Archive for January, 2011

Making dishes.

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

January is usually a slow time at the pot shop. I make a lot of pots for the holiday sales, much more than I can sell. It is always good for people to come to the sale and see so much ware. Most year I don’t even think about throwing until February. January is a time to go snowshoeing and prepare taxes. Right about the end of December I got a rather large dinnerware order (30 place settings). I have been working my way through the dishes, not in too great a hurry but plugging along. It is nice to be indoors with the Utah weather so cold and snowy the past while.
I do get out some to “work” with the new tractor Mrs Santa brought me.
I start with dinnerware by throwing a “pancake” of clay to stick a bat to my wheelhead.
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When the pancake is thrown to the width of the bats and smooth I cut groves in it, first with a point of a wooden rib and then with a serrated rib. This creates a surface that the wooden bats will adhere to easily.
These are bats that I have been using since I made them thirty years ago. I cut them out on a table saw (another blog sometime) and gave them three coats of urethane. They have held up very well.
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You’ve got to love throwing on a treadle wheel. It is just fun. Carpe Argillam! I’ll not say too much about these throwing photos because they really speak for themselves.
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I will say that is is critical to compress the clay on the bottom and at the rim to avoid cracking.
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I’m checking the width and depth. I want the width 12.5″ so there is a ways to go. It is good to have the current width in mind as I go to the next stage of throwing the plate. The depth is where it should be at about a half inch.
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I am now forming the rim of the plate, compressing the rim and the bottom.
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Phil Rogers illustrates the technique of forming the rim thus. Hid picture explains it better and faster than I can.
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Once again I am measuring both height and width. The rim height is 1.5″ and the width is 12.5″ as it should be. With that done I set a pointer so I can throw the rest of the plates to that mark.
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The next day after the plates are leather hard it remove the bat I left on the pan cake and trim the edge of it to a sloping shape so I can use it to trim the plates.
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I am placing a leather hard plate on this trimming chuck made from the pan cake which is also now a soft leather hard and will grip the clay nicely to keep it in place. With the plate centered on the chuck I press down gently with a small round disk of wood to hold the plate in place as I trim the foot. I am measuring the foot so I can get them consistent.
The last move is to mark the plate.
Over the next few days I made a smaller plate and a soup bowl as per the clients wishes. The dinner plate is made from 5 lbs of clay, the salad plate also known as lunch plate is made from 3 lbs as is the soup bowl on top.
While I was making the dinnerware Shonpa Yeshi was in the studio with me. He is a student at Wasatch Academy, a nearby boarding school. He is Tibetan and is from Dharamsala, India where there is a resettlement community. He stayed with us for three weeks while the school was out for the holidays. He took most of the photos for this blog and made some fun little clay objects. I was amazed at his ability to sit quietly and watch me throw.

The baking dish.

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Lee made meat loaf last week. It was divine as usual. It was the three way mix of beef, pork and turkey with her own special twist. She baked the meat mixture in an oval baking dish that has been in our home since I made it in 1985.
In 1985 I was a student in Brigham Young University’s MFA program. Here is a passage from an article I published a couple of years ago in Studio Potter telling the story of the pot featured above.
“One day in graduate school, I was working on a run of about a dozen baking dishes. I had them laid out on a table and was deciding how to glaze them when a professor passed through the room. He asked in a slightly irritated voice, “What is all this production work?” I mumbled something about Zen aesthetics and the Un- known Craftsman and kept on with my work. Later, when I was inspecting the finished pieces with my wife, she picked out one she wanted for our kitchen. The one she selected grew on me, and at her urging I photographed it and entered it in the 1985 NCECA Members’ Juried Exhibition. My piece was selected for the show. Word spread quickly in our ceramics department that I had gotten a piece into the NCECA show. Soon the same professor was in my studio, wanting to “talk about my work.”
I asked him if he remembered that run of “production work” that he had complained about. I then explained that he and I work differently to get to the same point. His approach involves a series of thumbnail sketches and maquettes, from which one is chosen to be executed full scale. I work by making a lot of pieces in series (read: production work), without a lot of con- scious thought given to each individual piece. After the firing I will select the one or two that have that “thing” that I can’t articulate but rec- ognize when I pick them up and examine them with my eyes and my hands.
When I was in San Antonio for the conference, a friend and I were visiting with a young woman who had a piece in the show. Her piece was an intellectually driven sculptural vessel that addressed how women are often tied to domestic drudgery in their traditional roles. It was a very smart and well executed piece and I enjoyed looking at it. She was not aware that I had a piece in the show when she said to us, “Did you see that “pot” in the show, you know, the casserole?” Her tone and diction didn’t speak of admiration, but of disdain. I wouldn’t have said anything, but my friend piped up, “Oh yeah, that is Joe’s piece.” She was embarrassed and I was amused. It was clear to me that my mundane pot, with its intentionally understated aesthetic and requiring touch and use for communication, was fighting an uphill battle for appreciation in that academic arena.”
That was all a lot of years ago. The dish is still in use in our kitchen where it risks wear, tear and possible breakage, but it has the best life a pot can have.