Friday, March 30, 2007

All of the Above

In this case,"all of the below"- one of this year's crop of seder plates,combining a few of the ideas of the bunch pictured below,with what is known as a small footprint [it wo'n't take up your whole table] and at a reasonable price.Hurry on down [after Shabbat,of course].

Salt Glaze Seder Plate

An illustration of a long-held belief of mine: if you're the first to do something,you don't also have to be good at it; the second guy has to be good [or,at least,better than you].I find this quite liberating and empowering. Well,have you ever seen a salt-glazed Seder plate before? I suspect that the influence for this was partly a salt-fired chanukia that ex-student Vered made while working for Micki Schloessingk a couple of years ago [another influence being that there was room in the kiln- I hadn't intended this piece for the salt,but,at that famous and creative last minute,saw the possibility of bringing together two traditions,one of the simplest ways of making something new from what you already have at hand. Learned that from Bob Dylan,he should be healthy].
It's Shabbat HaGadol in a few hours,and we are promised a kiddush with kugel tomorrow at Kosov,my local shul.Maybe I'll see you there...Shabbat Shalom!

Last Years' Models

Seder plates,from the top: Alan [picture below,link left] Hussey's Lebanese Cedar base,my cups.Middle- a little Kabbalistic number,designs by David Friedman via Rav Moshe Cordovero,Tsfat roots.Bottom-inspired by English potter Julian Stair,unglazed porcelain and stoneware.

They're Back

Customers,bless them.After last Summer's war I had a feeling that it would take until Pesach for folk to return,which,after three days of brisk selling,seems to be the case.Suddenly there are gaps in the gallery shelves- pots I haven't seen for a while,hidden behind or among others,reappear.What laughingly passes for display on my shelves makes no sense once a couple of pots have been sold,so there is much shuffling around and rearranging.Mind you,there are still quite a few pieces waiting patiently in boxes for their hour of glory on the shelves.And,of course,like all real potters,the [very] few pieces that I especially like are not on display,only to be produced from the store-room,with reluctance, if a customer of exceptional taste and persistence should appear.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Al and Corrie

Visitors from Dorset- Al is a large part of the reason that I'm a potter [he makes beautiful furniture,Corrie makes wonderful clothes- check their link somewhere around the blog]

Friday, March 23, 2007

Magdalene Odundo

What a stunner!
This African element is interesting:it exists in the British studio pottery movement almost from the beginning,with Michael Cardew's work in Abuja,Nigeria [I think].Cardew was Bernard Leach's first apprentice ,and wrote the [to me as a raw apprentice at Robin Welch's workshop in 1975] intimidating book 'Pioneer Pottery' Bernard Leach,of course,wrote 'A Potter's Book in the 50's,laying out his philosophy and making a concerted effort to teach you how to make,fire and sell functional pottery. This was the book that,when I encountered it on a Humanistic Psychology booklist at Sussex University in 1971,started me on the path of pottery. Robin worked at Leach's studio in St.Ives,so I fit firmly [and happily] in that brief but powerful tradition of production throwing,high-fire reduction,stoneware seasoned with porcelain,and a grafting of east and west.

Siddig el'Ngoumi

Another reference for the terra sigilata bowls.I met Siddig z"l in 1984 in London,while I was trying to get some background on African pottery prior to starting a project with two Ethiopian potters who had come to live in Tsfat. Twenty-three years later I still recall the serenity and dignity of his work [of which only this picture seems to exist on the web...]
On the same trip,I visited Magdelene Odundo in her studio in Farnham,Surrey,to ask more questions about African pottery [she was born in Kenya].I remember two long tables full of her majestic burnished,pit-smoked pieces- a very impressive presence,dominating the whole room. Hang on,I'm sure we can find a picture of her work...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Seems to be a Problem

With last few pictures. I shall endeavour to correct shortly.

From the Top

View of pyrotechnics from top of kiln- the flat bricks [half-bricks,in fact] cover the flue slot.The top of the chimney isn't very flat these days [rebuild needed...],so flames lick out all around. That lyin' pyrometer reads 1230,the top cone says 1280,the bottom 1250,so we'll call it a day...


Cone 9 is nearly down at the top of the kiln,cone 8 nearly down on the bottom,so a chance to blast away with some heavy reduction for the last half-hour or so- the chimney slot on the Laser is closed to within a couple of centimetres,and the gas pressure turned up,resulting in lots of noise and flame from various orifices,with the temperature dropping because the gas can't get enough oxygen in the kiln to burn properly [that's why the gas escaping from the kiln burns- as soon as it leaves the kiln it finds the oxygen it was looking for].I probably have another 10 degrees to play with [I just eased off the chimney damper,the kiln is starting to climb again,slowly] before 9 is totally down on top: time for lots of reduction for the anagama refires I'm doing,inspired by the success of refires from Ricardo's kiln in the last firing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Benjamin and Eliav together in California,apparently enjoying themselves.

For Goldie

But the rest of you can look,too.


Yesterday's kiln- nice and hot,nice and even- had a lot of refires from Ricardo's last woodfire [both his pots and Goldie's]. Everything came out greatly improved,to my eye. I tried the old Shigaraki dodge of blowing some ash onto the drier pots,which also seems to work a treat.

Great Moments in History

Starting to pave Rehov Yerushalayim

Friday, March 16, 2007

Gifts from the Anagama

As promised- a shot of the piece from the right front of the kiln.All you could ask for,no? [except,maybe,a bit more...]

Meet the Flatto-Wax

The second generation [the first generation just broke].Not over-stable,but compact and efficient at getting the candle-wax-and-turpentine mix [in the tin on top] to melt.For waxing feet and rims to resist glazes,for the uninitiated.
The first one,which lasted ten years or more,was a bisc bowl with no bottom [trimming error] and some air-holes gingerly knocked through the sides.This one is a cup Sydney gave me to test,made from his experimental mix of Samech Chamesh [local fireclay from Negev] ,our Naaman porcelain and Motza [local brown earthenware] in equal amounts.He already fired a sample- way too much Motza [handle slumped,clay starting to bloat and warp] and is mixing up a modified batch,so this cup had no great future until, plucked from the shard-pile of history,it transformed into the useful and dangerous device you see above.If [when] successful,this will be the ur-Israeli clay ,combining a stoneware,a porcelain and an earthenware [and all from Sydney's legendary and seemingly-bottomless Miscellaneous Ceramic Supplies.]

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Back to Earth

Back to terra Sigillata,that is.The last batch of bowls- a dozen or so- all came out well.Something about their bright orange colour and lack of contraction [stoneware shrinks 12% on firing,porcelain up to a depressing 20%- the earthenware looks maybe to have shrunk 4-5%] makes them stand out in a strange way in the studio.Nobody has commented on them yet,but then again not that many people have been in.
I have just finished a stimulating on-line [Skype] firing counselling session with Vered and Nitzan down in Yokneam.They are firing a small single-burner Laser gas kiln that Nitzan has patched up- the first firing- by tradition,a bisc.They seem to have reached 600 degrees [needing to close the chimney down considerably to retain heat] and I think they should be O.K. to 920,or whatever they fire bisc to.Tomorrow we should see some results...

Monday, March 12, 2007

From the Fiery Furnace

Inevitably,all our pots looked better the next day,and I was very happy with my haul. That big black piece: you last saw it at the back of the fire-box- it became attached to the kiln-wall at an early stage of the firing,then fell into the middle of the fire-pit,where it survived its ordeal in one miraculous charred, crusty,subtly-coloured piece.It's porcelain,though you wouldn't guess it.It even holds water.It's one of my favourites.The vase on the other side of the fire-pit stayed on its feet,and came out with a good covering of ash glaze- I'll try to remember to post a picture.Clays used: Tom Coleman's excellent porcelain,mixed with 'Shigaraki feldspar' [really feldspar and quartz],and a 50/50 mix of the porcelain with my French stoneware [also with gobs of Shigaraki chunky little rocks],attempting to get a look like the clay they use in Shigaraki [and coming quite close]. The smallest tea-bowl in the picture is in fact made from real Shigaraki clay- a small lump given to me by a young potter while we were in that magical town almost a year ago.I'm off now to rest my mandibulum,and I suggest you do the same.

The Young Folk

Benjamin and Giselle are still potting away [and progressing by leaps and bounds]- here are some more of their pieces,bisced.Next up is a glaze firing- I advised them to lower expectations,although if the basic shape of a pot is strong [as here] almost any glaze and firing should give something interesting... Number three son Eliav should be arriving from Tucson tomorrow to stay with them for a couple of months.

The Case of Three Broken Ribs

Or,more accurately, "Three Cases of Broken Ribs". First off was Mr. Meir, victim of an over-enthusiastic bear-hug from one of the local pyromaniacs who surface for the firing.Next up- yours truly,very fortunate to have survived a car-crash around the time of that lunar eclipse last week, while on my way to another shift at the kiln. The beautiful Peugeot is a total mash-up;I got off with a broken sternum [the top bit,appropriately- for a potter- called the mandibulum,or handle] from the seat-belt,and a slight head-cut. Finally- the anagama started to sag alarmingly Sunday afternoon while at 1300 degrees- you can see the whole roof supported by three tea-cups [with not much supporting them],which led to a shorter-than-planned firing. The opening of the kiln revealed a lot of great pieces,maybe just lacking that extra oomph to make them spectacular [but remarkably little damage from falling masonry].Anyway,'spectacular' is not very wabi,not very sabi- the traditional Japanese wood-fire aesthetic being more to do with the incomplete,the natural and the humble.I just happen to like 'spectacular'.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Father and Son

Meir and Shir.

Hanging In

Here are those two pots again,at 950 degrees.Now the fun starts- bigger logs,higher ash-piles,lower visibility- they'll need to be light on their feet to survive the onslaught of the next few days.

Fine Day for a Firing

On the way down to Rosh Pina, on my way yesterday to Meir's for another bout with the Big Kiln. We made steady progress through the evening,starting at 4 p.m. at 970 and handing over at midnight at 1090,with Meir ready to push on to higher temperatures.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

First Things First

Before bed- a picture of the front of the kiln through the fire-mouth at around 600 degrees,followed by a shot through the front left window,around the same temperature.As you can see,my camera got totally confused [and almost fused] by the heat and light,but I think it got the atmosphere right.

Forlorn Hope

Just back from an exhilarating day's stoking at Rabbi Meir's.Here are two of my pots,stationed front right and left of the loading chamber,just where careless folk are apt to throw the occasional large log,but where,if,against all the odds,they survive their ordeal of having large lumps of wood thrown at them every ten minutes for six days- results can be spectacular.Very tired- off to bed.