Saturday, June 25, 2011


Summers up north are so much different than mine ever were growing up in Florida. We have an ebb and flow of summer heat here in the foothills of western PA and the further north you go it feels less and less like the summers I knew. The past few days we have been having a bit of a dip in temperatures and it seems to slow life down even more than the season has already done. The cool evening breezes remind me of the oncoming of Autumn but I know its way to soon and all it ends up doing is conjuring a strange sense of nostalgia and melancholy more associated to the Fall season. Speaking of nostalgia, I just returned from a short visit to Chautauqua, NY. The weather up there...even cooler and really,really wet...kinda typical early Chautauqua weather.

If you have been reading the homefry blog for the last few years you would know that about this time of the year I am posting from the art school there within the Chautauqua Institution. At the end of the season last summer I opted out of the summer long gig there to teach here at home. But I did visit for a couple of days to enlighten the new "Kilnmaster"about some of the intricacies of running the program there ... in fact I just returned. The new "me" there is a good guy named Frederick Bartolovic and he seems to have everything ready to rock. Frederick has a very competent new tech and after a week or two they should have everything down pat. It is a unique program with plenty of unique personalities and some rather unique quirks that do take some getting used to. Enjoy boys...

It was nice to see a few familiar faces in the art school but for the most part it felt like a totally different place. It was always different year to year...although the art school and the Institution are highly resistant to change, there was always new faces hanging out for the season. This year, visiting and not being covered in clay, I just felt like I was one of those many people coming for a sequestered and damp holiday on the lake. It was a little bit of a nostalgic trip for me...and how could it not have been, Chautauqua is a 120 year old Victorian community that calls itself an "American Utopia" revels in nostalgia. After haunting the grounds some like a good tourist, I hit a couple of my favorite breakfast spots(Steadman's and Bo'Nars) and eventually did what I think I did best while living up there for the last three summers...drink beer and eat wings! We escaped the rain by hunkering down over in Bemus Point at the Village Casino...which is not really a casino, but a marina bar and restaurant. I was joined by John Moses Girdler, whom I met last year(and has returned for a repeat performance to bust out a load of work), and Frank and Polly Martin. Frank and Polly are old hands at the Chautauqua business and were very helpful to me when I started working there. I have a great deal of respect for both and admire each of their work, and it was great to hang out with them, John, and the kids. Here's my souvenir picture below. That's my daughter, Frank, John, me, Polly, and the Martin kids.

Before I hit the highway and headed back to PA, I got a chance to check out the galleries and see the exhibition that Nancy has work in. The show was carefully curated by my friend and Director of Galleries, Judy Barie. The exhibition is an animal themed show that showcases ceramics, pristine large format black and white taxidermy animal photos, and a host of mixed media critters.

Here are a couple pics of big pots by Christian Kuharik and a few crazy clay birds by ...somebody whose name I forgot...sorry, but those birds were pretty cool. Outside in the piazza between the two large galleries, the new large "pedestal toppers" by Kuharik were recently's a pic of two and there are two more at the other end not pictured here.

Below are a few shots of Nancy's wood fired works sporting different birds...Kingfishers, Herons, and Cowbirds on the floating shelves right next to Wesley Anderegg's fierce little dogs. As usual, its a great looking show in a great looking space. Click to enlarge.

So ends my nostalgic Chautauqua wandering and its time to check back in to my very real life here in PA this summer...back to my failed pots and crappy clay body(more on that next time), back to teaching and tending my garden.

nos·tal·gia - a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happinessof a former place or time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Working towards...

...a sustainable practice.

Sustainability is the capacity to endure. In ecology, the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions.


to keep up or keep going, as an action or process.

This is a word that is thrown around quite a bit these days. We apply it to a lot of things like agriculture, energy and communities, but what does it mean when applied to your own studio practices? Now, I do not mean the "green" implications to this word as it relates to your studio, but more so an approach to being able to create and to continue to create your own body of work by making a small investment and having modest space.

I have been mulling this question over while I have been teaching beginning ceramics this summer here at IUP. The question in my head is, "how is what I am teaching applicable to my students' needs?". Can I develop a course that will sustain them throughout their collegiate career and even possibly beyond? Because in my mind, that's what a beginning level course should do...lay a solid foundation on which to build. And while I focus on the physical aspects of ceramics, I also plant the seed for critical thought to happen and hopefully continue to happen by presenting current discussions and trends from contemporary ceramics and pit form against surface and function against sculpture.

Before teaching this class I brushed up on all my old clay tricks...reviewing hand building techniques and a wide variety of surface decoration techniques. I know that I learned these things at one time but these days, I rarely employ some of this highly effective,tried and true techniques when working on my own pieces. I think people get used to the way they do things and simply stick with methods that work well for them. I admit it, I'm guilty of this. But, what I'm teaching is forcing me to revisit my own beginnings and maybe even getting me to add a new trick or two to my own repertoire.

I went on to consider that not only should the techniques being taught be applicable to the students continuing on to an intermediate or advanced level but also to those that might go on to want to work in clay later as a hobbyist or art educator. This is also why we are only firing at the low fire level, completing all the work in electric kilns. Most people after their college experience will only have access to electric kilns unless they work at art/community centers or residencies that support different types of facilities and kilns. Besides, these days with the digital setter, you can tailor your firings pretty nicely and achieve effects at a mid range that before was only seen in a high fire gas kiln. For a broader definition of creating a sustainable studio practice check out a brief but loaded article by then graduate student Brian Kluge in the March 2010 issue of Ceramics Monthly.

Hand building; including coil and slab, a basic introduction to wheel throwing, intro to slips and glaze, basic understanding of electric kilns and cones, all topped off with a continued emphasis on surface design or decoration...this is my idea of teaching a sustainable practice in clay. Make your plaster molds in another class with another teacher...strictly nuts and bolts here.

I'm also applying this idea of sustainable practice to my own work...finishing more pieces like the ones in this post, above and below, in the electric kiln. Keeping the level of equipment usage down doesn't diminish the work by any means. I will post images of these mugs, at least, before the end of the week(hopefully)...cone 5, wax resist lines revealing what will be the rich brown clay body, laser printed decals and maybe some lovely kitsch and bling to round it all out. The sculptural piece however might take me a little longer to finish... what I am jokingly calling my "loving balls" piece(pictured below). Work like this often makes me obsess for a while over the permanency of the possible imagery. I think I have my glazes set, but now for the images...hmmmm...critical thought is my mental stir stick. Tune in later for the results.

Keep it real.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

LMCP Gallery and Volunteer Foxgloves...

As I mentioned in the post just before this...recently I spent a little time up at Little Mahoning Creek Pottery aka. Nancy Smeltzer's aka. studio where I'm generously allowed to squat pot. While up visiting, Nancy showed me her new gallery addition...almost finished! I did post some pics of this place back in January but here it is pictured above and below almost ready to go! That's Nancy there peering up at the 10 x 24 foot new gallery space. This is a really great new space completely made from re-purposed materials. Nancy hauled all the old barn board that was used in this building from a barn that was being torn down near her home. The windows and door are also on their second life, now reincarnated in the service of this rustic and lovely pottery gallery. I can certainly see a whole lot of wood fired pots in that space. MMMMMM.
Speaking of wood fired, I am getting busy on two sets of work...throwing a nice sandy high fire clay for the bourry box kiln up at Nancy's and making mid range brown ware pieces for the electric kiln. The second group being similar to the pieces in the slide show in the previous post.

In between time I am home...teaching at IUP for the summer and enjoying the quiet life here in the greater metropolitan area of Indiana, PA. This also means I get to kick around in my yard and garden all summer. You have to understand, I'm a serious garden geek and for the last 3 summers I have been leaving to live and work in the Chautauqua Institution up in Chautauqua, N.Y. Well, I felt it was time for a change of scenery for me at the end of last summer and I now feel like I made the right decision. Now I can be like normal people(whatever that is)and not have my life stretched out in two states and I can really tend to my garden. I have enlarged my veggie garden to include onions and asparagus as well as a couple rows of zinnias. My 3 story high "rhodo-zilla" is in full bloom and looks like a giant purple blob swallowing my back deck. All of my bulbs and perennials are jamming right now and there is still so much more to come. However, I have to say that my very favorite thing out in my garden would have to be the foxgloves. I inherited them along with a few other backyard gems when I bought this old coal miner house. Each year they reseed in different places, sometimes not so much and sometimes a whole lot. This year I have bunches...tall spires of speckled slippers in shades of pink. Not only do I have them in almost every flower bed, but they are in big clumps and there are loads of this new creamy white color.

And in keeping with my wood fire talk, here are a couple gems that I gave a final firing of gold luster and commercial decals. These two babies turned out pretty sweet.

The Chinese menu mug is a nice big cup with a lot of flash and ash that add to the layered band around the top. The other is another "double flamingo homage to FLA." mug that I added the bling to...and I'm happy I did...look for more flamingos in my upcoming work.

How does your garden grow?