A Partridge in a Pear Tree

‘Tis the season to sing all of our favorite carols, play the seasonal tunes and make objects out of clay that remind us of both.  OK, maybe that’s just me, but if you can’t relate, maybe cookie baking is a good analogy.   I’d like to share with you a storage jar I made, titled, “A Partridge in a Pear Tree”.   The jar was selected by the editors of Early American Life Magazine to be photographed in the Christmas 2012 issue.  I, to say the least, was quite honored.

It came to me afterwards, that it would be very interesting and challenging for me to create a piece every year using the song as an inspiration.

So, yep, you guessed it.  For 2013 I am working on  a Two Turtle Doves piece.


I figure a piece like this a year for the next 11 years will be a nice legacy to my pottery.   And, can’t you just wait to see the last piece!!??       



Hope you follow along with me on this journey.  My goal will be for  you to see some other interesting pieces too!


           Merry Christmas!! and a Happy Holiday Season to All!!

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Where has the time gone?

Wow!  I realized today I had not posted anything for about three months.  For those of you who were extremely worried, I assure you I am fine; only to have been suffering from “alottodo”, with a touch of “procrastinitus”.  Nonetheless, I promised an update on the Ollas made and used this summer, during one of the worst droughts Southern Indiana, and other parts of the country, have ever suffered. So first, let me show you the pictures; I believe they speak for themselves.

OK, let me recap.   I buried the Olla next to one of the pepper plants and did not water any other way, except through the exposed Olla spout.   The drought was brutal, leaving all plants, and animals incredibly thirsty.  The pepper plant on the right is the one with the Olla buried next to it.  It seems that the roots of this plant definitely benefitted from the water seeping into the ground.  Not only was the plant double in size, it had twice as many peppers for the yield, and the wild petunia that came up next to it was happy also.  The petunia was also competing for the moisture, yet the pepper still outperformed the “no Olla” pepper.   So, is this a conclusive thumbs up for the Olla?  I have to say, although limited in scope, the drought made this a very easy comparison to make.   No rain from above meant the only way of getting moisture was through the Olla.   I think I’ll make some more, but certainly don’t want to be testing  them through any more droughts.  My final humble opinion:

Ollas  1        Drought   0

Go Team!

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Bank on This

Want to have a great relaxing time in a very peaceful, beautiful setting this weekend?    Well bank on this!!  The  2012 annual craft and artisan show at Shaker Village, Pleasant Hill Kentucky is the place to be.

Here are some salt glazed banks in the style of the mid 19th century that I will be bringing, along with many other pieces of salt glazed stoneware and 18th and 19th century style redware.

Great way to spend a summer day.  Yes, it’s supposed to be hot, but there is always a nice breeze blowing across the fields and we are under plenty of shade trees that help cool the spirit.  So come on down to the beautiful home of the Shakers, you’ll enjoy.

You can bank on it!

For more info:  www.shakervillageky.org

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Whooooooose Plate is This?

A friend of mine, let’s call her Michelle, loves owls.  And I agree.  Owls are cool birds.     First of all, they are amazing to look at.  From the smallest we have in our area, Screech Owls, to the biggest we’ve seen, some Barred Owls.   They make incredible night noises that can stop our outdoor conversation in it’s tracks.  They have incredible night vision and fly through the woods without a sound!   Amazing!     

So, Michelle asked if I ever put owls on my sgraffito plates or would I?  I told her I hadn’t, but immediately thought of a plate I had seen that was made in the early 1700’s in Staffordshire England.  When I showed her a picture of the original, she said she was in.  And I agreed.    The original is so quaint; the mother owl, her six owlettes and then for some reason, a small strange bird of another species.

Who knows what was in the potters mind, but it sure gets our attention 300 years later.  The original was slip trailed, but I was asked to do an interpretation of the plate in sgraffito decoration.




Here is my best attempt at an image of the original.






Here is the sgraffito plate that is my interpretation.  Just gotta love that odd little bird looking to be an amazing owl.

So, Michelle is actually the wise owner of the new plate.  But Whoooo is the maker of the original 300 years ago?   We will probably never know.         Just another  great British   “Whoooodunnit”.

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Ollas (oy yas)

Oh Yeah? or Oh No?

That is the question.  Well, the first question is really, What the heck is an olla?  Well, I wasn’t even sure myself until I did a little digging.  (pun intended but you won’t get it yet until we dig a little deeper)     OK;  I was at a local arts festival and my friend April came to my booth and asked me if I could make ollas.   In past posts you’ll remember noting I am the potter that always says, “sure”, and then pauses and says,  aaaaaa, “what’s an olla?”  She proceeded to tell me about these pots that are buried in the ground and provide water to the roots of plants.  OK, now she really has my attention.  POTS and GARDENING, that’s two of my  passions and what these posts are all about.  After doing a little more research, I found this idea has been around for quite awhile, with history going back to the Spanish bringing the idea to the indigenous people of the Americas.  I knew that earthenware pots would seep very, very slowly if liquid was left in them, but have read that the Earth, or dry soil would actually draw the water out faster.  Makes sense.   So I told April we would go on an olla journey together and document what happens in both our gardens with a few test ollas.

Here are the brave ollas, lined up for their group shot before they undertake their underground mission.  There are no holes in the pots, other than the one to pour the water in.  I made little clay caps to fit over the holes to slow down evaporation through the top, and to keep mice from using the ollas for wild nighttime skinny dipping parties.  The research I did explained how people would cover the holes with rocks or shells.  In the past few weeks, deer have knocked the plug off at night, perhaps smelling the cool liquid in the pots.  We, I forgot to mention, are actually in a severe drought situation, making this a great year to test the ollas validity. 

Here is an image April sent me of her olla buried next to her peas.   She lives about 20 miles from me and has completely different soil makeup.  Her garden is very sandy and ours is very heavy clay soil; so this will be a good test for both soil types. 


Here is one of April’s ollas waving goodbye.  The pots can be buried right up to the water filler hole.  Every few days, just check and fill.   Pretty easy so far.     I was able to have a good test offered up for my olla placement by our wonderful, plant eating deer friends, who live in the nearby woods.

Behind the olla, you can barely see what was a beautiful, lush, leafy green pepper plant before the deer ate it down to a green stick.  Also, there is one a little bit further east that was eaten too.  So, the olla goes by one green stick and the other green stick does not get water.  Pretty good test I think.  These images were taken a few weeks ago and we still have not had any rain.  It is truly getting very sad for all the farmers and all critters looking for water.  It’s hard to be upset at the deer for knocking the plugs off; I just wonder if they are really trying to stick their tongues in to the ollas to get water?


Here is my olla up to its neck in its mission.  I have to say, the green stick has leafed out and is looking better.  I will post images of both plants in a few weeks and let you decide if ollas are  Oh Yeah!!! or Oh No!  In either case, help us all in this part of the country by saying a little prayer for rain.

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Reflections on my work

This month, ( June) I am honored to have the display window of The Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana, down on Main Street, in Evansville Indiana.  Since I do different styles of pottery, from different time periods of American history, I thought it fun to do a progression of pieces from early America to contemporary pieces.  The back wall holds the colonial and early American inspired redware, the pedestals, mid 19th century folk wares and the bottom ledge, contemporary functional tea sets.   If you get a chance, take a walk on the walkway and you too can reflect on my work.  

This image was taken through the access door to the window. One can only see this view if you have the super secret access code, and your thumbprint is scanned into the security system.  So, this is probably the only time you will see the pots from this angle.




The march of the tea pots.


So, come on down to Main Street; I would love to have you reflecting on my pieces!










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Bank of Knowledge

I was fortunate again this year to be invited back to Washington Catholic Elementary School’s Pioneer Day.   I did a post last year and said how much fun it was; and it really is fun to watch the students in their pioneer clothes play early American games and learn about daily life in the formation of our nation.  This year I taught about the importance of clay and different types of pots for garden, cooking and eating.  All of the students were able to make a redware pinch pot which I then took back to the studio, fired and sent back to them so they could have their own, handmade, (their hands) little redware pot.  Then, I took each one on as an apprentice and taught them the intricacies of attaching clay to clay.  (good knowledge to have if you want handles on your mugs and pitchers!)   But in this case, we made a 19th c. English style Hen and Chicks Bank, where each student made a chick.  A great job was done by all and there were no apprentices fired this time! Thanks to the 32 hands that made the chicks!  And of course, Mrs. Davis sits upon the top teaching all year long!   Kudos to Mrs. Davis for having such well behaved chicks.



This bank will definitely hold coins, but alas, it is better descibed as a “Bank of Knowledge” for what was learned by it’s construction.



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Good morning!

Nothing better to start the day than to walk out the door and  be greeted by the sight of a beautiful stand of poppies, presenting their pretty petals to all who pass by, whether birds, insects, dogs or humans, I’m sure all take notice.  Just wanted to share;  – from the garden,  en route to studio,   Tom

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Arts in Harmony!!

This weekend!

Looking for some great art, great people and great music in a great historic town?

Come to New Harmony Indiana’s “Arts in Harmony” event, rain or shine, in the Historic Ribeyre Gym at the corner of Tavern and Main Streets.  Saturday and Sunday, May 5 and 6.

Here is an image of my booth from last year.  I’ll have a bunch of new stuff, including pieces recently done in a salt kiln firing and woodfiring.  (see Burnin’ in Arkansas post)

Hope to see you there!

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Burnin’ in Arkansas

Just got back from Arkansas firing an above ground, Groundhog wood kiln


 with John Perry and Judi Munn, two of the nicest folks you’d ever want to meet.   John and Judi are the potters at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View Arkansas.     My Turnin’ was done in the Hoosier state, but the Burnin’, aahh, the Burnin’, was done down in the Arkansas!  Wood firing, in my humble opinion, is the best way to fire pottery, not only for the beautiful results, but for the intense process.   We fired for about 24 hours, which was actually a good burn and fired to cone 14 in the front by the fire box and cone 12 and 11 in the sections going back towards the flue.  We fired mostly with cypress, which had us thinking that ash might not build like we wanted, but there was nice ash action throughout the kiln, with even my pieces in the back collecting nice ash deposits on the top of the pots.   

 As can be seen in these two folkware pots, the ash build was nice and we got good melt  during the final soaking of the kiln.   Also, this clay had some iron in it which I think adds to the nice flashing color of rust.  There actually is no glaze in those spots; it’s just the interaction of the clay with the fire.

Aah, the Burn!!

Another way to use the flame and the ash that is flying around the kiln is to glaze the pieces, let the ash settle on the glaze and  let it perform as a flux; this encourages the glaze to ‘move’ and sometimes “run like a bunny” as Judi likes to say. 


 Tea set and colander samples with glazes runnin’ like bunnies!


 Below are just a few more images of the kiln, before, during and after shots.  The ‘during’ is definitely the best part.  The team work involved is essential to a good firing; stoking from both sides, raking coals, watching the  cones and draw rings and of course watching the temp rise and fall and controlling the ash and reduction phases.   To sum it up, the Turnin’ is fun, but the Burnin’ is the Best!!!!!           

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