I was recently asked to offer some input on how to decorate with ceramics for a blog post on Redfin called How to Deocorate with Ceramics and Bring your Interior to the Next Level. I was flattered to be asked. The article brings up some very interesting points with suggestions offered from artists and clay galleries around the U.S.
It really got me thinking about all the ways people decorate their homes and reminded me how grateful I am to be included in so many homes. However you choose to decorate I hope it brings you joy. If it happens to include a little something from our studio, that would be nice.
If you'd like to try your hand at bringing your own interior to the next level, we're currently running a free shipping special in our online store. Use the code BUGBITE21 at checkout through end of February and we'll pay for the shipping on orders over $30.
Late Summer is considered a season by many of the locals here in Western Massachusetts. Since I moved here over 25 years ago, I’ve come to see that it really is such. Even before I moved here, there was something special about the month of August. In my memories it signifies the promise of the best the garden has to offer, but also the coming end of the gardening season. August brings hot days but also cooler nights. Our county fair was always the high point of the summer but it also signaled the end of summer vacation and the coming fall.
In the studio we are hopping to make our garden variety pieces. These are the things that fall into the category of NOT: Not maple, not fern, not grass with Japanese maple. They are the designs we create with the leaves that are available in the moment--not the ones we collect and freeze for use in the botanically barren (but oh so cozy) winter months. We’re also gearing up for show season and will be collecting and freezing those leaves I just mentioned. Visit our Shows and Events page to see what we have coming up in August. It includes a working Open Studio (Saturday, August 11) with an invitation to learn about some chances to make plates with us.
My son will be turning 10 this year, and one conversational topic he frequently brings up is “favorites.” “What’s your favorite….” I always have a hard time with that. I tend toward the Pete Townsend song, “I Like Every Minute of the Day.” I never have been good at choosing a favorite season or color…or really anything (which also makes answering password security questions rather difficult). I can honestly say, however, that Late Summer is one of my favorite seasons.
After a whirlwind week of recovering from the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail and firing students' work for finals at my (relatively new) clay tech job at UMass Amherst, it's time to get the studio in shape for Open Studios this weekend! My fabulous assistants, Anna and Leah (who are rather camera-shy, or I'd put up a photo of them) actually did most of the set up while I went over to UMass this a.m. to unload one last kiln and sit in on a final critique. When I got to the studio, we really only had to unload things from my van that I'd taken to the Pottery Trail, and tweak some details. I appreciate the help of my assistants so much. After a spate of office work which piled up while I was doing other things, I took a spin around the room where we are usually either making, processing or glazing things. I noticed some interesting little images. The slab roller has some rather-less-than-successful (in my opinion) tiles we attempted, some left over plant stakes from a plant sale show I did a few years ago, some odd plates playing around with new colors and mugs and vases and a sign indicating which direction the slab is supposed to roll through the rollers. I also noted the juxtaposition of one of my show booth display units with some new items, next to my shelving that holds a lot of the "stuff" we use to keep things running around here, next to the open door to my kiln room. It takes a lot of process and tools to take clay from a lump to a plate, platter, bowl or vase. You can see some of the process if you look around during Open Studios.
The studio always looks so different when set up for Open Studios. I'm hoping some folks will remember or be able to come check it out and see if there's anything scattered around that really needs to come home with them.
Open Studio hours are:
Saturday, May 5th from 10-5
Sunday, May 6th from noon - 5.
What a great weekend at the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail. The two customers pictured in the middle here are fairly new customers (last few years) who live in Oklahoma. They traveled all the way to Western MA to meet with their friends (one pictured on the left) who are customers from a longer time ago and have a cabin in the Berkshires and first introduced them to Kaleidoscope Pottery. They actually planned a get-together timed so they could come see me on the Pottery Trail! I was just completely surprised and flattered...and I have to say it made a good weekend great. I love my customers and this was a really special treat, as I had never met Lynn and her husband in person (only online orders). Lynn (standing next to me) further flattered me by buying the teapot I made especially for the Pottery Trail (the only successful teapot I've created at Kaleidoscope Pottery thus far) so I was even more surprised. I love the connections I make with old and new customers. I feel so honored to be able to make the world a little better for tea, conversation, and a chance to get together with friends! Thanks to ALL who came out to the Pottery Trail!
Well, it's been awhile since I did a blog post. I sort of migrated to my Facebook business page for such things. Facebook has recently booted my business page for some reason yet to be determined (I swear I am not a Russian bot!). So I'm back to the blog, although I must say I never saw much evidence of folks reading my postings here. Need to try to get the word out, some way, so here I go.
Wanted to post about two shows back to back weekends (hence title "Show Storm") coming VERY soon. First is the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail April 28-29. A few members of my Potters Guild (The Asparagus Valley Potters Guild) host a pottery trail event every year. I'll be taking part as a guest at Steven Earp's this year at 15 Masonic Ave, Shelburne Falls 01370. It's a big weekend complete with an after hours party and lots of great pots for sale at various locations. Follow the link for details or to get tickets to the after hours party (the trail is free but you have to get a ticket to the after hours party).
The following weekend is Open Studios at 1 Cottage Street the home of Kaleidoscope Pottery. As a group we decided to hold our spring open studios event a bit earlier this year(for the past few decades it's been in June). I didn't realize I'd be doing the pottery trail when I voted yes to first weekend in May, but with Anna and Leah's help, we've got lots of pottery--plenty to go around for both weekends.
Head to my Show Schedule page for more the details, and if you've got a free day on either of these weekends, come visit me. We can have a moment of silence for my currently dead Facebook page (Thinking of holding a wake after I do these shows and figure out if it can be resurrected)!
Frequently, as I leave for a craft show, I say to my husband, “Honey, I’m going camping with my pottery now.” Potter being perhaps the second oldest profession, I believe that shortly after someone discovered fired clay’s amazing utility, they got the notion to drag it out to a field, set up a display and invite customers. So began (in my mind) the process of evolution that resulted in large groups of people going camping with the work they create.
My pottery and camping gear weigh upwards of 800 pounds. I try to arrive early to avoid rushing (which is harder on the body). Early arrival means I have a view of the empty space where the show will take place. To most people it probably just looks like a lot of artists setting up booths at the craft fair. To me, it always looks like people going camping with their art work.
When recreational camping, shelter is primary. This is the same when camping with pottery. I set my tent up and stake it down based on past experience. I err on the side of caution. My tent (and many other art camper’s tents) stayed in place during a hurricane many years ago. I ended up in the ICU after a tree branch fell on my head (kind of ironic, right?) en route to my sturdy booth. This is perhaps the topic for another entire blog post or two but in terms of camping, even in the hurricane, my tent withstood. I consider myself successful at the shelter part, anyway.
Once shelter is constructed and firmly anchored, it’s time to set up the interior. The recreational camper is usually making a place to rest. In camping with pottery, one sets up a gallery and store. Shaky tables and walls can result in breakage so the display needs to be level and sturdy. I actually use a level for the largest display furniture. I recently redesigned one display unit to include leveling feet to accommodate all kinds of slope variations. While exciting, it still required a few good shims. I have two tubs of shims plus an overflow bag. It seems I am always running out of just the right size, even though I carefully scour the ground for them and put them away after the show. As I’m working with the stacks of shims and screws and bars it takes to stabilize everything I again think of how ludicrous it actually is, to drag all this stuff to the middle of a field to display.
Still there’s something magical about the time lapse image of empty field that converts to a busy (one hopes) art market, only to be collapsed at the end of the weekend leaving nothing but an empty field again. From the perspective of an exhibitor, I love the optimistic belief there will be people who understand not just the hard work we do setting up our campsites, but also the work to feed creative fires and master processes. The act of taking the things we create out and showing them is more than some artists ever attempt. To offer our work for sale takes that optimism a step further. It’s an act of faith that someone else might see what has been created and understand enough to want to take it home from that campsite. Crazy as it is, that is a big part of what motivates me to take my pottery camping from time to time (but never again in a hurricane).
When I got married (a couple of decades ago) my brother-in-law made a toast about my husband. It was an analogy about various time zones and how people sometimes live in their own time zone. I realized almost as long ago that potters have their own time, too. One of my early functional pottery mentors taught me to look at the calendar and work backwards in order to complete work by a deadline. When do you need the completed pottery? Back up to account for glazing and firing. Back up another day or two for bisque and prepping the ware. Back up more time for drying the work so it won’t explode in the firing and of course the time it takes for creating the piece. Finally,back up one more week for being sure you have the clay and materials you need. In this case, it being the end of March, tomorrow is Mother’s Day in potter’s time.
Potters who work with molds frequently start with an original object from which a “mother” mold is made. The mother mold is then used to create multiple molds to form the actual pieces. The purpose of the mother mold is to maintain the integrity of the original. Frequent use of a plaster mold can cause deterioration. Unlike fired clay, plaster is relatively soft so molds made of plaster must be heavy to keep them from breaking. If pieces of the plaster come off in the clay it results in white chunks permanently embedded in the work. For all these reasons, most of the working molds we use at Kaleidoscope Pottery are made of clay. If you look at photos of the work being made, you’ll see each piece is cradled in a little clay form that’s just the right size (and was made using the mother mold).
I recently had a customer place an order as a gift for her mom. The piece wasn’t in stock but I had recently made some for another customer. When I checked the order, I noticed the last names were the same. It turned out the daughter was very tuned in to what her mother might want--the mother had ordered the exact bowl, color, and leaf design for herself a few weeks earlier. We all had a laugh about that. I always feel very happy when I think about the emotional connections created when people order some of my work for one of their loved ones.
And since it’s almost April, “Happy Mother’s Day (to everyone who is a mother and everyone who has a mother)!”
It seems cliché to say “we’ve been busy in the studio.” The first quarter of the year has presented more challenges in terms of materials. In the fall we had issues with a slip material (that’s the liquid clay slurry we spray over leaves in the wet clay stage to create the two tone base our glaze covers to make the finished pottery). I thought those issues were resolved, but they seem to be coming back to a degree. Also, there have been some issues with our clay body. While none of the problems have resulted in complete inability to produce work there are more pieces coming out in ways I don’t expect and I've been holding back on full scale production while we explore the issues.
I’ve been trying to view this time as an opportunity to examine the whole line. I’ve been experimenting with a few new forms and even (gasp!) exploring new glazes and new approaches. We will still be making leafware for many years to come but it never hurts to try to new ideas. The materials glitches (most likely the result of big changes in materials that are available) create some down time in the studio that I try very hard to avoid. In that time, we’ve been pushed towards experimentation. I love tradition, so it’s not an avenue I usually walk down willingly. That said, stay tuned for some new work to consider in the coming seasons. I'm also practicing being okay with the idea that we may not have perfect matches for pieces in terms of color. In reality, the work has always exhibited a range of color, activity and shading. The more things change....
The end of 2015 was quite a wild ride in the studio mostly because of chemistry. At some point in late September things went a bit funny with our dark slip. The unexpected results continued into October and by late October nearly everything we’d made was coming out with big brown spots. I actually love brown, and don’t mind spots, except that it’s not what our wholesale and online customers expect. The chemistry of ceramics is not constant. Clay supplies are dug out of the ground, and materials sometimes shift in composition and character.
So, in the midst of our busy production season, we were faced with a serious chemistry challenge. It was clearly an “application” problem. We spray our slip and my first line of thinking was to look at one of the “suspension agents” in our recipe. “Suspension agent” is one in a long list of fancy words used to describe the materials of ceramic processes. We were most suspicious of an ingredient called “VeeGum T” which is described on one of my favorite materials web sites (www.digitalfire.com) as: “a complex colloidal and extremely plastic and sticky magnesium aluminum silicate.” Back in my earliest days of ceramics education this chemistry jargon could make me twitch..or make a joke (which I tend to do frequently). In undergraduate school, we used to say our friend had a tendency to “flocculate” at parties. Coffee was often recommended as a “deflocculant.” I will leave it to the reader to discover the definition of that fancy word. In the days when I first learned about it, there was this thing called a “dictionary” we had to actually open and turn pages to use. Discovering definitions has gotten easier in this millennium.
After many years of dealing with ceramics materials, I now have great appreciation for some of the chemistry fancy words. So here’s one that has always been a favorite: thixotropic. What a great word. I like to say it just to have it roll off my tongue. Unfortunately, part of our recent problem was that our slip was appearing thixotropic. Thixotropic is defined as: The property exhibited by certain gels of becoming fluid when stirred or shaken and returning to the semisolid state upon standing. The way I most frequently think of “thixotropic” is like taffy that appears as liquid when it’s not being agitated. It sounds cool, and it really is…except that it is too sticky to spray.
In looking at our use of VeeGum T, I discovered a couple of interesting facts. We have been mixing it into our slip utterly against the manufacturer’s recommendations, and using it in about roughly double the recommended amount (the result of a calculating error committed about two decades ago). While surprising, I didn’t really think this was causing the problem, because we had been doing it for decades (good news for our clay supplier who has been selling us twice as much as we probably needed for many years now!). Still, in looking at the problem, I discovered something that one would think might cause a problem but didn’t. In the meantime, it occurred to Anna (my incredibly astute assistant) that we also happened to be working off a fairly new batch of synthetic Albany Slip. That’s not generally an ingredient that one would suspect of influencing application, but it was really the only thing that had changed.
Our clay supplier figured it out as soon as I told him the slip seemed thixotropic. That one word made him say, “Aha.” They had gotten a contaminated batch of feldspar but weren’t sure exactly who had been affected by it. “Thixotropic” was the word that seemed to clinch it. He offered to replace the effected slip at no charge and I was happy to accept that. While I felt kind of bad about our pile of seconds, I felt worse for them, imagining the several tons of clay they mixed that went thixotropic…while I might sort of like to see that, I am mortified at the magnitude of it.
Prior to pinpointing our problem, I came up with a workaround which involved Epsom Salts. Epsom Salts, while not a fancy-sounding material, can be used in glazes and slips to temporarily thicken them. It also seemed to combat the thixotropic problem temporarily so we could spray in the right consistency. I have fond memories of my ceramics professor at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Donna Nicholas, searching around the glaze room for the Epsom Salts (ceramics 101 students tend to over-thin the class glazes with great frequency). Unfortunately, Epsom Salts is water soluble which creates a kind of roller coaster of too thick and too thin so it wasn't a permanent solution. I would say the last three months of 2015 were pretty similar to an arduous roller coaster ride. The low was the day I unloaded two kilns with only about four (out of roughly, 100) pieces that were acceptable. The high point was opening two kilns just after we managed to figure the temporary solution, and realizing there were only two pieces that I would not call virtually perfect. It felt like a Christmas miracle.
Do you like spotty brown plates? Are you interested in some really good prices? There will be a LOT of work just like that (especially in the “moon and star” pattern—which was the bulk of my wholesale order)on the seconds table at my next few Open Studio sales. Come on over to Kaleidoscope Pottery’s crazy bargain seconds table, and take advantage of the “Thixotropic Slip Debacle” of 2015. Next opportunity is our “Winter Warmer Artisan’s Sale” on Saturday, February 13. See our web site for details (and do note, we will also have plenty of first quality work to compliment the seconds!). Mention the word “thixotropic” and I will be really impressed.
Recently, I’ve been sharing a booth at some shows with my friends, Stan and Joe McCoy of Sage Meadow Farm. Joe is a vet (he does pathology work—not private practice) and his office is just down the hall from mine at One Cottage Street. Joe and Stan have dairy goats (really more like pets who happen to be dairy goats) and they make soap with some of the milk. It’s been nice to share space with them at Open Studios and a couple of smaller shows this year.
Just as I have to figure names for various serving pieces, Joe and Stan have to come up with names for their various scent combinations. A popular one at our recent Berkshire Botanical Gardens show was called “Solstice.” Joe remarked, “Well, it’s always close to Solstice.” It got me thinking about how the seasons blend into one another and before you know it, another half year is nearly past.
Because I make things with leaf designs, and also live in a culture where a lot of people are motivated to buy gifts in the late fall/early winter, I am quite busy this time of year. When one is busy, the time seems to disappear quickly.
I have taken the opportunity to try to enjoy the fall beauty in addition to making lots of pottery. The weather has been unusually cooperative with a lot of clear days and blue sky. We did have torrential rain as we were driving to set up at the Berkshires show, but I noted that the colors looked good even in the pouring rain. Lucky for us, the rain slowed to a soft drizzle by the time we arrived to set up the booth. The weather the rest of the weekend was beyond amazing. A lot of people came to enjoy the festival.
The day after I finish a show I always try to take a little time for myself out of the studio. My husband once weighed my van empty, and then after it was loaded for a show and it had over 800 pounds of pottery and booth in it. I was lucky to have help with set up and tear down at the most recent show. When I do it by myself, I usually just feel like lazing around the day after the show.
This time it was Columbus Day so my son was out of school. We went off in search of some fall beauty and found it at a tiny little lookout spot called “Mount Pollux” in Amherst. We shared the place with a couple of practicing acrobats (can you believe that?). It was perfect because they provided a little added entertainment for the younger member of my group. I got to sit and look out at the beautiful vista, and Henry was completely amused by the practicing acrobats. As I sat there I couldn’t help but think of how quickly the rest of my year will fly. I only have one more away show (Westport, Connecticut) and then two weekends of Open Studios in December. Then, sure enough it will be Solstice time again.