Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bisque firing

Earlier in the month we completed our bisque firing. We fired in Seth's wood kiln rather than an electric kiln the way some wood firing potters do. If you remember, the bisque firing is the first firing a pot gets. This hardens or sinters* the greenware (raw clay) but leaves the pot porous enough to soak up glaze. (*To sinter means to heat the ceramic elements enough to fuse them together without vitrifying them.) We loaded the kiln over 2 days, moving steadily from the back of the chamber, building up pots and shelves. (As you will see in the pictures, my other master potter, Jennie, came to visit and was able to be there for the firing!)

We bisque fired to cone 05. "Cone" is the method by which potters measure temperatures. It is called "cone" because it is literally a cone that is placed upright in a small window inside the kiln and wilts down to a lovely curve when the desired temperature is reached. The temperature for cone 05 is 1800 - 1900 degrees Fahrenheit. (Seth's glaze kiln goes up to cone 10 or between 22oo - 2300 degrees F. At home in VA, Jennie and I glaze fire to cone 6 or between about 2265 - 2365 degrees F.)

The studio was overflowing with work, of mine and Seth's as well as some friend's and other student's work. Near midnight we lit a small fire in the fire box to begin the warming.

Setting my alarm for 2am and 4am, I stumbled down the hill and stairs to check the fire. At 2 it needed a little stoking (but not too much) and at 4 I had to relight it. The warming is to let any remaining moisture escape from the kiln before raising the temperature. Around 7:30 am Helen and Seth checked for steam coming out of the chimney and finding none began to raise the temp by stoking the fire.

We stoked for about 10 hours and at 5:30pm the cone had wilted and we were finished. The kiln over fired just in the last few hundred degrees but the work was fine and still porous.

We are now in the throws of decorating. Glaze firing set for November 11th!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


You may remember me speaking of Mel Jacobson, my forever teacher and friend who I studied with in MN a few years back. He started something called, "ClayArt". Clay Art is an online forum for potters which has become quite popular. He recently wrote a little something about me and my family which I was tickled to read. I only heard about it through other people, that sneaky guy!

Thank you, Mel!

Clay Art Thread:

my former apprentice, sarah coffin is in spain, living and working at seth cardew's studio for six months. she is having a ball. she just loves the place, the people and the work. seth and his wife are a delight.
you must remember, seth is getting much older, sort of my age. he is still working, but has been slowed a bit.
this is one of those cases where a young person just took a chance...i told her `people can say yes or no, it is up to you to ask, seek, and be ready to go.` seth said yes...and she was on a plane for spain in a heart beat. so often people make assumptions that...`why would he let me come and study?' sarah has all the tools to be a great potter. she was very active with me and the `chinese` study. a great help. she is trained.
she lived that summer with her grandfather/grandmother that are neighbors...he was a minnesota govenor, and lived a great deal of his life in washington d.c. (congressman) where sarah grew up with her mom and dad. jennifer coffin/mom/ is a terrific potter, and their mom, grandmother gretchen quie was considered one of minnesota's fine female artists.
their father, grandfather al quie is in his 80's and is still very active in conservative politics in minnesota. al still rides his horse every day, goes on long rides in wyoming, and is as fit as anyone i know. he is one of the most classy, honest men i have ever known. not a blemish in 85 years. integrity, what a concept.
from: minnetonka, mn
clayart link:
new book:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lisps and dill

I used to work with a spitfire of a woman from Poland. Her English was nearly perfect and her Polish accent clipped or lengthened certain words, giving everything she said a seductive glaze. She occasionally asked for correct pronunciations which I gave gladly but couldn't help feeling that the way she expressed it had a fullness which my tone completely lacked. Despite this, she often mentioned how embarrassed she was of her English. I tried to encourage her that there was never any question of what she was communicating - something I long for now. My Spanish started off so vacant and looks I got in response were too. I imagine that if my Polish friend could hear her English when she first began, she would not be so hard on herself. As I hear myself trying desperately to communicate in the local language, I know that its laughable. The glimmering moments when I've done it on my own and the poor Spaniard across from me responds with an affirming "Ci!" are precious to me.

The other day I went to the grocery store, a tiny two aisle place in Els Ibarsos, and walked around looking for the herb Dill. It wasn't in my dictionary, so I proceeded to try and figure out how in world I could find it with out the actual word.
Rather than giving up, I told the grocer, a small Spanish woman who is used to seeing me and dealing with my fumbling of her language, that I was looking for a green herb sometimes used with pickles. That took some time.

I wasn't sure we had done the job but she was confident that a certain herb was exactly what I wanted. The one she pointed out, "eneldo", happened to be one that I remembered seeing back at the house, unopened. I thanked her and thought I'd go home to smell it and check the larger dictionary before buying it. Sure enough, she and I had understood each other perfectly! "Eneldo" was dill! I went back a few days later and successfully communicated to her that she had been right and that eneldo was what I had wanted! We were both so giddy at the moment, it was wonderful.

All of this thought given to communicating simple and complex ideas made me think of, what else?!, pottery. I remember working as the Ceramics Lab assistant in college. One of my duties was to be present during lab time to assist students fulfilling their studio hours. I loved sitting down with beginners to help them progress. Each person had a different approach to the wheel.
Looking back I see the incredible similarities to language: I was teaching them the language of pottery. The feeling of the clay spinning between thier hands was as foriegn to them as the feeling of a purposeful Spanish lisped word in my mouth. I helped them center the clay or pull up the wall of a pot to give them a better sense of the proper pronunciation with their hands to the clay.

The same glimmer (and virtual affirming "Ci!") came to them when they finally communicated clearly enough to the clay that their first few pots came off the wheel. They were not beautiful by any means -- standing alone and out of context -- just like my Spanish. But in that moment they hold a different sort of beauty, an interpersonal beauty, like a mother appreciating her child's first scribbles.

As I learn the language of pottery, of art, of beauty, I can feel certain aspects becoming more fluid, more natural -- the way English is to my mouth or Polish is to my coworker or Spanish is to my neighbors, Pepe and Rosa. I look back at my first attempts in this deep and complicated language of pottery and appreciate how much I've learned. But I see and work with potters so much more fluent then myself. There is always more to explore, more to understand, more to communicate. I love to hear my pronunciation change slightly as I'm corrected in my Spanish, just as my pots change slightly as I create and learn. While I'll always have my accent, I have a lot to learn to smooth and give coherency to all of my words, all of my pots, all of my work.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Hola! I am traveling briefly and have fast internet! This means I can finally get pictures to you. Please check out the two slide shows in the right hand column. One is of the pottery and the other is random images from Spain. Enjoy... I know these guys did!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A New Kiln Jacket

Seth fires in a wood kiln (one of the many reasons I wanted to come study with him for a little while). A wood kiln is a long firing. The kiln has to be heated slowly and reach the high temperatures with wood being thrown in at various intervals.

Seth's wood kiln is a few years old and has had one "jacket" put on in its life time. A jacket is another coating of wire and cement for the outside of the kiln. He wanted one more put on (making a total of two jackets on top of the original kiln), to strengthen the kiln and take care of any cracks that have appeared as the it has settled in the firings and weather.

As our bisque firing date was fast approaching, we had to quickly cut horrible thick wire, mix load after load of cement and layer the kiln. Another Brit in the area, Helen, came to help. She is a fairly new student of pottery and eager to know more. Seth and I were grateful for the help to say the least. It was hard work.

First came the wire cover which required shaping the wire, cutting it, and twist tying it together. Then we carted numerous wheel barrow loads of sand from the top of the hill, mixed in cement and calcium (for plasticity) and stuccoed the kiln over the wire. It was especially hard to get the cement to adhere around the doorway and other curves.

With a fresh jacket on, the kiln stands proudly, ready to be fired and the owner looks at it with a new appreciation. We definitely earned our siestas over those three days!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Spanish Toast

Spanish Tomato Toast: The Breakfast of a Potter

Every morning Seth has Spanish Tomato Toast for breakfast. Its amazing! Give it a try and DO NOT skimp on the olive oil.

Its a very easy recipe!

Slice of Toast (not just any toast: light and airy, similar to ciabatta, wood fired, crisp outside and soft, bubbly, tender inside)
Tomato (Roma is best)
Cloves of Garlic
Olive Oil
Kosher salt

Slice a thick piece of bread and place in toaster (turn over, if toaster doesn't do both sides).

Open one clove of garlic. Once bread is beautifully brown on both sides, take out and rub the clove of garlic generously on both sides of the toast (use another if that one gets too small).

Then take the half tomato and rub it generously, pushing down, all over both sides of the bread. This will squish the tomato and turn the bread a beautiful pinkish red color.

Place tomato and toast on a plate. Then pour, don't sprinkle, olive oil all over the bread. Be sure to cover the crispy outside as well as the middle. Sprinkle with kosher salt if desired.

The combo of the tomato and the oil soften the toast. Eat with a fork and knife, taking a bit of bread with a bite of tomato.

*Add ham and/or a strong cheese if desired.