It’s been many weeks since I worked in my studio, and it’s time to get in there again and make some pots. I’ve been sulking about my clay problem all spring, and did not have the response the new white porcelain work that I had hoped for at my only show so far in 2013.
Here’s the Clay Problem – a stoneware clay that had been completely great for years for handbuilding and throwing both is no longer reliable. Last year, I had five teapots returned because they broke when hot water was poured into them. A few weeks ago, a regular customer brought a cup back that popped and pinged – and leaked! – the first time that boiling water was poured into it. And dozens of pieces have broken in the bisque. I had been thinking that it was just the stress of carving that was making the pots susceptible to breaking in the bisque…
At Oregon Potters Association Ceramic Showcase last month, I asked a employee of the company that makes the clay in question if there had been any changes to the formulation or problems with the clay. As soon as he began to speak – slowly, without eye contact; weighing every word – I knew something was up… so this morning I spent an hour purging my pugmill and setting up to work with B-Mix. I have used it off and on for years as a second clay; it’s fairly soulless but reliable. And teapots made from it don’t break when you put hot water into them, sigh….
When I have gone into the studio in past weeks, I’ve mostly wanted to make dinky little things. This mood comes upon me from time to time, usually when I am troubled by stress or indecision. When I was sewing for hours each day in the decades before clay became my drug of choice, I would occasionally be stricken with the need to apply minuscule polka-dot piping to every finished edge or dither around with appliques of chickens. I think it’s hereditary. I still have some hand-crocheted doll clothes that my old Mum used to make when she was a night-nurse a lifetime ago in Walla Walla.
I recently been fixated on French butter crocks, a favorite dinky thing. I sell about 20 each year, not a lot, but the people who want them really love the dang things. If you’re not familiar with them, there’s a crazy deep lid which holds the butter, and extends into a base. Water is placed into the base, and prevents the butter from becoming rancid – the whole point is that the thing can sit out on the counter, keeping the butter soft but preventing spoilage, cat-licking, fly-landing, and other depredations of kitchen fauna. There are issues of fit and size with lid and base, but they are easy to throw and fun to decorate. There were some at Showcase for $17, but I still managed to sell some of my ridiculously overpriced ones for $72. Thank God for the educated!
The part that bothers me is that you have to soften the butter first, and then pack it into the lid. One of my more eccentric regulars, who shall remain unnamed just in case, has ordered up several rectilinear handbuilt French crocks for gifts in recent years. They were really fun to decorate! But I’ve been thinking – why not size them so a stick of butter plops right in, ending the softening-squishing part of the deal. I had to work out the shrinkage, which is probably good for the old brain, and here they are.
I’ve also been doing some ultimate dinky-fying, making salt and pepper shakers. I resisted making them for years but now I really enjoy making the goofy little objects. Plus, they are free to fire. I usually extrude square stock and build from there, but these are made from little patterns. I made a really great set a few years ago, which had images of a man and a woman that I pressed into the clay with combinations of my regular stamps. I wish I had them back, have never made anything quite so fun since.These are quirky and pleasing in their own way. I believe I still must be under the influence of the tiny real-life gauchos I saw in southern Brazil a few years ago, here they are on the pottery….
I have a fire in my studio today.. it’s pouring cold rain outside. Tonight I will go in and start a new work cycle, lots of nice big casseroles. Maybe even some teapots…
And thanks to all you readers, and welcome to my new followers. I am honored!