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)!”
After so many years (heading into year number 23) of doing production pottery I am rather set in my ways. I have particular systems and there are a lot of tasks I feel I can do in my sleep. Even after all these years, though, I sometimes marvel at the number of tasks we do in a given week. The last two weeks in the studio were kind of unusual. Most of the time we alternate what I call “production” with “processing.” On production weeks, we are actually making work. Processing involves moving work through the kilns, and preparation for making more work. Alternating the weeks allows, among other things, multiple uses of table surfaces and a certain order to what we’re doing on a given day. I also manage to fit in the bookkeeping most of the time. In the last two weeks, however, a variety of factors led us (“us” being my fantastic! assistant Anna and myself) to determine two weeks in a row of production would make a lot of sense. For starters, my other (equally fantastic!) assistant Leah is available only three days a month, and this was a week where she would be out of the studio. In addition to that we are looking forward to Open Studios. It’s coming up in about three weeks. In potter’s time that is like tomorrow. In order to offer the work for sale, it has to be dried, bisque fired, glazed, and fired again (and each firing takes about 12 hours to heat up and the same to cool down--so a full day is dedicated to each firing--plus a half day loading and unloading on either side). Finally, we were dealing with the ramifications of the “wear item” classification of our equipment. One of my two big glaze kilns, Otis, developed some pretty serious cracks in the lowest ring. Since Otis is an elevator kiln (you might be able to imagine how he got his name) cracks mean when raised, the bottom row of elements was threatening to fall out. So, Otis had to go offline while we waited for a new base to be made and shipped (see my facebook page for some thrilling photos of the base replacement). The offline kiln meant being temporarily at half firing capacity and one half of the time usually dedicated to filling glaze kilns was going to be free for two weeks. The only logical thing to conclude is that we should make more work.
This week Otis is back together and has already fired quite nicely twice. And we are now literally up to our elbows in the process of moving all the things we made through the two firings. The results of this are stacks and stacks of work all around the production room.
I must admit I absolutely love it. There is something so exciting and satisfying about seeing all that we are able to do and knowing that most of the pieces hold the promise of bringing someone happiness on a daily basis. So many customers tell me, “This piece makes me happy every day.” I get tired from other parts of my work but I never get tired of hearing that.
I spent most of yesterday running dozens of pieces of bisque ware through the glaze bath. Anna wiped glaze from dozens and dozens of bottoms. Anna and interns Marie and Noelle processed dozens and dozens of pieces of bisque ware. We loaded and unloaded kilns numerous times. Today I opened two glaze kilns and it felt like my birthday.
Next week will be more of the same. In addition, there will likely be some more packing and shipping to do. One of the most gratifying of my jobs is pushing a box full of carefully packed pots out into the hall for Eric the UPS driver to pick up on the way to a gallery or retail customer.
And the amazing thing about it is that even after 23 years, I’m really excited to see what comes out next week. I’m looking at week two of more of the same--loading bisque kilns, firing, glazing, loading glaze kilns and crossing fingers that an element doesn’t go out or a lightning strike interrupt the power supply during the firing. And in another week, so much of that work will be through the kilns. I’ll take pictures of the best, add price tags, pack and ship out some to waiting customers around the country. And after Open Studios, we’ll start the whole process all over again.