Friday, 16 May 2008

Take Two, Week 16

Hello Everyone,

What a whirlwind the past week has been! I have returned to New Hampshire and am re-adjusting to being home again.

The day after the Hamada sale, Lynne and I went through and cataloged the remaining pots and books. For the next few days people kept calling and buying the remaining items. Since the show catalog is still online, customers could view it then call and find out if their pot was still available. It seemed as if every time Lynne got off the phone she said, "I just sold another pot". Phil also received many emails with similar requests. There was so much response after the sale; I could hardly believe it. I had a glimpse into the business and tax side of selling pots. The paperwork from the Hamada sale will be keeping the Rogers' busy for weeks to come.

I spent Monday and Tuesday packing my things and absorbing the place I have come to love. I had quite a few pots, books and magazines I wanted to take back with me. Instead of shipping them Phil suggested that I try and put them in my luggage. I double packed each pot in bubble wrap, secured it with tape and layered my clothes around it. I had more than thirty pots to take back with me. I just had too many things to fit into two cases. In the end I gave a bag of my clothes to the local thrift shop and mailed one small box home. By some small miracle, both of my suitcases were under the weight limit. My carry-on bag was nearly as heavy as my cases because it contained my laptop and many books and magazines. It is hard to believe how much stuff I accumulated during my stay! The most valuable pots I hand carried on the plane to avoid the risk of them being broken. I tried to pack the pots well but the baggage handlers can be pretty rough.

On Monday night we went out to eat with Bryan and Barbara, a couple the Rogers have known for over thirty years. They were the ones who drove Lynne and me to the hospital immediately after Phil's accident. They used to own a bed and breakfast in Rhayader but recently sold it and retired. They go walking in the hills all the time. Barbara is very involved in the village and organized the 20 mile race the Rogers and I helped at in March. Phil and Bryan tease each other mercilessly. You can tell they have been friends for a long time. We had a really nice dinner together.

The weather during my last few days in Wales was gorgeous. The sun was out and there was no wind. The blossoms of the apple tree in the yard were just about to burst. Earlier plants such as hawthorn and cherry were already in full bloom. The daffodils had gone by but the bluebells were making their arrival. Phil said I was leaving in time to miss the loveliest season. Perhaps I missed spring's fresh and colorful peak but I am glad I saw its beginning.

When I took Tess and Libby out in the fields I tried to memorize that vast view of the Welsh landscape. Although I looked at it nearly every day, its beauty was always striking. The lambs are growing very fast and are about pre-teen size. They are curious and still chase each other on the little hill. Whenever I see a sheep they will always remind me of spring time in Wales during the lambing season.

Tess' arthritis had really been bothering her. The vet said both dogs needed to lose a bit of weight which might help Tess' pain. On Tuesday we took Tess to the vets to be weighed. She had lost several pounds which was wonderful. Before long I hope she can run around and take naps without getting stiff.

On Wednesday I got up and made blueberry and raspberry pancakes for breakfast since Phil really enjoys them. Lynne and I needed to leave Rhayader by 11am so I could catch my bus in Newport on time. The morning flew by and before I knew it, I was saying my goodbyes. It was hard to leave because one gets attached to people and places after 6 months. I certainly hope this visit was not my last. Lynne and Phil have been so generous and welcoming; they are like extended family now. Phil is a superb teacher, critic, and maker. I greatly respect all he does for the ceramic world and the incredible depth of knowledge he possesses. He went out of his way to introduce me to many potters and exposed me to a variety of art and people. Seeing him work every day demonstrated how much dedication it takes to be a successful potter. Phil works extremely hard and does not allow himself to get comfortable. He is continually challenging himself by experimenting and learning new techniques. That is how his work stays fresh and alive. Lynne has become a friend I can talk to about many things. I greatly value all the chats we had, especially those about her life with a potter.

It is difficult to sum up the past six months because so much has happened. I hope these updates have given you all a glimpse into my travels abroad. I had so many adventures and wonderful experiences. I am grateful to have learned about a new culture as it helped me realize truths about my own. The people I have met, the landscape I viewed and the art I experienced will surely influence me. Although my assistantship has ended, I know what I learned will be finding its way into my life and work for years to come. I look forward to that integration and discovery.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Take Two, Week 15

The Hamada exhibition was a success! Lynne and Phil were both nervous the entire week due to the weather forecast. The BBC kept reporting heavy rains for Saturday. Although it did rain during the week, the sun came out enough to dry up most of the water. The field could be used as a parking lot after all. Throughout the week, people came to view the exhibition. When someone stopped by we offered them drinks and cookies. Lynne and I kept preparing food all week. She did not know how many people to expect which made it difficult to estimate how much food to make. Between the two of us we made many sweet and savory nibbles.The marquis was set up Thursday evening. It was perfect for the occasion. Phil and Lynne wanted it connected to the front of the workshop and showrooms so we could set up food, drinks and tables for packing pots. Also, it provided a covered path to get in and out of the showrooms.

Lynne had a team of people who volunteered to help. Most of them were "veterans" from the last Hamada exhibition. Some of them stayed at the Rogers' house and some stayed in town. Nigel and Eileen (who I met on the trip to St. Ives) came up for it. Nigel wanted to stand in the line to get a pot but Eileen helped out by washing dishes and preparing food. A couple named Ray and Shirley came down from the north. They were in charge of parking. Lynne's friends Joan and Pauline came over. They both made food in advance. Pauline made six coffee cakes that looked like they came out of a food magazine. They also helped with food prep and selling the pots. Lisa Hammond and Yoji came up from London. Yoji helped Phil pack the pots as they were sold and Lisa was in charge of the line. Hal and Barbara are an American couple who have a second home in Wales. They helped by making receipts and by selling all the books. Also, a man named David Binch came. He was here and there doing various tasks. Jennifer Hall who is a potter in a nearby village came and helped with food and drinks. Because of all the generous volunteers, the day went smoothly.

The night before the big day Lynne invited all the helpers over for dinner. During the week we had made some lasagnas for Friday night and chili for Saturday night. It was nice to have everyone over for a visit. Shirley was especially animated and lively. She has been a teacher for a long time and told us many stories.

Phil had asked that no one show up to stand in line until 7:30 am. I got up at 6 and there was a car in the driveway. Some people are just extremely determined! While someone started making the coffee, I started making muffins. I think in total I made 6 or 7 dozen. As people started to arrive they were offered hot drinks and warm muffins. They were given numbers in the order of their arrival. They could wander into the showrooms and view the exhibition. Most of them wrote a list of the pots they wanted so if one was sold, they would pick their next choice. The selling of the pots did not take place until 2 pm so many people came, received their number and left again. There was a steady stream of visitors but everyone said it was not nearly as crowded as the previous exhibition. Although it was a bit chilly and overcast it did not rain. We were all extremely thankful the weather stayed dry.

By mid morning, the crowd had quieted down. Lisa wanted to take Yoji up the Elan Valley to see the big dams. Since there was a lull in the action, Lynne said I could go with them. Yoji had never been to Wales before and he seemed to really appreciate the landscape. He also enjoyed the sheep and lambs (it is hard not to love them). Lisa is planning on moving to the country in the next few years but she currently lives in London. She seemed to also enjoy the rural nature of the countryside. After a bit of getting lost we found the dam. I had been to it in the Autumn with Lynne and Phil but there was no water running through it then. We walked for a bit and followed the trail right alongside the dam. The noise of the cascading water so loud you could barely talk to one another. A fine mist was in the air and all the motion was hypnotic. It was an impressive sight. No matter how many times I see the landscape of Wales, I am always struck by how beautiful it is. We did not stay for too long; I was anxious to get back in case it had become busy again. Needless to say it was relaxing and enjoyable to take a drive and see how the season and weather had changed the landscape.

Closer to noon we started putting out the savory snacks. The sun was shining by then and it was nice and warm. Lynne had made mini pastry shells and small toasted bread. Pauline, Joan and Lynne had made many different fillings and an assembly line was formed. When I returned from the brief valley excursion, all the women were filling up plates with colorful, delicious bites. Feedback from the viewers was very positive. They praised the exhibition and the food. Phil was going around talking to everyone. He has such a great wealth of knowledge concerning Hamada and his pots. There was a little polite competition between people who wanted the same pots; however, I think they all enjoyed being around like-minded people. It is nice to have a crowd of individuals with one common interest.

At 2 pm the line reformed and we all took our places to assist with the selling. Lisa would call a number. The person who had that number would go up to the showroom and pick out the pot they wanted. There was only one person or couple at a time in the gallery. Pauline would write down their information and send the pot and box lid to me. I would find the box that went with the pot. Joan would take it downstairs to Lynne and Hal who were handling the money. After it was paid for and recorded, it was brought out to Phil and Yoji who were packing them up. At first it got a little backed up because I could not find the right box for a pair of yunomis. Pauline in a very organized fashion worked out a little system for us to make the whole process faster. It took a few hours for everyone to go through and pick out their pots. There was around 30 people who purchased pots. Some people purchased more than one. Slowly the showroom emptied and the pieces went to their new homes. With the exception of one person, everyone was able to buy a piece on their wish list.

There was a scare when one of the customers could not find a Shimaoka plate they had bought. I could remember packing it up and sending it downstairs. We could not find it and were afraid the wrong person had taken it by mistake. My stomach was in knots as I looked for it. After a frantic search the customer remembered she had set it down on a shelf and walked away. What a relief it was found!

Slowly, the new pot-owners said their goodbyes and went home. Some of them had traveled quite far to buy pieces. We took the food in and started washing up. There was some food left over but not a huge amount. I am so glad Lynne had found all the wonderful help because it made cleaning up go so much quicker. We took out the chili for dinner and had another communal meal. By the end of that I was sick of food!

The kitchen and living room were full of people laughing and talking. Everyone was pretty exhausted from the day but there were smiles all around. Phil gave gifts to everyone who had helped out and made the day a success. He gave me a small pine box. When I opened it there was a lovely yunomi inside. It was tenmoku glazed with finger-wipe decoration on the outside. I could not believe it- was this a Hamada pot? It looked similar to a few that were in the exhibition. Phil said it was thrown by one of Hamada's assistants but was surely decorated by the master himself. It was a truly generous gesture that touched me deeply. I will take special care of this pot. I know as I handle this vessel I will learn from it.

This exhibition was a huge learning experience for me. Not only did I see what it takes to put on a big event, I was able to look at so many pots. I had learned of the Leach/Hamada tradition at college and was taught how important it was to modern studio pottery. I knew Hamada was one of Phil's influences. Once I saw all the pots set up in the gallery I saw the direct connection between Phil's pots and Hamada's. Seeing them in a group made me really look at them and try and discover why they are so important and respected. I know I still have much to learn but my eyes were opened to this type of work in a new way. I glimpsed why they are beautiful. Some may say they are simple but it is this very thing that makes them great pots. I am very fortunate to have experienced this. Helping put on the event was fun but the impression the pots had on me as an artist will truly leave an impact.

Take care,


Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Take two, week 14

Hello Everyone,

I returned to Wales on Tuesday. While I was away Phil fired his gas kiln. We both had some nice results from it. I glazed my pots with tenmoku (a shiny black color) and nuka (a cool white color). I also tried some of Phil's ash glazes. He uses straw ash, pine ash and elm ash to achieve different results. Phil had some stunning bottles emerge from the kiln. He also re-fired some pieces from the wood kiln. The second firing really transformed them. Four of my teapots came out of the firing and only one pours well. Phil thinks the holes need to be bigger and the spout needs a sharper edge.

The week was spent getting ready for the Shoji Hamada sale and exhibition. In the exhibition catalog, Phil writes-

Shoji Hamada was arguably the most influential potter of the twentieth century. In short, he was a genius.Throughout his life his pots displayed a breadth and variety of expression that is unrivalled amongst his peers. In Japan he was awarded the title of Living National Treasure and his works have been collected by many of the greatest museums of the world. Shoji Hamada's pots are highly collectable and sought after....For this exhibition I will have around 70 pieces that will reflect the genius of Hamada along with pieces by his son Shinsaku Hamada and his most favoured apprentice Tatsuzo Shimaoka - over 100 pieces in all.

Hamada is one of Phil's biggest influences. Although he is Japenese, Hamada lived in St. Ives and helped launch the Leach Pottery. His work is said to bring east and west together. This exhibition is a wonderful learning experience for me because I have never seen this many of Hamada's pots. None of the pots have been shown before in the United Kingdom. The Hamada exhibition is in the upper showroom. There are 108 pots in total and they look fantastic. The forms range from plates to yunomis (tea drinking vessels) and bowls. There is even a small water dropper that is used for calligraphy. Often, Japanese pots will be sold in a pine box that has a woven cord attached. The potter usually signs the lid of the box. Most of the pots in this exhibition still have their boxes. The pieces are on display with the signed lid. Since Hamada did not sign his pots it is especially important to have the box lid for identification.

We spent a few days cleaning the upper and lower showrooms. We had to remove the existing pots and dust all the shelves. I cleaned glass cases and windows. Phil assembled a big shelving unit It was a little stressful moving the pots around because they are very valuable. Fortunately, there were no accidents! Once the show was up, we stepped back and admired it. I picked out my favorite pieces- a set of striped plates by Hamada. I also admired a large platter with bold, black glaze trailing on it.

The lower showroom has Phil's pots on display. It was interesting to compare Phil's pots with Hamada's. Although the two potters make distinctly differernt work, one could see the parallels. Phil uses some of the same decoration techniques such as iron brushwork and glaze trailing. Phil once showed me a video of Hamada decorating a pot. He was so quick and skilled in the way he applied the decoration. Phil allowed me to have a shelf for some of my work. I sold a few pieces on Saturday. The show opened on Saturday and will be open for viewing all this week. Customers cannot buy the pots until this Saturday. When the Rogers hosted this event several years ago, one man was so anxious to get the pot he wanted, he camped in his car out in the driveway all night! There is a numbered system for buying so the first person in line gets first choice, second person gets second choice, etc. Hopefully we don't get any campers this year!

I spent all day Friday baking for the sale. Last time over 100 people showed up so Lynne wants to be prepared. The Rogers are hoping it does not rain all week because all the cars are getting parked in their field. So far, it has been pretty gloomy and wet so Phil and Lynne are exploring alternative parking ideas. The last thing they want is a bunch of stuck cars and a muddy, torn up field. On Saturday, many people came to preview the show. Lynne and I were running around getting coffee and biscuits for everyone. There was a good response from the people who came. Many of them attended the last Hamada sale and were excited for this new event. Lynne has organized many people to come and help with all the different jobs such as parking, food and selling. I'm sure it will be a busy and exciting day!

Take care,


Thursday, 10 April 2008

At Nic's, April 8

After breakfast, Nic, Hendrick and I piled in the van to pick up some raw materials in Cornwall. It was a two hour drive to china clay country. It was a brilliant day out with a blue sky. China clay is a white powder essential to potters. It is a component in many clays and glazes. When we got to Cornwall there were many hilltops that had been mined. They were white and square from being cut away. Some of them looked like ziggurats. It was interesting to see where the material is mined. Nic is firing a charcoal and oil kiln at Clay Art Wales in a few months. Nic and Hendrick built a burner to produce charcoal. When we got home we opened the charcoal burner. It was a success! It made four big bags of nice charcoal. We refilled the barrell and lit it again.

Monday, 7 April 2008

At Nic's, April 4

They say there is a first time for everything and it is true. For the first time I am sleeping in a yurt for two weeks (a circular tent made with wood and canvas). I am staying with woodfirer Nic Collins and his family. Nic also has an assitant named Hendrick who will be helping for a few months. Nic and family live in a place called Moretonhampstead, Devon in the south of England. It reminds me a lot of Rhayader- a small self sufficient village. I can tell this is going to be a fun adventure!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Take Two, Week 11

Hello Everyone,

Seems like I just wrote the last update! Everyone here is still tired and catching up from the weekend's sleep deprivation. Tomas and Marguite left for a few days to go sightseeing/potter-meeting. On Monday Phil had to drop off some pots at a friend's house named Mark Griffiths. There is a weekend workshop Phil and many other Salt/Soda firers will be participating in. Mark is going early to the event so he is bringing Phil's pots for him (saves on shipping costs). I will miss the event because I will be at Nic's. Phil's pots were for that. Mark's property used to be a school so it is quite large. His showroom is where the old school room used to be. He is ever such a nice, friendly guy. He is a potter but he also maintains lovely gardens and makes wooden bowls. He had two absolutely stunning historical slipware bakers. I've noticed that potters here have a lot more historical pots in their collections when I compare it to the collections of many Americans. They have pots of their contemporaries as well but it just seems that every potter here has certain types of old pots in their homes.
From there we went to Knighton to visit Phil's friend Islewyn (it doesn't get more Welsh than a name like that!). While searching for petrol, we drove through a charming medieval town called Ludlow. It had the most fantastic architecture! Islewyn owns an antique shop that has loads of pots. It has relatively contemporary pots (there was one of Phil's older teapots) and older pots too. It was interesting to see them all; there was so many to look through. Phil bought a jug by Ray Finch, one of his influences and a coffee pot by David Leach. We went out to dinner at a nice pub that Phil and Lynne used to always bring the people on their workshops to.
The next day, I was bursting with excitement to unload the kiln. We did look in with a flashlight; Phil even took a few small pots out that were within his reach. Ken Matsuzaki, an extremely successful Japanese potter who was Shimaoka's apprentice, stayed with Phil last year and fired some of his pots there. Phil refired a cup of Ken's in this firing. Phil had put it on top of the bag wall (which is the half wall of bricks in front of all the stacked pots that directs the flame upwards). Somehow the bag wall shifted during the firing and Ken's yunomi stuck to a kiln shelf. When Phil took it out, it had a chunk of the shelf stuck to it. It may have even kept the bagwall from falling further and disturbing the stack. It is a beautiful cup with rough facets and a pinholed shino glaze. It got some interesting ash deposits on it. Phil ground the shelf off it then said I could have it. It is a very special pot and I will use it carefully.
Lynne and I cleaned all around the kiln, sweeping up charcoal and wood chips. We had to move the pallets where the wood was because that is where the fresh pots would go. Later, Phil and I glazed pots for his gas kiln. I'm glad I had something to do, otherwise it would have been driving me crazy waiting to unload. I mixed up some more black tenmoku glaze. It was an extremely windy day and I was glad to finally be inside the warm house. Tomas and Margite came back from their short travels and we were all excited because Tomas had said he was cooking us dinner. Lynne had told me what a fabulous cook he was so I was looking forward to it. Lynne was right- Tomas made a very delicious meal! He made spicy bruschetta-like appetizers with the main dish being chicken. He cooked the chicken in a red wine sauce with red onions and grapes. All this he placed over rocket greens which have a very bitter, peppery flavor. The sweet grapes with the bitter rocket was very nice. Pudding was the best- stuffed peaches! He filled halved peaches with a cocoa, amaretto, nut mixture and served them with this heavy amaretto cream. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it! Phil said they could come anytime to fire the kiln, Lynne said they could come anytime and cook. We stayed up a bit late talking and having a really good time.
Today was the big day.... UNLOADING!!! After breakfast we started unbricking the doors around 10 am. Anne and Guy came to see how everything looked. It was cold and raining (again). We unloaded the main chamber first. It was a mix, some good and some not so good. There was a lot of cool spots where Phil had never had cool spots before. It seems the weather had more of an effect than we thought because several other potters fired the same weekend and had the exact problems we had- stalling, etc. Phil is not sure why the pots came out the way they did- many of them underfired. If a pot is underfired it means the piece did not get hot enough for the glaze to melt as it should. The result is a dry, light glaze that feels chalky.

I had about two boards worth of pots in the kiln. Most of them were in good places and came out well. I was particularly happy with a jug lined with a nuka glaze. It had a big ash deposit right in the middle near a dimple- absolutely juicy. I also had a few teapots that were coated nicely with ash. I tried one out and the tea comes out nicely but it does drip. Any seasoned potters who have tips on preventing this, please share them! I also had some shallow bowls that I stacked with shells and wadding in between that came out really well. I put a few of the squared lidded boxes in and they also came out nice. Phil had an interesting happy accident with a shino glaze. He had ordered some spodumene which is a granular sort of ingredient he puts in some of his glazes. The suppliers sent him some that was not as fine as it should have been. I mixed up a glaze with it not realizing it was wrong until I tried in vain to put it through the sieve and it looked like wet sand. In the end we think it might have given the glaze a crawled effect. This means it created little crackle patterns. It looked stunning on many of the pots.

The salt chamber had a pretty low success rate. It was reduced well but many things were really brown and monochromatic. There were a few nice pots but many of them will need to be refired. Some of the shinos inside were bubbly and blistered. Phil says he should have put a little more salt in to make the pots look better over all. I did get a pair of low bowls out of the salt chamber that came out amazing. Again, I stacked them with shells and wadding. They had a flashing slip on the outside and a shino on the inside. I never used shells before and I was really taken with the results. I was sad that Phil was not happier with his pots. It is hard though because when you make a pot you have an expectation of how it will look. If it comes out different than expected, even if others like it, it is hard to accept it yourself. He had two big shows coming up and will now have to refire a lot of these pots to make enough for the shows. Its just dissapointing and stressful after all the hard work that goes into firing the kiln. Phil has decided to turn the salt chamber into a regular wood chamber and do all his salting in his old salt kiln. Overall, I was happy with my pots and Phil had some real gems too. He no doubt learned from this firing. It just reinforces that no matter how long you've been a potter, there are always new things to learn.

There were no lamb fatalities this week! I think there are three newborns so far. The newest lambs are a set of twins I saw this evening while walking the dogs. They were still all slick looking and the placenta was on the ground. They seemed healthy but I'll keep an eye on them just in case. There is this little mound of earth you can see when standing at the kitchen sink. Late in the afternoon the lambs all gather on it and go "a-gamboling". This means they frolick around and chase each other; it is absolutely adorable and fun to watch. Sometimes they will jump staight in the air like they have springs on thier hooves. The males head butt each other and they just tear around kicking and jumping. They have so much fun. Its something to see 10 or 12 white fluffy lambs a-gamboling.

Margite and Tomas left a few hours ago. Margite is going back to Denmark for college and Tomas will return to Estonia. It was fun to get to know them a little. I am getting ready to go to Nic's on Friday. Phil is going to Newport to visit his dad and he will drop me off at the train station. This will be the last update for a while as I will not be back until April 20th or so. I hope you are all well and enjoy the pictures.

Take care,


Monday, 31 March 2008

Take Two, Week Ten

Hello Everyone,

After about 40 hours of firing the wood kiln, we have all nearly recovered. It was not the smoothest firing. It seems the kiln decided not to cooperate but we won't know for sure until we unload it on Wednesday. The beginning of the week found Phil and me wrapping up loose ends as we finished packing the kiln. The weather was decent so we were hopeful it would remain that way for the firing. The kiln is outdoors with a semi open shed. Margite and Thomas came on Wednesday evening. They are both very lovely people. She is finishing up a pottery course in Denmark but plans to set up a pottery in Estonia after graduation. Margite was Phil's apprentice about a year ago. She is busy planning her final show at college. She broke her hand over Christmas break so that set her behind a bit. It is better now but she has a lot to catch up on.
Phil lit a fire on Thursday to warm up the kiln. It burned all day and on Friday the inside temperature was about 200 C. On Thursday Lynne and I spent most of the day in the kitchen. We had invited a few people over to dinner that night. We made appetizers like pesto and tapenade, pizzas with everything from scratch, a few different salads, bread and some pies (apple and strawberry rhubarb). We had enough food left over to eat the next day while we were firing. Joining us for dinner was Lynne and Phil's friend Pauline (who used to be on the planning board for the Aberystwyth Ceramics Festival with Phil) , Jason, Julianne and their friend Katrina whom we had met when we helped Jason fire his kiln. We had a great time, ate too much and felt good and ready for the firing. I'm sure Margite enjoyed seeing everyone as she had spent time with all of them while she was living with the Rogers'.
Phil officially lit the kiln again about 6:30 am on Friday. The kiln has three chambers, the firebox, the main chamber and the salt chamber. We started by stoking the firebox. Ideally in a wood kiln, long flames pull through the whole kiln creating nice flashing marks on the pots. Unfortunately, the wretched weather returned for us on Friday and Saturday. There was 50 mph gales and horizontal rain and hail. Since the kiln shed has a metal corrugated roof, the sound of the hail being blown against it at such a strong speed was defening! We put wood into the firebox for most of Friday into the early morning. We took turns stoking. Each side of the firebox has a stoke hole with a hinged door on it. One person opens the door while the other person throws the wood in. There is a pyrometer which is a temperature gauge that has a probe inside the kiln. A digital readout tells you what temperature the kiln is at. I am used to fahrenheit so the celcius reading was a little wierd for me. Basically, we watched the pyrometer to make sure the temperature was rising. When it started to fall, we put in more wood. You have to get into a rhythm, otherwise the temperature may stall and not rise as much as you want. You have to be careful not to make it rise too quickly. All throughout a firing, there are chemical and physical changes happening within the kiln. If you fire it faster than the clay and glazes want, you risk interfering with the natural progression of those transformations. In short, it can make the pots look pretty dreadful.
On Friday Phil's friend Guy came to help. Guy made all the metal bracing and doors on the kiln. He met Phil when he went on one of Phil's summer pottery workshops. Guy is great with wood and metal and helped with a few projects when the kitchen was being renovated. Tomas had never fired a kiln before but he really got the hang of it. He seems to have a very mathematical brain (something most potters don't!) He was figuring out how many degrees would rise and fall before we needed to stoke. He and Margite made a great team. We took turns going in to eat. Trays of tea and coffee were brought out every so often to re-energize us. I told Phil that wood kilns actually require two types of fuel- lots of wood to keep the temperature going and lots of caffeine to keep the potters going!
I went to catch a few hours of sleep around midnight on Friday. When I came back several hours later the kiln had only risen about twenty degrees- not good! There was this one brick in the first chamber and several on the firebox that Phil would take out when he wanted the temperature to rise. Doing this creates a damper that sucks the heat through faster. The only trouble is, Phil was worried there was too much air going into the kiln. To make his glazes work, Phil needs the atmosphere to be reducing (meaning there is more fuel than air. The fuel doesn't compust as fast and it creates a lot of carbon). If too much air goes in, the atmosphere will oxidise and the pots will turn out all light colored, not at all what Phil wants. So, he opted to keep the bricks in for a while to insure reduction, thus the temperature stalled. Eventually it did start to rise very slowly and we also started stoking the main chamber.
Around 5 am it looked like we might actually have a nice day. The sky was blue and the wind died down. However, it was just tempting us and soon turned stormy again. It was actually worse on Saturday than it was on Friday. After a while, I did not even notice if it was raining or blowing. The kiln was nice and toasty and I could stand near it and be very warm. Jason, Julianne and Katrina came back on Saturday to help us. Guy also came back. We stopped stoking the firebox and only worked on the last two chambers; Margite and Tomas on the main, Phil and me on the salt. It was a real struggle to keep the temperature climbing and keep the right atmosphere inside the kiln. Phil said it had never acted like that before. His theory is that something was wrong inside the kiln that we could not see. Between the firebox and main chamber is a bag wall, a half wall of brick used to direct the flames upward. There are some holes in it to keep the flame pulling through. Phil blocked up a few holes to try and make it heat a spot that was always cool. He reckons that he blocked up too many and therefore, the heat was not getting through efficiently. Once the kiln starts there is not much you can do to change the inside so you just have to go with it and hope it works. The weather was not helping either. The wind was blowing right down the chimney putting cold air in and also drawing hot air out too fast. Phil said to Jason, "I don't know why we put ourselves through this, its such a bloody pahlavah" (meaning such an awful fuss). It certainly was a pahlavah! Oh dear, oh dear.
The lambs were not liking the weather either. Phil found another dead one that had gotten too wet. The farmer came and took a few away that were very small. I was walking by a window in the house and I saw a lamb lying down in a funny way and there was a crow near it. The crows always go after them if they are wounded or dead. I yelled to Lynne and she jumped over the fence and ran towards the little guy. I put on my wellies and went too. When she picked it up I thought it was dead because its head was tilted back. He was alive though not in the best condidtion. He was having some kind of fit with his eyes rolled back and a little foam coming out of his mouth. He was a pretty big one so it seemed strange that the cold should bother him like that; its usually the newborns that can't cope. We brought him inside and wrapped him in a towel. I sat with him near the heater and rubbed him to warm him up. The reason why his head was tilted back was because he could not breathe. His nose sounded blocked up and he could not open his mouth. No matter what we tried he could not breathe right. Once he warmed up he seemed better but he was in such a state, it did not seem hopeful. He was really struggling, kicking his feet and such because he could not catch a breath. It was so frustrating not being able to do anything. Fortunately, the farmer came to do his rounds and we flagged him down. He said a few other lambs had the same thing and although he took them to the vets they could not diagnose what it was. The farmer took him home, put him under a warming lamp and gave him some medicine. We found out the next day that he made it through the night but died in the morning. The farmer thought it was probably pneumonia brought on by the weather conditions. Lynne said, at least we saved him from the crows and made him comfortable. It was still very sad.
Soon after the lamb incident, Jason and his crew went home. By this point we were mostly just stoking the salt chamber and getting it up to temperature. Phil puts the salt in when the kiln is at its hottest. You can't even believe how much wood we used! That huge pile Lynne and I stacked was used by early Saturday and we had moved onto a secondary pile. Sometimes we were stoking as often as every 4 or 5 minutes so it goes pretty quick. The kiln was so hot inside the wood would combust as soon as it entered the stoke hole. By about 8 pm it was time to put salt in. Phil uses between 8 and 10 pounds of salt. Margite measured it out and packed it up in brown paper baggies. Phil would either toss them in or put two at a time on a board and drop the board in. He did this over 1 1/2 hours. The salt gets so hot it turns into a vapor and covers the pots in a glaze. It was interesting for me as I had never seen it done before. Unlike the rest of the firing this part went really well. Phil has not been at all happy with past results from the salt chamber but this time he said he felt the most in control he's ever been. At least one part of the firing went that way! By the end of it we were all so tired and a bit loopy. As Lynne would say, we were all going a bit doolally. Around 9:15 pm, 39 hours after starting, we stopped stoking, pushed in the dampers and placed all the bricks back in. It was finished!!! When we got inside Lynne had made us some food but we were all so tired we weren't that hungry. I told Phil I was SO EXCITED to unpack the kiln. He said we can take a peek on Monday but won't unload until Wednesday. He said, "Kari, it might look terrible so curb your enthusiasm". I'm still looking forward too it although I am trying to curb by enthusiasm.
On Sunday, we slept in. We had to move the clocks ahead so that meant we lost another hour of sleep. I made a big celebratory batch of blueberry oatmeal pancakes. We went up to Guy's house because he built a big pond last year that Phil wanted to show us. Of course, the weather was beautiful and warm. Guy and his wife Anne have really done a lot with their garden. They have planted all kinds of flowers and made stone walkways. It is all tiered as they live on the top of a hill. Guy dug a huge pond at the base of the hill that he hopes to put fish in. They have planted some water plants that will look nice once they've grown and filled in. All around their house is a very old forest with mossy, twisted trees. It was a lovey place although it was a bit windy up on the hill.
We had to get home because the groomer was coming for Libby and Tess. They have very thick coats and with all the mud and water their fur was getting quite matted in places. For most dogs gettin groomed is no big deal. For Libby it is a thoroughly traumatic experience. Phil and Lynne warned me that she hates it and will hide under the kitchen table for days after. The table is her security blanket.
Sure enough, Christine came with her folding table and tools. Phil managed to get Libby on it but once she got her footing she wrestled away and jumped off. No joke, it took three of us to hold her while Christine brushed and trimmed her. The whole time Libby was shaking and licking her lips a lot. We were all patting her and whispering to her to help her calm down. She tried a few more times to escape and nearly managed to once. It is strange because they've had her since she was a pup and she was never abused. Libby is just a bit of a drama queen with a streak of being neurotic. She had so much undercoat it took over an hour and a half to finsh. Mind you, when it was all over she looked much better. She will surely feel better too as she will not be so hot all the time. She got off the table, gave herself a mighty shake and made a beeline straight for the kitchen. Tess was next and she was no trouble at all. I don't think she liked it much, but it was nothing compared with her sister. They both looked very smart when they were done. You've never seen so much fur! Phil says we could have made a whole other dog from it. Oh the joys of dog ownership. As Lynne predicted, Libby is still giving me grudging looks as if to say, "I thought you were my friend". She will not sit near me or get on the couch with me. She probably thinks I will go after her with a brush and clippers.
This Friday I am going away for two weeks. There is a potter in Devon named Nic Collins who is also a wood firer. I may get to help him fire his wood kiln. Nic and his wife Sebina live pretty simply out in the countryside. I will be staying in a yurt which is like a big tent made from canvas and a wood frame. It should be quite an experience.Because of this I will be unable to send my updates. I will try to send one before I go to let you all know how the firing went. I took a lot of short videos of the firing because it is hard to time the picture right to catch the action since my camera has a bit of a delay on it. I hope you enjoy the photos. Until next time...

Take care,