24 January 2012

Ray Finch

I never met the man but I have met his pots, been to the pottery and heard his name throughout my pottery life. The day that I heard he had died I was visiting the store rooms of the Scottish  Museum and it was good to see these three noble pots of his, quietly biding their time in the cupboard along with Lucie Rie and Ewan Henderson

 "What we do with the clay, what we create with our hands, what we offer up from our spirits may not end racism or stop injustice, but it may just help keep our culture human." Malcolm Davis, 2010

 Dan Finnegan worked with Ray at Winchcombe Pottery and below is a link to his blog post remembering his time there. 

Dan Finnegan - Studio Pottery

23 January 2012

Treasures at the Scotish Museum,

The Scottish Potters Association arranged a visit to the  National Museums Collection Centre ceramics department of the Museum of Scotland. Stored at two sites in Edinburgh, I was in the group visiting the English, continental and contemporary department in Granton. We were lead upstairs and downstairs, along corridors and through great hangar like rooms full of vast machinery awaiting conservation. Finally reaching one of the rooms which houses the ware. Cupboards lining the walls and in a central block of back to back cupboards which were unlocked as requested and left open for us to handle pieces the like of which I have only ever seen before in books and behind glass.   I felt just like the little pot below.
English Medieval lead glazed cup, 4 inches high - I'm in love.
Some of this medieval work is so fine and lightweight. It looks crude and coarsely potted but it's not. It is beautiful in the hand and absolutely fit for purpose. I'm astonished by it.
Watering can, about 18 inches high
Detail of the handle

English 13th -14th century, buff earthenware, lead glaze
 This, above, was the most finely thrown of the pieces which grabbed my attention, with a slightly swollen base.
ditto, with impressed panels of deer, 20 inches high
We tried to work out how this one was constructed. The upper half has fine throwing rings visible, the lower half is distorted, possibly from the impression of the carved panels. There was a difference in texture inside the pot.
It was such a treat to handle these pots. The collections are public and the curators were very insistent that we come back again, that's what they are there for.

19 January 2012

Getting off the island

Living so far away from most civic amenities, I have to make the most of trips to the city. Today I am on my way to Edinburgh (in a snow storm) to collect the pots which were shipped back from Philadelphia (half the volume of the outward journey). I thought I could take advantage of the spa at the museum which a friend texted me about. Only it turns out not to be a spa but SPA, Scottish Potters Association, and a visit to the vaults of the Museum of Scotland, well the 1970's building which stores much of the collections.
So not a massage but I hope we'll be allowed to handle some of the pieces. I learn so much more from the feel and weight of a pot than from just looking at it. Photos too with luck.

13 January 2012

Pug Mill Blues

Pug mill blues

I have been tripping over 2 buckets of black firing stoneware clay for the past 4 months. As I am trying to convince myself that I am back in the workshop properly and full time after the festivities of winter I thought I would start by dealing with the black stuff. I like the fired colour and texture of this clay, dense blue/black, not as soft as the raku blacks but has the advantage of being stoneware and therefore will take water. Except that after my treatment of it, namely stretching bashing and wood firing, it tends to crack, dunt and leaks like a sieve.
I’m hoping that I can cure this rather fundamental flaw by mixing it with a more fine grained and plastic stoneware. I don’t mind losing a little of the black if I can produce a useable pot. I happen to have a large bucket of white St Thomas scraps, dried and soaked to a nice mush waiting to be reconstituted into throwable clay, and also a bag of unidentified firm stoneware which could be mixed with the black in carefully measured and documented handfuls until it looks about right. A couple of hours work by which time I will be ready to be Creative.
The black clay, anagama fired

I always leave a note of the last batch in the feed hole. I removed the plastic covers from the pug mill and turned it on to check the motor. Working but not happy.
I started to scrape out the nasty crusty iron stained scraps from the safety grid in the feed hole and discovered a nasty crusty iron stained safety grid. Better clean it up before putting more white St Thomas through to push out the remains of the last pugging, won’t take long. I think I have never taken out the grid since I bought the pug mill 2nd hand 3 years ago.
This grid is clean   

The intestines of a pug mill
The bolts were seized so Non Potting Partner was called in to wrestle them off and pull out the grid. Whilst I cleaned that he dug out the hard clay underneath and found yet more hard clay.  


 16 bolts later the top came off, yet more hard clay and crusty corroded metal. Fortunately the screw which pushes the clay along, mixing and conditioning it was bright shiny brass (or bronze?) under all the nastiness just like the propeller of a ship. NPP, the old sea dog, carried on until all was ship shape and Bristol fashion (what?) as you can see from the dazzle in the photo.

With such a clean mill I had to pug the entire lot of white St Thomas before shoveling in the dirty stuff. So a little job to get me in the mood to unleash a storm of creativity ended up in dry dock for nearly two days to complete, and I am still scrubbing splashes of the black clay from decks.
(It won't stay this clean for long.)

5 January 2012

Wood firing and the Weather

It's official - 2011 was the wettest year on record in Scotland and I'll bet that this winter is one of the windiest. After one nasty gale when we lost the power for a couple of days (and water for 4 days, too nasty to go talk about in public) we also lost the lid for the kiln chimney. This 'lid' is a piece of lead sheeting 18 inches/40 cm square, folded to fit neatly over the heavy steel cooker hood which sits above the chimney on the shed roof. I eventually found in a gorse bush below the high side of the shed about 15 feet away. It had been blown off the hood and up the slope of the roof. I must get something to measure the wind speed when I'm firing, would be interesting to calculate the effect. Old sea dog husband can measure it by the whistling through his ears but that's not quite scientific enough for a potter.