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Troublesome kiln

I’m pretty annoyed with my little old Paragon test kiln.  A couple days ago a nearly new element burned out, from (I think) a bit of glaze that got on it.  Last night a bisque was interrupted when my breaker kept popping.  It’s an old breaker, so I’m hoping replacing it will solve the problem.  But my bisque didn’t get very hot, and cycled through the danger zone several times after I reset the breaker and tried to finish the firing.  A little depressing, as I had a couple nice teapots and a number of small effigy pipes in the firing.

In happier news, my last glaze firing turned out well.1skunka  Several big water pipes survived, including this gray-purple crow.  This little celadon skunk effigy pipe came through too, along with another just a bit bigger.purpcrowa

The crow has a luscious surface– click on the thumbnail to see larger versions of these pieces.

I really like the little skunk pipe.  When I was living in Las Vegas, a guy I knew had a skunk he’d rescued from a roadside zoo that was going out of business.  He was leaving town, and he somehow talked me into taking the skunk.  We named him Edmund Muskie, and he was a truly dreadful pet.  He would bite you quicker than a weasel, and of course skunks are just big fluffy weasels.   It took me years to find someone foolish enough to take Edmund Muskie off my hands.  He was a terrible pet, but for all that, he was very interesting.waterbuffb

The white water buffalo pleases me too.  This glaze has something of the surface quality of polished ivory and is quite lovely to the touch.  I threw the body of the buffalo and then turned it on its side.  The downstem and bowl were added on, and then I modeled the head.  Here’s a detail:waterbuffd


We’re getting ready to go up to New York to get the farm snugged in for winter.  I’ll be away from my wheel for a few weeks.  But I’ll try to post occasionally, anyway.

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Why pipes?

For most of my life as a potter, I was a production potter, and that’s a situation where change almost has to be evolutionary, rather than revolutionary.  A production potter mixes glaze by the big bucketful, he or she must value consistency in many things that non-production potters can vary at will– a consistently rewarding clay body is very important, a good and repeatable firing schedule, and so forth.  Change is sometimes an uninvited and often destructive enemy.  Forms evolve slowly and carefully, surface treatments must be reliable, and so on.  None of this is to disparage the creativity of production potters– all my favorite potters fall into the production category.  The best way to make great pots, in my opinion, is to make a lot of pots.

All that said, when I began my latest round of making, after several years away from clay, I decided to go in a wildly different direction, one that I had not explored for many years.1steampunkliza

When I was a young, invulnerable, and immortal potter, in the mid 70s, I became interested in clay pipes.  I made many of these pipes, and they helped pay the bills.  But time passed, and I gave hostages to fortune, in the form of a family, and I decided the risk was too great a risk to take.  I stopped making pipes.

2handaThe children are grown now, and I no longer have to worry about what would happen to them should bad things happen to me as a result of making politically incorrect objects.  So I’ve taken up pipemaking again, and I have to admit that I am enjoying it greatly.  One of the reasons for that enjoyment is that almost no one with first-class skills is making wheel-thrown pieces in this category, so I get to be a trail-blazer.  Even better, clay pipes have a history stretching back millenia, and yet there are so many forms to make, including many that I’ve never seen in any collection of ancient pipes.  My central gauge in assessing the worth of a pot is how intimately connected to the user it is– thus my love of mugs and bowls.  Pipes are also extremely intimate objects for those who use them.  When I began researching this market, I found that many users actually named their pipes, and referred to them by these names– something I found fascinating.whitebuffalo1

I’m not exclusively making pipes, because I enjoy making other things too much to not make them.  But this new category of forms is tremendously exciting to me, because almost every thing I make is something that has never been seen before– in a much less subtle way than the mugs and bowls I make (which I hope are different from the work of other potters too.)

For me, excitement translates directly into creativity.  These days I have trouble going to sleep, because I’m always thinking about new forms, new glazes, new decorative treatments, or how I’m going to explain my new works to everyone I know.