Monday, August 31, 2009

First Impressions

[Thoughts I jotted down when I first arrived] 'I padded softly across my room to the sun roof, my swollen travelers feet felt quite nice on the cool terra cotta tile. I am alone for the first time. Seth and I have been together for a few hours but he just sent me upstairs to unpack while he "plays host" and cooks dinner. My room is white washed and sparse. There is one sky blue wall behind the wooden French-made bed and a set of blue shutters off the the side. These lead to the sun roof and are always open. There is a "screen" of plastic coils hanging in the doorway; they flutter in the breeze and keep bugs out ... or so they say.'

I am in the remote mountain region just off the coast of the Mediterranean. The land, people, trees, shrubs, flowers, and buildings are all at once moving and still, fresh and old, full of color and sepia toned. It feels like an old loved leather chair, comfortable, full of stories, and regal in some way. I imagine my impressions of Spain are rather different from others since I was swept away to the mountains right away.

Seth Cardew is very proper (imagine 1940's London!), but friendly all the same. His pottery is just a short walk down a hill or down stairs, which ever way you want to take.

The pottery is rustic to say the least. The floor is dirt and the walls are the same white washed simplicity found in my room. I do have some slave labor to do before I can throw. I wedged a great amount of clay the other day, moistening it to ready it for throwing. I have more of that to do tomorrow. Seth has a pretty free approach compared to some potters. He doesn't set down and make me throw 50 of one shape until I can do it in my sleep but he does have a critical eye. He won't smash pots because he says that I must use them to learn other steps as well, such as trimming, decorating, etc.

I can't wait to share more about some of the philosophy of pots I've heard from Seth and other tid bits. But I'll give them to you in small doses. All at once and you might feel like you've had your head stuffed, like I do.

Or, even worse, you might not read.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hola Spain!

Dear Friends,

I have not figured out computer time yet but wanted to report that I have arrived safely! I do not have internet but am working on when I can post. Please stay tuned!

Seth and I made tall hollow ware today. The sun lights the studio, the shutters swing open to let fresh air in, and the mountains in the distance provide quite the backdrop. Peaceful and heavenly setting for artwork.


Monday, August 24, 2009

I wrapped my unfinished pots with plastic a few days ago, leaving them on a low shelf where they will await my return. As I stood looking at my clean, empty work space I ceremoniously turned off the lights and stood there for a moment in the dim drone of a distant florescent. When I come back to this, what will it look like to me? What will I want to change about it? What will I have missed the most? How will I have changed? How will my pots have changed? Oh, what an adventure this will be!

I love knowing that when I return to sit at my wheel, my very own wheel, that I will be different, will have grown, developed, matured as a potter and as an artist. My hope for this trip is threefold:

1. To develop in confidence as an artist and especially the combining of mediums. Seth studied as a painter. He draws and paints as well as potting. He has successfully meshed the two and is so comfortable in that dual role. I want to see that in action. I want to know what he thinks about as he makes a form, as he looks at a form, as he analyzes the pot and his decorations.

2. I want to learn more about the firing process. Seth and I will be starting at the beginning, throwing the raw clay, and working together to fill his wood kiln. I'm hoping that being one of the primary potters involved in the firing will really piece together my bits of experience and knowledge of firing.

3. Seth has grown up with pottery and worked in it for many many years. He understands what it takes to make a life of it. He knows potters around the world that have done the same in various ways. To get a better grasp on the possibilities for making this artistic calling a sustaining vocation is invaluable to me. I think of a college kid's perspective; the job possibilities are basically limited to the ones they grew up around. As they search and meet people and expand their perspective, jobs that they did not know existed begin to surface. I feel a little like that. I'm excited for ideas.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


On the metro the other night, in this the melting pot of the world, I, a Norwegian European American mutt sat beside a 4'1" 65 year old Cuban woman. Her accent was strong though she told me, quite close to my face, that she had been here for, oh, 50 years. She said, "I do not care about my accent! People ask me, 'I hear you accented, where is that? and I say I am here for long time!" I laughed and said her English was far better than my Spanish. I mentioned that I was going to Spain and trying to learn Spanish. She dismissed me with a hand saying, "I tell you," she raised her arms with emphasis, "compared to English, Spanish is easy. It is pho-net-ical," with an emphasis on each syllable, "You learn fast."

So, do you speak Spanish? Yes, well umm, no. I don't. I don't speak much Spanish at all. In the weeks leading up to my trip I have had very limited time to teach myself. I've looked over the basics but have not gotten comfortable speaking Spanish. Language is an interesting aspect to this trip. Seth Cardew is British so we will communicate pretty well. Undoubtedly, I will wish I sounded more like him and try to pick up some of the beautiful lilt. But the remote area of Castellon will, I hear, prove to be a Spanish speaking classroom for me. In my regular glass half full mentality I am banking on the universal languages of food, love, and art, confident that I will get by and learn moi rappido!

At one of my jobs there is a vivacious group of Spanish speakers from Bolivia and Peru. They speak to me in rapid Spanish, tossing my name in the midst of a long string of sounds and calling me "butterfly" and "queen" with a laugh. Its my job to draw on the chalkboard and even the ones that speak very little English enjoy the development of my pictures and advertisements and communicate their appreciation. We've gotten by with a slow friendship developing but there is always a barrier of language. The excitement on their faces, in their body language when they found I was trying to learn Spanish was priceless. Why? To be able to communicate with someone, to have that communal relationship with a fellow human being is essential to our well being.

In his broken English and my barely present Spanish, my Bolivian co-worker told me that when I return from Spain they would have me over for a meal to eat traditional Bolivian food. FOOD. Another universal language. Something to share in, to give, to take, to enjoy, to spit out, to laugh over, to cry over, to do together. Where has that sense of universality gone for a lot of today's art, for a lot of today's people's understanding of art? The ability for art to be a universal language of deep beauty - one to share, to give, to take, to enjoy, to spit at, to laugh over, to cry over, to come together has been lost in commercialism, egotism, and a lack of education in the arts.

But art and beauty, like food, is so much more than those wonderful aspects. Our poor minds and hearts starve without it ... other parts of our lives are affected by the lack of that essential harmony of nutrients or in this case, sights, sounds and textures. Sights, sounds, and textures that allow you to come out of yourself, to realize beyond the everyday. This subtle starvation makes for a sad, limited life, indeed.

Everyone has taste buds, taste buds prone towards certain tastes but taste buds that can be honed, developed, broadened and instructed to appreciate more flavors and textures. Our sense of appreciation for beauty, in music or arts, is the same way. We are prone towards certain styles, colors, shapes, patterns, harmonies, rhythms, sounds, and textures. But with exposure, with development and learning, those tastes can be expanded and our minds and hearts fed in so many more wonderful and fulfilling ways.

Learn to communicate and understand more than a spoken language. Learn what it is to communicate without words, through music, art, food, dance, etc. Allow yourself to grow in these things. The rich experiences that come out of that will feed your soul.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A horse... a whole horse!

You may remember a few posts back when I received an incredible gift (which you can see upside down and ready for surgery in the picture to the left). Well, that gift has now been upgraded and I've learned so much in the process.

There are a number of different Brent wheels for different sorts of potters. The wheel that my co-worker so graciously gave to me was a lower model wheel. Now this does not mean that things are plastic rather than metal, that the control board is slapped together with shoddy parts, or that the wheel has any sort of inferior workmanship. The lower model just has a smaller motor. In my case it was a 1/4 horse power motor. Its drive, torque, and strength are more for classroom use than a professional potter. Brent (now AMACO, American Art Clay Company) makes great, reliable wheels from the bottom of the totem pole right on up to the top. So even though my wheel is a lower model, its still a Brent and it will last me a long long time.

Excited for the possibilities, I decided to look into an upgrade. I called AMACO and talked to a wonderful man, Bob Randolph. Bob couldn't have been more helpful! He explained parts of my wheel to me, from the control box to the foot pedal to the wheel belt. My mentor, Mel Jacobson, always said that I needed to learn how my equipment works so that I can do all of the maintenance myself.

I decided to do some business with Bob. The wheel was running well but was having a few issues (would start turning while the foot pedal was off...). He walked me through dismantling the control box and foot pedal, pulling wires and screws out right and left. I saw the interior of the control box for the first time (see part of it in the picture on the right). I shipped the box and pedal to Bob and he fixed it and shipped it back in two days! Now thats service.

Bob also sold me a motor, 3/4 more horse power than my old one. That means that I now have a supped up Brent with an entire horse power motor on there! I have the equivalent of a Brent CXC for about $1200 less than I would've spent on a new one. I feel like a car junkie. I'm considering runner lights, a dual exhaust, and new sound system too ...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A bundle of letters, an airplane, and disbelief

A number of years ago, as an impressionable teenager, an artist came to stay with my family. He came twice. A mutual respect developed between my mother and Seth and my whole family. He was much older than I and his name carried weight in the pottery community. Not only was he the son of a famous potter but he had made his own name stand out through his beautiful ceramic work and painting. I was so excited to meet him and get to spend some time with him. He had sparkly eyes, kind wrinkles, and potter's hands. He embraced the clay like an old friend. In one of the workshops he gave during his stay, he told the audience to think of someone you love as you make the rim. Do that, he claimed, and the rims would be lovely to drink from! I think about that every time I do a rim for a drinking vessel. I can't get it out of my head. He had so much personality and he put that personality into his teaching and into his pots. This delightful British man is Seth Cardew.

Excerpts from my pottery journal as a 17 year old:
I love and respect his work, his background, and his personality and so naturally a few months ago I wrote to dear Seth and told him of my new ventures. I mentioned the possibility of working with him for a time, slave labor included of course ... well, a few letters and a few months later (oh yes, real snail mail!) I am off. Jet setting my way across the Atlantic to Spain, where Seth and his wife have moved the pottery from England.

Wenford Bridge Pottery sits in a little nook of Castellon, Spain on the coast, south of Barcelona. The Cardews host students from around the world, offering ceramic courses April through October. I will be working with Seth for a month or two, throwing, trimming, firing, glazing, firing some more, and casting some sculptures. As a wonderful friend of the family, he is offering me a trip of a life time and I can't wait to share it!'

I leave on August 25th. I don't know what my life will look like over there (or what sort of internet access I will have!) but the preparations have begun! Stay tuned as the adventures loom ahead and potting winds down in Fairfax.
Seth Cardew: a charger with his signature birds and detail work.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Have you ever trimmed a pot?

I really don't enjoy trimming pots but it is fun to watch. The clay curls and snakes off in long flat strands and a foot appears from no where.

Watch here if you've never seen it before. I explain a little about the process and reasoning behind it in the video.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I love finding artists that are doing something very different but still beautiful and inspired by tradition. A friend of mine alerted me to this site: Ashes and Milk. The site itself is pretty rockin and the artwork is simple and organic. They feature a few different artists and a few different mediums. I love a lot of what they have* and after reading their "About" paragraph I think I understand why. Here is an excerpt:

"Ashes & Milk is an online gallery space founded on the principle that a lot can be created from very little. We are driven by modern ideas with a reverence for traditional methods and believe that the things we bring into our homes should have a soul and a sense of history. Our collection is a boutique of texture, organic materials, and nuances of white, brown, and gray."

Also, many of the potters are Japanese .. and I'm particularly drawn to the Japanese pottery traditions. I hope you are inspired by it as well.

*some may be offensive if looked at too closely.