, I had a friend over who has worked with clay for many years.  It was fun to explain my process and a bit about the history of salt firing as I understand it.  She also took some pictures while I was at work… here’s the best one.

Salting the Kiln


I’ve got my respirator on, and the port brick is in my left hand. I just pushed the burrito of salt into the kiln with the stick in my right hand.  Usually there’s not so much flare-out, but my delay in stuffing the port brick back in made for a more dramatic photo.  At that point, it was about 9:30 at night, many hours since I began the firing at 6:00 AM.

The first hours of the firing are quiet.  It’s dark, and the grass is crisp with frost when I go out to the propane tank to turn the gas valve full on.  I have placed the burner stands and burners in position, and their needle valves are firmly closed.  Righty-tighty..  The main ball valve that supplies the kiln is checked closed as well; my Mom’s pipe wrench at the ready to open it.  Dear readers, are any of you fortunate enough to possess your Mothers’ pipe wrench?

Little Blue TongueIn the first hours, the burners are quiet and the kiln makes no sound.  I have nice Hones nozzles that make for a beautiful flame.  I keep a firing log where I record every detail of the firing, logging in the temperatures returned by the top and bottom thermocouples every thirty minutes.  I have cone packs in the kiln, but rely on the thernocouples and the state of the kiln to conduct the firing.

All the protocols of the firing must be carefully observed each time I fire.  It helps me to not be afraid.  I have blown up a kiln; a natural gas caternary arch kiln, and the memory comes to fire with me each time I light up another kiln.  Intellectually, I understand what happened on that Sunday morning long ago, and know that I will never blow up a gas kiln again.  Still, I think of it.  With this kiln, I am most apprehensive at top temperature, when tiny flames lick out of cracks here and there, and I try to estimate the temperature of the 2 x 6’s just a few feet about the arch.  An insulating brick layer and generous kaowool blankets swaddle the arch, providing nearly 15 inches of insulation between the hardbrick hot face and the top of the kiln.  My next kiln shed will be framed with metal; one less thing to worry about.

This load is half stoneware, decorated and painted in my usual manner, and half pure white porcelain.  It’s my little experiment; pots for the Making White show at Valley Art this coming weekend.  I’ve been blogging about these pots, and have really enjoyed making them in spite of the usual problems with porcelain – mostly, a narrow time window to do attachments.  The clay  – Georgie’s Crystal Springs – is obedient, and is a very pleasant throwing clay.  It reclaims well.  I’ve lost quite a few handbuilt pieces, though. It doesn’t like to stay bent and must be dried very slowly.  Nonetheless, half the kiln is white porcelain work.  There isn’t even a flashing slip on it, and it’s glazed within with beautiful flambe blue glaze that yields a glossy, functional lining for cups and casseroles.

A couple of years ago, I fired about six porcelain pieces made in this manner in my salt kiln. Everyone who comes to the studio admires them, so I thought I might someday make enough to sell.  I don’t feel that I can take the porcelain pots to my juried shows, because they will be so different from my jury images.  Some may make it to Showcase, where we OPA members get to show whatever we like.

I kept the white pots together in the kiln, as much as I could, because I  am concerned about all the cobalt that circulates in my kiln during a firing.  Some of the first few porcelain pots show signs of copper flashing, which is rather pretty.  The main source of copper was actually from the flambe blue liner itself, which contains a lot of copper carbonate. I am really eager to see how much pigment moves onto these pots, even though it may spoil them.  Ah, science….  It’s got to be wild in there; 400,000 BTU’s per hour rearranging the molecules of mud.

Here’s the stack – you can see the white pots at the top and bottom.


Tomorrow about 11:00 AM, I will take out the thermocouples, and with a mallet knock the channel iron bars that hold the door shut out of their rests.  I’ll pull the door, which hangs from a heavy iron I-beam,  carefully out of the kiln about 5 inches so a space is made at the top for heat to escape,  The kiln temperature will still be over 500 F when I start to move the door.  It’s very hard not to pull it out far enough to have a peek into the chamber, but I’ll be resolute.  At 5 PM, I will draw the work and see what useful, and hopefully beautiful, pots have come into the world.