December 31, 2012

All The Trimmings

With the tree trimmed, the wood stacked outside on the porch,

I employ all the various trimming tools I have.

at my wheel

to make ridiculously thin porcelain pots!

Something different and something new.

Happy New Year kind reader,

Let's hope its a good one, without any fear.

November 7, 2012


making pots with one eye on the acceptance speech

If i can quote my blogging buddy, Ron Philbeck, "We now resume regular programming. Back to the important stuff, POTTERY!" --Facebook, 11/7/2012

Here's another quote from last night, "I believe we can seize this future, because we are not as divided as our politics suggests, We are not as cynical as the pundits believe, We are greater than the sum of our ambitions." -- Barack Obama


November 6, 2012

Coffee Break vol. 33

A person in my position as maker in chief has no business sitting down to write about pottery. He needs to be strapped to the wheel making pots. With just a few more days to make pots for an upcoming firing, writing a blog post is the last thing I should be doing. But I need a break this evening and I have been promising this post all day in my other channels of social media.

The other thing I should not be doing for this coffee break entry is writing about an empty cup of coffee. Normally I take an actual real time break with a particular cup of joe. Sipping while writing is how thoughts flow best. But here I sit at 10:30 at night trying to summon some distant memory of a break I took earlier in the day, amongst the sunshine, the table of pots covered in plastic or the sheen of being just thrown. The coffee was fresh and hot. The pottery is at its peak when the coffee is just made. The handle is warm, not hot, like the side of the cup that isn't quite ready to be "cupped" in one's hands. Held comfortably at a distance, the cup is coy with its cargo of hot.

Moments later the drink is drunk and cup is retired and work continues. But only after a few pics are snapped. That is the way of the potter blogger. One foot is inside the moment, while another steps back to grab the camera to record it. At the core of my blogging experience is this dance between the making and the recording of the process.

Now the sharing of it.

Mark and I in the Smoky Mtns this past September
The cup is by my brother in clay, Mark Shapiro. In a masterful way the cup is a paradox of stoneware density and it's soft touch. The rise of the cup undulates with a continuous spiral of a deep throwing groove. The salt glaze varies from smooth sheen to a sugary melting with fly ash from its wood fired origins. The unreadable faux script covers the pot in a message in some unknown pattern language. Some of the marks almost look like letters or numbers, Misspellings? Codes? The marks are as varied as the salt glazed wood fired surface.

Evidence that the pot was once stuck to a wheel head and cut with a wire graces the bottom of the pot in parallel lines where wire was pulled straight beneath it and the salt and fly ash have fused themselves ever so subtlety.

The unusually narrow handle has the robust of a handle made out of iron, instead of clay. Sometimes it's more about the confidence and the attitude of the maker than the physical attributes of the material. My thumb fits nicely at the topside of the handle, while my truncated index finger points comfortably at the center of the cup, middle finger loops inside, and ring finger supports outside and underneath the handle.

The fine vertical lines on the cups sides are a result of brushing the freshly applied slip and might foreshadow the lines one might find after emptying the cup and seeking out a view of the bottom and its fine parallel lines left by the wire tool.

Well, this is what I have learned of this pot so far. I have had dozens of cups of coffee since stealing it from Mark at this past summer's Cousins in Clay Sale where Mark and my other brother in clay, Sam Taylor were my guests. (along with my Seagrove cousins, Bruce and Samantha) and barring its premature Waterloo, many mouths will drink from it for years to come.

Now it's back to the wheel. Somehow I'm sure this cup's qualities will creep out of my subconscious onto my own pots. That's how it all works in this inheritance of pot making. That's why you should also be careful which pots you steal, literally or visually.

November 2, 2012

"Source • Material" at CLG

One of the many things I learned when I was president, is that water is at the center of social, political and economic affairs of the country, the continent and the world. –Nelson Mandela

Lindsay Rogers, former member of the Snow Creek Pottery Cartel, and now a grad at the University of Florida, has curated “Source Material: An Exhibition on Water and the Ceramic Cup”, a fantastic show at my lovely neighborhood Niche award winning Crimson Laurel Gallery! Lindsay has selected 68 of her favorite ceramic artists from around the country for “Source Material” and they represent a broad range of unique styles and techniques.
Lindsay Roger’s inspiration for the exhibition was water, a.k.a. aqua, Adam’s Ale, h2o. According to Lindsay “Water is everywhere. As abundant as an ocean and as delicate as a drop, water is the source of all life. This eternally human need consistently shifts the way we build our tools, our cultures and our lives. Historically speaking, water has become a dictator of form, an aesthetic inspiration, a human habit and an honest informer of the ecological state of our world. In this exhibit, contemporary ceramic artists will address the theme of water through the form of the ceramic cup.”
Here is a list of the artists included in the show:
Adam Field, Adam Posnak, Amy Smith, Andrew Avakian, Audrey Rosulek, Ben Krupka, Birdie Boone, Brett Freund, Brian Jones, Chandra DeBuse, Cheyenne Chapman Rudolph, Chris Pickett, Courtney Martin, Courtney Murphy, Dan Anderson, Dandee Pattee, Diana Fayt, Donna Flanery, Doug Peltzman, Emily Reason, gwendolyn yoppolo, Hayne Bayless, Hiroe Hanazono, Jana Evans, Jason Burnett, Jeff Kleckner, Jennifer Allen, Josh DeWeese, Joshua Stover, Julia Galloway, Kari Smith, Kathy King, Kelly O’Briant, Kristen Kieffer, KyoungHwa Oh, Leah Leitson & Martin Tatarka, Leanne McClurg Cambric, Linda Arbuckle, Liz Zlot Summerfield, Louise Harter, Mark Errol, Frank Martin, Martina Lantin, Mary Barringer, Michael Hunt, Moi, Natalie Tornatore, Nicole Gugliotti, Nicole Aquillano, Nigel Rudolph, Ronan Kyle Peterson, Sanam Emami, Sean O’Connell, Shadow May, Shane Mickey, Shawn Spangler, Shoko Teruyama, Simon Levin, Steven M. Godfrey, Steven Roberts, Sue Tirrell, Sunshine Cobb, Susan Feagin, Tara Wilson, Tina Gebhart and Victoria Christen.
The exhibition is already open online as many of you, no doubt, know and have visited, and will remain through December 31.
I hope to see you for an artist reception this Saturday, November 3 at 6pm in beautiful downtown Bakersville! Just look for the building with the big crowds of pottery lovers as your wagon rolls into town.
FYI: no matter where you are on our watery planet, the exhibition can be seen and purchased online! For more information call CLG @828–688–3599 or click on over to

October 22, 2012

Good Start

Hitting the ground running.
With just a few days between a really super manabigama wood firing workshop last week at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and a pottery show in D.C. this coming weekend, time at my wheel is premium. No better time for ye olde 12 x 12 to get the balls of clay rolling, er, spinning.

These drinking cups are a good form to make on a clear bright Fall morning. While they obviously won’t be ready for this weekend’s show in DC they’ll be ready for my November firing and that’s what matters this morning.

Thanks to the fine folks at Ceramics Monthly for mentioning me in their article in this month’s issue. I’m just opening my new issue that i spied in my stack of mail from last week! Sherman Hall and his crew have been very supportive over the years and have sent many people to my blog’s doorstep. If you’re arriving here at ye olde blogge for the first time, thank you for reading and i hope you will have time to dive into the vast content contained here from my 5 years of blogging. To all the steadies, thanks for sticking with me through these years.

September 29, 2012

Coffee Break vol. 32

Here's the latest addition to our cupboard, a bountiful and beautiful cup by Steven Colby. I've long been a fan of Steven's work and I recently visited his summer studio at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana, where I picked this one out.

Steven and demo'd together at the recent American Pottery Festival at the Northern Clay Center, in Minneapolis, MN. The NCC has published the video of our demo but I'm afraid to watch it and apprehensive to post the link here. But I'm sure you can find it if you are diligent.

Back to the java juice before it gets cold. Later.

August 24, 2012


the cousins in clay: mark shapiro, samantha henneke, michael kline, bruce gholson, sam taylor
it's an early morning for this night owl, but there's lots to do today. the studio is overflowing with pots from XLIII and they await judgment of the pricing kind. this is a most difficult moment for me as a potter. sure, i have my standard pricing structure, but it doesn't account for the slightly unusual, the rare beauty. my daughters have picked out their one pot allotted to them from each firing.

maybe this process of grading should be done by some outside agency, really. price waterhouse? my mind is lost in the fog of expectation, or what my ceramic mind's eye saw as i glazed the pots and placed them in the kiln. lost in a fog of hope and desire.

but their true nature is better judged and appreciated by those other than their maker. (for now) without expectation, instead anticipation, the pots can shine in the eyes of their beholder.  like some sort of serendipity, customers will be excited when they discover them this weekend. just as a potter hopes while waiting for the kiln to cool, he hopes that the pots will be well received. that they will find good homes and be used there.

he also hopes that you are near enough, this weekend, to come to a row of massive oak trees along a mountain ridge just a short walk from the shop and kiln where these new pots will be. in the shade along side many other kindred pots that have come as far as seagrove, nc and as far as western massachusetts, all with the same hope of finding a place in your home.

August 22, 2012

Guest Blogger Martin Tatarka: Beer, Baseball, and Pottery

photo: Leah Leitson
Maybe I’m still a baseball nerd but I’ve toned it down some since I’ve been married. I no longer take a radio with ear phones to the game so I can hear the announcers doing the call and color as I keep my score card. My wife would- n’t join me to the ball park if I did . My wife has taken a shine to doing the score card and now shares that duty with me. So on our vacation to visit my family in Colorado we had a chance to see a Rockies baseball game..
If you are ever in colorful Colorado you should check the home of the Na- tional League Colorado Rockies. Although the Rockies are in the cellar of their division, there is still an adventure to be found at Coors Field. Try a serv- ing of Rocky Mountain Oysters or get a DVD of yourself calling half an inning of the game, stand or sit at a mile high (the elevation has been marked with purple seats), have an ice cold Blue Moon Beer at the Coors micro brewery in the stadium or do some good ole people watching. I can’t think of a better way to spend a summer afternoon.
I grew up in a Colorado before there was major league baseball and long after Coors was on the scene. In fact when President Ulysses S. Grant ad- mitted Colorado as the 38th state in the union Coors beer was already filling barrels in its Golden, Colorado plant.
Golden, Colorado, home of Coors, is a town of about 19,000 just west of Denver and sits right up against the foot hills on the Front Range. The town started out as a gold rush town and was a political and economic re- gional center. It also supplied prospectors and boom towns with beer, coal, paper, and bricks. Two distinct geographical points of interest, Table Mountain and Clear Creek, have been used on Coors cans or bottles. At one time it had three schools of Higher Education, Colorado School of Mines is the only one that remains.
Not far from the brewery was a deposit of porcelain which was tested at the nearby Colorado School of Mines and found to be of excellent quality.
In 1910 Alolph Coors offered John J. Herold access to the clay and space at an unused Coors building. Within a few years Golden Pottery was turning out wares. They also started making a wide range of products from cookware to spark plugs, mortar and pestles, funnels, insulators etc.

photo: Denver Art Museum exhibit

Germany had been the top producer of fine porcelain scientific ware up until the 1915 when the First World War broke out. Due to an embargo of German goods the Coors stepped up production and filled the vacancy in the market previously held by the German Companies. It was around this time that the name change became Coors Porcelain Company. When prohibition came around the brewery was closed but the porcelain, cement and malt production side of the business in- creased.
Coors produced a few lines of low-fire table ware with names like: Golden Rain-bow, Rosebud, Cook-N-Serve, Golden Ivory, Melo-tone and others. The glazes were high gloss colors much like were found in Fiesta ware. The company also produced custom service ware for clients.
After the repeal of prohibition in 1933 the brewery reopened and the porcelain section produced mugs and promotional items given away on brewery tours and for the tavern trade. Mugs, ash trays and salt shakers were supplied to the taverns with the Coors logo to advance the brand. Home brewing during prohibition was common but the techniques were crude. Because of the reduced carbonation in home brew people would put salt in the beer to give an instant head. Coors made these salt shakers in the shapes of kegs, mugs, and bottles all having the Coors logo on it.

Photo: Denver Art Museum

In 2000 the Coors Porcelain evolved to became CoorsTeK still making products like ceramic armor, ceramic tiles for the space industry and very sophisticated tools and devices in laboratory ware. They quit making vases and tea pots back in the 80’s.
For me the beauty of the Coors Laboratory Ware is that it looks so modern with the clean lines and the white surface. The sculptural aspect of the work seems to suggest forms of some microscopic zooplankton or pollen that has been enlarged.

Photos: Denver Art Museum

The porcelain pieces embrace both form and function with such grace and exactitude that they celebrate the art and craft of ceramics. I find the pieces inspiring, precious and beautiful, worthy of display in any museum.

Although the Rockies lost to the San Diego Padres, there was a pleasant surprise for us visitors from Western North Carolina. Playing for Padres, out in center field, was Cameron Maybin who was born in Asheville and graduated from Roberson High School.

notes: Material gathered for this article came from
  • The exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, “Coors Rosebud Pottery” by Robert Schneider, published by Busche Waugh Henry Pub 1984, Denver Public Library Western History Collection
  • Wikipedia entry: Golden, Colorado 

For Martin Tatarka the highest form of art is the art of living. “Making our surroundings and aesthetic choices artful is just as important as what we do in the studio”, he says. He has taught in Africa, lived in Spain and been a fishing guide in Alaska and earned his MFA in Sculpture from Cranbrook. Martin lives in Asheville, NC.

August 14, 2012


I often think that my glaze palette is a little dull, kind of gray. But I was pleased with this image that reminded me how pots serve their riders.

August 12, 2012


from Facebook
Hi Brett,

It all depends. Some weeks I'm very productive and some weeks things go slowly. At the beginning of my session before a firing, I may make a handful of pots a day. Closer to the firing deadline, I'm filling up tables, checking off my make list. Ironically, when I'm at the top of my throwing game (like now!) it's time to stop making! I should have stopped making pots last week, but my make list says that I still need so many of "x, y, and z". The compounded effect of this deadline kind of thinking is that the last minute making steals from the time I need to paint and glaze the existing pots and then steal again when they, too, want to be decorated. The image in my mind to describe this is one you might be familiar with. You know when there is an traffic jam on the interstate and everybody politely is waiting, then somebody decides that they are more important than the rest and passes  in the breakdown lane to get to the front? That's what the pots that I made yesterday will be doing to get into the kiln by Friday.

So to answer your question (or not) it varies. I try to average about 20 pots of various sizes a day. I also try to balance pots that require trimming and post-wheel work with pots that just have to be turned over to dry.

I'm not very good at making pots and decorating at the same time, so I tend to "stockpile" my bisque ware and sit down for a week before the loading and firing of the kiln surrounded by stacks of plates, jars cups, etc. All of them waiting for some sort of decorative treatment. Once I get rolling the intimidation of that many pots melts away and the exhilaration of painting patterns  becomes exciting.

So, Brett, I hope that approximates a good answer to your question.

Here are a few pots I've made in the last couple of days. 

August 9, 2012

Internet Hall of Mirrors

There are so many points of access to my little busy world. When I started this blog it was pretty much my only option. Now these options to share have exploded. My main choice to share what's happening here at the pottery has been Instagram. When something cool strikes, I can quickly post a picture and share it. When I do this, I can simultaneously send it to Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, etc. Maybe you follow me at some of these venues? Maybe not. So if you just can't get enough of your internet pottery pal, here is a visual parade of the last few days.

11" tiles combed
favorite mug for this session (Bruce Gholson)

pots going to The Clay Studio in Philadelphia for upcoming show

jar with combing

oh, i can comb and incise!?!? little breakthroughs

red dirt test tiles for grass/weed ash glaze. exciting step.


If this just isn't enough, check out what I'm listening to

Thanks for your eyeballs. Later.

August 4, 2012

Whole Lotta Round

My list today included things like:

This list is in direct competition with another list: the making list.
  • handle pitchers
  • slip/comb big jug and pitchers
  • trim small dishes
  • trim big bowls
  • throw mugs
  • throw 5# pasta
I got a fair bit of both done.

I'm getting 'round.

July 31, 2012

Clean Plate vol. 3

This little plate was just the vehicle for a heaping helping of my buddy Eric's handmade sauerkraut. It's really coming into its peak flavor and crispiness! The kraut was just what I needed after a little upset stomach this afternoon. And it was so nice to clean this fine dish made by my blogging buddy, Hannah McAndrew! I feel better from all of these wonderful things in my life.

July 27, 2012



tools. these things affect the pots. how we choose and use them affects the pots. in profound ways. choose wisely. if you can't find the right tool, make it.

July 26, 2012

Funny Numbers and Fresh Clay

I'm a bit behind reporting on the happenings leading up to the next firing and the Cousins in Clay reunion, but here goes in a matter of a few photos!

I was happy and a bit overwhelmed to have two helpers yesterday, my intern Adam MacKay and his partner Molly Belada. Molly and Adam are undergrad ceramics majors at App State, in Boone. Adam has been helping me every week and Molly has been helping my neighbor, Courtney. After some number crunching and clay body calc, we set up the mixing area where I proceeded to find not one, but two wasp nests in two open bags of clay. Ouch. After some thorough paranoia and nest removal M and A mixed up enough of the fireclay mix that will be added to my red dirt in a week or so (I hope!)

The girls came up with a friend to make some pots (read: show off their pottery skills to their friend) but their wheel was covered with reclaim clay, so I set up my Shimpo banding wheel and hand turned it for them. It was just the thing and soon they were off to the woods to do some exploring and I was back to work.

I'm managing to get some nice pots made in and around carrying out final plans for next months Cousins in Clay Show. There's a lot to do but I'm so looking forward to seeing my old buds, Mark Shapiro and Sam Taylor, and all the pots they will be bringing. Check out our Facebook page to find out more.

OK, time for some lunch, then more pottery this afternoon.