Right place, right time

I saw a bee tree in the making!!  “Absolutely amazing”, I kept saying to myself.

Now, people always ask me where the name of the pottery comes from, and I go on and explain bee trees because a lot of people have never heard of one.  It is a solid tree, that house-hunting bees find once they swarm from either a man tended hive or another natural hive in the wild.   We had two very close to our home when we first moved here 25 years ago.  Because of mite infestations and a lightning strike those tree hives are now gone.  But yesterday came, and we now have ourselves a new bee tree and thousands of new neighbors. (we don’t mind them because they’re very quiet and very good at gardening)   It’s hard to describe what brought me out of my quiet introspection as I was walking up our tree lined gravel lane.  The buzzing must have been there but was increasingly getting louder until it startled me and I thought it was a helicopter approaching.  When I mentally focused on the noise I realized it was bee buzzing to the Nth degree.  I thought “WOW” and started looking for a huddled mass of bees clinging to their precious queen.  What I saw instead were thousands of bees about 20 feet off the ground flying in what seemed to be a very agitated chaotic dogfight.  When I focused visually, I saw masses of bees flying to and landing on the sweet gum, where lightning had left it’s mark a number of storms ago.  There was one entrance  at which it looked like the chaos was pointed.    By the time I went to get my camera, 100 feet to the house and back, the buzzing and chaos seemed to be quieted to half.   I watched in amazement as what I had interpreted as chaos was actually a very organized system for getting thousands of bees into a little hole to set up shop.  Within 15 minutes, all was quiet, the bees were home and all that was left were the guard bees at the entrance.    I tried to capture the bees with pictures but just didn’t have a good enough lens, but if you look at the old lightning streak in the tree, the brownest parts along the strike are honey bees.  I just am so thankful to have been in the right place at the right time.   These little creatures really deserve a lot of respect and we should all be thankful for their hard work, determination and intelligence.

Welcome to the property new neighborzzzzzzzzz!! 

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Heaven Scent

April showers really do bring May flowers, as our Orange Blossom Bush can attest.  I wish you could smell this.  This heavenly scent must be heaven sent and is my olifactory dream of what heaven will smell like.  Not only is it good for the human soul,  bees seem to collect their pollen and then linger.  For all of their hard work, they too must enjoy it’s magic.

So, stop by the pottery if you want to take in some of this heavenly scent.

You’ll find me and the bees lingering, forgetting for a few moments that we all have tasks to accomplish, but a few minutes spent in heaven on Earth is worth slowing down.

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Pass the salt, please.

Thank you very much Beth! ~~~  Beth Mohr is a  friend, potter, and neighbor of mine who is firing a salt kiln; which is a pretty fun thing because salt glazing is fascinating and the finished product can be achieved no other way.  The distinctive “orange peel” surface is tactilely satisfying and the way the salt vapor “shrink wraps” the piece with a clear,  durable surface is one of those pottery miracles that clay throwers cherish.  Saturday, Beth took the kiln on with zeal, determined to be done by the time thunderstorms moved in, (this Spring there have been very small windows between storms) and she did it!!  ~~~  Salt glazing has been around since medieval times and was used quite a lot in Europe.  As stoneware pottery developed in the 1700’s in early America, the familiar salt glazing was favored by the immigrant potters. 

The type of historic pieces I do from the early to mid 19th century, lend themselves well to this vapor glaze; to which I say again,  “Thank you very much Beth!”    Here are a few of my folkware pieces from her latest storm dodging kiln, newly born to the world today!

Larry, Moe and Curly

Larry, Moe and Curly were inspired by some little ugly jugs that live at The Smithsonian ; mid 19th century.   The iron in the clay may have flashed a little in this kiln and gave their cheeks a healthy rosey glow; always nice to see in an ugly jug.

This little bird seems happy amidst the Nine Bark bush, waiting for you to insert your coins to save for a rainy day. (did I mention we’ve had a lot of rainy days, thus this bank is empty, for now)  And no, you don’t have to break the bank to get your money out.  I promise to let you know the secret when you purchase one.

Ahh, the snake jug.  These sometimes tend to disturb people; which actually was the intent by those who originally made them.   They were to remind people that the whiskey in the jug was good for medicinal purposes but if abused could “bite”.   Not a bad symbol.  This little guy is wrapped  around a “Liberty” jug symbolically protecting the precious and fragile concept.    I plan on using this jug myself at 18th century reenactments. 

So, this is just a sample of how salt glazed pieces turn out.  For these and Mohr, that’s Beth Mohr, you’ll have to come and visit our booths at the Arts in Harmony event this weekend.  Sat. 10-5 and Sun 11-4  in New Harmony, Indiana.  There will be lots of artists and music and food, so come on down, (it will be indoors if there is a threat of storms) and ask Beth to “Pass the Salt Please!”

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“The children are coming! The children are coming!”

And with the ceremonial blast of the conch shell, so began another New Harmony Heritage Week.     For over 25 years, New Harmony has been hosting the areas’ school children to experience what life was like in early America by highlighting different artisans from throughout the Midwest and their craft. 

I have only been participating for 6 years but Marion, pictured, has been here for all of them.  The children rotate from trade to trade to hear the stories, (some are actually true), from the 18th and early 19th centuries.  My wife and I were fortunate this year to be moved to the double log cabin, which was like moving to the upper east side for The Jeffersons!   We, in the past, had been in a nice cabin, but it had a dirt floor, a small window and no fireplace.  So when we moved in last week next door to Marion and his wife Polly, we had a wood floor, THREE windows and a fireplace.  I could feel the joy of someone from that time period who would have experienced what we did.     Back to the conch…Marion actually watches for the giant yellow time machines that drop the children in to the Atheneum.  When they start down the stairs to the orchard, Marion bellows out the blast signalling to all of us who are from an earlier time that our visitors have arrived.  All of the folks that demonstrate are fantastic.  I have learned so much myself from their stories, (did I mention some are actually true); but more than the stories you hear is what you see; their truly amazing skills!  I can’t highlight everyone, you’ll have to visit New Harmony next year to see all of them yourself, but I thought I would mention our neighborhood around the cabin. 

With me, in my room of the cabin, was my wife demonstrating the musical instrument , the Scheitholt.  It is the German ancestor of our American mountain or lap dulcimer.  So having music, and a wood floor, and more light and a fireplace was really, really good.  No, GREAT!   We also had our friend Diana play on the days when my wife could not be there.   And then there is Polly.  Polly has “vision” like no one I know.   She takes a pair of scissors, a small piece of folded paper and, zip, zip, zip, zip, cut, cut, zip, zip , cut and Voila! she’d have a cut foldout picture of 8 dancing bunnies, or deer in the forest or birds in trees.  Incredible! 

I should mention too that Marion is a great band box maker, who weaves stories into his demonstration as well as he weaves the laces that hold his wooden treasures together. (I think all of his stories are actually true). 

And then, right outside my window, was the continual joy and laughter of children coming from watching Deb explain about her lye soap making process.   Using her grandmother’s cast iron kettle and recipe brought from Scotland, Deb holds their attention with her wit and periodic singing, (she has a great voice), and playing of spoons.   I picture all of the children that night at dinner trying to play spoons around the  table.  I think I actually heard a loud collective rhythmic clanging coming from Evansville Wednesday night.  (did I mention some of the stories are true?)

And like any pioneers moving on to new frontiers, we obviously left good neighbors behind.   We did periodically get to visit and share some stories, laughs and food, just as people in early America would when gathering at markets or  the rendezvous.    Even though Pat was not our neighbor this year, she has been in the past and what a blessed neighbor she is.  Her knowledge of the Earth, dry foods, and Native American first people crafts and skills is the best.  and I’m 100% sure she’s giving you the straight scoop.  She’s my “go to” person for reenactment and period advice.

So, the children came, the demonstrators displayed their skills and told their stories and then the children went back to the 21st century.   Hopefully, some will be inspired to  learn these crafts and twist “yarns” of their own.   Some, I imagine, may even be true.

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Drips and drops and squiggles; Oh My!!

Not to worry!  It only adds to the authenticity of the process.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, slip trailing was one way of adding decoration to redware pottery.  Slip is just clay in water suspension; so it flows freely out of a cup like tool, shown in this image.   Because the slip needs to be liquefied enough to flow out of the cup through the turkey quill, it presents some interesting challenges.

One being gravity.  The slip wants to flow to the lowest point which means the plates have to be decorated “flat out” flat.  If they were already curved, the slip would flow to the middle and you have what is known in pottery jargon as “one messed up design”.    The other challenge is clay has to be wet in order to stick to other clay.  Which if you haven’t guessed yet, means, what you write is what you get; because if you go to wipe it to fix it, you smudge it and wreck it.  (see “one messed up design”)  OK.  So, once I am ready to write using the quill, liquid clay and a flat plate, anxiety flashes and I go for it.   Thus, drips, drops and squiggles.  Now the plate has to sit; because the third challenge is getting it to slump on a mold without smearing the already thick and thin letters.   It is now a waiting game.  When the sheen leaves the lettering, I slump it on a plaster pie plate form and beat the edges down to  get the shape, trim the edge, and go to bed.

Ahh, a new day. 

 And then I remember I have to see if my lettering smeared.   So, I pop off the plate and Voila! the slip is now flat, almost, and not smeared.   The plates then sit about 7 days and air dry and are then fired to 2000 degrees;  glazed, and fired again to 2000 degrees.

So, now we have some decoration on our redware, our gravy will stay on the plate, anxiety is gone, and life is good.   Oh my.

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Star of wonder

When I first saw a photo of a plate by Solomon Grimm, a redware potter from Pennsylvania in the early 1800’s, I couldn’t quite figure out his technique.  So, I wondered as a I wandered around the studio.  It wasn’t until I made a research trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art  that I saw how Grimm used thick layers of clay in slip form  to create a very contemporary looking piece.  One wonders what others thought of such a unique piece in this time period.    Well, Grimm’s piece inspired me to create my star plate and people of our time period seem to be drawn to the cosmic look of the marbled background.

I wonder if Solomon enjoyed laying on his back watching the beautiful night sky over Pennsylvania.  In any case, Thank You Mr. Grimm, for your “star of wonder”.

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Plate evolves into a butterdish

Darwin missed this one completely.    In fact, it even amazes, and delights, the potter in me,  as to how designs move about in the studio and pieces evolve into other pieces.    These evolutions are often brought about by a customer comment or request.   For example,  I was looking for a design to work on while I was demonstrating at different events.  I needed a piece that would take a while to carve.  Due to the fact these pieces are carved in the “green” state, transporting them can be precarious.  So the fewer pieces one takes, and the more carving one can do on one plate makes life less stressful.  Thus, this piece with the diamond border was born.  It takes a good deal of time to do and is a good design to show many people how sgraffito is actually performed. 

(women should now skip down 5 lines) 

  MEN: this plate says in German ” everyone says I have such a pretty wife “.  Every husband should have this plate in reserve because at some point in your life, you will need to do something especially nice to make up for something you have done.  This will not solve problems, but will put you on the right road to recovery.

A customer I met at the 18th century market at Historic Locust Grove asked if I could put that diamond pattern on a butter dish, and as you’ll hear me say a lot as a potter is, “sure”.   Then the thought process begins.

Once I figured out how to position the plate in relation to the cover, all went relatively well and it turned out to be quite a pretty little piece.

So who knows what the butter dish is now evolving into: a tankard,  a chamberstick, a pitcher, a …

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Today, I went to Costa Rica


Well, kinda, sorta……

Last Fall, I met Ron Giles at the Master Gardener Conference at USI, and little did I know that Ron could transport me to Central America.    He explained to me that he was an orchid grower (understatement) and wondered if I could make specific types of pots for his orchid needs.  What transpired for me was a great education into the world of orchids, their specific needs, and most of all, getting to view the other-worldly flowers that they give to  this world.

These beautiful flowers are the result of being happy in Ron’s greenhouses and in him tending to the many needs of these horticultural divas.  Some like it hot; some like it hot, but not too hot.  Some like it hot and their feet wet; some like it hot and their feet dry.    So when Ron asked me to make these pots for him, of course the potter in me said sure.   But after visiting Costa Rica today, (Ron’s greenhouses), I realize there is a higher calling to making these homes for such beloved plants. 

The interesting part about these pots is actually the interior.  There is about a 3″ cone thrown into the bottom of the pot so the roots can spread out and dangle their tootsies in water, yet there are holes in the side for air and to let out any deep water.   I made them in the style of the old English “long tom” pots which adds a nice classic elegance for these beautiful ladies. 

And with a twist of the door handle, we were back in Posey County, where I returned to the studio to decorate some Moravian style redware and plant some rock garden plants in our  sandstone rock ledge.~~~It’s good to be back home.

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A “Spring Day” for the Pottery

  I have to admit, this is a NEW day for the pottery.  Those who know me well know I am not one to jump on the technology rocket, ( I thought I was going to be the last person on Earth to own a cell phone and I’m sure I came close), but the thought of being able to communicate and show what was happening at and around the pottery is a refreshing and exciting proposal.

I am fortunate to have a friend, Heather, who has both hands and feet (and brain) in the 21st century.  I, on the other hand, have one clay encrusted finger dragging my mouse around and accomplish the minimal tasks on the computer.   She has pointed me in the right direction and with her as muse, sent me off so I can blog about what I love; POTTERY!

    As Spring approaches, tomorrow actually,  I thought this to be an appropriate time to begin this new adventure.  In this part of the country, winter was a Real winter; with lots of snow and cold.  (to me ,that’s the good kind)  The plants are covered and protected by snow, the Earth is renewed slowly with moisture, and short periods of warmth are not tempting plants to grow prematurely.  That being said, I had a lot of slow, quiet time in the studio to make new things.   A couple I want to share today are the redware jug and jar lamps.  I also just fired some face jugs but have not yet converted them to lamps. (they have not yet seen the light)  I will post those as soon as they’re done.

So, here we go~~ hopefully sharing love of clay, gardening, and the natural world, from a country potter in Posey County.

Now, back out to the garden.

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